Thursday, February 4, 2010

Columbia's Propaganda and Student Reaction

To see what Columbia is planning for Manhattanville (West Harlem) and how they want the community to see it go to:

October 2007

On Wednesday, October 3rd, the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification marched up the stairs of Low Library to present our demands to President Bollinger. Read the statement we delivered here:
As students of Columbia University, we find it impossible to stand aside as our university actively ignores and evades the rights of the West Harlem community. Instead of engaging the community in respectful and open negotiation, Columbia has pursued an expansion plan of disruption and displacement. We believe that the community has a right to affordable housing, living wage jobs, and a prominent voice in any development plan for its neighborhood. We believe that Columbia's plan must recognize the rights of all people regardless of
their economic background or race. We believe that Columbia must concretely apply the principles of the Community's 197-A plan to its planned expansion.
As informed and active members of this institution, we refuse to allow the current expansion plan to go forward in our name. We stand in solidarity with Community Board 9's demands and therefore insist that Columbia withdraw its 197-C proposal to rezone Manhattanville.
We are not against expansion. We are for accountability. Our demands are the community's demands. We demand the following, as drafted by Community Board 9:
1. Withdraw the proposal for eminent domain, cease to use the threat of eminent domain to intimidate owners to sell, and abandon the process of imposing gag orders on those that have entered into agreements to sell;
2. Withdraw the proposal to build the 7-story below grade structure and the request to build under city streets and convey the area below grade to the University;
3. Build only on property owned by the University and obtained through negotiations with the owners without coercion and without the threat of eminent domain;
4. Guarantee that all housing developed directly by Columbia as a result of the Proposed Actions would meet the inclusionary housing requirements of the 197-a Plan; and that, in all Columbia developed and owned housing, an equal amount of housing for the University and the community would be created both on-site and off-site; and that no direct displacement would occur in the 17- acre area;
5. Columbia must immediately develop and hereafter permanently implement and carry out an effective housing anti-displacement program; commit not by itself or through any affiliate to purchase or lease or net lease any residential units in CB9M above 125th Street; and provide sufficient additional housing in areas outside CB9M to house all of the students and employees expected to use the proposed campus. And further not interfere with the transfer of 132 units from HPD to the residents of those units as previously agreed to by the City;
6. Pursue State and National Registers listing of any of its properties within the proposed Academic Mixed-Use Development Area found “eligible” by New York’s State Historic Preservation Office and not oppose LPC landmark designation of any site herein. Also preserve buildings of historic and cultural character throughout the proposed Special Manhattanville Mixed-Use Zoning District and in CB9 as a whole, as listed in the 197-a Plan;
7. Not build pollution emitting power sources - such as power plants and co-generation facilities - or research facilities above biosafety level 2, or other noxious installations that would contribute to the already high environmental burdens of this community;
8. Engage in sustainable design and construction practices that result in LEED platinum designation by U.S. Green Building Rating System prior to the commencement of construction;
9. Engage in good faith negotiations with CB9 to achieve a mutually beneficial land use compromise that would permit the construction of academic facilities needed by Columbia on properties owned by the University, through technical amendments to the 197-a Plan, in a manner that is consistent with the underlying principles and goals of the 197-a Plan and;
10. Otherwise meet the goals and objectives outlined in the 197-a Plan including, but not limited to, mitigating all direct and indirect adverse impacts with respect to job creation for local residents, economic development, socio-economic conditions, environmental protection and sustainable development, public transit, neighborhood character, public open space and other impact areas, as delineated by CB9 in the 197-a Plan.
What's the next step in our struggle to hold Columbia accountable?
Showing up, standing up, and speaking out!
Borough President Scott Stringer's Public Hearing on Columbia's Expansion Plan and on the Community Board 9's 197-a Plan
WEDNESDAY, September 19th, 2007.
Doors open at 5:30 PM, Hearing starts at 6:30PM | Coalition to Preserve Community Demonstration at 5:00pm
Aaron Davis Hall at City College, W. 135th and Convent
For testimony, pre-registration is encouraged. Call (212) 669-4374 or email
Written testimony may be submitted until Sept. 23.
The Community Board 9 has already voted against an expansion that will directly remove 132 families from their homes, displace 87 businesses and change the character of West Harlem by pricing 5,000 people out of their community. Now it's time to see what the Borough President has to say.
Come out, hear the concerns of your neighbors and have the chance to let the Borough President what you think about Columbia's plan.
The Manhattanville Map
Want to understand what is going on with the expansion? see it all on a google map >>>
CB9 Hearing Report Back
            On August 15 Community Board 9 held its public hearing on Columbia’s plan to rezone 17 acres of West Harlem.  The hearing drew a crowd of over 300 neighborhood residents, representatives from social justice and community organizations, Columbia associates, and elected officials.   Of the 95 people who testified only 22 spoke in favor of the plan, and after nearly 5 ½ hours of speeches CB9’s zoning committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution opposing the University’s plan. 
Aside from a fair number of construction union members, the only proponents of the plan not affiliated with the University seemed to be the “Coalition for the Future of Manhattanville.”  Columbia’s consultant Bill Lynch, a well-paid and influential Democratic lobbyist, and his team formed this “coalition” as a PR stunt to create the illusion of community support for the plan.  The group was comprised mainly of recovering drug abusers who were essentially bribed with hours for their Church-run rehabilitation program in return for their support of Columbia.  TheColumbia Spectator reported that “Few of them knew why they were there or what they were doing.”
While dirty tricks and infantile tactics like this are neither new nor surprising in this expansion, it was fascinating to see the lengths to which Columbia and its associates would go to turn the tide of public opinion in their favor.   It certainly backfired in this case however, as the audience responded to those speaking in favor of the plan with boos and shouts of “liar!” and “shame!”
The week following the hearing CB9’s General Board passed the zoning committee’s ten-point resolution, which demands (amongst other things) that Columbia promise to generate affordable housing units, set up a comprehensive anti-displacement program, and not use eminent domain against businesses or residents. 
To read the full resolution click this link to CB9 Chairman Jordi Reyes-Montblanc’s blog:
Watch the video of Bollinger being booed by Harlem:

How can we stop Columbia’s 7 BILLION dollar plan to bulldoze West Harlem?
Stand up, show up, and speak out!
Public Hearing on the Columbia Expansion
WEDNESDAY, August 15, 2007.
Hearing starts at 6:30PM | Demonstration at 5:45pm
Manhattanville Community Center, 530 West 133rd Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave. 
We already know that the expansion will directly take the homes of 132 families, move out 88 businesses and change the character of West Harlem through pushing up rents and displacing 5,000 people.
Come out, hear the concerns of your neighbors and have the chance to speak your own piece.

A group will be leaving from the gates at 5:30 to meet with the demonstration at 5:45 (call: 248-765-0412 if you get turned around)
And for more information read up before hand:
Students giving the facts -
Community opposition -
And some recent news -
More on the Environmental Impact Statement
"Residential demand generated by the Proposed Actions [Columbia's Expansion] would be partially absorbed by individuals’ purchases of owner-occupied housing in the study area, and by turnover within the rent-regulated housing stock in the study area. The remaining demand could place upward rent pressure on the 1,318 units in the primary study area that would be vulnerable to rent increases, which in turn could lead to the indirect displacement of approximately 3,293 residents of these at-risk units by 2030. While it is impossible to quantify the exact number of at-risk residents who would be indirectly displaced as a result of the Proposed Actions, there is the potential for the indirect residential displacement impact within the primary study area to be significant and adverse." 
Socio-economic Impacts - Executive Summary of the Columbia EIS
There you have it - 3,293 people gentrified out of harlem through Columbia's expansion by the year 2030 (plus the 291 residents directly evicted). This is one of the "significant and adverse" impacts that the Environmental Impact Statement for Columbia's expansion reveals. The other impact areas are:
Open Space and Shadows - Some areas, most importantly the playground of I.S. 175, would be placed in shadows for most of the day during spring months.
Historic resources - Slating for demolition the early 1900 Sheffield Stable that is marked as a historic landmark
Traffic and Parking - The new development would cause congestion along 125th st. as far off as the East River. There would also be a windfall shortage of parking in the area.
Transit - The 125th St. 1 train stop would need renovations to accommodate more people using the escalators and platform. Along with this buses would have to be added to the Bx15 Route
Noise - Through construction, which would last at least until the year 2030, some areas would be unbearable because of the construction noise.
For all of these impacts Columbia must purpose how it will mitigate the affects. If it cant mitigate them this is reason enough for City Planning or City Council to change the plan.

The SCEG along with the Coalition to Preserve Community will be reading the EIS (yes all 2000 pages, lawyers at hand) to give you a more detailed break down of what it says, what needs to be argued at the public hearing, and how this plan can and should change. If you want to read it just get started with the executive summary and emailif you want to join us in breaking it apart.
Speaking of hearings, two are already scheduled. They are informal presentations to the city council to review both the Columbia 197c proposal and the Community Board's 197a guidelines for development. These two plans will go every step of the 6 month city land use review together, so these presentations are a good time to get more details and get prepared.
Columbia University on July 9th
Community Board 9 on August 6th
Both at the City Planning Commission, 22 Reade St.
Check back here for more details
So there it is, the ULURP clock is ticking. And if you want to see these impacts changed and Columbia develop with some accountability come out to the public hearings, and check here for updates.
But before then, sign the petition to City Council, because they are the final decision makers in all of this.
Petition to City Council - Change Columbia's Plans
Whereas Columbia University's proposed rezoning of Manhattanville will fundamentally alter that area and surrounding communities;
Whereas there has been a fundamental lack of input into Columbia University’s rezoning plan by the community that lives, works, and uses the area in question;
Whereas the Universal Land Use Review Procedure is a public process intended to ensure the protection of public interests in new developments;
Whereas you as an elected representative of the people of New York City have the power to review rezoning proposals under ULURP against the interest of your constituents;
Whereas Columbia University, as a not-for-profit self-described ‘public institution,’ has an obligation to develop and expand in a manner that is harmonious with the interests of West Harlem and the rest of New York City;
Whereas Columbia University’s rezoning plan contradicts the framework for development enunciated in Community Board 9 Manhattan’s 197-a plan in areas including but not limited to the provision of affordable housing, living-wage jobs and environmental sustainability;
Whereas we as Columbia students have a vested interest in seeing our university expand and flourish in a manner which is sustainable and respectful of the needs of our neighbors, as enumerated through the 197-a plan created by their most local form of self-governance, Community Board 9 Manhattan;
Whereas we firmly believe in a win-win scenario in which Columbia’s institutional needs are met in a manner that preserves the desired character of the community;
Therefore, We the Undersigned, as concerned students of Columbia University, urge you in your capacity as City Councilperson to vote to decline Columbia University's 197-C rezoning proposal for the Manhattanville area in its current form, until it is revised in accordance with the framework for development set forth in Community Board 9 Manhattan's 197-A plan.
We the Undersigned,

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Letter to Governor David Paterson

Gov. Paterson: Declare a Moratorium on Eminent Domain, And Drop the Appeal
United for an Open and Strong Community
POST OFFICE BOX 50 - Manhattanville Station
365 West 125th Street
NEW York City, New York 10027
Hon. David A. Paterson
Governor, State of New York
State Capitol
Albany, New York 12224
January 19, 2010

Dear Governor Paterson,
In 2005, as our State Senator, you stood on the steps of City Hall with City Councilmembers Bill Perkins and Letitia James and called for a moratorium on eminent domain. That principled position was welcomed by all of us in New York whose diverse neighborhoods were threatened by massive developments to be achieved, in large part, through eminent domain and the threat of its use.
As voting, tax-paying citizens of West Harlem, we are extremely disheartened by your recent support of ESDC’s appeal of the Supreme Court, Appellate Division’s decision in Kaur et al. v. New York State Urban Development Corporation. You stated that your change of position was based on “changes” Columbia had made to their plan. We are writing to tell you that any changes made by Columbia, the City Planning Commission, the Borough President’s Office, or the City Council have been to the detriment of the community and have in no way reduced the coercive, cruel, and unnecessary effect of the use of eminent domain in Manhattanville. Nor has the corruption, collusion, and pretext the Court’s found the University and ESDC to have practiced during the condemnation process been ameliorated in any way. Columbia’s “all-or-nothing” expansion remains nothing more than a land grab of the homes, jobs and businesses of our primarily working class Black and Latino neighborhood by an elitist institution through its quasi-governmental agent, ESDC. In fact, as we write, Columbia is attempting to force out three more sets of commercial tenants, who provide good paying jobs to local residents, from the University’s Manhattanville buildings. Clearly, the Appellate Division’s finding that Columbia was the engineer of any “blight” in the neighborhood has had no effect on business as usual for the University.
From the time of the announcement of the proposed expansion, this community has been steadfastly united in its demand that eminent domain be taken off the table. The excellent 197A plan created by CB9 required that no eminent domain be used in any development in the District. It demanded that any developer (including the University) coming into the District integrate itself with those owners, workers, and residents who wished to stay in an expansion area. The use and threat of eminent domain makes such democratic community planning meaningless and leads to the wholesale destruction of communities. In our case, the use of “friendly” undercompensated condemnation of the very valuable space under City sidewalks and streets and the no-bid sale of the MTA depot is especially outrageous during this time of fiscal crisis.
As you know, New York is one of only five states which have not revised their eminent domain laws following the Kelo decision. According to the Institute for Justice, New York also has the dubious reputation as the State most abusive of the eminent domain process. You have it in your power to halt the injustice and fear inherent in developer-initiated, developer-driven eminent domain by putting a moratorium on the use of eminent domain in New York State until the legislature can review and overhaul a system that has lost all credibility among New Yorkers as a tool for the “public good.”
As you once did, please take a leadership role in stopping eminent domain abuse in New York State by declaring a moratorium on eminent domain now and by ordering ESDC to drop its appeal of the Kaur decision which found the use of eminent domain in Manhattanville unconstitutional and illegal.
Thank you.
Sincerely, Members of the Coalition to Preserve Community
CONTACT THE COALITION TO PRESERVE COMMUNITY: Call (212) 666-6426, 646-812-5188, or (212) 234-3002 (se habla espanol) or go to and sign up to be on our contact list.

Nellie Bailey testifies at the City Council:

Nellie Bailey speaks at the hearing on the Columbia Expansion at the Empire State Development Corporation, September 3, 2008

Monday, February 1, 2010

Coalition to Preserve Community Protest Part II

Nellie Bailey, Norman Siegel, Tom Demott and several others spoke at the rally at the offices of the Empire State Development Corporation:

From the Columbia Spectator:

Local activists protest eminent domain appeal
Despite the Empire State Development Corporation's formal appeal of the eminent domain ruling, the Coalition to Preserve Community protested on Thursday.
By Kim Kirschenbaum
Published Friday 29 January 2010 03:04am EST.

Opponents of eminent domain took their protest beyond the boundaries of Manhattanville on Thursday afternoon.

Members of the Coalition to Preserve Community, a local group opposed to the use of eminent domain for Columbia’s campus expansion, traveled with Harlem residents and other anti-expansion activists to the offices of Gov. David Paterson and the Empire State Development Corporation. There they staged a demonstration, and several delegates entered the building to deliver a letter to Paterson, attendees said.

“The purpose of this was twofold: We wanted to request in a letter to Gov. Paterson to declare a statewide moratorium on eminent domain, and we also wanted to demand that the ESDC drop their appeal,” Harlem Tenants Council president Nellie Bailey said.

The protest was in response to recent legal developments surrounding the planned Manhattanville expansion.

The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division declared eminent domain for the project illegal in early December. This was a major setback for the University, which has not yet struck deals with two landowners in the 17-acre expansion zone and thus must use eminent domain to acquire the properties. ESDC formally appealed this decision on Jan. 8. Plaintiff Nick Sprayregen—the owner of Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage—and his lawyer, Norman Siegel, expect the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, to hear oral arguments in June.

Speakers at Thursday’s event included members of Coalition to Preserve Community, the Movement for Justice in El Barrio, the Mirabal Sisters, and the Harlem Tenants Council.

“I was impressed with the diversity of the people who were there,” Siegel said. “Most were from West Harlem, but there were people from Brooklyn, Queens, and there was high energy.”

Following the protest, a seven-member delegation from the group entered the office building to deliver a letter signed by the demonstrators to Paterson and ESDC officials. The letter requested that Paterson declare a statewide moratorium on eminent domain and that ESDC drop its appeal. Members of the delegation said they wanted to deliver the letter directly to Paterson, but were told they could not do so. Eventually, one protester was able to deliver the letter to the governor’s chief of staff.

“Columbia’s all-or-nothing expansion remains nothing more than a land grab,” the letter reads in part.

CPC member Tom DeMott, said, “Any time you have people from a community, especially people from a low-income community, come to Madison Avenue to protest outside a governor’s office and a state agency that has a history of carrying out oppressive policies toward low-income neighborhoods, it’s real significant.”

University officials could not be reached for comment, but have previously emphasized that Columbia is not a direct party in the case.