Wednesday, December 12, 2007

City Council Statement By Walter South 12Dec07

City Council Statement
By Walter South 12 Dec 07

Re: CB#9’s 197a Land Use Application and Columbia’s 197c Rezoning Application

My name is Walter South. I am a Member of Community Board #9, Co-Chair of their 197-a Committee, Co-Chair of their Housing and Land Use Committee; hold a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and currently a Candidate for a Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation.

I testify today very reluctantly. I say this because I have testified throughout the hearings for the EIS, for the ULURP process, for several City Agencies, and for others and frankly not one damn significant change has taken place.

I am a Hoosier, born in Indiana. Unlike a many fancy talking New Yorkers, I tell it like it is.

This is the key to understand this c application is an article which appeared in The Wall Street Journal in October of this year. The article reported that Yale had a profit in their last fiscal year of 4.5 billion dollars on their endowment Funds. Yale’s profit on their endowment last year almost exceeded Columbia’s total endowment!

This is the bottom line rationale for this 197-c application.
Columbia was rated this year by the U.S.News and World Report as 9th among the best schools in the Nation. They rated behind Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, University of Penn, MIT, and even Duke. But, Columbia wants to “belly up to the table with the big boy’s”. There is only one little problem. Columbia cannot even pick up their own tab.

So they have called for a “Hail Mary Play”. Let the Government pick up the tab, so they can score on an end run. Let the City rezone 17 acres for their exclusive use and the City pick up the infrastructure expenses, and let the State ESDC grab the site by Eminent Domain, and then fund the buildings by the NYS Dormitory Authority, and get Federal Research Bio-Tech Grants to pay off the State tax exempt bonds.

And they use as a smokescreen the words “Academic or Campus” to befuddle the City.

What’s in this for Columbia? They get 17 acres, on the cheap, plus all the land under all the streets and sidewalks for free, and furthermore they get to keep all income from any future Patents for their endowment fund.

What’s in this for New York City? Columbia will pay no property taxes, no expenses for police, fire, or sewage usage.

They have made several claims about jobs. Sometimes it is claimed that 6,000 new jobs will be created, sometimes 7,000 sometimes 9,000. Is this in writing? Is there a contract? No: its puffery; its hot air; it’s just a taking point. Are these jobs for the auto mechanics and warehouse employees that are being displaced?

At present Columbia has about 14,000 employees.
(According to unpublished internal documents) Of this number about 3,500 teach and about 10,500 are in support and administration. (This includes a very large Patent Office). If they create 6,000 jobs this means an increase of 43% in employees. If the number of students is not increasing how is this increase to be paid for? It is going to be paid for from Government funds and/or the private business sector: hence their Business Park

Matter of fact, at present over 27% of Columbia students are foreign students. This is one of the largest percentages of foreign students of any college in this country. Columbia’s mission is to educate the elite of the world-not our kids. Would this same amount of money going to City College, make our City better?

Lastly, how does Columbia justify their need to develop this exclusive office park? By claiming that they need to build a seven story deep, 17 acre bathtub, in a known geological fault. We know, in some cases, bedrock is at least 280 feet. In this tub they propose about 18 high rise buildings. (According to the City Planning Web Site.)

Of course, this bathtub is a complete fantasy. When the bill for this tub comes in, and the logistics for moving probably 100,000 trucks of this dirty dirt out of the City is clarified -it will never be built. In the meantime, the City has been snookered!

And of course to guarantee the success of this land grab, the University, has basically paid for much of the work by the State ESDC, and asks for the right to use Eminent Domain to take site control. They want to steal someone’s private property for their own exclusive use.

This proposal is unjust, immoral, unethical, and contrary to the rights as set forth in our Bill of Rights and Constitution.

Our Community welcomes Columbia to expand. If they want to go into business, we have no problem. But, let it be a level playing field. Let them buy land on the open market.Let the market decide if their business venture warrants their investment. After all Harvard is expanding with no Eminent Domain. University of Penn has expanded without Eminent Domain. NYU has expanded without Eminent Domain.

The Council should require City Planning to adopt the 197-a plan of CB#9 which allows the applicant to expand while respecting and preserving a richly diverse community. The Council must eject any forced evictions. The Council should embrace the significance of historic preservation of Old Manhattanville. The Council must require the applicant to integrate within the community, not bulldoze it. We want Columbia to be a part of the Community, not apart from the Community.

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