Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Brooklyn arena proposal hearing

As I expected, I ended up going to the public hearing regarding Forest City Ratner Corp's proposed Brooklyn arena & towers instead of for a paddle. This is rather a big deal here in Brooklyn.

It was scheduled to go from 5 to 8; it ended up going until 11 & there was a possibility that it will continue tomorrow (Wednesday).

Democracy in action, I would say if I wanted to be optimistic. I got there at 7:30 (knowing from attending various other meetings that they never end anywhere close to on time) which was plenty of time to listen to a whole range of Brooklynites stand up and state their opinions (Brooklynites are so darned good at that - I don't consider myself a Brooklynite yet, just a person who happens to reside in Brooklyn) regarding the big thing. Vast majority of opinions ranged from moderate concern to downright hatred. Topics touched upon included (but were not limited to, and please note I'm just repeating what I heard) traffic, noise & dirt during the 11-year construction time & afterwards; the eminent domain question; whether the proposal had been reviewed for defensibility against terrorist attack; the increased load on a overloaded Red Hook Sewage Treatment Plant; Riverkeeper rep cited probable increased CSO problems for the East River(CSO, btw, stands for Combined Sewage Outfall - owing to the antiquity of NY's sewage system the overflow on rainy days goes straight into the river - trust me, it's just as gross as it sounds); the effect on the ecology of the Gowanus Canal (OK, even I had a bit of a hard time keeping a straight face for that one - but then again 20 years ago people might've had the same response to concern about the ecological health of the apparently-dead North River area of the Hudson); a possibility of even worse problems with asthma in an already asthma-prone area (the Sierra Club guy who hit that one hard actually brought his 4-year old son's nebulizer & said half the kids on his block had 'em); the loss of sunlight, the interruption of the street grid, and the wind-tunnel effect that the opponents say the project will have; the sheer ugliness of the project; the way that Ratner has just sort of been given an almost Robert Mosesian carte blanche to do with Brooklyn as he sees fit - the list goes on & on. The last, I think, was really the key - on the whole, it seemed like most speakers were actually in favor of some type of development - just not a behemoth that gets dumped on them without so much as a by-your-leave. There are a couple of alternative proposals that have a lot more community support, but the way things are being done, those may not even be considered. There was a lot of resentment that this is the first chance for the public to really state their opinion of any of this when it's been in development for two years.

Now - a little while after I got there, I noticed that there was a group of people behind me that were talking amongst themselves. This was particularly brought to my attention when a woman sitting a ways away took their picture and they all started yelling at her. While someone was speaking! And as speaker after speaker took the mike, the group just kept yakking away. Repeated "shhh's" made no difference. I couldn't keep from stealing glances at them because I just couldn't get over how rude they were being - even turned around at one point & made a very cranky-librarianish shushing sign at them - they just looked back at me sort of strangely (couldn't quite tell, it could've been a look of amusement, or irritation, or just plain "yeah -- so?") & kept talking.

Finally one of them got called up to speak. Turns out to be James Caldwell, president of Brooklyn United for Innovative Development, aka BUILD.

This just happen to be the "grassroots" organization I mentioned in my last post --the one that turns out to have been being provided with office space & money by Ratner. Big Daily News story today in fact - ordinarily I wouldn't have seen it, been reading the Times since the world got so serious (and since I finally figured out the "commuter fold" that makes it possible to read the Times on the subway - do kinda miss the funnies though...) but one of the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn people was handing out copies. You can read the story & decide for yourself what you think, but what I can say for sure is that they were just kind of rude. Treated the whole thing like a joke. I finally got up & moved 'cause it was just too distracting to have them conversing behind me. Funny thing was, a couple of them actually made statements that sounded reasonably well thought-out, and their delivery sounded genuine, and y'know it takes a certain amount of guts to stand up & take the EXTREME minority position in a roomful of opponents (it was literally about 7 or 8 pro-Ratner people vs. an endless list of anti-Ratner people) - but the way they were so rude to the other speakers just completely did away with any "hmm the guy might have a point" (or at least "well, I don't really agree but I do see where he's coming from") reaction that I might have had if they'd just shown a little more respect for everybody else in the room.

Anyways, that's all, just figured I'd get this out quick while it was all still fresh in my mind.

10/19 lunchtime update - if you are interested in reading more about the hearing, and you didn't happen to find this through, they have a post (much later in day -- oops just noticed this link wasn't right, fixed now!) on the topic with a message board with more links. I followed one to TimesRatnerReport - the writer, Norman Oder, is a journalist, spoke in opposition to the project last night, and has done a pretty in-depth writeup of the evening - as I mentioned, I got there late but his coverage of the piece I was there for was very accurate.

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