Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hard of Hearing

The NY Daily News has finally posted the fine Bill Egbert report on last week's curious public hearing on the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory: "Community Board 7 got an earful at last week's public hearing on developing the Kingsbridge Armory, as vociferous supporters and opponents packed the room. More than 100 employees of the Morton Williams supermarket threatened by the project arrived early, waving signs pleading, "Save Our Jobs."

But the hearing had it surreal moments, with the singing Peter Yarrow-of all people!-and a vociferous display from the construction outliers of Positive Work Force leading to threats of banishment: "As the hearing was set to begin, several dozen construction workers shouting "Build it Now!" stormed the door so aggressively that security personnel initially threw themselves against the crush. Not even special guest Peter Yarrow - of Peter, Paul and Mary - leading the room in singing "If I Had a Hammer" could bring a "Kumbaya" spirit to the meeting. Repeated outbursts from both sides forced board chairman Gregory Faulkner to threaten to have people thrown out of the hearing, which dragged on an hour beyond its scheduled end."

The Morton Willaims workers, joined by the folks at KARA, did, however, totally dominate the substantive portion of the hearing-and the issue of a living wage will, indubitably, continue to be contentious: "Members of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, a coalition of local groups, businesses and unions, asked the board to reject the project unless a binding community benefits agreement guarantees retail workers a "living wage" of at least $10 per hour, plus benefits. Pressed by Faulkner on the issue, Related lawyer Jesse Masyr said requiring tenants to pay workers at the Armory higher than the prevailing wage would doom the entire project."

The Riverdale Press also highlights the living wage issue: "Mr. Faulkner said after the meeting that he believes, somewhere down the line, Related and the neighborhood activists of Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance will reach some kind of agreement. They might, for example, agree on an incentive for tenants who provide a living wage rather than making it a requirement. So far, neither side is willing to budge. Related’s veteran development lawyer, Jesse Masyr of Wachtel & Masyr, says being forced to pay higher wages would “undermine the economic viability” of the Armory."

The RP reports about the supermarket issue as well: "Related’s proposal leaves open the possibility of a large grocery store, which would compete with Bronx-based Morton Williams across the street from the Kingsbridge Heights facility. Morton Williams is one of the only grocery chains to have a unionized workforce, offering higher wages (and better benefits) than most rivals. “If a big-box supermarket or big-box warehouse club is put into the Armory we would have to close our two Bronx stores as well as our hiring office,” said Valerie Sloan, a fourth generation owner of Morton Williams. She said this would take 450 union jobs from the neighborhood."

From our perspective, CB #7 did a disservice to all of the folks who had come to testify; with unneeded delays and inappropriate guest speakers marring the ability of the community to be properly heard. Given these problems, the Board would be well-served if it delayed the vote for at least a week-it has until the 26th to issue its final recommendation.

Still, as the Norwood News has written, the Board will probably approve the project with this proviso: "Board chair Greg Faulkner told the Norwood News on the eve of a June 24 public hearing that he expects the board to vote “yes” on the proposal, despite the fact that a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) may not be in place before the vote. Faulkner said the Board would essentially say with its vote: “This approval is conditioned on there being a Community Benefits Agreement which will include the following items …”

Ah, yes. The devil here is in the CBA details. But, everyone needs to be mindful of the fact that, when it comes to the ultimate source of power, it will not be the Bronx Council delegation that will be singing, "If I had a hammer..." That's because, when it comes to hammering, the council members are the ones who already hold the powerful political mallet.