Sunday, October 30, 2005


Questions about the CBA: Is this "systemic change in doing business"?

So, is the Community Benefits Agreement regarding Atlantic Yards supposed to help the local "community" or the minority "community"? There's an interesting tension there, because the signatories are local (and minority), but several beneficiaries are hardly local, with none based on Brooklyn and some outside New York City.

So a 10/28/2005 story in the Courier-Life chain headlined Forest City Ratner Hires Design & Construction Firm reported:
Forest City Ratner hired the nation’s oldest minority-owned design and construction firm to oversee the reconfiguration of the Atlantic Rail Yards.
“We’re extremely excited. The fact that FCRC has entrusted us with the whole infrastructure piece alone is significant,” said Cheryl McKissack Felder, president of McKissack & McKissack, the firm tapped to do the job.
...FCRC Executive Vice President James Stuckey said the firm was tabbed to oversee the $182 million rail yard portion of the overall project in part to fulfill the CBA commitment to hire minority and women-owned contactors.
However, mainly McKissack & McKissack was picked because they have a rock-solid reputation in the construction industry, he said.

The Brooklyn Eagle added a detail: In response to a question, the Forest City executive [Jim Stuckey] didn’t know whether McKissack was chosen by a bidding process, but stressed that his firm has known of McKissack’s rail experience for quite some time.
He didn't know whether the contract was bid?

The Courier-Life article adds some details on how FCR has begun to fulfill the CBA:
The CBA also requires that at least five percent of pre-construction contract dollars will go to minority-owned firms and three percent to women-owned firms.
During the construction phase, at least 20 percent of construction contract dollars will go to minority firms and 10 percent to women-owned businesses.
Thus far, FCRC has hired several minority and women-owned firms to do consulting, bookkeeping and public relations work.
These include Ishmael Leyva Architects as a residential design consultant, Domingo Gonzales Associates as a lighting consultant, the Quantum Partners for financial services, and the Terrie Williams Agency for public relations.

The CBA was signed by the All-Faith Council of Brooklyn, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance, the Downtown Brooklyn Educational Consortium, the First Atlantic Terminal Housing Committee, the New York State Association of Minority Contractors (NYSAMC), and Public Housing Communities. While groups like ACORN and NYSAMC are long-established, BUILD was formed to negotiate the CBA, and it's not clear how many of the other groups have a history before the CBA.

The CBA they endorsed includes this passage (p. 2):
Whereas, the Coalition and the Developers seek to maximize the benefits of the Project to residents of Brooklyn, as well as minority and women construction, professional and operational workers and business owners and thereby to encourage systemic changes in the traditional ways of doing business on large urban development projects...

It's not clear how much engaging these companies encourages systemic changes. McKissack and McKissack is already doing pretty well. It has offices in New York and Philadelphia, but its web site defaults to Philadelphia, so it's not exactly local (though local subcontractors will be hired). Ismael Leyva Architects is based in Manhattan, as are lighting consultant Domingo Gonzales Associates and the Terrie Williams Agency--all apparently thriving firms. As for the Quantum Partners, the trail is murky, an 11/1/04 Federal Communications Commission notice indicates that a firm with that name is connected to the hardly-impoverished George Soros:
Quantum Partners LDC... Quantum LDC, a Cayman Islands company, is wholly-owned by Quantum Emerging Growth Partners C.V. (“Quantum EGP”)...
Quantum Endowment Fund N.V. (“QEF NV”) is a limited partner of Quantum EGP with an equity interest of over 50%. No entity has an ownership or voting interest of 10% or more in QEF NV. Emerging Growth Fund Management C.V. (“Emerging Growth”) is the managing general partner of Quantum EGP. Quastro N.V., wholly-owned by George Soros, is the managing general partner of Emerging Growth. George Soros also owns Soros Fund Management LLC.

The role of the Terrie Williams Agency deserves a closer look. The agency represents BUILD and the CBA, though BUILD's James Caldwell first claimed to the New York Observer that he didn't know who was paying the agency. The agency then spoke for BUILD, explaining away BUILD's lies about not receiving payments.

So BUILD--an astroturf group founded by Assemblyman Roger Green, whose top aide Randall Toure went to work for Forest City Ratner (see Chapter 4 of my report)--helped negotiate an illegitimate CBA. [Addendum: while there's evidence that BUILD did very little before the Forest City Ratner plan was announced, cofounder Darnell Canada told the Brooklyn Downtown Star that "BUILD was created back in August 2003 to address the unemployment situation in the Ingersoll, Whitman, and Farragut housing developments."]

The group received money from Ratner but lied about it. Ratner also hired BUILD to distribute the propagandistic Brooklyn Standard--much more of a political job than long-term job training. The CBA is supposed to foster "systemic changes in the traditional ways of doing business on large urban development projects." Does helping to create a "grassroots" group, funding it to distribute your public relations material, and also supplying a press spokesperson for the group constitute systemic change? Is this part of the "modern blueprint"?

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