Thursday, August 16, 2007

Columbia Fails First Community Test

In a raucous meeting up in West Harlem last night the local community board's ULURP Committee rejected the Columbia expansion plan by a 17-1 vote. The vote was on a board resolution that chastised the university for, among other things, its use of eminent domain and its "displacement of CB9M's low, moderate, and middle-income African-American and Hispanic residents, resulting in significant and adverse impacts on the community..." (emphasis added)

In addition, the resolution took Columbia to task for its failure to enter into "a good faith collaboration with the community in developing its proposals," and called on the university to cease its eminent domain intimidation tactics against property owners. Significantly, the resolution called on Columbia to, "immediately develop and hereafter permanently implement and carry out an effective housing anti-displacement program...And further not interfere with the transfer of 132 units from HPD to the residents of these units as previously agreed to by the City."

This last tidbit is in direct contradiction of the university's behind-the-back maneuver to forcefully relocate the residents in collusion with HPD. Crain's In$ider is reporting this effort, one that we expect will be met by a challenge from the tenants who, not only don't want to move, but who were never consulted until after the fact.

Finally,the resolution insisted that Columbia enter into a good faith bargaining with the Board to devise a workable compromise that would permit the university to expand in as community-minded a way as possible. In sum, as strong a rebuke as possible to the Columbia planned expansion, as well as a rejection of the university's assertions that it was preceding with community support. Clearly, the Bill Lynch grass roots effort fell flat on its face last evening; but perhaps the university's mailings will turn this anti-Columbia sentiment around.

All of which means that the university has done precious little to really attempt to engage the community; preferring to allow its paid henchman to launch a scurrilous campaign against one of the most vocal opponents of the project. The community board has also done a yeoman-like job at articulating the community concerns-only to be ignored by Columbia. There is still time for Columbia to turn this around if it cares to do so; and not just rely on the use its political muscle.

One thing we know for sure, Senator Bill Perkins, if last night is any indication, is going to be a thorn in Columbia's side, and if it isn't careful the thorn may get virulently infected. Councilman Jackson, who had nothing to say last night, will need to be mindful of the coming storm as well.