Wednesday, October 03, 2007

City Plans, and God laughs

A hearing on the Columbia expansion will be held today down at the offices of the City Planning Commission on Reade Street. Why bother? The CPC is an absolute anachronism, and under its current leadership it is a joke as well. Nothing that will transpire today, or in the "deliberations" leading up to the preordained vote in a couple of weeks, means a damn thing-except for the number of trees that the city's Burden will be able to inveigle out of the university.

The real deal making will take place after the CPC vote, as the expansion project wends its way down to the City Council. What has happened, as The New York Observer article points out today, is that the actions of BP Stringer has possibly loosened the logjam so that a substantive negotiation can go forward.

What is clear, however, is that the Stringer goody bag, if it isn't the harbinger of something substantially more meaningful, is way to little to off-set the expansion' impact. AS CB 9 advisor, Professor Ron Schiffman says; “At best, the rough calculation was that it could meet maybe 10 percent of the indirect and direct displacement,” said Ron Schiffman, a former city Planning Commission member who is advising the West Harlem community board on behalf of the Pratt Institute, where he is a professor."

What is also clear is that Stringer felt that he didn't have the strength to tackle the expansion plan directly. And he's probably right, but the reasons lie as much with his own abilities as they do with the limitations that all BPs face in the ULURP process. But the criticism he's facing owes more to his initial posturing on behalf of the community-a charade that underscored the Clint Eastwood observation of having a mouth issuing checks that a body couldn't cash.

What remains to be seen is the extent to which the Stringer ante will be followed by the creation of a significant housing pot that address the displacement issue, as we have said, in the here and now. Here's Stringer's best face: “I wanted a discussion about it, and the best way to do that was not simply to advocate for the fund but to set it up and get money for it,” Mr. Stringer said. “Now as the process goes forward, this will be the basis for a discussion. The housing fund will be a road map.”

We shall see-and the extent to which the council, with real power to derail, can avoid aping Stringer's court eunuch command performance will determine whether equity and fairness emerges from all of the university's strong arm tactics. The role of the LDC in all of this is still, at least at this juncture, unclear-although. Pat Jones, the head of the group charged with negotiating a CBA with Columbia, is clearly unhappy with what she sees as Stringer's meddling, As she told the BP in a draft letter: “Your actions can only be perceived as dangerous and counterproductive to this negotiation process...Your publicized agreement with Columbia University,” the draft states, “can wrongfully lead to the conclusion that Columbia has successfully negotiated a Community Benefits Agreement.” ”

Ouch! So we are now in the phony war phase of the ULURP process-with the beautification brigade in full regalia down on Reade Street. The mayor has no interest in negotiating much here-his hands being full with the Columbia water buckets under both his arms. It will be up to the council to carve out an independent role, something it has had difficulty doing on big issues such as this one.