Note: Developers and the Department of City Planning are outright lying about what they intend to build at the former Amazon HQ2 site. This 3D rendering was sent to QAGP by an anonymous source depicting the scale and scope of what developers plan to build. This article is a call to community members to get involved and help organize to stop this.
In 2018, New Yorkers successfully came together to stop Amazon HQ2 from coming to Queens, denying multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos in his attempt to steal a piece of our publicly owned land and turn it into his personal profit. However, more than a year later, the threat of development has returned to the same site, this time in its traditional form: luxury real estate. Developers TF Cornerstone, LL Mag, Plaxall, and Simon Baron, along with their consulting agencies, have presented us with “Your LIC,” a full-blown propaganda campaign operating in lock-step with the Department of City Planning. Like all other city-backed development plans, residents have been invited to participate in workshops and “visioning sessions” where community input is recorded in order to manufacture a false image of democracy and community consent for development on the site. Meanwhile, developers, bureaucrats, and politicians have been working feverishly behind the scenes to ram more than a dozen luxury buildings down our throats. Their plan is simple: to skip the legally-mandated parts of the city’s land use review process and rubber-stamp the project.
When Amazon was defeated, we knew the fight was not over. We knew that our real estate funded city council representative, Jimmy Van Bramer, who invited Amazon here in the first place, had postured against the proposal only in response to public outcry, and that once the noise died down he’d be back to business as usual. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Van Bramer has already green-lighted the “Your LIC” project. This type of behavior is precisely why we should refuse to trust or give a platform to any politician, regardless of their rhetoric. We cannot risk putting our faith in unaccountable individuals or government institutions. We must depend only on each other and the institutions that we ourselves build. While we should be proud of the Amazon win, we should not give a single inch to those in power.
What the fight against Amazon showed us is that when we work together we can defeat corporate real estate development. We have power and strength in numbers, and we will defeat “Your LIC.” But with this in mind, we must position ourselves beyond the defensive and set our sights on something more. We must work to create a city that prioritizes human development over the profits of the rich, that views housing as a fundamental right rather than a safety deposit box, that provides free transit, and guarantees a dignified life to all without harassment by landlords, pigs, and la migra. It is time for us to take direct control over the city and our lives.
The public meeting began pleasantly enough at 4:30 PM in the main cafeteria of Aviation High School. Outside, Emily Sharp and her supporters handed out anti-Sunnyside Yards development lit.
When one entered, yummy pupusas were being served in the middle of the room, and on the sides were stations that described different aspects of the project. The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), directing the meeting, had complete control.
One station was devoted to how to mitigate the effects of climate change, no doubt important as its effects become more impactful especially in the form of larger storms.
Then at around 6:20 PM, local activists stormed the public meeting and shut it down. One activist got on top of a table and led a human microphone to initiate the shut down.
A coalition comprised of the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project, Queens Neighborhoods United, and Centro Corona led a teach-in to discuss the history of the EDC, their previous developments in Hudson Yards, and their involvement in trying to get the Amazon HQ2 project around the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).
In the beginning, one man questioned whether they were Sunnyside natives, to which activist responded that he was one.
Tom Angotti and James DeFilippis, professors in urban planning, led the discussion and fielded questions from the crowd that had gathered. There was a question and answer session about the EDC and Sunnyside Yards led by the professors.
Later, The crowd moved into a hallway to stop a question and answer session being led by the EDC. They were racuous, shouting “let us in,” no doubt trying to take control of the Q&A session being held in the Teacher’s Cafeteria near the Main Cafeteria.
At one point, activists led by Jonathan Bailey, co-chair of Queens DSA, attempted to take control of the building’s microphone system to relay messages, but were checked by a government official.
One activist commented that the EDC’s plans were like a Disney World project and not an actual project that would meet the needs of people living in Sunnyside.
There were rumors that the project was estimated to cost around $22 billion dollars, more than the initial estimate for the Hudson Yards.
The EDC officials were at a loss to what to do. At the beginning of the teach-in, one member tried to ask them to keep it down, but he was instantly drowned out by the other activists. The EDC officials and assoicated firms stood to the side next to their stations to field questions from whomever approached them.
After being questioned, one EDC official led me on a mini-tour of the stations, not answering my question on what their reaction was to the whole proceeding. She ended up leading me to two of her colleagues to further answer questions about turning the development into high-quality public housing.
One of them told me she was happy that the teach-in happened, as that meant they were hearing from different voices in the community.
I was quite surprised by this, but then again she was probably trying to put a brave face on. After the teach-in ended, the activists regrouped outside to plan their next steps. The night was considered a success.
July 20, 2019
Over the years we’ve seen the promising growth of many social movements, from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. These movements, and the hundreds of thousands involved in them, fundamentally changed the social and political landscape, forcing concessions from those in power. There has also been an increase in electoral activity, starting with the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Here in Queens, District 14 representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Queens DA candidate Tiffany Cabán have both emerged as self-avowed progressives, powered by a grassroots army of volunteers who are fed up with the system.
The increased focus on electoral politics, however, has created an opening for some politicians to rebrand themselves in the wake of this progressive wave. Corporate Democrats like Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and Senator Michael Gianaris, who have built their political careers with the full support of the real estate industry and have done virtually nothing to address the rising cost of living, have affixed themselves to these progressive campaigns in an attempt to rehabilitate their image, while facing little to no accountability.
Similarly, large multi-million dollar nonprofits such as Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change have been allowed to pass as grassroots groups – despite their massive funding streams and powerful allies – and, together with big labor unions, have sold us out time and time again at every critical juncture in local and city-wide housing politics.
Despite the recent progressive shift in local politics, much of the political landscape as described above is still deeply entrenched in a system and approach that is inherently pro-real estate. The next few years will be crucial if we want to advance the struggle against displacement and for popular control of housing. It is in this context that the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project is publicly releasing our organizational platform, along with a call for people to join us as we move forward at this decisive moment in the history of our city.
Our platform, which guides our work, clearly defines gentrification, not as an individual issue, but a systemic issue. It attempts to redirect conversations about development and affordable housing away from the intentionally misleading rhetoric that the political establishment has pushed on us for so many years. It calls for the disinvestment of our time and energy away from electoral political campaigns and instead toward building popular power and issuing concrete, radical demands. It fully opposes the NYPD and ICE as agents of displacement and state violence. Finally, it challenges the idea that everyday working people should put our trust into individuals who would be put into a position to sell us out for personal gain.
Community Leaders and Organizations Should Resign From the Sunnyside Yard Steering Committee
The letter below calls on community leaders and organizations to resign from the Sunnyside Yard Steering Committee. It will be mailed or emailed to April Simpson, President of Queensbridge Houses Tenants Association, Lisa Deller of Community Board 2, Melissa Orlando of Access Queens, and Sylvia White, Co-Chair of Justice for All Coalition.
Dear Steering Committee Members,
We are writing to respectfully request that you or your organization resign immediately from the Sunnyside Yard steering committee. Your presence on the committee, regardless of your position, serves to legitimize an undemocratic process, and ultimately helps to advance the goals of a small class of real estate developers and politicians against the interests of your friends and neighbors in Queens and NYC. As would have been the case with Amazon HQ2, development over Sunnyside Yard would undoubtedly lead to mass displacement, gentrification, and corporate handouts. It would put further strain on an already struggling MTA, threaten the small businesses that provide affordable goods to our communities, and create an exclusive enclave of luxury housing, high-end retail, and office space designed specifically for the rich. The developers and politicians know this to be the case, which is why Sunnyside Yard, and projects like it, require huge amounts of Public Relations work – the Sunnyside Yard Steering Committee (and your participation in it) is part and parcel to this effort.
There is a growing trend among community-based groups to reject the crumbs from the table that developers and politicians would like us to be satisfied with when they invite us to sit down. More and more, grassroots organizations are finding these crumbs offensive, and instead are demanding a full meal. It is not enough that only some of us get to eat – that this or that constituency get some perks for signing on to support a development project – this tactic has run its course and even the most opportunistic politicians are starting to abandon it (for example, when Jimmy Van Bramer and Michael Gianaris rejected Amazon’s Community Advisory Committee). By collectively refusing to negotiate with those who want to displace us we ensure that no one gets left out.
We understand that some may want to genuinely participate on the steering committee in order to serve as a voice of opposition. To them, we say: you can do this, from the outside, without legitimizing the process and undermining the efforts of other groups. There are others who might see participation on the steering committee as a career opportunity or a chance to gain notoriety. To those people, we ask: please do not use the working class and immigrant communities of Queens to advance your own goals.
We cannot rely on the good will of developers or politicians to get us what we need to survive. Historically, we’ve been able to make the most progress when we reject compromise and piecemeal solutions, and, instead, demand the seemingly impossible.
We believe that development over Sunnyside Yard will irreversibly devastate Western Queens. We demand that the City Council and the Department of City Planning recognize this basic fact and forever abandon plans to develop over the site. Until then, community groups and leaders should boycott their gimmicks and join with the growing popular movement against gentrification and displacement.
April Simpson, President of Queensbridge Houses Tenants Association, Lisa Deller of Community Board 2, Melissa Orlando of Access Queens, Sylvia White, Co-Chair of Justice for All Coalition: please resign from the Sunnyside Yard Steering Committee.
Queens Anti-Gentrification Project
Join us Sunday, 6pm at the LIC Waterfront for a Send-Off Rally for Amazon. RSVP here.
Statement on Amazon cancelling their HQ2 plans for LIC
The Amazon deal was just one apex of a long and violent process of planned corporate and techno-financial development, working class displacement, racial violence, and corrupt, real estate driven rezoning that has had disastrous effects on our neighborhoods for decades.
HQ2 was proposed to be built across the street from Queensbridge, the biggest public housing complex in the Western Hemisphere, run by NYCHA. Many buildings run by NYCHA have been without heat, without working elevators, and facing general conditions of non-livability for years. Politicians are slowly moving to privatize NYCHA, handing the desperately necessary maintenance of affordable housing from an underfunded and understaffed program to the very developers who inflate rent prices in NYC.
Apart from being one of the world’s biggest collectors of data (given their cloud platform), Amazon has deep ties to the American military (currently bidding on a 10 billion contract) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (providing facial recognition tech, running algorithms which target persons of color). Moreover, Amazon is known worldwide for low paying wages, precarious working conditions and anti-labor policies.
New York is home to over 8 million people and hosts some of the strongest economic engines in the world. Amazon was not about 20-40,000 jobs, but rather a developer class ruling our cities, demanding constant expansion at the cost of the very things that have kept our cities great – people, communities and livelihoods. It won’t end with Amazon and it won’t end unless we fight back.
Now is the time to celebrate, but it is also the time to stay organized, build off this momentum, and move to the offensive! We have to continue our work in New York City by opposing tech capitalism in its entirety; working to end the restructuring of our neighborhoods by state and corporate developers; lending our energy to Amazon employees and other workers across the city; and supporting nationwide and global struggles for freedom. Lastly – Amazon has stated they intend to slowly increase their presence in NYC – let’s let them know we’ll be giving them hell!
NO POLICE VIOLENCE
Visit Fuck Off Amazon for updates.
(TLDR; On October 16, 2017, dozens of NYC politicians sent a letter of support to Amazon that was attached to a larger proposal, partly drafted by New York City Economic Development Corporation, which clearly stated that it is possible to go around local zoning restrictions.)
On October 16, 2017, dozens of New York City politicians, including 30 City Council members, signed a letter asking Amazon to set up shop in NYC. Now, one year later, they claim to be leading the fight against it. City Council representatives like Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris, in an effort to set the narrative, argue that they got “duped” by Amazon when they allegedly got cut of the negotiation process. If it were up to them, they say, Amazon would not have gotten such a big tax subsidy, nor would they have been permitted to evade city zoning law. This posturing has allowed them to create the appearance of opposition by criticizing the process through which AmazonHQ2 is coming to NYC, while, at the same time, refraining from rejecting the deal in its entirety – a demand many grassroots groups have been making.
Given that those who occupy City Council are notoriously untrustworthy, however, can we really believe that they didn’t know about the proposed tax subsidies and the desire to circumvent the city’s zoning process, known as ULURP? Most likely not. As we shall see, members of City Council were almost certainly informed, directly or indirectly, of what de Blasio and Cuomo were going to offer Amazon.
Fact Check: City Council Knew Amazon Would Try To Circumvent ULURP
The letter by City Council and other elected officials, referenced above, was dated the same day (October 16, 2017) that Governor Cuomo sent a lengthy response to Jeff Bezos regarding Amazon’s HQ2 proposal. Cuomo’s response included a section, prepared by NYCEDC, that had a letter from de Blasio, a list of various benefits (economic and social) of locating in NYC, and a description of 4 sites that could accommodate Amazon’s new proposed headquarters. On page 25, the document refers to an appendix including “letters of support”. Although the released document did not include any of the appendix items, it is reasonable to assume that a letter of support, dated the same day, and signed by 77 NYC politicians, would have been among the items sent to Jeff Bezos that day, since it would have shown that the Cuomo/NYCEDC response had strong political backing.
The Cuomo/NYCEDC response document was not drafted in a vacuum and clearly went to great lengths in engaging various parties during it’s preparation. One such party must have been Jimmy Van Bramer, council member of the district where the HQ is now slated to be built. Indeed, one month prior to the support letter and Cuomo/NYCEDC response document, Van Bramer sent de Blasio a support letter of his own, indicating the degree to which he supported the proposal.
Therefore, it is clear, that during the months of September and October of 2017, a concentrated effort was being made by city and state politicians, and entities like NYCEDC and the state version Empire State Development (ESD), to convince Amazon to come to NYC. The final result of this effort was the Cuomo/NYCEDC response document mentioned above. An excerpt from this document CLEARLY states that ESD “can also override local zoning, offer tax subsidies while holding title to a property, and provide lower cost financing or grants to economic development projects.”
One would think that politicians would read or, at least be briefed, on a proposal for which they are indicating their support, but maybe that’s asking too much from elected officials. (Even if they did not read the Cuomo/NYCEDC document, however, the process of circumventing city zoning for large projects has been used as recently as the Atlantic Yards project, so City Council cannot claim ignorance – they are literally paid to know these laws). In any case, perhaps at the next sham City Council hearing on Amazon, Van Bramer and others can clarify the degree to which they were aware of what was being offered. We aren’t holding our breath waiting for these politicians to come clean though.
We will leave you with an excerpt taken from a Queens Chronicle article, which we quoted in a recent post “Liars Don’t Represent Us – Van Bramer: Say NO to Amazon or Resign“:
“I am excited to see the New York City Economic Development Corporation recognize in their proposal what thousands of New Yorkers have been recognizing for years now: that Long Island City and Western Queens as a whole are among New York City’s most dynamic and innovative neighborhoods,” Van Bramer said in an emailed statement. “I am an enthusiastic supporter of the proposal, and of any plan to bring good paying jobs to my district. I think it is clear that Amazon HQ2 would be an ideal fit for Long Island City and for the entire borough of Queens. I look forward to working with the Economic Development Corporation in the months to come to support Long Island City’s proposal.
If you want to join the fight against AmazonHQ2, please click here to see a list of upcoming events supported by Fuck Off Amazon.
Help fund the fight against AmazonHQ2.
Click here to contribute.
As many of you know, residents of Queens and across the city have been mobilizing to fight back against AmazonHQ2. Community meetings, protests, and direct actions are taking place. We’ve also seen the formation of multiple coalitions. The politicians want us to think the its a done deal, but many are saying there’s still a long fight ahead.
Stay tuned for upcoming event announcements.
No AmazonHQ2 Principles and Statement – 12/12/2018
No AmazonHQ2 Principles of Engagement & Statement:
The fight against Amazon has just begun, but already we are seeing official and informal alliances forming – some look promising, but others are weighed down by electoral and large non-profit interests. We understand that the many groups fighting Amazon will not always be in close coordination, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, we do feel that there is a need to clearly delineate between a concessionary, non-oppositional stance and a principled opposition against Amazon. Moreover, we want to establish a set of agreed upon principles for all of us to help ensure that this moment is not co-opted or weakened, and to strengthen each other. Therefore, we propose the following Principles and Positions Statement:
Principles of Engagement:
- We will not meet or communicate with Amazon or any of its representatives.
- We will not meet or communicate with any politicians who have previously endorsed AmazonHQ2 or have connections to the Real Estate industry. This includes every politician who signed the statement, dated October 16, 2017, endorsing AmazonHQ2.
- We will oppose AmazonHQ2 in its entirety–with or without public subsidies–and reject any discussion about concessions or negotiation.
- We respect the diversity of tactics used in the fight against AmazonHQ2.
Amazon is not welcome in New York City, and our language must reflect this. We are opposed to AmazonHQ2 in all its forms, whether or not they receive a subsidy or promise us jobs & infrastructure. Known worldwide for its labor violations, Amazon is a hyper-exploitative corporation, actively contributing to the gap between the rich and working class. The corporate behemoth is facing anti-trust complaints in multiple countries. Amazon has a history of collaboration with law enforcement agencies and federal agencies such as ICE as it pushes its facial recognition technology, contributing to an expanding authoritarian police and surveillance state.
New York City is in the middle of a housing and homelessness crisis that worsens every year. Rents are skyrocketing, neighborhoods are gentrifying, housing court lines are getting longer, and NYCHA (public housing) is in complete disrepair. Instead of addressing this crisis through public investment in underserved, working class, and immigrant communities, the City has maintained a policy of hastening displacement through its devastating zoning policies, specifically the deceptively named Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program (MIH), and through public-private partnerships. Lastly, we are witnessing the defunding of CUNY and public services in general, in favor of privatization.
It is in this context that AmazonHQ2 is coming to Long Island City, threatening to significantly speed up the process described above. Thousands of high paid workers from around the world will be moving to Queens, and this tech-gentrification will lead to tenant harassment, rent hikes, and massive displacement. The human toll of these pressures is often not discussed – the financial, social, and emotional pressure produced by the reality of affordable housing and displacement destroys lives. Hence, displacement is not just about eviction, but an unmeasured toll on our livelihoods.
NO WITH NO CONDITIONS TO AMAZONHQ2!!
Endorsed By (alphabetical order):
Brooklyn College Student Union
Decolonize This Place
Queens Anti-Gentrification Project
Sunset Park for a Liberated Future
Take Back The Bronx
ON THURSDAY (NOV 8TH) WE WILL BE STARTING CALLS TO JIMMY VAN BRAMER, ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, AND CAROLYN MALONEY’S OFFICE TO DEMAND THEY TAKE A PUBLIC POSITION AGAINST THE AMAZON HQ2 PROPOSAL IN LIC, QUEENS. PHONE CALLS WILL CONTINUE THROUGH NEXT WEEK.
Call in info:
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer: 718-383-9566 [press “0” for person]
Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: 929-388-6141 [leave a message if no one picks up]
Congressmember Carolyn B. Maloney: 718-932-1804
State Senate Michael Ginaris: (718) 728-0960
Phone Blast Script:
It was recently announced that Amazon is considering Long Island City, Queens as a location for its new Headquarters, a move that would lead to skyrocketing rents and record levels of displacement throughout the entire borough. We are outraged that there were no public hearings on this proposal and that none of us have had the opportunity to voice our opinions, despite the fact that every single Queens resident will be impacted by this decision. The situtation is so bad that in July, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan called for a ‘Moratorium’ on new LIC developments¹, but her proposal was ignored by most politicians and newspapers. Today, I am calling [politicans name]’s office to demand that [politicians name] stand with Queens residents and reject the Amazon Headquarters proposal, as well as any other move to transform Western Queens into a so-called “tech hub”. The Queens that so many of us know and love is under threat and we’re going to fight back.
See the event here.