Thursday, April 29, 2010

And the New York City CBA debate continues...

The New York City Bar Association's report on CBAs, issued in March, recommended that CBAs not be considered as part of the planning process. According to a New York Times article summarizing reactions to the report, city comptroller John Liu thinks the suggestion to remove the agreements from the land use process is "idealistic rather than practical." Jesse Masyr, a land use attorney who was involved in the Gateway Center and Columbia CBAs, also argued that CBAs are here to stay, and suggested that better rules and regulations be put into place. N.Y.U law professor Vicki Been, one of the primary authors of the report, defended the report's conclusion by arguing that while private CBA-type agreements may be inevitable, that doesn't mean that government officials have to participate in them or give them undue weight in the planning process.

Liu has convened his own task force on CBAs and according to the NYT article, his "emphasis is on what kinds of mechanisms exist to make sure that the promised benefits are delivered". This may be because the comptroller doesn't have much ability to change the land use planning process, which is heavily dominated by the mayor in New York. Indeed, as reported by City Limits, task force member and urban planning professor Tom Angotti thinks a better solution would be comprehensive land use reform, including more funding and a larger role for community boards.

The City Limits article also reports that Liu's task force will not hold public meetings, apparently because it's a "sensitive issue" and task force members need to be "able to have candid conversations."

Okay, I can sort of respect that. But why not have at least some public meetings? This is, after all, an issue that's sensitive for a lot of people other than the 35 select members of the task force. The task force might even learn something from listening to the public. And, by the way, the task force's PR people should probably tell them that needing to have "candid conversations" pretty easily translates to wanting to keep things hidden. It seems to me that's probably not the best way to earn the public's confidence when you're trying to clean up a process that's already been faulted for secrecy, closed door negotiations, backroom politics, and collusion.