Vol. 18, No. 25 Dec.29, 2005 - Jan. 11, 2006


In the Public Interest

Stadium Foes Squeezed Out

As many as 500 people showed up for a Dec. 12 public hearing on the proposal to build a new Yankee Stadium, but about 150, including members of Community Board 4, were shut out because the meeting space was filled to capacity.

On Dec. 22, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión formally recommended that the project be approved and has now forwarded it to the City Planning Commission. As part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the commission will hold a public hearing on Jan. 11 and must complete its review and vote on the proposal within 60 days.

Then, the proposal goes to the City Council, which has 60 days to review and vote on it. Finally, the mayor has five days to study the plan before approving or denying it. The City Council can override the mayor’s determination with a two-thirds majority vote. In November, Community Board 4 voted 16-8 against the proposal.

Those who were shut out of the Dec. 12 public hearing in the rotunda of the County Building were primarily opposed to the stadium, leading many to believe their exclusion was deliberate. The borough president’s office denied the allegation and said that by 7:15 p.m. everyone who had been waiting outside had gotten in. But once inside they could not sign up to speak because the list of speakers had been closed by 6 p.m., residents said.

A crowd that had gotten into the court building, but not past the guards, chanted, “Let us in!” Their anger boiled over whenever the door to the rotunda opened.

“Tell your boss [Carrión] that when he runs for mayor, he’s finished!” shouted one local resident when Wilhelm Ronda, the borough president’s director of policy and planning, came out. “He’s a traitor!”

In the rotunda itself, Pasquale Canale, president of the 161st Street Merchants Association, drew cheers when he referred in his remarks to problems at the door.

“You’ve stacked the deck,” Canale said. “Our people are sitting outside in the cold. No one’s letting them in. This is what has happened all through this process.”

Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo also criticized the hearing.

“It should have been done in a way that it would give equal access to all,” she said.

The borough president’s office did not respond to calls or e-mails seeking comment.

Echoing the arguments favoring the construction of the filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park, a large contingent of union members urged approval of the plan in order to create construction jobs.

“Do you want [construction jobs] to leave the city?” said Frank Schiavone, a union representative. “Without construction you cannot build a society. Union members live in the Bronx and [the community] is getting five more acres of parks.”

Opponents of the plan said the new stadium would unnecessarily destroy two large and well-used local parks — Macombs Dam and Mulally — significantly threaten the health of residents, particularly children, and lead to gentrification.

Carrión took notes as each person spoke.

Yankees President Randy Levine stood hands on hips throughout the session, off to one side, accompanied by other Yankees officials.

He dismissed the opposition.

“It’s a small group of outside protesters,” Levine said, repeating an assertion he has made previously.

Of the 38 people who spoke, 27 supported it and 11 opposed it, according to one tally.

“This is what happens when you have an organization that can spend millions of dollars on a PR campaign going against residents who are working people,” said Lukas Herbert, a member of Community Board 4 and an urban planner. “You can pack the house with people who support you while hardworking folks are outside screaming to get in.”

But Herbert and other parks advocates said the borough president’s decision would hardly discourage them.

“The opposition will only get louder,” Herbert said. “We’ve got nothing to lose. They’re destroying our neighborhood.”

The City Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the stadium proposal for Jan. 11 at 10 a.m. at Spector Hall, 22 Reade Street in lower Manhattan.
— Joe Lamport

Ed. note: This article is adapted from a longer story written by Lamport for the Highbridge Horizon, a community newspaper the Norwood News frequently collaborates with on issues of mutual interest. For more coverage of the Yankee Stadium debate, go to  . A blog written by stadium opponents is at

BJ’s Spreads the Wealth
BJ’s Wholesale Club may be a discount store, but they haven’t spared any expense in lavishing their corporate riches on Bronx politicians. Council members Maria Baez and Joel Rivera, along with the borough president, have raked in thousands of dollars over the past year from those pushing to develop the big box giant in Throggs Neck.

“They’ve gotten immense money,” said Matt Lipsky of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, an advocacy organization lobbying against BJ’s bid.

This is the second attempt by the retail giant to establish a store on Brush Avenue in the east Bronx. BJ’s withdrew its original proposal earlier this year before the City Council voted on it, as officials were ready to deep-six the plan due to issues with wages and labor treatment. The store’s potential impact on local businesses and traffic were also concerns.

BJ’s came back to Bronx Council leaders with another proposal in September, and while five Bronx Council members are still wary, Maria Arroyo, Baez and Rivera all reversed their opposition. “We were wondering why the sudden change of heart,” Lipsky said, implying that money may have something to do with it. Baez received $16,000 on a single day last June from the Related Companies, which is overseeing the development, along with architects, engineers and consultants associated with the project. That’s almost a fifth of Baez’ total contributions last year, according to city Campaign Finance records.

Baez was elected as chair of the City Council’s Bronx delegation during the past year, granting her additional influence. Baez faced no primary challenger and was easily reelected. She did not return calls for comment.

Rivera also benefited from over $4,000 from Related and other interests. Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión received $11,000 from the company, which is also overseeing the Bronx Terminal Market redevelopment.

Council Member Oliver Koppell, who did not benefit from the spending spree, disapproves of Related’s lobbying tactics. “It’s unfortunate that so much money has been introduced into the equation,” he said last week.

Carrión told the Daily News that he supports the project because of its job creation potential and the revisions to the proposal. Rivera echoed those sentiments. “They are going to bring 300 jobs,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “We want to keep that revenue in the Bronx.”

BJ’s current proposal includes an assessment on the store’s traffic implications, and guarantees to hire local employees and improve neighborhood infrastructure.

Rivera thinks the current proposal is on the right track. “What they presented before was horrible,” he said. “They’ve made modifications. But I’m not 100 percent sold. Wages are still an issue.”

The labor guarantees and traffic study, in Lipsky’s opinion, are insufficient. “A developer-sponsored traffic study is not worth the paper it’s written on,” he said. Council Member-elect James Vacca, whose district will include the site, is also an outspoken critic, especially concerning the impact on local businesses.

Koppell is concerned, but seems more amenable to compromise and is trying to broker a meeting between union groups and BJ’s executives. “I’m sympathetic to the labor point of view on this,” he said. “If management won’t meet with them, then I won’t support the project. If they will, I’ll have to evaluate their relative positions.”
— Heather Haddon

Koppell on Term Limits
Current members of the City Council are overwhelmingly in favor of amending the city’s term limits law to allow members to serve three consecutive four-year terms instead of the current two.
Editorial boards and New Yorkers say the decision should go back to the voters in a referendum, which was the method by which term limits for Council members and citywide officeholders were established in the first place.

Council Member Oliver Koppell, who supports the move to three terms, is of two minds about a referendum. In general, he opposes the practice. “I don’t believe in government by referendum,” he said in a press briefing at his Riverdale office two weeks ago. “Our government is a representative democracy,” not a town hall type of democracy.

That said, he thinks that, from a public relations perspective, a referendum might be the way to go – if it could get on the ballot. A complicating factor is that if the mayor, who opposes a term limits extension, appoints a Charter Revision Commission, that clears the table of any referenda.

“If it comes to an up or down vote [in the Council], I will vote for it,” said Koppell, who believes that the way to get the public behind the idea is to personalize it. “The way to campaign against term limits is, ‘Do you want your ability to have Oliver Koppell as your councilperson [taken away]?’” he said. “Citizens don’t like politicians but they like their own representative.”

So what about having the new three-term rule apply to future Council members so the move would appear less self-serving? Koppell doesn’t think that’s a way to garner public support for extending or ending term limits.

“What makes people care is you’re eliminating their representative,” he said, not some future politician you don’t even know.

The new Council will probably take up the matter soon after a new speaker is elected in early January.
— Jordan Moss

Making Law
The mayor signed legislation earlier this month to improve fire safety in public spaces, mandate energy conserving appliances for buildings receiving certain city subsidies, and require that the owners of vacant lots keep their spaces clean of debris. Council Member Oliver Koppell was the prime sponsor of the fire safety legislation and all local Council members supported the three bills.
— Heather Haddon

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