[I was startled to discover that a number of my favorite stores and others ranging from B’way east down 125th St. have had their leases closed down since my last shopping trip to C-Town and the stores around it.  The closed ones include the neighborhood pharmacy, a 99 cent store, a shoe store, the laundromat where one could wait for a bus in bad weather.  So far as I can determine these properties are owned by the city which is upgrading (?) — the new Commerce Bank.  Sadly this was the shopping center for Grant Houses and other nearby residents.

What we are seeing is a collaborative effort on the part of the Bloomberg administration to make big bucks both from its city owned properties and also as sponsor of such efforts as the Columbia extension into Manhattanville.  The articles from today’s Spectator (below) tell it all as members of the city’s LDC (Local Development Corporation) set up by Bloomberg & Co. to negotiate with the residents and businesses under the Columbia gun has been corrupted by local pols from top to bottom (with the notable exception of Bill Perkins) who are more than ready to go along — Charlie Rangel, Scott Stringer, Eric Schneiderman, Robert Jackson, and others.  They have preempted the decision-making by Community Board #9 with covert negotiations by a small contingent of their leaders — does not bode well for the communities under fire now.

Super gentrification has now replaced affordable housing as a NYC model for making places for people where they and their children can prosper.  Robert A. Taft, former Republican majority leader and presidential candidate in the Eisenhower era, who was converted to public housing as the only way to provide affordable living, would turn over in his grave.  Bloomberg is an operator — typical of the billionaires who have taken over American democracy in the interest of themselves and their cronies — and then there is the crookery of Giuliani now emerging into public consciousness.  Some party!  Ed Kent]

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Three Members Resign From LDC
By Daniel Amzallag
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 29, 2007

Three members of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation announced their resignation Wednesday night, citing a lack of progress and corruption among local elected officials.

The resignation of Tom DeMott, CC ’80, Nick Sprayregen, and Luisa Henriquez—who have all been outspoken activists against Columbia’s proposed Manhattanville expansion—from the LDC, a non-profit organization created to develop a community benefits agreement with Columbia, comes days after a City Planning Commission decision approving the expansion’s rezoning plan. The plan must now be approved by the New York City Council, as part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

“I feel that I cannot be part of a group that is negotiating with Columbia in a way that does not truly represent the wishes of those whom we represent,” said Sprayregen, who is also the largest private property owner after Columbia in the expansion footprint. “We have tried from the inside to steer things right, but we have been unable to do so. Now perhaps from the outside we can draw more attention to how corrupt this has become.”

Susan Russell, an officer of the LDC and chief of staff for City Council member Robert Jackson, D-West Harlem, expressed surprise and disappointment with the resignations. “They’re trying to make us look bad to make their point, but the fact is this local development corporation is a very excellent and hardworking body. We’re completing our mission to so many people,” she said.

“People always have different opinions about what’s in the best interests of the community, but for them to be disparaging this body … is very unfortunate, and they are using this for their own political ends,” she added.

Henriquez, a resident of the expansion zone, cited a lack of transparency in the LDC as the reason for her resignation. “They are showing one thing in the meeting, we see one thing, and we hear other things,” she said. “They’re supposed to make meetings with the public, make a forum, and let the community know what’s going on. They haven’t done that, and they’re supposed to.”

Russell, who led an effort to oust Sprayregen from the board this summer, defended the practice of involving a limited number of people in negotiations. “It’s not like people are trying to exclude others, but there has to be a certain level of practicality there,” she said. “Everyone on that board is absolutely dedicated to this community, and I can say that without hesitation.”

DeMott, of the Coalition to Preserve Community, and Sprayregen pointed to problems they described with elected officials who serve on the LDC. Politicians have been working to “streamline” approval of rezoning regardless of effects to the community, DeMott said. “They were basically more interested in being friends of Columbia and big developers than they were in truly representing the community,” Sprayregen said.

Many of the elected officials on the board have conflicts of interest with the LDC’s objectives, Sprayregen said. He pointed to Jackson, whom Russell represents on the LDC, who as a council member has decision-making power over ULURP. “He’s serving two masters. You just can’t do it. It’s not right, it’s not ethical, and it doesn’t make sense,” Sprayregen said. Sprayregen also cited conflicts of interest concerning Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who in September endorsed Columbia’s plan after the University committed $20 million toward affordable housing and $11.25 million for the upkeep of the West Harlem Waterfront Park.

But the LDC consulted the City Council, the city’s conflict of interest board, and the counsels of numerous politicians before forming, and was declared appropriate because of its advisory function, Russell said. “We’ve done all the right things, we’ve taken all the appropriate steps. We’re about following rules, it’s what we do,” she said.

DeMott said he now aims to lobby the City Council to reject Columbia’s expansion plan in addition to urging Columbia donors not to give funds for the expansion. “We are very firm and clear in our conviction that we’re going to stop this plan where it comes. We’ll be out in front of the bulldozers, but before that happens, we will make sure that those who are thinking of contributing to this expansion plan will have second thoughts,” he said.

Columbia spokeswoman La-Verna Fountain declined to comment.

“We’re working hard. We really need to stay focused on our work,” Russell said. “I don’t believe that I in my work or the rest of the board for that matter can be distracted [by the resignations] in whatever we’re trying to accomplish.”

Daniel Amzallag can be reached at news@columbiaspectator.com.
TAGS: Manhattanville, Nick Sprayregen, Tom DeMott

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Ex-LDC Members Rally at City Hall
By Dan Amzallag
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 30, 2007

Members and supporters of the Coalition to Preserve Community rallied at City Hall Thursday to protest practices of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation regarding Columbia’s proposed expansion into Manhattanville.

The press conference followed the resignations of Tom DeMott, CC ’80, Luisa Henriques, and Nick Sprayregen from the LDC, a nonprofit organization created to develop a community benefits agreement with Columbia regarding the expansion.

DeMott and Sprayregen criticized what they described as secrecy in the LDC’s dealings. LDC Board members are unable to report what occurs in closed negotiation sessions as part of a “gag order,” DeMott said. “Unfortunately, side deals are happening all over the place, and many members of committees aren’t even aware about the negotiating that’s going on,” said Cynthia Doty, a member of the Coalition to Preserve Community.

But LDC member Maritta Dunn argued that negotiations necessitate closed meetings. “Inside the LDC, information has always been shared, so I don’t know what more anyone can ask for. Each member is responsible to report back to the constituency that we represent,” she said.

“The WHLDC has held open forums, convened public sessions of its weekly general meetings and included many community members in its working groups to ensure that the public is kept informed and community feedback is obtained,” said a LDC statement released on Thursday.

Nearly all the rally’s speakers condemned Columbia’s threat to use eminent domain, which Dunn said “the community in total has been against.”

“At a minimum the City Council should say to Columbia, ‘Your current plan will be rejected unless you tell us at a minimum no eminent domain,” said Norman Siegel, a civil rights attorney representing businesses in the expansion footprint. “No business, no resident should ever be displaced in order to vie the property to a private entity.”

“It’s an absolute disgrace that we are abusing the eminent domain process, which is supposed to be to take people’s property under the very best of reasons,” City Council Member Tony Avella, D-Queens, said after the press conference. “But to take it to give to a developer to make millions upon millions of dollars is unconscionable, unconstitutional, and disgraceful.”
The University has said that it hopes to accomplish its expansion without the use of eminent domain, but is unwilling to take it off the table.
Speakers at the rally emphasized their dismay with local elected officials, a grievance which DeMott and Sprayregen have cited as a reason for their resignations. “What was started as a board strictly of members of the community was transformed into one that included representatives from every politician that could get their hands into it,” said Sprayregen, who is second largest private property owner in the expansion footprint after Columbia. “The political representatives have effectively co-opted the board.”
Elected officials currently make up nine out of 28 members of the LDC.

“We’ve assured them [local elected officials] that they will not be able to dodge this issue—it will stick to them like Teflon,” Nellie Bailey, president of the Harlem Tenants Council, said. “They will become the Columbia University Teflon kings and queens of this expansion.”

But local politicians on the LDC are necessary to enforce its ultimate decision, Dunn said. “The politicians that are on the LDC are the politicians elected by the local community. We elected them to represent us—they didn’t come from outer space,” she said. “Most of the politicians have been reelected several terms, and if they’re new it’s because of term limits, not because of poor performance.”
Dan Amzallag can be reached at news@columbiaspectator.com.
TAGS: Expansion, LDC, Manhattanville

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

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