Local Activists Disrupt EDC Master Plan Meeting

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.

Enough With the Lies: City Council Knew Amazon Would Circumvent ULURP

(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.

NYEDC references letters of support in attached document

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.

Van Bramer's support letter of AmazonHQ2 to de Blasio
Van Bramer sent a letter to de Blasio one month prior to the infamous letter of support, signed by 77 NYC politicians, for AmazonHQ2 coming to NYC.

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.