Wednesday, February 28, 2007







The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office invites Junior High and High School students to apply for the 2007 SUMMER INTERNSHIP PROGRAM.

To apply, students must reside in Manhattan and be between the ages of 14 and 17 (18 years old if still in high school).

Qualified students should send a resume and an essay explaining their interest in law to the address listed below and postmarked no later than FRIDAY, MARCH 30, 2007. We will contact each student who sends these materials and schedule an interview. Interview appointments are limited.

Please send a resume and essay to:
Community Affairs Unit
New York County District Attorney’s Office
Attention: Ms. Carol Ragsdale
One Hogan Place, Room 824
New York, New York 10013
Telephone: (212) 335-9082

Interviews are scheduled Monday through Thursday (during after-school hours) from mid-January through April. FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2007 is the last day of interviews. The interviews will take place at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, located at 1 Hogan Place or the Northern Manhattan Office, located in the Adam Clayton Powell State Office building, 163 West 125th Street.

Students must bring two reference letters (one from the current school) to the interview.

Revised 9/6/06

Parking Becomes Scarcer at City College - Restrictions Placed on Convent Avenue

The Campus
Current Issue: January 29, 2007

Home > News

Parking Becomes Scarcer at City College
Restrictions Placed on Convent Avenue
Aalia Ali
Issue date: 1/29/07 Section: News
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Media Credit: Annie Deng

"No Standing" at CCNY

Media Credit: Annie Deng

Parking After Sunset

Media Credit: Annie Deng

The signs have always been there.

Parking spaces are a rare commodity at City College and newly reinstated parking restrictions on Convent Avenue are further limiting the amount of parking spaces available to the CCNY community.

With the exception of authorized vehicles-NYC buses, CCNY buses, official vans, delivery trucks and vehicles with approved handicapped insignias-there is no standing on Convent Avenue between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Furthermore, only authorized vehicles may enter the 135th or 140th Street gates. Those who violate the law will be issued a summons from the NYPD.

According to Jordis Reyes-Montblanc, Chairman of Community Board 9, the restrictions are the result of a joint effort between the area's community board, the Department of Transportation, and the NYPD.

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 devastated much of the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) campus, and left the college with a shortage of space in which classes could be conducted. As a result, City College accommodated a number of BMCC classes, and was given permission to allow parking on Convent Avenue in order to compensate for parking spaces that would be lost to visiting BMCC students. A privilege that, according to Montblanc, City College took advantage of.

"Special allowance was made after 9-11 because of the Borough of Manhattan Community College," he said. "And CCNY took it upon themselves to sell parking spaces."

However, now that BMCC is no longer offering classes at City College, the city has revoked the allowance of parking on Convent Avenue. "It's gone back to the way it's been," Montblanc said.

Lois Cronholm, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at CCNY, was contacted for comment, however inquiries sent have yet to be replied.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

City Council Calendar for Monday, February 26, 2007 - Sunday, March 4, 2007

Date: Sun, 25 Feb 2007 19:32:29 -0500 (EST)
From: "NYC Council Legislative Update"
Subject: City Council Calendar for Monday, February 26, 2007 - Sunday, March 4, 2007

City Council Calendar for Monday, February 26, 2007 - Sunday, March 4, 2007

If you wish to subscribe, you may forward to this email
address with "subscribe" in the subject.

- - - Speaker tours community Health Care center, promotes plan to open 10
community health care centers
- - - -
On Friday, February 23rd, the Council Speaker Christine Quinn toured Betances
health care clinic in Lower Manhattan, a model for community-centered health
care. During her State of the City speech, Council Speaker Christine Quinn
outlined a plan to invest $25 million towards providing ten state-of-the-art
healthcare facilities in high-need communities over the next five years. For more,
read the press release at

*** How is health care in your community? ***
How do you think that health care could be better addressed in your community?
Contact Speaker Quinn at:

- - - - - Legislative Calendar - - - - -

** Meetings for Monday, February 26, 2007 **

Committee(s) on: Civil Service & Labor
10:00 AM, Committee Room - City Hall
Oversight - The New York City Civil Service Commission
Committee(s) on: Technology in Government 10:00 AM. Hearing Room - 250
Broadway, 14th Floor
Oversight - Information Technology Strategic Direction

Committee(s) on: Governmental Operations
10:00 AM. Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 16th Floor
Proposed Int. No. 502-A - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the
City of New York, in relation to the contents of a lobbyist's statement of
Oversight - Review of the New York City Campaign Finance Board's Audit
Practices and Procedures

Committee(s) on: Civil Rights
10:00 AM. Council Chambers - City Hall
Proposed Res 693-A - Resolution calling on the Council of the City of New York
to declare a symbolic moratorium on the use of the "N" word in New York City.

Committee(s) on: Environmental Protection
1:00 PM. Committee Room - City Hall
Int 505 - A Local Law in relation to the temporary task force to study the
feasibility of transferring city-owned wetlands to the jurisdiction of the
Department of Parks and Recreation.
Int 506 - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New York,
in relation to the creation of a comprehensive wetlands protection policy for
New York City.

Committee(s) on: Women's Issues
1:00 PM. Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 16th Floor
Oversight - Exploring Issues Facing Adolescent Girls in NYC

Committee(s) on: Fire & Criminal Justice Services
1:00 PM. Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 14th Floor
Oversight - New York City Fire Department Expanded Firefighter Training
Committee(s) on: Small Business
Time: 1:30 PM - Brooklyn Workforce 1 Career Center
Details: Tour: Brooklyn Workforce 1 Care
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Tuesday, February 27, 2007 **

Committee(s) on: Higher Education
1:00 PM. Committee Room - City Hall
Oversight - Connecting College Students with Health Insurance

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Wednesday, February 28, 2007 **

Committee(s) on: Consumer Affairs
10:00 AM. Committee Room - City Hall
Proposed Int 81-A - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of
New York, in relation to the consumer bill of rights regarding tax preparers.

Committee(s) on: Finance
11:00 AM. Committee Room - City Hall
Agenda to be announced

Stated Council Meeting
Council Chambers, City Hall
Ceremonial Tributes ......... 1:00 p.m.
Agenda ...... 1:30 p.m.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Thursday, March 1, 2007 **

Committee(s) on: Health
10:00 AM. Council Chambers - City Hall
Int 517 - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New York,
in relation to prohibiting the use of artificial trans fats by food service
establishments and mobile food unit commissaries.

Committee(s) on: Governmental Operations
10:00 AM. Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 16th Floor
Agenda to be announced

Committee(s) on: Housing & Buildings
10:00 AM. Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 14th Floor
Oversight - Findings of the Department of Buildings’ Suspended Scaffold
Worker Safety Task Force
Int [#TBD] - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New
York, in relation to inspection requirements for suspended scaffolds.
Int [#TBD] - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New
York, in relation to notification to the department prior to the use or
installation of suspended scaffolds hung from c-hooks and outrigger beams.
Int [#TBD] - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New
York, in relation to penalties for certain violations committed by licensed
riggers or persons performing the functions and duties of licensed riggers, or
other persons responsible for keeping inspection records at job sites.

Committee(s) on: General Welfare
10:10 AM. Committee Room - City Hall
Int 501 - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New York,
in relation to domestic partnerships.

Committee(s) on: Transportation
1:00 PM. Council Chambers - City Hall
Oversight - How Do We Achieve PlanNYC 2030’s Sustainability Goal to Improve
Travel Times by Adding Transit Capacity for Millions More Residents, Visitors,
and Workers?
Proposed Int 24-A - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of
New York, in relation to bicycles used for commercial purposes.
Proposed Int 58-A - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of
New York, in relation to requiring that businesses that use bicycle operators
and delivery services that dispatch bicycle operators post signs at the place of
employment detailing proper bicycle safety procedures.

Committee(s) on: Veterans
1:00 PM. Committee Room - City Hall
Oversight - The Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs

Committee(s) on: Parks & Recreation
1:00 PM. Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 16th Floor
Oversight - "The Status of Crime Prevention and Safety In Parks."
Oversight - The City's PLANYC 2030 sustainability goal to "Ensure that all New
Yorkers Live Within a 10-minute Walk of a Park" and how best to achieve it.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Friday, March 2, 2007 **

-- no public meetings scheduled --

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Saturday, March 3, 2007 **

-- no public meetings scheduled --

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Sunday, March 4, 2007 **

-- no public meetings scheduled --

More information at

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Columbia launches land-grab plan - Many in West Harlem would be booted from their homes

Columbia launches land-grab plan

Many in West Harlem would be booted from their homes


When Columbia University looks at West Harlem, it sees an urban moonscape: Desolate and underutilized, it is occupied mostly by auto body shops, chain-link fences and roll-down metal gates. It must be demolished.

When Luisa Henriquez walks the same blocks, she sees the American Dream: Inexpensive and friendly, it is the only place in New York City today where she can afford to buy her own home. It must be preserved.

That clash between town and gown is part of a land battle that has erupted over Manhattanville, a 17-acre industrial parcel near the Hudson River that's bigger than the site of the World Trade Center.

Columbia wants to tear down most of the low-rise buildings, and relocate the low-income inhabitants and blue-collar workers. Over a 25-year period, it would build a gleaming $7 billion super-campus, creating 6.8 million square feet of space by 2030 to ensure its competitive future.

But the elite school isn't the only party worried about its future. Faced with the threat of forced evictions, eminent domain and the wrecking ball minority residents and employees in the thinly populated neighborhood are fighting back.

"I've been here for 30 years, I raised my two daughters here. This is my home, my safe haven, my dream come true," said Henriquez, a 52-year old assistant teacher. "I came from the Dominican Republic to find a place like this. Why should I be forced to leave?"

Asked Eduardo Chipe, 66, a cardboard box-maker from Ecuador who has lived in the same building for 38 years, "Why would Columbia threaten our well-being? Where will we go if they kick us out? And what will happen to the children?"

Columbia pledges it will secure "equal or better" housing in the area for all the tenants it eventually displaces.

"We have enormous respect for the people residing in the area, and we will do everything in our power to make their lives better and to make any transition for them as easy as possible," said spokeswoman La-Verna Fountain.

Over two weeks, the Daily News toured Columbia's proposed expansion zone - from 125th to 133rd Sts., between Broadway and 12th Ave. - talking to dozens of immigrant residents, workers, owners of family businesses and artists priced out of SoHo, Williamsburg and the East Village.

"It's not the Garden of Eden," said Alonzo Cisneros, 42, an auto mechanic from Uruguay who has worked in six area shops for 18 years. "But it pays the rent and feeds the kids and it would be a crime to tear it down."

The side streets also reveal hidden treasures that would vanish in any Columbia expansion, like "Hint House," the artist's colony on W. 131st St. that serves as an affordable studio and practice/performance space for 30 artists and musicians.

"The university wants to flatten everything. But it's not thinking about the things that make the city work - like preserving space for artists and furniture restorers and yes, auto shops and storage warehouses," said Tamara Gayer, who lives in Hint House and exhibits in Chelsea galleries.

The dispute has become so heated that even the neighborhood name is fueling debate: Residents call it West Harlem, but Columbians prefer Manhattanville. "They want to take the 'Harlem' out of Harlem," Cisneros said.

Meanwhile, real estate agents trying to cash in have dubbed it "Viva" - or Viaduct Valley - a reference to the elevated trestles for Riverside Drive and the Broadway IRT line that bookend the site.

For Columbia, the stakes are immense. It wants to rezone and redevelop a tract almost as big as Rockefeller Center - and erase most traces of its 19th century industrial past.

In its place would rise numerous glass-curtained towers up to 25 stories tall, homes for a business school and an arts school, plus dormitories, research labs, green spaces and maybe even a hotel and a swimming pool.

An average of 1,200 hardhats a year would labor for 22 years, Fountain said. By 2030, the Ivy League school would add some 6,900 full-time jobs, including scientists seeking cures for asthma, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

But first, Columbia says, it needs a contiguous site. It now owns or controls about 70% of the proposed campus and wants to buy or otherwise negotiate acquisitions for the rest.

There are just two problems: Most of the 425 West Harlem residents, who live in 132 apartment units, don't want to move out. And many of the remaining business owners, who employ some 1,200 people, don't want to sell.

So Columbia has asked the Empire State Development Corp. to consider condemning the properties it wants through eminent domain, a controversial practice in which the state takes private properties, at fair market price, ostensibly for a public purpose.

That threat enrages community leaders: "We were promised dialogue, but eminent domain is bulldozer talk," said the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, pastor of St. Mary's Episcopal Church on W. 126th St.

"My parishioners are scared to death they're going to be put out on the street."

Defiant property owners vow they'll fight any condemnation efforts in court.

"I can't move and I won't move," said Nick Sprayregen, the president of Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage, who owns five warehouse buildings in the area and employs 50 community residents. Columbia is after four of his properties.

"I'm not a supply house for linens that can park my trucks anywhere. I serve 3,000 local families and businesses and I have to be near my customers. Location matters."

So does family: His father, Gerald, started the company, on Broadway and W. 131st St., in 1980. His sister and brother-in-law work there. And his 13-year-old daughter, Emily, has spent school vacations learning the business.

Emily could run the Sprayregen firm one day, he says, and his desire to keep it in the family is why he refuses to sell - and why he hired civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel and spent nearly $400,000 in legal and other bills battling Columbia.

Observers say several other businesses initially talked tough, blasting the school and vowing they'd never sell - then cut deals.

Columbia says most local companies it negotiated with praise its professionalism, and Fountain released letters from three firms thanking it for acting in good faith.

One satisfied customer: The world-famous Madame Alexander Doll Co., at 615 W. 131st. St., which runs a doll showroom and a doll museum, provides doll doctors and conducts factory tours by appointment.

"We're staying in the area, and Columbia made it possible," said Rob Porell, the chief financial officer. He didn't provide details, but said Columbia helpfully addressed Alexander's current and long-term business needs.

Less satisfied are Luisa Henriquez, Eduardo Chipe and the other tenants of a 30-unit, city-owned apartment building on W. 132nd St. that Columbia wants to raze.

Henriquez says the 98 residents were told nothing about the fate of their home until a community board meeting at which Columbia displayed a three-dimensional model of its planned campus: "I looked and looked, and then I asked, 'Where is 602 W. 132nd St.? Where is my home?'"

"There is no such building, it doesn't exist," Henriquez says the university official told her.

Actually, the building has quite a story. Henriquez and her neighbors have spent years fixing it up as part of a unique city program that allows low-income renters to earn sweat equity in their apartments and eventually purchase them as co-ops for $250. Tenants are projected to take title in 2011.

Home ownership had always seemed an impossible dream to the residents, mostly immigrants from Central and South America who work for low or minimum wages in fast-food restaurants, hotels and as home health-care workers.

But Columbia has already held preliminary talks with the city about buying the building and finding replacement housing for the occupants.

Fountain says they won't have to move any earlier than 2015 under the 30-year expansion timetable. Columbia would then relocate them into equal or superior housing, where they'd still be able to purchase TIL co-ops for a nominal $250.

Henriquez says it's wrong to ask 98 people to move when they've worked so hard to stay:

"Columbia University is trying to take away our dream, and our children's dream, which is 602 W. 132nd St.," she said. "Somehow, that doesn't seem very American to me."

Originally published on February 25, 2007

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Master of His Domain

Columbia Spectator
Home > Opinion

Master of His Domain
Ground Up

By Alex Jung
Issue date: 2/22/07 Section: Opinion
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In his heyday, University President Lee Bollinger, the public intellectual, waxed on about diversity, setting the stage for his landmark case Grutter v. Bollinger. He came to Columbia and staked his tenure, ironically, on grabbing the land north of 125th Street populated by an ethnically diverse community. It seems that Bollinger assimilated into the culture of Columbia rather than shifting the institution. His recent writing parallels his move up through academic echelons and focuses more on a vague "general good" that the University contributes to the global, scientific, and economic spheres. The President Bollinger of Columbia University, who earns over $500,000 and lives in a ready-made mini-mansion, has forgotten that his actions could force people out of their homes above 125th Street and accelerate the gentrification the University has already started. As Bollinger admitted in an opinion piece on Grutter, "Personally, I have never experienced systematic discrimination." Apparently now he is perpetuating it.

Regarding Harlem, Bollinger told the New York Observer that he chose it for expansion because it was a place of "great magic" and "mystique" and close to the current campus. Now it has been decided that the magical land may be blighted-a condition that if the state determines to be true would pave the way for the use of eminent domain and obliterate its allegedly cherished character.

Bollinger maintains that it would be "irresponsible" for the University to take eminent domain off the table. But it does not excuse the University actively hiding information, and consequently power, from the community whose land it wants to take. Spectator used the Freedom of Information Act twice to uncover shady moves by the University: first when it reported that Columbia paid hundreds of thousands to the Empire State Development Corporation to "pay certain costs" that would declare Manhattanville blighted, and recently to provide for its use in the General Project Plan, which assumes the area to be blighted. Eminent domain casts a dark pall over the negotiations with the community and is, in effect, a bullying tactic demonstrating who wields the power. It's not the history of the 1968 expansion that lingers in people's minds, but current misdeeds that indicate Columbia has learned little from the past.

To exercise eminent domain, Columbia has to prove that the area in question is "blighted" and that its presence there will contribute to the public good. Blight, ambiguously defined as "substandard" or "unsanitary," is simply one of the methods Columbia utilizes to further its intentions. The supposedly blighted land is in fact Columbia-owned. An article in the New York Times almost two years ago describes how Columbia is attempting to turn the neighborhood-of which it owns the majority-into a tax-free wasteland of miscellaneous objects. The University has not renewed its leases, thus preventing an influx of new people. For its part, Columbia has nurtured the "unsanitary" conditions that denote "blight," like feeding bleach to a healthy body only to pretend to save it later.

The other factor that allows for the legal exercise of eminent domain, as detailed by the Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London, is that the seized land must have a "public purpose." The court allowed the private company Pfizer to build a plant because it would create jobs and pay taxes that would benefit the community. Columbia, a nonprofit, does not pay property tax, and instead Bollinger is attempting to argue the economic benefits the University generates for the city. This January in the New York Daily News, Bollinger wrote that the proposed expansion would create an additional 6,000 jobs. Whether these jobs would be unionized or living wage or would even be guaranteed for community residents are concerns that evidently are irrelevant to the University's quest for land.

"Public" good has also been reformulated to mean the world. Bollinger has repeatedly espoused the need for Columbia to become an international institution. But mulling questions over how to pull the Global South up by its bootstraps becomes a convenient diversion from Columbia's behavior toward West Harlem. The subtext beneath the dialectic of "pro-" and "anti-" created in the expansion debate is one that casts the residents as impeding upon the freedom of an academic institution to contribute to the global marketplace of ideas. But by creating the appearance of blight and articulating the overall goodness Columbia will contribute to the world, the University (and, it hopes, the state) can callously ignore the livelihood of a diverse community including blacks and Hispanics.

On-campus worries over the absence of people of color in the administration and faculty are inherently related to the way expansion occurs. The dissolution of Bollinger's Student Advisory Committee on Diversity (remember that?) after one rocky year is part and parcel of an attitude that has consistently brushed off the concerns of marginalized people. Race, as hard as Bollinger may try to forget, is a telling dynamic in this conversation, especially considering that the gap between him and Harlem residents has shrunk little since 1968.

Back in April 1998, in an editorial titled "The Educational Importance of Race," Bollinger argued that black and white Americans lived in "racial isolation" for too long-a separation that perpetuated "unfounding images and stereotypes." As he further lamented, "There were no countervailing institutions to perform the function of education and understanding. By design, we did not know each other." What huge strides we've made.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bringing Laboratory Space Back to New York

From: "Ruth Eisenberg"
To: "Jordi Reyes-Montblanc"
Subject: Fw: article re East Side Biotech development--
Date: Thu, 1 Mar 2007 12:49:53 -0500

Real Estate

Square Feet
Bringing Laboratory Space Back to New York

Alexandria Real Estate Equities
A rendering of the East River Science Park, which is expected to
housing tenants in 2009. Construction is scheduled to start in March.

Published: February 21, 2007

When Eric Kandel, a Nobel laureate at Columbia University, formed a life sciences company, Memory Pharmaceuticals, in 1998, a lack of lab space options in New York City eventually forced the business to Montvale, N.J.


In March, the same real estate developer that built those Montvale laboratories, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, will break ground on New York City’s first substantial campus for the life sciences, called the East River Science Park. The first tenants are expected in 2009.

Upon completion, the $400 million complex will have three buildings encompassing 1.1 million square feet of specialized laboratories and office space. It will occupy 3.5 acres in Manhattan between East 28th and 29th Streets and First Avenue and Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.

Proponents of the East River Science Park said they hoped it would induce start-up life sciences companies like Memory Pharmaceuticals, which now has 65 employees, to set up operations in the city.

“There is huge investment in basic research in the life sciences through our medical research institutions, but we have failed to commercialize our science in New York City,” said Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit group composed of 200 chief executives from companies in the city.

“There are about 30 bioscience companies a year coming out of New York institutions, and essentially, they’re all going elsewhere.”

To change that, the partnership’s economic arm contributed $10 million toward creating East River Science Park. The group also worked to enlist the cooperation of an array of top scientific institutions, including Columbia University, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Mount Sinai Hospital, Rockefeller University, New York University School of Medicine, the Hospital for Special Surgery and Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Some of the institutions are within a 50-block corridor on the East Side of Manhattan, creating a natural cluster around the planned East River Science Park campus.

“The reason we think New York City is going to be particularly competitive is most other clusters have one or two institutions,” Ms. Wylde said. “Here, we have seven or eight major institutions, so the critical mass of science and of talent is greater here.”

In the life sciences, private businesses often collaborate with research institutes, medical centers and government agencies. The efforts tend to be clustered in a handful of cities, including Boston and Cambridge, Mass., and San Diego.

Laboratories used by life sciences businesses tend to have special features, like higher ceilings, heavier floor-load capacities and advanced mechanical, electrical, ventilation and plumbing systems.

Alexandria Real Estate Equities, a real estate investment trust based in Pasadena, Calif., specializes in this type of development. The company, which is publicly traded, owns 159 properties, encompassing about 11.2 million square feet; six million more square feet are planned.

It is building the East River Science Park as a speculative development, said Joel S. Marcus, the chief executive of Alexandria. The company’s tenants are mainly biotechnology and pharmaceutical businesses, but also include biodefense companies that might, for example, produce a vaccine for anthrax; concerns that develop medical devices; nonprofit organizations; and branches of government agencies and universities.

“We’ve got quite a few clients that we’re going to recruit there, and we’re in discussions with a number of people,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty good handle on the market.” Mr. Marcus said the new center would have dozens of tenants.

Property development in New York City is notoriously expensive, and life sciences space can cost two to four times that of conventional office space to develop.

Alexandria did not have to purchase the land, however. It negotiated a land lease with the city for 49 years with two 25-year options. The parcel holds a parking lot and an old laundry building that is part of the Bellevue Medical Center campus.

Once construction is complete, Alexandria will pay the city $2 million a year, a figure that will escalate over time, said the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

Alexandria will also receive subsidies. Infrastructure work, like relocating a sewer and other utilities and cleaning up the site, will be paid for with $13.9 million from the city, $27 million from the state and possibly $2 million in federal money. There will also be property tax abatement over 25 years worth $251 million, and breaks on city and state sales tax and recording taxes worth about $22.7 million.

That should enable the developer to keep rents at a reasonable level, helping attract start-up companies, said Bill Fair, the managing director of health care and bioscience at the city’s Economic Development Corporation. “What we strongly encouraged Alexandria to do, since it’s on city-owned land, is to make sure the rents are appropriate to allow some percentage of early-stage companies to come into the East River Science Park,” he said.

Lab space that has been fully built out at the Audubon Business and Technology Center, affiliated with Columbia University, is running at $55 a foot; the 100,000-square-foot center is full, with about 16 life sciences companies, said Carol Shuchman, director of commercial leasing and development at Columbia.

The only other complex offering life sciences space in the city is in Brooklyn at the Advanced Biotechnology Park of the State University of New York’s Downstate Medical Center. It currently has about 24,000 square feet of “incubator” space for start-up companies.

Mr. Marcus, Alexandria’s chief, said his company was designing the buildings to attract both start-up and midstage companies, as well as biotech venture capital companies. Besides trying to keep new bioscience companies in the city, Alexandria will also try to recruit companies from the region, as well as pharmaceutical and biotech companies based worldwide.

But even if Alexandria is able to hold down rents to recruit early-stage companies, there is no guarantee that the life sciences will flourish in New York City, said Sheridan Snyder, entrepreneur in residence at Rockefeller University.

Those institutions turn only a tiny percentage of that research into applied science, products and clinical solutions each year, said Mr. Snyder, who founded the biotech company Genzyme in 1981 and has since founded other bioscience businesses.

The East River Science Park “is akin to when the football coach says, ‘I need a new stadium to recruit players,’ ” Mr. Snyder said. “It’s a great step, but there’s so much more than just putting up that building.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Group looks to ‘blight’ Columbia plan - Students, tenants say West Harlem project being developed in secret

Group looks to ‘blight’ Columbia plan
Students, tenants say West Harlem project being developed in secret
by amy zimmer / metro new york
> email this to a friend
FEB 20, 2007

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY. A group of students unfurled a large banner on a snowy patch of the main campus with the word “blight” written in red. It was a gesture of solidarity by the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification with community members who they then shared the microphone with at a press conference denouncing the university’s plans to develop 17 acres in West Harlem.

Several residents and business owners in that zone are worried the state may designate the area as blighted to seize their property, making way for the $7 billion 30-year plan. Though Columbia has agreed to negotiate a “Community Benefits Agreement” with the West Harlem Local Development Corporation — a group of public housing residents, businesses and elected officials — SCEG members such as Rowan Moore Gerety remain skeptical.

“There’s been a lot of concern about the lack of transparency,” Moore Gerety, a Columbia senior, said. “Being that this is the only legally binding agreement [for the community], we’re concerned they’re going to negotiate in private sessions without public comment.”

Nellie Hester Bailey, co-founder of the Harlem Tenants Council, criticized the CBA as being “tainted from the very beginning” because of the inclusion of elected officials. Columbia’s hiring of Bill Lynch, Democratic strategist and former deputy mayor in the Dinkins administration, “only adds another layer in the conflict of interest.”

Nick Sprayregen, the owner of Tuck-It-Away storage who has five properties in the proposed expansion area, said he would fight any blight designation and claimed that empty buildings with weeds growing through them were owned by Columbia. The school has acquired roughly 80 percent of the 17-acre site.

“There is no affordable housing component of the plan, even though that is a mandate for the Bloomberg administration,” said Sprayregen, who is a member of the local development corporation. He has filed his own application with the city to rezone four of his properties in the footprint from manufacturing to allow for taller buildings to build affordable housing.

“We want to talk about affordable housing and these are things we are doing in private,” said LaVerna Fountain, a Columbia spokeswoman. Though she said the university was “constantly trying to make sure we get the word out,” the community “can’t be involved in every negotiation. We’re talking with businesses and have to be respectful of their privacy.”
Alum effort

Kenny Schaeffer, a Columbia alum who attended the school from 1968 through 1976, is spearheading an alumni campaign against the expansion. The group plans to publish an ad in the Columbia Spectator asking alums to ignore the school’s $4 billion capital campaign to help fund the $7 billion project “until the needs of the community are addressed,” he said.

Students Declare South Lawn Blighted

Columbia Spectator
Home > News

Students Declare South Lawn Blighted
Locals and Students Protest Possible Use of Eminent Domain in CU Expansion Zone
By Anna Phillips
Issue date: 2/20/07 Section: News
Media Credit: Aliya Khaki

Standing behind the Sundial yesterday, a gathering of Columbia students and local residents came together to make an unusual statement. Before a small crowd of students and members of the media, they deemed South Lawn, a rectangle of grass on Columbia's campus now buried beneath brown snow, blighted.

"The lawn over there has been seized and declared blighted," said Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification member Rowan Moore Gerety, CC '07. "It was not being fully utilized," he said, going on to name the various activities Columbia students and staff use the field for-among them, studying, sports, and heartfelt conversations.

The declaration was a nod to the neighborhood conditions study being conducted by the Empire State Development Corporation, which is being reimbursed for the costs of the study by Columbia. A draft of the General Project Plan for the expansion, prepared by Columbia lawyers, presumed that the study would find the area blighted, paving the way for ESDC to use eminent domain to take property and turn it over to Columbia.

The conditions necessary for a blight finding are not clearly defined by law, but overcrowding, deteriorating buildings, irregularity of plots, crime, lack of sanitation, fire hazards, pollution, and diverse land ownership that makes assembling tracts of property difficult have been among contributing factors in past cases.

The noon event was composed of several community activists such as Coalition to Preserve Community leader Tom DeMott, Harlem Tenants' Council President Nellie Bailey, and Nick Sprayregen, owner of a storage company in Manhattanville. It was a typical crowd of expansion opponents, but this time they were joined by members of the SCEG, most of whom stood behind the speakers holding anti-expansion signs.

Most of the speakers praised the students who stood by them. Community Board 9 member Vicky Gholson addressed those in the audience. "You should not be used as a tool by the administration of Columbia University," she said. "Do not separate yourself from this argument, from this fight."

For all its humor and bite, the blight declaration and protest had little effect on Columbia administrators, who knew of the event weeks in advance. The protestors are "comparing space on a campus that is used by students and administration for events and recreation and ceremonies to an area that, in fact, for some time now, and not just when Columbia began purchasing property there, has had a diminished number of jobs ... I don't know how you can compare that," said Columbia spokeswoman La-Verna Fountain. "About one tenth of one percent of the student body participated," she added.

But Moore Gerety said he was pleased with the student turnout and media attention. "Any publicity that's not coming directly from Columbia's administration is good publicity," he said. DeMott said that upon hearing the students' plans to declare South Lawn blighted, he had laughed. "But it was right on the money," he said. "It had some humor and an echo of protests past."

NB- Dr. Vicky Gholson participated exclusively in her private capacity and any opinions expressed are solely her own and are notto be taken as the represention of any Committee or the Chairman, Officers or membership of Community Board 9 Manhattan.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Oscar Hijuelos (born in New York City, August 24 1951) is an American novelist. He is the first Hispanic to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Hijuelos was born in Morningside Heights in WestSide Harlem, New York to Cuban immigrant parents. He studied writing at City College of New York, and practiced various professions before taking up writing full-time.

He currently lives in New York City, and has a contract with Harper Collins.

Our House in the Last World, 1983 (Rome Prize, 1985)
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, 1990 (Pulitzer Prize), the basis for the 1992 motion picture The Mambo Kings (produced as a musical in 2005)
The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien, 1993
Mr. Ives' Christmas, 1995
Empress of the Splendid Season, 1999
A Simple Habana Melody, 2002

OSCAR HIJUELOS is a Pulitzer-prize-winning Cuban-American.

His novel Empress of the Splendid Season is set in the neighborhood:
"By the mid-1960's many of the Irish in that neighborhood had left, though several large families remained on 123rd, on the hill around the corner from where Lydia and Raul lived. A new Chinese restaurant went into business near the El train entrance, and over on Amsterdam Avenue a Japanese joint had opened on the first floor of an apartment building near an old Civil-War-era stone water house. Students abounded because of the universities, City College to the north, and to the south Columbia and Barnard ("Barnyard").
In those days they still mainly stayed in campus housing, the males, for the most part, crew-cutted and wholesome seeming, the females, teacherly. Gradually there had appeared scruffy young people, who sometimes stood in front of the subway kiosks, handing out mimeographed sheets of poetry or asking for money..."

"One afternoon in the spring of 1968, during the time of the famous university riots, a college girl, wandering lost in the cavernous and winding recesses of a many-stairwelled building at the edge of a campus "occupied" -- liberated -- by rebellious students, had nearly been raped, or so she had claimed, by three local youths... The riots had brought more and more police around, especially by the university campus, these policemen stopping people for no particular reason, like Raul, on his way to visit Martinez, an old school friend who lived over on Amsterdam on the other side of the school. They were Tactical Police Force officers, who at that point had endured weeks of tension, standing in at-the-ready formation in riot gear and with Roman-looking shields poised before them, along certain points on upper Broadway and in various places around the campus."

"Irritable and vindictive, they couldn't really give a damn about the complaints of one of them, for they (rightly) lumped her in with the bourgeois kids who'd started the trouble over a deserted piece of shit, glass-strewn university property in Morningside Park in West Harlem. The university's plan to clear away several acres of granite and shale and thickets of poison oak to build an athletic field (it is there now, just off 110th Street and Manhattan Avenue) had outraged the radical students, though few of these kids, in the ordinary course of their life at the university, wouldn't have been caught dead in that place, or anywhere else in the park, unless by accident..."

"The 'community' itself -- that is, the working people of Harlem and the West Side -- were not really involved, nor was their opinion solicited; rather, in the manner of the upper class, the radicals declared that the project would be exploitative of the people, that it was yet another example of racism, as the university leadership was white and much of the community was black and Hispanic. Assuming the righteousness of their cause, the radicals sought agreement with what they had already decided upon. Street protests against the Vietnam War, ROTC on campus, and university ownership of armament company stocks melded with the cause of community rights. In the name of liberation, students went on strike, closing down the school and occupying many of the campus buildings."

"The people in Lydia's neighborhood were against the war and for civil rights, but beyond that they were not really a part of the glory and heroism of the movement. Pamphlets were handed out on every street corner, public high-school kids were bussed in to protest (without knowing what they were protesting), condemnations of the university and the government were shouted through megaphones; a multitude of reporters roamed looking for interesting radicals to interview, while folks like Lydia and Raul, walking home, tired from work, went ignored..."

"In any event, during the strikes, which had lasted for most of the semester, it was the habit of local kids to invade the campus, attending radical rallies and dances. When the students began to occupy different buildings, shut off from the outside world, the locals found ways to get inside. Because the students had an easy enough time bringing food, money, booze, and whatever else they needed into the occupied buildings, (hanging from cord out windows were picnic baskets into which passersby on Amsterdam or Broadway could toss money or drugs or cigarettes for the cause), there was much to eat and drink; jugs of cheap wine and beer were everywhere.
Some of the kids went for the young college girls, for this was the time of free love, others out of pure boredom, and some, like Johnny, went because fancy electric typewriters (IBM Selectrics being state of the art and not too heavy to carry) and the occasional radio and guitar were his lucre. Caring little about the politics of the situation, and suspending their prejudices, the poor neighborhood kids were thrilled to partake in the rich kids' world (the pussy). They would go there with the expectations and high hopes of children visiting a theme park..."

"With the passage of years the university had put up new and ghastly buildings in the neighborhood, a law school and a school of international affairs, among others, and modern sculptures so breathtakingly ugly that passersby and time-time residents of the neighborhood were immediately depressed; and the constructed all manner of blocky high-rise student housing, demolishing many a tenement (out with the past, upward and onward with the future!) and raising the rents so high that businesses like Eliseo's cafe were forced to close. Eliseo began to sell books on Broadway, and every so often Lydia, taking a walk, would stop by to see him...
Six days a week he showed up with a shopping cart filled with books he had scavenged here and there in the neighborhood, spread two sheets on the sidewalk in front of a church on 113th Street and Broadway, and covered them with his merchandise. He also sold magazines and phonograph albums and in this manner, just got by."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Judge Limits New York Police Taping - New York Times

Judge Limits New York Police Taping
Published: February 16, 2007

In a rebuke of a surveillance practice greatly expanded by the New York Police Department after the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal judge ruled yesterday that the police must stop the routine videotaping of people at public gatherings unless there is an indication that unlawful activity may occur.

Skip to next paragraph
RelatedText of the Decision (pdf)
The Empire Zone Blog: Court Case Primeval
Police Infiltrate Protests, Videotapes Show (Dec. 22, 2005)
Video: N.Y.C. Police Surveillance

Four years ago, at the request of the city, the same judge, Charles S. Haight Jr., gave the police greater authority to investigate political, social and religious groups.

In yesterday’s ruling, Judge Haight, of United States District Court in Manhattan, found that by videotaping people who were exercising their right to free speech and breaking no laws, the Police Department had ignored the milder limits he had imposed on it in 2003.

Citing two events in 2005 — a march in Harlem and a demonstration by homeless people in front of the home of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — the judge said the city had offered scant justification for videotaping the people involved.

“There was no reason to suspect or anticipate that unlawful or terrorist activity might occur,” he wrote, “or that pertinent information about or evidence of such activity might be obtained by filming the earnest faces of those concerned citizens and the signs by which they hoped to convey their message to a public official.”

While he called the police conduct “egregious,” Judge Haight also offered an unusual judicial mea culpa, taking responsibility for his own words in a 2003 order that he conceded had not been “a model of clarity.”

The restrictions on videotaping do not apply to bridges, tunnels, airports, subways or street traffic, Judge Haight noted, but are meant to control police surveillance at events where people gather to exercise their rights under the First Amendment.

“No reasonable person, and surely not this court, is unaware of the perils the New York public faces and the crucial importance of the N.Y.P.D.’s efforts to detect, prevent and punish those who would cause others harm,” Judge Haight wrote.

Jethro M. Eisenstein, one of the lawyers who challenged the videotaping practices, said that Judge Haight’s ruling would make it possible to contest other surveillance tactics, including the use of undercover officers at political gatherings. In recent years, police officers have disguised themselves as protesters, shouted feigned objections when uniformed officers were making arrests, and pretended to be mourners at a memorial event for bicycle riders killed in traffic accidents.

“This was a major push by the corporation counsel to say that the guidelines are nice but they’re yesterday’s news, and that the security establishment’s view of what is important trumps civil liberties,” Mr. Eisenstein said. “Judge Haight is saying that’s just not the way we’re doing things in New York City.”

A spokesman for Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly referred questions about the ruling to the city’s lawyers, who noted that Judge Haight did not set a deadline for destroying the tapes it had already made, and that the judge did not find the city had violated the First Amendment.
Nevertheless, Judge Haight — at times invoking the mythology of the ancient Greeks and of Harold Ross, the founding editor of The New Yorker — used blunt language to characterize the Police Department’s activities.

“There is no discernible justification for the apparent disregard of the guidelines” in his 2003 court order, he said. These spell out the broad circumstances under which the police could investigate political gatherings.

Under the guidelines, the police may conduct investigations — including videotaping — at political events only if they have indications that unlawful activity may occur, and only after they have applied for permission to the deputy commissioner in charge of the Intelligence Division.

Judge Haight noted that the Police Department had not produced
evidence that any applications for permission to videotape had ever been filed.

Near the end of his 51-page order, the judge warned that the Police Department must change its practices or face penalties.

“Any future use by the N.Y.P.D. of video and photographic equipment during the course of an investigation involving political activity” that did not follow the guidelines could result in contempt proceedings, he wrote.

At monthly group bicycle rides in Lower Manhattan known as Critical Mass, some participants break traffic laws, and the police routinely videotape those events, Judge Haight noted. That would be an appropriate situation for taping, he said, but police officials did not follow the guidelines and apply for permission.

“This is a classic case of application of the guidelines: political activity on the part of individuals, but legitimate law enforcement purpose on the part of the police,” Judge Haight wrote. “It is precisely the sort of situation where the guidelines require adherence to certain protocols but ultimately give the N.Y.P.D. the flexibility to pursue its law enforcement goals.”

Gideon Oliver, a lawyer who has represented many people arrested during the monthly bicycle rides, said he was troubled by the intensive scrutiny of political activities.

“I’m looking forward to a deeper and more serious exploration of how and why this surveillance has been conducted,” Mr. Oliver said.

In the past the Police Department has said that it needed intelligence about the Critical Mass rides in order to protect the streets from unruly riders.

Patrick Markee, an official with another group that was cited in the ruling, the Coalition for the Homeless, said the judge’s decision ratified their basic rights to free speech.

“We’re gratified that Judge Haight found that the police shouldn’t engage in surveillance of homeless New Yorkers and their supporters when they’re engaged in peaceful, lawful political protest,” Mr. Markee said.

The Police Department’s approach to investigating political, social and religious groups has been a contentious subject for most of four decades, and a class action lawsuit brought by political activists, including a lawyer named Barbara Handschu, was settled in 1985. Judge Haight oversees the terms of that settlement, which are known as the Handschu guidelines, and which he modified in 2003.

At the time, Judge Haight said that the police could “attend any event open to the public, on the same terms and conditions of the public generally.”

But in yesterday’s ruling, he said that permission “cannot be stretched to authorize police officers to videotape everyone at a public gathering just because a visiting little old lady from Dubuque (to borrow from The New Yorker) could do so. There is a quantum difference between a police officer and the little old lady (or other tourist or private citizen) videotaping or photographing a public event.”

The judge said he bore some responsibility for misinterpretation of the guidelines.

“I confess with some chagrin that while the text of this opinion and its implementing order, read together, may not be as opaque as the irritatingly baffling pronouncements of the Oracle” at Delphi, “they do not constitute a model of clarity,” he wrote

Friday, February 16, 2007

City Council Calendar for Monday, February 19, 2007 - Sunday, February 25, 2007

Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2007 17:00:18 -0500 (EST)
From: "NYC Council Legislative Update"
Subject: City Council Calendar for Monday, February 19, 2007 - Sunday, February 25, 2007

City Council Calendar for Monday, February 19, 2007 - Sunday, February 25, 2007

- - - Speaker Christine C. Quinn delivers State of the City Address, Outlines
proposals for a more livable City
- - - - -
On Thursday, February 15th, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn delivered
her State of the City Address. In a series of ambitious proposals to make the
City more livable for middle class families, the Speaker unveiled major housing,
education, and healthcare initiatives. These proposals include tax relief for
renters, help for New Yorkers to become first time home buyers and the creation
of educational specialists that will assist families in finding and getting
into the right schools. The speech also highlighted the Speaker's ongoing work to
reform government and demand greater fiscal responsibility.

See the text of the speech, download a copy of the speech or download the news
release at

You may respond to Speaker Quinn's State of the City address at

- - - - Middle Schools Task Force to develop a blueprint for positive change -
- - - -
City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn has convened a Middle School Task Force
to develop a blueprint for improving our City's middle schools. Task Force
members represent key stakeholders in the Middle School system: Students, Parents,
Teachers, administrators and advocates.

The Task Force needs your input as to how middle schools need to be improved.
Please tell us what you think at

For more information or to receive updates about the Middle School Task Force,
please visit

- - - - - Legislative Calendar - - - - -

No meetings have been scheduled for the week of Monday, February 19, 2007 -
Sunday, February 25, 2007

More Information at

This is the City Council news you requested for: Council Legislative Calendar
Email Updates

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Public Advocate Talks to CB9

Columbia Spectator

Public Advocate Talks to CB9
Betsy Gotbaum Criticizes Changes to School Bus Routes

By Melissa Repko
Issue date: 2/16/07 Section: News

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum criticized the recent changes to school bus routes and Columbia's general project plan at Community Board 9's monthly general board meeting on Thursday night.
In commenting on the busing changes, which have angered many parents and left some children without an easily accessible way to get to school, Gotbaum emphasized that the Department of Education must communicate with parents, teachers, and students before making sweeping changes.

"I wouldn't trust [Chancellor] Joel Klein to charter a school bus," Gotbaum said. "The bus fiasco ... is almost behind us, but what is the next thing?"Gotbaum added that community members should contact her if they observed any changes in their children's schools. She also mentioned recent reports about school safety and adult protective services, calling the service for elderly people without families "a complete disaster."

Many CB9 members also voiced frustration with Columbia's draft general project plan, which rests on the presumption that the area of Manhattanville into which the University wants to expand will be declared blighted and provides for the use of eminent domain to acquire property.

Gotbaum said that it was problematic that the report had been privately commissioned by Columbia. She noted that she had toured the Manhattanville area.

"By the way, the public advocate was able to purchase a vacuum cleaner in our blighted stores," CB9 Chairman Jordi Reyes-Montblanc said.

"It's the best vacuum cleaner I've ever had," Gotbaum responded.

The board passed a resolution stating that it would write a letter encouraging the archdiocese to rent space in St. Catherine of Genoa church to Hamilton Heights Academy, a charter school that is looking for a permanent home. This would allow the school to move to Community District 9 from the space at P.S. 28 in District 12 where it is now temporarily housed.

Another resolution called for the West Harlem local development corporation, which is negotiating a community benefits agreement with Columbia, to hire technical experts to help with the negotiations.

The next CB9 general board meeting will be held on March 15.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Designing the Future of West Harlem and Red Hook

February 15, 2007

Designing the Future of West Harlem and Red Hook
The NY Observer has the details on the negotiations between Columbia and its West Harlem neighbors. The university claims to own 67.5 percent of the 17 acres it wants to develop from 125th to 133rd streets between Broadway and Twelve Avenue - leading to a scramble for the 20 percent owned by the MTA and other public agencies and the remaining 12 percent that is privately held.

University officials are turning to Community Benefits Agreement - a contract between developers and local stakeholders that promise perks like jobs in exchange for political support. Community entities get the promises in writing and developers get their projects built faster with less political fallout. As the Observer points out, the CBA could mean that community leaders will look the other way if Columbia turns to eminent domain to take the privately-held land.

What’s also interesting about the negotiations surrounding the West Harlem CBA is the competing land-use proposal put forth by the local community board, which worked with Pratt on a zoning plan that would compete with Columbia’s – and allow West Harlem residents and community leaders to have a say on how their neighborhood would be transformed. Even the Mayor’s office is intrigued. Here’s what Manhattan Community Board 9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc told the Observer about the CBA:

Whenever people come to the community to develop something, it is seldom, if ever, resulting in any benefit for the people who have made this place real. We want it in writing, we want it contractual—in a way that it can be fulfilled, that it can be verified.

And here’s Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s take:

The C.B.A., first of all, provides a context to build a relationship with the surrounding communities, and I don’t mean just engaging in a discussion about what Columbia can do and wants to do, but what the communities would like to see, and their aspirations and needs. Secondly, it provides clarity of those things that we can agree to do for the surrounding communities—so we get that sort of settled. Lastly, it builds a base of trust. Over time, that is equally important, maybe more important, because the limits of what Columbia will do for surrounding communities will not be set by the community-benefits agreements.

Those negotiating the CBA on behalf of West Harlem at first were representatives from nearby public housing projects, local business organizations and commercial property owners. Now seven pols, who had been overlooked to avoid any conflicts of interest, are on the board negotiating the CBA. Supposedly conflicts of interest related to their official roles were resolved, but, as one local stakeholder asks, isn’t Columbia one of their constituents? Two of those seven elected officials even have a vote on the land-use application.

Columbia isn’t the first developer to turn to CBAs. Forest City Ratner also signed a CBA with 8 local nonprofits including ACORN, which supported the project. At least four of the CBA signatories received money from Ratner, but it hasn’t been determined which ones and how much. Indeed, the Yards CBA has been criticized for being an example of democracy-for-hire.

Speaking of Brooklyn, Red Hook is closer to hosting a “harbor district” now that the Port Authority has granted approval to transferring piers 7 to 12 to the city, reports the NY Sun.

The transfer means that Brooklyn’s last working container port will close as the city gears up for a public land review process for the site – which could include a cruise ship terminal, a brewery and retail spaces. The city is looking into expanding a port in Sunset Park to preserve the lost container jobs.

A Red Hook harbor district doesn't change the fact that the area is inaccessible if you are car-less - unless you happen to be arriving via Carnival. That Water Taxi isn’t reliable, the B61 bus leaves much to be desired and a walk or bike ride from Smith and Ninth Street can be long and bad for the lungs.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mr. Bollinger’s Battle : Can Harlem and Columbia Ever Agree on the Benefits of a Bigger Campus?

This column ran on page 48 in the 2/19/2007 edition of The New York Observer

Mr. Bollinger’s Battle

Can Harlem and Columbia Ever Agree on the Benefits of a Bigger Campus?

By Matthew Schuerman

Nina Roberts
Lee Bollinger, Columbia’s president, has staked much of his tenure
on expanding the university into West Harlem.

It was more than two years ago, over a couple of beers at the West End in Morningside Heights, that Jordi Reyes-Montblanc first told a Columbia University official that he wanted a community-benefits agreement.

These devices—contracts that force developers to promise jobs or other goodies in exchange for political support for a project—had been circulating in urban-planning circles since 2001. The idea, which has been likened to extortion or to the subversion of democracy by critics, has made recent forays in New York City, appearing at Atlantic Yards and again at the Bronx Terminal Market shopping center.

“Whenever people come to the community to develop something, it is seldom, if ever, resulting in any benefit for the people who have made this place real,” Mr. Reyes-Montblanc told The Observer recently. “We want it in writing, we want it contractual—in a way that it can be fulfilled, that it can be verified.”

Mr. Reyes-Montblanc, a Cuban-born international-shipping consultant who heads the local community board, was holding a relatively strong hand: His board was working on a zoning plan that would compete with the university’s. The Pratt Institute was offering advice, and the Bloomberg administration seemed to view the whole thing as an interesting test case.

Columbia, meanwhile, was eager to heal the wounds that Harlem residents still felt from the university’s attempted takeover of Morningside Park back in 1968.

And so, the Ivy League official sitting across the table from him, senior executive vice president Robert Kasdin, indicated that he would be amenable to “talking with legitimate representatives about how our expansion should benefit the surrounding community,” Mr. Kasdin recalled.

Finally, after months of preparation, the negotiations for the community-benefits agreement began last month. Once completed, the C.B.A. may set a precedent for all other large real-estate projects in New York City, a precedent which, based on the way it has evolved so far, would be much more rigorous than those already established in the Bronx or Brooklyn.

Or it could provide more evidence that negotiations like this, outside the halls of government, come to no good.

PRACTICALLY SPEAKING, THE COMMUNITY-BENEFITS agreement will likely provide the key that Columbia needs to unlock city approval for its 17-acre expansion into West Harlem—an expansion that the university’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, has pretty much staked his tenure on.

Mr. Bollinger has known of the city-locked university’s desperate need for space since his very first interviews to get the job. His inaugural address in October 2002 even mentioned Manhattanville—the university’s preferred name for the southernmost section of West Harlem—as a possible expansion site well before the school went public with its plans.

“It turns out, at least from my point of view early on, that it was space that was the critical determinant in whether, over time, Columbia would maintain its greatness and achieve its potential,” Mr. Bollinger, a broad-shouldered man with salt-and-pepper hair, said recently in his office in Low Library. “Because of the crisis of the 1960’s, part of which involved space, Columbia has struggled for several decades to address the issue. While other universities were growing significantly, Columbia was making do with a building here, a space there, and it really had to, in my view, address this in a more comprehensive way.”

Mr. Bollinger considered a site along the Hudson River in the West 50’s, but decided in favor of West Harlem, in part because of its proximity to neighboring Morningside Heights and in part because, he said, “Harlem is a place of great magic, of mystique, of tremendous creativity and accomplishment.”

Ironically, by choosing Manhattanville, the man who became a champion of affirmative action shortly after becoming president of the University of Michigan, whence he came to Columbia, is putting himself in the position of displacing about 132 ethnically diverse households. Columbia has promised to relocate the residents in comparable or superior lodgings, but, according to LaVerna Fountain, Columbia’s assistant vice president for communications, details about how long tenants would enjoy comparable rents haven’t been worked out.

Mr. Bollinger said that he doesn’t see a contradiction between his University of Michigan and Columbia personae, but he does acknowledge that relations between the university and Harlem need to improve.

That’s where the community-benefits agreement comes in.

“The C.B.A., first of all, provides a context to build a relationship with the surrounding communities, and I don’t mean just engaging in a discussion about what Columbia can do and wants to do, but what the communities would like to see, and their aspirations and needs,” Mr. Bollinger said. “Secondly, it provides clarity of those things that we can agree to do for the surrounding communities—so we get that sort of settled. Lastly, it builds a base of trust. Over time, that is equally important, maybe more important, because the limits of what Columbia will do for surrounding communities will not be set by the community-benefits agreements.”

WHEN THE COMMUNITY BOARD STARTED TO FORM an entity that would negotiate on West Harlem’s behalf, one thing was certain: Harlem didn’t think much of the community-benefits agreement for Atlantic Yards, in which developer Forest City Ratner negotiated directly with nonprofits that would end up making money from the agreement.

“Ratner and the city got together with one big, national not-for-profit and a set of local sycophants and put something together which doesn’t seem to have satisfied too many people, except for those who are benefiting directly from it,” Mr. Reyes-Montblanc, the chairman of Community Board 9, said.

The community board wanted to keep out elected officials as well, at least until 2008, when their clout might be important to force Columbia to comply with the agreement. The point was to avoid the conflicts of interest that were apparent when Bronx City Council members negotiated a “community-benefits program” with the Yankees that called for, among other things, a $32 million charitable trust fund that would be indirectly controlled by the same elected officials who negotiated the deal.

Instead, the West Harlem community board began selecting representatives from the different public-housing projects nearby, as well as someone from the local business organization, another to represent the commercial-property owners—in other words, representatives from different constituencies, rather than heads of organizations that might benefit from the agreement.

Then, during the first meeting between the local development corporation and Columbia in August, a string of elected officials, with U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel at the head of the line, walked into the meeting room on 125th Street.

The politicians, who had been invited out of courtesy, argued that if they were going to be asked to enforce an agreement, they should help forge it. And besides, given all the difficulties of selecting true representatives of the community, why not go with some duly elected representatives?

“It was absolutely clear to us, by the time the meeting ended, that if we didn’t include their representatives on the board as voting members, that we would be doing so at our own peril,” said one development-corporation board member.

After several more weeks of give-and-take with the elected officials, the local development corporation went back and revised its by-laws to permit them as voting members to the board—but only after the corporation raised questions about whether or not there would be conflicts of interest with their official roles in the land-use approval process. The corporation asked the elected officials to seek legal counsel on this point.

Susan Russell, the chief of staff for City Councilman Robert Jackson, said that only two of the elected officials now on the development corporation’s board—Mr. Jackson, who represents West Harlem, and Inez Dickens, who represents an adjacent district—would also vote on the land-use application. (The other five elected officials are state legislators, Mr. Rangel, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who only issues recommendations on land-use plans.)

“Elected officials bring experience to the board,” Ms. Russell said. “They bring the power of their office. And they help legitimize and broaden the base of representation of the board.”

The community board is struggling to maintain a united front against the use of eminent domain—the government’s right to take private property, with compensation for the owner, so long as it goes to some sort of public use, with “public use” being variously defined. Tom DeMott, a former post-office employee who is a tenants’ representative on the development corporation’s board, fears that the involvement of elected officials may dilute that resolve, even though they profess solidarity.

“The problem with having elected officials on the local development corporation is that one of the constituents they represent is Columbia University,” Mr. DeMott said. “There is immense potential here, but there is also immense potential to get screwed.”

The views on eminent domain among the current 19 board members of the local development corporation—including representatives from elected officials—is actually diverse and nuanced, according to the corporation’s president, Patricia Jones, a certified public accountant who lives in Hamilton Heights.

“Some believe that eminent domain is a land-use issue, and therefore outside the purview of the C.B.A. Some believe that because the Empire State Development Corporation will make the ultimate decision as to whether or not eminent-domain powers ought to be used, a lot of people say that’s a state issue,” Ms. Jones said. “You’ve got others who say, ‘I don’t care whose issue it is, it needs to come off the table.’”

Right now, Columbia says that it owns 67.5 percent of the 17 acres it wants. Another 20.5 percent is owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and other public agencies. Just 12 percent is privately held.

“In my view, it would be irresponsible to take eminent domain off the table,” Mr. Bollinger said. “I don’t know if we will ask for it—I hope not—but certainly I think that, when there is an economic interest that is standing in the way of a public purpose, like major work on the brain that may cure diseases like Alzheimer’s, I think we should be in a position to use it or call for its use.”

It may turn out that the community-benefits agreement will become the price that Columbia has to pay for the right to take that final 12 percent of property by eminent domain. Consider: The university softens up the local development-corporation members with enough well-meaning promises that a majority of them would overlook the eminent-domain issue. The City Council takes its cue from the local development corporation and approves the land-use changes that Columbia needs to turn an industrial slum into gleaming scientific laboratories.


Officially, the city considers C.B.A.’s separate from the zoning changes that the Planning Commission and City Council decide, but in practice they are intertwined. The Related Companies and the Yankees negotiated their community-benefits agreements until just hours before the City Council took its vote on the land-use plan, because the Council was waiting to see that the affected neighborhoods got something for their pain.

And since the state will make the decision on eminent domain, that City Council vote is really the only one where local officials could block Columbia from taking property away against the owners’ will.

Meanwhile, the official city policy on C.B.A.’s is murky. Why, it was just 10 months ago that the Mayor called an attempt at creating a C.B.A. for the new Mets stadium “a ransom.” Yet the Bloomberg administration has sanctioned the Columbia C.B.A. to a greater extent than any others.

It was the Mayor’s office, for example, that drafted Jesse Masyr, a developer’s attorney who represented the Related Companies for Bronx Terminal Market, to work pro bono for the community group.

And the city’s Economic Development Corporation has allocated $350,000 to pay for a mediator and underwrite certain other expenses.

“What we have attempted [is] to play the role of honest broker in discussions between the community and Columbia,” Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff told The Observer in January.

But Mr. Doctoroff added that he didn’t see the use of a C.B.A. in West Harlem as necessarily a model for future large-scale development plans.

“We’ve learned that community input is absolutely essential,” he said. “We’ve also learned that every community is different, so we continue to take a very tailored approach to every situation.”

Mr. Masyr acknowledged that C.B.A.’s raise many beguiling issues, but said they are the wave of the future. One question is how closely related the benefits that a developer promises must be to the project undertaken. Another is whether, by linking votes on the C.B.A. with the ones that the City Council takes on land use, the C.B.A. doesn’t amount to extortion.

“It’s an evolving issue,” Mr. Masyr said. “I can easily anticipate in the future seeing more involvement from government, not less.”

You may reach Matthew Schuerman via email at: .

This column ran on page 48 in the 2/19/2007 edition of The New York Observer.