Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Ruben's Rubicon

As the NY Daily News reports this morning, Bronx BP Ruben Diaz is grappling with his decision on the development of the Kingsbridge Armory: "Although his decision on whether to support the plan by The Related Companies to fill the landmarked building with shops is nonbinding, area residents are looking to Diaz to wring meaningful concessions from the developer in a CBA."

To this end, Diaz has gathered some of the stakeholders together: "To work out the broad principles for an agreement, Diaz has brought the parties to the table, chiefly represented by Community Board 7 and the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, a coalition of local clergy, unions and advocacy groups."

But,as one knowledgeable observer points out, Ruben has an unfortunate legacy to overcome:

"Though not part of the Armory CBA talks, Bettina Damiani of the advocacy group Good Jobs New York has worked on previous agreements and said Diaz should learn from the missteps of his predecessor, Adolfo CarriĆ³n. Many of those pushing for a CBA hope to see one signed before Diaz makes his advisory recommendation on the project next month. But Damiani warned against rushing talks. “Don’t let City Hall or the developer dictate the time line,” she said, citing the rushed and poorly received Yankee Stadium CBA. Several opted to leave it, Damiani noted, and since its signing, has had a number of problems with implementation and oversight. “People realize now that the CBAs that have been happening in the Bronx haven’t really been legitimate community benefits agreements,” she said. “So the idea that the borough president can just stamp a piece of paper calling it a CBA and the community will think its interests are protected, that’s just not going to happen this time.”

But the obstacles her are formidable-beginning with the developer's reluctance to cede any ground on a key living wage component: "Also, KARA is pushing for a living-wage provision obligating Related to write terms into the lease requiring tenants to pay all employees significantly more than the $7.25 an hour minimum wage. Related has said that such a requirement would make it virtually impossible for the developer to find retail tenants and would cause the entire project to collapse."

So Ruben Diaz has a great deal to overcome-but the street smart BP has none of the hauteur of his predecessor, and is someone who wants to craft a CBA that has some real benefits; unlike the farcical one that Carrion promulgated with the able assistance of Jesse James Masyr: "There was no requirement for public disclosure in monitoring the benefit programs, funded with $3 million from Related and administered by the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. Monitoring was so lax that after allegations of misappropriation of funds surfaced this year, BOEDC is still struggling to account for the money."

According to Diaz, this CBA won't resemble Gateway: "That won't happen with the Armory CBA, Diaz pledged. "There will be monitoring by my office. And not just with the Armory - I'm going retro." Diaz said he is now demanding regular reports on past agreements involving Gateway and the Yankees. Advocates have also criticized the Gateway deal as lacking any enforcement mechanism other than negligible fines. Diaz said that the need for a more robust enforcement mechanism is something that he and all the stakeholders have agreed on. "If you don't have that," Diaz said, "a CBA isn't worth the paper it's printed on."

Which leaves us with the open question of whether Ruben will support the inclusion of a supermarket or big box food use in the Armory: "Owners and workers at a Morton Williams grocery store directly across the street from the Armory are hoping that pressure from unions and members of the Bronx delegation to the City Council will persuade Diaz to insist on a clause barring a supermarket at the site. The Armory project's environmental impact statement sparked controversy because it included plans for a 60,000-square-foot supermarket. This despite the city's original request for proposals explicitly seeking plans that wouldn't bring in direct competitors to existing local businesses."

Ruben, along with Council member Palma, led the good fight against the closing of the Key Food on Bruckner Boulevard. Any inclusion of a mega-mart at the Armory will insure that multiple numbers of local supermarkets will close-the kind of result that Diaz should be vehemently opposed to, particularly because so many of the owners-aside from those at Morton Williams-are immigrant entrepreneurs who have helped to Bronx rebound (much as the Morton Williams owners have done as well).

So we await the BP's deliberations on this maiden voyage of his. The community-as opposed to those appointee pretenders at the community board-eagerly watches and waits; while the supermarket workers and owners, worried about their jobs and businesses, wonder what the BP has in store for them.