Thursday, May 29, 2008

RETHINKING EXPANSION - The next step in Manhattanville activism

Date: Thu, 29 May 2008 05:39:54 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Anne Z. Whitman"
Subject: Fwd: Manhattanville, Old Manhattanville, Historic Preservation in Manhattanville, West Harlem, Harlem, Columbia University Expansion
To: "Jordi Reyes Montblanc"

Note: forwarded message attached.

Anne Z. Whitman


The next step in Manhattanville activism
Natalie DeNault

Back in 2002, Columbia University announced plans to construct a 17-acre campus to the north of its present campus in an area of West Harlem known as Manhattanville. The new campus would span from 125th to 134th streets and from Broadway westward to the Hudson River. The area is currently filled with a mix of residential housing and light industry, such as car mechanics and storage facilities. Columbia intends to replace these homes and businesses with their relocated Business School and School of the Arts, in addition to new biotech research labs and a science, math and engineering secondary school. The University currently owns 65% of the area. The last 35% have so far resisted the University’s attempts to buy them out, and they are facing the possibility of eviction through eminent domain.

While the redevelopment of Manhattanville provides an important opportunity for the University’s growth, many residents, local businesses and Columbia students have raised concerns over the details of the expansion. While only 300 residents will be displaced directly from the expansion zone, over 5,000 people living within a fourth mile of the area are vulnerable to indirect displacement through rising rents. There is very little rent stabilization in the area, and as Columbia affiliates and other developers move in, many long-term community members will no longer be able to afford their homes.

As a selling-point for the plan, Columbia has highlighted the fact that 7,000 jobs will be created by the new campus. However, many of these new positions require at least a college degree, while the expansion is destroying thousands of well-paying jobs in the industrial sector. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that the majority of the created jobs will go to local residents or that the jobs will pay a living wage.

The Coalition to Preserve Community’s Demands for Columbia

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.

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.
5. Columbia’s immediate development and permanent implementation of an effective housing anti-displacement program

6. Pursue State and National Registers listing of any of its properties within the proposed development area found “eligible” by New York’s State Historic Preservation Office and not oppose LPC landmark designation of any site herein.

7. Not build pollution emitting power sources - such as power plants and co-generation facilities - or research facilities above bio-safety level 2, or other noxious installations that would contribute to the already high environmental burdens of this community.

8. Commit to 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 through technical amendments to the community’s 197-a development plan.

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.

Another major concern, over which local business owner recently sued Columbia, is the potential environmental hazards created by Columbia’s 197-c plan. The plan calls for the creation of a seven-story underground to create a structure known as the “bathtub.” This bathtub will span underneath the entire new campus and will contain biotech research laboratories, business school programs, storage facilities, gas-fired power plants, an underground MTA bus depot, and swimming facilities. However, Manhattanville lays over an earthquake fault line and borders the Hudson River. There is concern that water pressure from the river could multiply faults on the bottom of the bathtub. And with global warming threatening to raise water levels, there is also concern the Hudson River could flood the structure and cause materials from the biotech research laboratories to be released into the neighborhood. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Norman Siegel, explained, “If there were a storm surge, you could have water coming out and going into the Harlem communityÑwith possible toxic materials.”

In November of last year, seven students and one professor staged a 10-day hunger strike to address several campus concerns, including the Manhattanville Expansion. Throughout the strike, there was a strong presence of West Harlem community members who spoke at several of the nightly vigils. Although the strike was successful in getting more support for Ethnic Studies, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and restructuring the Major Cultures requirement, the demands regarding Manhattanville were left unaddressed by Columbia’s administration.
As the students were waging the hunger strike, Columbia’s 197c Plan was going through the final stages of New York’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). On December 17 last semester, just as students were wrapping up their finals and heading home for the holidays, the New York City Planning Commission approved Columbia’s 197-c plan for rezoning the Manhattanville Area for Columbia’s usage. Despite major community objections to the expansion plans, no real changes were made as the commissioners signed off.

Just before the vote, Columbia and the controversial West Harlem Local Development Corporation (WHLDC) created a preliminary document known as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to enumerate Columbia’s vague commitments toward the community.

The WHLDC was created as a not-for-profit entity representative of the West Harlem community to negotiate with Columbia University over the details of the expansion. However, in December three of its members resigned citing lack of transparency and dissatisfaction with the presence of elected city officials as board members. They felt the WHLDC was not truly representative of the community and was being used to legitimate an unfair, one-sided process with no real community dialog.

Following the City Planning Commission’s approval of the 197c Plan, Councilmember Tony Avella has described the process of drafting of the MOU and signing of the plan as being rushed, last-minute decisions driven by power politics rather than equity. Given that thousands of local residents will be displaced as a result of the expansion, it is felt that more thought and precision should have been put into revising the plans in accordance to community needs before their approval.

Among Columbia’s commitments in the Memorandum of Understanding are a $76 million “Benefits Fund” to be doled out over a 12-year period, $20 million for an affordable housing fund, $30 million toward the creation of a public school, and allowance of community access to Columbia facilities. However, a close review of the MOU reveals that it falls short of promising anything substantial. The 12-year payment schedule on the Benefits Fund is back-loaded so the heaviest payments fall closer to the end when the dollars have lost their purchasing power to inflation. The $20 million for affordable housing is only enough to build approximately 80 units of affordable housing for a family making 30-50% of the West Harlem median income. This means that Columbia is committing to less than 10% of the amount needed to mitigate the displacement caused by the expansion. However, the housing created with this money will likely not even be affordable to this income bracket because it will be constructed to serve those 80% of the area median income of the entire New York metropolitan area, including wealthy areas like Westchester. The $20 million goes toward a “revolving loan fund” that requires the developer to pay back the borrowed money, giving the developer little incentive to create truly low-income affordable housing.

There are 5,035 people living in non rent-stabilized housing within a quarter mile of the expansion area, making them extremely vulnerable to secondary displacement. Columbia’s Environmental Impact Statement calculates that the majority of these people will lose their homes as the expansion causes rents to skyrocket. With this revolving loan housing fund we should expect to see minimal numbers of new affordable housing units created and the current neighbors being replaced by a higher socioeconomic bracket of “affordable housing” residents.

Another substantial shortcoming of the MOU is that it does not detail how community members will have oversight over the correct usage of the money going into community programs.

Back in November of last year, the New York City Planning Commission simultaneously approved olumbia’s 197-c development plan along with West Harlem Community Board 9’s 197-a plan, which is blueprint for all future developments in the area. The 197-a plan requires all new development to respect current living wage jobs and affordable housing and to build environmental sustainable infrastructure. It is not meant to restrict redevelopment in the area, but rather to promote it in a manner that preserves the integrity of the neighborhood. The Chairwoman of the Planning Commission, Amanda Burden, claims that the 197-c and 197-a plans are compatible. Yet, many current residents remain unhappy with the glaring lack of support for community infrastructure and stability under Columbia’s 197-c plan. Columbia’s plan depends on the use of eminent domain, which will cause massive displacement, and includes the creation of a 17-acre “bathtub” basement, and level 3 biotech research laboratories. The Community’s 197-a Plan rejects eminent domain, calls for protection and creation of affordable housing and living wage jobs, and demands environmental safety and stability. Throughout the land use review procedure, Columbia advocated for an all-or-nothing approach. The plan approved is just that — very little constructive community input was incorporated.

Moving forward

While there is no going back from the City Planning Commission’s rezoning approval in December, there is still plenty of elbow room for community members to affect the nature of the actual development and the community benefit agreements.

The community-based action group, Coalition to Preserve Community, is currently redrafting and reaffirming their list of demands for the expansion in light of the rezoning. These ten requests for Columbia to respect the integrity of the residential area include: no use of eminent domain, no bathtub structure, guarantees for lowincome affordable housing, no environmental hazards, compliance with 197-a plan, and a commitment to good-faith negotiations with Community Board 9 regarding all future development of the area. Likewise, the Columbia student group Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification (SCEG) has been refocusing their efforts in the wake of the CPC’s vote and last November’s hunger strike, which yielded no concessions in respect to the expansion plans. In the future, SCEG is refocusing their efforts on a “No-Dough Pledge” for alumni, faculty, and parents, committing to withhold donations as long as the university engages in unethical expansion. In addition, SCEG is continuing to educate students and Columbia affiliates about the more controversial aspects of the expansion. The course of the expansion is far from settled, as the threat of eminent domain is still on the table for three landowners in the expansion zone, construction of the buildings has not yet begun, Columbia has not yet raised the money for the 22 years of construction ahead, the specifics on the Community Benefits Agreement, as outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding, have not been fleshed out, and the widespread displacement has not yet begun.

  • The city approved Columbia’s plan in December—so what is happening now?

    Columbia has continually promised that the negative impacts of its plan would be compensated for in the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA); however, this agreement has been released and it falls pitifully short:
    The funds for housing ($20 million) will meet only 5-10% of the need created by Columbia’s plan! The CBA does not specify when the funds will be available and by whom they will be administered.

    The general “Benefits Package” is $76 million over 12 years, with most being paid near the end of the period. This means inflation, the impending recession and other factors will lessen the actual value of the package

    The package will begin to pay out “commencing upon issuance of the first new build- ing permit,” which means funds will not come until Columbia starts to build. But funds are needed now because displacement and other impacts have already begun.

    This package will be administered by “local elected officials, CU representatives and representatives of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation.” These are CBA funds, and they should be administered by an independent entity with a broad representation from the community—not a panel full of politicians who sold-out the community by supporting the plan and people from Columbia! Ways to get involved for a fair and equitable expansion:

    DISCUSS: Talk to your neighbors, friends, family and local civic groups (tenant and block associations, religious groups) about expansion, and share this information with them!

    ORGANIZE: There are many West Harlem community organizations currently dealing with issues of expansion. The
    Coalition to Preserve Communitylink holds meetings at St. Mary’s Church on 126th Street. If you are interested contact Julie by email or by phone at 917-628-8274 for information about the next meeting.

    REACH OUT: Columbia students and faculty oppose this plan! Contact the
    Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification if you would like to collaborate on an expansion-related project (educational, action-oriented, whatever!) or just meet to talk about how together we can hold the University accountable.

    Pledge to abstain from donating to Columbia University until the University can concretely demonstrate its commitment to the values it proclaims to uphold in regard to its current expansion into West Harlem.

Community members and concerned students alike are hoping that the expansion plans can be modified in a way that is equally beneficial for all parties involved. As a university located on the edge of an important cultural community, we need to be cognizant of the long-lasting effects our growth can and will have on the character of the Harlem Neighborhood. So far, city politics processes have paved the way for Columbia’s expansion. Columbia wields enormous clout as one of New York City’s largest private developers and seventh largest non-government employer.

There is much we hope to do to influence Columbia’s landuse and to increase the amount of money Columbia pledges to create affordable housing and guarantee living wage jobs for local residents on their new campus. While the expansion is a fact, the current ethics of its impact leave much for Columbia to improve upon before laying down the first brick.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Marilyn Jordan Taylor: Dean of School of Design

Marilyn Jordan Taylor: Dean of School of Design

Print Issue
May 27, 2008, Volume 54, No. 34

Marilyn Jordan Taylor has been named dean of the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, effective October 1. The announcement was made by President Amy Gutmann and Provost Ron Daniels.

Ms. Taylor, partner in charge of the Urban Design and Planning Practice at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, and the first woman to serve as chairman of the firm, is internationally known for her involvement in the design of large-scale urban projects and civic initiatives. During a 35-year career with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Ms. Taylor has led many of the firm’s largest and most complex projects around the world.

She was also the first architect and the first woman to serve as chairman of the Urban Land Institute, a non-profit research and educational institution, where she championed a renewed focus on cities, sustainable communities and infrastructure investment.

“Marilyn Jordan Taylor brings a deep understanding of the contemporary professional design world and a timely vision of the future of design education,” President Gutmann said. “She is deeply committed to the central importance of recruiting the next generation of faculty and raising the funds needed to ensure the School of Design’s future eminence. We are confident that she will provide the vigorous and visionary leadership needed to enhance PennDesign’s already leading position in the professions of architecture, city planning, fine arts, historic preservation and landscape architecture.”

“Marilyn Taylor’s global stature,” Provost Daniels said, “is complemented by her proven ability to interact easily with constituencies across communities, government, industry and academia, both locally and internationally. She is a leader who exudes not only intellectual breadth but also deep enthusiasm and compassion in her dedication to enhancing the vitality of urban communities through design.”

“As Dean, Marilyn Taylor will have the opportunity to build on the extraordinary improvement and growth in the School of Design’s faculty, professional stature, educational programs, and research and practice activities under Dean Gary Hack, who will formally complete his 12-year term on June 30, 2008. We are delighted to announce that Gary has graciously agreed to extend his term through September 30, in order to facilitate a smooth transition in the leadership of the School,” added President Gutmann.

Ms. Taylor, an expert in using public space and infrastructure to shape urban districts and civic places, has led Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Urban Design and Planning Practice in such projects as Columbia University’s Manhattanville Master Plan, the East River Waterfront Master Plan, the reclamation of Con Ed’s East River sites for mixed-use development, the new research building at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and the new urban campus for John Jay College.

She founded and leads Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Airports and Transportation Practice, working on projects such as Terminal 4 at JFK airport, Continental Airlines at Newark and the expansion of Washington’s Dulles. Her international projects include SkyCity at Hong Kong International Airport and the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Ms. Taylor’s transit work has ranged from the award-winning Changi Airport Station in Singapore to the Transit-Friendly Land Use Handbook for New Jersey Transit.

She has served as a member of The Partnership for NYC, president of the NYC chapter of the American Institute of Architects and a visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She is a founding member of the NY New Visions Design and Planning Coalition and serves on the Advisory Board of the Penn Institute for Urban Research.

Ms. Taylor is an Iowa native and a 1969 graduate of Radcliffe College. She attended the MIT Graduate School of Architecture and received her master of architecture degree in 1974 from the University of California, Berkeley.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Finding, and Refining, a Spiritual Calling

N.Y. / Region

Finding, and Refining, a Spiritual Calling
Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
The Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, left, and James Ellison of the Fund for Theological Education lead visitors at a subway stop on 125th Street.
Published: May 19, 2008

Angie Hummel craned her neck and beheld a glass-sheathed Upper West Side tower where luxurious studios sell for more than a million dollars. She shifted her gaze ever so slightly downward to the brick building where Mexican immigrant families cram four people into a single room barely big enough for a bed.

“Oh, my God,” she said. “Nothing like a stark comparison.”

It was that kind of day. Even where she stood — in front of a century-old brick church that was among the few structures not being demolished for new housing on West 100th Street — was a reminder of the price of progress in urban America. Smack dab in the middle of plenty, if not excess, people scrape by anonymously. For a religious person like Ms. Hummel, faith is found while navigating gently between those extremes.

“I have my own struggle of what I am called to do in this world,” she said. “What’s the point if there is still going to be devastation and brokenness, even despite good works? Is God really there?”

That was why she had come to New York last week. She was among 35 young adult volunteers from faith-based groups around the country selected by the Fund for Theological Education to spend a week meeting clergy in several urban ministries. The fund’s officials hoped that they might be inspired to pursue a similar calling, or at least bring a greater grounding in a higher purpose to their secular careers.

This is not necessarily an easy goal for young adults just out of college, since many of their friends are off making money, while they’re living in small groups working in soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

“Their families cannot understand why they’re doing this, because they should be getting a real job or need to pay their student loans,” said James Ellison, who coordinated the program for the fund, an ecumenical organization that seeks to increase the number of Christian scholars and pastors nationwide. “Their friends may admire they’re working with the poor, but they can’t understand this. Coming here, they see it’s not just a few crazy Presbyterians doing this. It gives them a sense that maybe this is not so crazy after all.”

A clear, sobering light filled the dark-wood sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church on West 100th Street. The stained glass windows had been put in storage, replaced by plain glass, which revealed the steel skeleton of a new building rising next door. The windows had been removed to avoid damage from the construction. The Rev. Heidi Neumark, Trinity’s pastor, said the church could not afford to put them back when construction ended.

She sat before the visitors, recounting her decision to be ordained. It was a roundabout process, considering that she was not especially drawn to organized religion. She had worked with the poor in her 20s. She had entered the seminary, thanks to a scholarship from the fund that paid for a year of seminary, no strings attached, for young people considering ordination.

“The church needs to be in those places where people feel outside the church,” she said. “For many of you, the important question is, how dissatisfied are you with the church? The church needs people like you.”

She explained to them how she spent 18 years in the South Bronx, a period she chronicled in her well-received memoir, “Breathing Space,” working and living in a community where death and disease struck early and often. Yet she spoke of those years in tender terms, recalling the strength of her neighbors.

Her new church, where she has been for five years, is home to a diverse congregation. Much of the surrounding neighborhood is undergoing a rapid transformation, just as it had in the 1950s when slum clearance made it pretty much the only building left untouched by the wrecking ball. She now wonders what will happen during the current frenzy of development.

Ms. Hummel raised her hand.

“Where do you find hope?” she asked.
Pastor Neumark replied quickly.

“In the community,” she said. “It’s not rational. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. But I find hope in people. In people together.”

A similar message was given to them at the Interchurch Center, where they listened to Willie Baptist, a scholar in residence at Union Theological Seminary, talk about his work organizing welfare recipients and the homeless. Poverty, he said, was the defining issue of the day, and working with the poor — not giving them a handout or a look down — was his solution.

“We are about really loving our neighbor,” he said. “It’s not about people out there, that we have to pity the poor. It’s about the direction of the country. It’s about the role of the church.”

For some in the group, their own roles in the church were slowly coming into focus, too. Lara Shine, a graduate of Appalachian State University, has already begun the formal process of exploring ordination in the Episcopal Church. She had majored in music therapy and likes working with people. Her decision to consider ordination was complicated, she said.

“It’s not like a lightning bolt or getting a text message from God saying you should go to seminary,” she said. “I think God does give us passions we are drawn to. That’s kind of a calling.”
She and the group walked along Broadway, stopping briefly to look at Corpus Christi Church, where Thomas Merton converted to Catholicism. The Rev. Earl Kooperkamp was leading this part of their tour, explaining how the area was changing because of Columbia’s decision to expand its campus into Manhattanville.

A car slowed to a crawl, its driver turning to a silent passenger in the back seat and unleashing a torrent of profanities. Ms. Shine walked along, stopping briefly to pick up some litter.

“Maybe somebody will see me and do the same thing,” she explained.

Father Kooperkamp, the rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, explained that with so many of his congregation living in public housing, he was active in local housing issues. He was also helping his neighbors address health concerns, since he has grown tired of burying people before their time.

He led the group through the bustle of 125th Street, toward the subway to their last stop in the Bronx. Incense vendors jostled alongside T-shirt sellers for customers. Bow-tied men hawked The Final Call newspaper while a woman handed out fliers about H.I.V. prevention.

The group emerged at 149th Street and Third Avenue, where a skinny preacher was half-stooped over and shouting in a frenzy. “God loves you!” he screamed. “All of you!”

They made their way up Melrose Avenue, to the church and friary that was home to the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.

“Finally!” said one of the volunteers. “Some Catholics.”

Gray-robed friars welcomed them into the cool, dimly lighted church for evening prayer and song. Afterwards, they went downstairs for a meal of rice and pork left over from a recent ordination party. They settled into cafeteria chairs and chatted with various friars.

“These are the giants of compassion for the future,” said Adam Seeley, a volunteer with the Presbyterian Church. “It takes heart to do what they do.”

As much as he admired them, he did not think he would go to seminary. But he also knew he wanted to keep working with the needy.

“For some reason we’re told our generation cares more about Britney Spears,” he said. “But these guys working to end poverty, what is more encouraging than that?”

Upstairs, Ben Bear walked into the empty church. When he was growing up in Virginia, his mother had always told him he would be a pastor. He may go to seminary, though he was not sure if he would go on to lead a congregation. Still, the day had left a strong impression on him.

As he went up the main aisle, his voice echoed while he sang “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “Give Us Peace.” He looked up at the portraits of saints, turned on his heel and slowly walked away. He whistled, ready to join his friends.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

City Approves Manhattanville Plan, Project Approaches Construction

City Approves Manhattanville Plan, Project Approaches Construction
By Betsy Morais

Columbia’s campus expansion into Manhattanville went from proposal to city-approved project this year amid clamor that ranged from staunch opposition to excitement.

City Council’s vote on Dec. 19, which approved rezoning of the area where the campus will be built, was key in propelling the University’s vision forward. The 17-acre site of the future campus is mostly comprised of four blocks from 129th to 133rd streets between Broadway and 12th Avenue, as well as property on the north side of 125th Street and east of Broadway from 131st to 134th streets.

Columbia is now aggressively seeking the 10 percent of the land within the expansion footprint that remains in the hands of three private business owners who have yet to strike a deal with the University. If no agreement is reached, the state of New York may seize the desired properties “for the public good” via eminent domain, should the Empire State Development Corporation deem Manhattanville “blighted” at the conclusion of an ongoing study. The state would then hand over control of this land to the University, so that its campus design could be realized.

The school year kicked off with shouts from all sides on the issue, as neighborhood residents and local entrepreneurs speculated the changes Columbia’s project could bring to the area. Supporters say it will revitalize the area’s economy and aesthetics, as its atmosphere shifts from light industry to college campus.

At the City Council vote, Speaker Christine Quinn professed her support. “No one wants to infringe on the rich history of Harlem,” she said. “I am proud that we are voting on a plan that will not only preserve that history, but will also pull old manufacturing areas out of the shadows and into the light of thriving cultural and academic centers.”

But others fear the underbelly of improvement: gentrification. Opponents of the expansion plan believe Columbia’s transformation of Manhattanville will outprice deeply-rooted community residents.

“We do not need a plan that has the destruction of the existing community at its core, that will continue to diminish housing for our people, create fewer jobs for residents than it eliminates, bring us potential environmental hazards, irreversibly alter our diverse socioeconomic fabric, and disrespect our historical and architectural integrity,”Tom Kappner, a longtime community activist and Coalition to Preserve Community member, said to City Council at a public hearing.

The CPC held numerous demonstrations against the University’s approach to the expansion, and the organization has continued its opposition even after City Council voted to approve Columbia’s plan.

Despite some protests from the City Hall balconies while votes were cast, the council followed the lead of Inez Dickens (D-Central Harlem and Morningside Heights) and Robert Jackson (D-Washington Heights and West Harlem) as it gave an overwhelming thumbs-up to Columbia, with only five votes against the rezoning plan.

“As Columbia looked to expand further into the neighborhood, we needed to be sure that we preserved the heart and soul of the community,” Jackson said, asserting that both the community and University were heard.

But now, after the city has spoken on Manhattanville, activists are turning their attention to the state over the question of eminent domain. Many expect the state to declare the neighborhood blighted, which could allow the University to gain access to desired property even without the consent of the three outstanding business owners.

Columbia officials say they remain hopeful about reaching negotiations with all owners, but have acknowledged that if negotiations prove impossible, the state would be justified in exerting its power of eminent domain. But critics argue that since Columbia is a private entity, New York’s potential use of eminent domain would be illegitimate.As all eagerly await the blight study results, the University’s Manhattanville design team is busy at work. Construction will occur in three phases over a span of about 30 years.

With architect Renzo Piano—who designed the new New York Times headquarters—at the helm, Columbia is currently at work on the first phase. Though designs are still in the early stages, the architects are working with aesthetic motifs such as transparent glass, red brick, and steel structures that echo the existing viaducts in the neighborhood.

TAGS: City Council, Manhattanville

CB9 Moves on From Manhattanville Vote

CB9 Moves on From Manhattanville Vote
By Daniel Amzallag

Community Board 9 has shifted its focus from Columbia’s now-approved Manhattanville expansion toward more common, community-based issues over the past nine months.

The first half of the academic year was marked by a series of milestones that were part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a citywide mandatory review process required for land rezoning, for Columbia’s rezoning of land in Manhattanville.

CB9, which oversees the area from West 110th to West 155th streets, rejected Columbia’s 197-c rezoning plan in August 2007, with certain conditions that could lead to the board’s approval.

In September, tensions erupted when Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer—whose nonbinding vote on the plan is required by ULURP—initially expressed disapproval with the University’s plan, only to later vote in favor of the plan when Columbia agreed to provide $20 million in affordable housing. The deal immediately elicited criticisms of “selling out” the community.

The City Planning Commission held a public hearing in October on the rezoning—as well as CB9’s own 197-a “framework for future development”—eventually approving both plans with modifications in late November. Community Board members concentrated on advocacy of their plan and testimony to City Planning.

“I don’t hear an emphasis on West Harlem,” then-CB9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc said at an Oct. 3 City Planning hearing. “This 964 acres, this is our community. This is the community that is going to be affected by the 17 acres that Columbia is going to develop. ... It astonishes me, and I hate to say that, that we are being sacrificed for the benefit of the city.”

As the plans moved closer to their City Council approval—the penultimate step of the ULURP process, preceding only mayoral approval—CB9 members showed great concern with developing a community-benefits agreement with Columbia to compensate for and mitigate adverse effects of the expansion. The West Harlem Local Development Corporation, formed by CB9 as an independent organization explicitly for this purpose, drew increasing fire and attention as several of its members resigned in protest days following City Planning approval.

“I feel that I cannot be part of a group that is negotiating with Columbia in a way that does not truly represent the wishes of those whom we represent,” said Nick Sprayregen, a former LDC member and the largest private-property owner in Manhattanville excluding Columbia. LDC members had previously attempted to oust Sprayregen from the board, citing a conflict of interest with the property he owns.

Both the 197-c and the 197-a plans were approved in City Council on Dec. 19, weeks earlier than expected, as the LDC rushed to pull together a community-benefits package with Columbia. The University and the LDC signed a memorandum ofunderstanding for $150 million on the morning of the council’s vote.

Moving into the new year, CB9 has shifted focus away from the Columbia expansion and toward issues more familiar to other community boards. Pat Jones, formerly CB9 first vice chair, assumed the position of chair after a unanimous vote in January. Reyes-Montblanc had reached the board’s term limit.

The board has continued to consider the issues brought up by a plan—approved April 30 by City Council—to rezone 125th Street between Broadway and 2nd Avenue, though CB9 has been less adamantly opposed to the plan than Community Boards 10 and 11 of Central and East Harlem, respectively.

Some board members seem glad to be concentrating on community issues aside from Columbia’s expansion. “Our focus has got to be what is going to increase the quality of life for all the residents that are within the community board area,” board member Vicky Gholson said.

TAGS: CB9, Manhattanville

Friday, May 9, 2008

Federal Reserve Joins Bankruptcy Pro Bono Efforts

Pro Bono

Federal Reserve Joins Bankruptcy Pro Bono Efforts
New York Lawyer
May 9, 2008
By Thomas Adcock
New York Law Journal

A unique partnership between the federal government and the New York City Bar Association is the latest of several initiatives by which attorneys are volunteering to help individuals caught in the kind of financial distress registered by record numbers of bankruptcy filings, home foreclosures, evictions and debt recovery litigation.

Set to launch next month is the Lawyers Foreclosure Intervention Network, a two-year pilot project developed by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to be administered by the City Bar Justice Center.

Other pro bono initiatives in aid of financially-strapped New Yorkers are underway through the Legal Services for New York City, New York County Lawyers' Association, and the Feerick Center for Social Justice at Fordham University School of Law.

Thomas C. Baxter, general counsel at the New York Federal Reserve, which states its purpose as safeguarding the "soundness and vitality of our economic and financial systems," said the Foreclosure Intervention Network would provide "counseling-plus," by which private attorneys would represent subprime borrowers in negotiations with their banks to modify loan agreements.

"The Fed is actively involved in counseling programs," said Mr. Baxter, but "this is an enhancement."

The home mortgage foreclosure rate nationally, he added, is seen by the Fed as "an urgent problem. We've been thinking about different kinds of solutions that would prevent unnecessary foreclosures and the negative effects they can have on both borrowers and communities."

According to a recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based Mortgage Bankers Association, foreclosures rose to a 23-year high at the end of 2007.

Government partnership is "the really interesting part to me," said Lynn Armentrout, now in the process of closing down her solo practice in tenant-side Housing Court law to take on the job as director of the city bar pilot project.

She said of the Federal Reserve, "It's an agency involved in macro economics, the big picture. And here we are, matching up individual distressed homeowners with members of the private bar. Now, that's a framework."

The main hurdle to achieving such framework, according to Lynn M. Kelly, executive director of the City Bar Justice Center, was a matter of client conflict: since most New York law firms with associates to spare for pro bono duty represent financial institutions that back subprime mortgagers, how might they follow Disciplinary Rule 5-105(C) of the Code of Professional Responsibility?

On April 18, the city bar's Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics greenlighted the project with an opinion concluding that "the financial institution may consent to have a law firm that represents it also negotiate adversely to it in a non-substantially-related matter."

Last October, Mr. Baxter and others at the Federal Reserve Bank met with managing partners of several large firms to discuss such "limited waivers." After reaching agreement in principle, he sought out the City Bar Justice Center to run the pilot program. The Federal Reserve Bank has committed $150,000 for each of the next two years with a renewal option for a third.

"Being able to tap into the resources of large, powerful firms was dependent on having that ethics opinion," said Ms. Kelly, who said she hopes to attract as many as 80 volunteer lawyers. "It's breaking new ground."

Mr. Baxter said potential clients of the program often "don't have the financial literacy to be able to understand the options open to them. They're in a position where they can't deal with their lending bank and need someone to be their advocate [to] help these borrowers stay in their homes and work out some appropriate accommodation."

Ms. Armentrout said training sessions for volunteer lawyers are set for June 18 and 19 at city bar headquarters on West 44th Street. The number of CLE credits is yet to be calculated, but the program's purpose is clear.

"The idea is to try to save homes," said Ms. Armentrout, "and to try to save credit lines."
Mr. Baxter offered a simple standard for client qualification. "If you're facing foreclosure or can't make [mortgage] payments," he said, "you're probably eligible."

Low-Income Consumers

For low-income New Yorkers who cannot meet credit card payments or other unsecured obligations, personal bankruptcy is often their only alternative. In such cases, 159 attorneys from 41 major firms have thus far volunteered counsel through the New York Bankruptcy Assistance Project, begun last October at Legal Services for New York City.

In addition, the city bar's Consumer Bankruptcy Project, begun in 2004, has attracted some 50 lawyers who have served 400 low-income clients with counseling and representation in Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions.

William Z. Kransdorf, program coordinator for the Legal Services bankruptcy project, said the number of volunteer attorneys showing up for weekly half-day workshops where they screen clients has increased. After screening, said Mr. Kransdorf, attorneys return to their offices and draft bankruptcy petitions using software tied to a remote computer server, which he sees as an efficient means of monitoring the pro bono work and ensuring client privacy.

"One of the things I was living in fear of was sending out paper case files and never seeing them again," said Mr. Kransdorf.

Mr. Kransdorf said he was in talks with attorneys at Proskauer Rose and professors at Columbia Law School that could expand his project by establishing a bankruptcy clinic at the campus in Morningside Heights.

Clients eligible for Legal Services bankruptcy help cannot exceed annual earnings representing 200 percent of the federal poverty level statistic, or $20,800 for an individual and $42,400 for a family of four - rates that Mr. Kransdorf termed "absurd, especially for New York City."
Likewise, clients at the city bar's consumer bankruptcy project are bound by the same federal poverty standard customarily applied to nonprofit agencies.

Last year, according to consumer bankruptcy project director John McManus, 40 pro bono lawyers handled Chapter 7 cases, in which debtor individuals tend to have public benefits income that creditors cannot seize, or small businesses with few, if any, liquid assets.

This year, Mr. McManus oversees the work of 57 volunteers, which he said has cut the project's client waiting list from six months to four. "Still, our phone is certainly ringing more," he said.
Mr. McManus, like Mr. Kransdorf, is attempting to expand the project. To that end, Mr. McManus is looking for funding to underwrite the more complicated Chapter 13 filings, in which debtors may negotiate reduced cash payouts to creditors in return for keeping some of their assets.

The New York County Lawyers' Association offers two pro bono opportunities: the Legal Counseling Project, in which individuals contemplating bankruptcy may consult with volunteer lawyers during evening appointments at County Lawyers headquarters on Vesey Street; and the Manhattan Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office, which since late last year has assisted 74 debtors in pro se litigation before the New York City Civil Court.

Consumer debt, primarily from credit card bills, drives most personal bankruptcies, according to Mr. Kransdorf.

"That's the mechanism, that's the perception," he said. But Mr. Kransdorf said the three root causes are "divorce, job loss and medical."

People who use credit cards to manage finances "stay within their means for years, but wind up serving a debt load they can't withstand when something comes along and - bam!"
Consumers seeking bankruptcy protection "tend not to ever file again," said Mr. Kransdorf. "They go through a learning process."

Lawyers interested in volunteering service to the financially distressed may go through a learning process of their own on June 19 during a full day's workshops at Fordham University School of Law.

The workshops, co-sponsored by County Lawyers and the Feerick Center for Social Justice at Fordham Law, aim to develop strategies for pro bono lawyers in helping New Yorkers "stabilize and improve their financial health, build wealth . . . and be better protected against deceptive and abusive practices" by credit card companies and other lenders, according to a program statement.

Marine Finds True Brotherhood

Marine Finds True Brotherhood
May 09, 2008
Marine Corps News

by Pfc Alicia Small

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO - From as far back as he can remember he was always treated like a Marine by his family and relatives.

Growing up, Recruit John Kidwell, Platoon 1063, was surrounded by family and friends who were Marines, so he was used to the military way of life, said his grandfather, Richard Kidwell, a retired sergeant major. He said he wasn't surprised when his grandson chose the Marine Corps and that he was proud of his decision.

His father, said he was also pleased with his son's enlistment. "He chose to become a man and live life to the fullest," said Edward Kidwell.

"My father and grandfather provided me with a lot of wisdom and inspired me to do my best at everything," said Kidwell. "I wanted to get my life going on the right path and figured the Marine Corps was a perfect way to do that."

Discipline and hard work were values that were instilled in him at an early age, said Kidwell. He was taught these traits were attributes of true leaders.

"They always treated me like a Marine and instructed me to always give 110 percent despite any difficulties that may arise," said Kidwell. "That's what leaders do, and a leader is what I was trained to be."

He was also taught that it is important to show respect to others if he wanted them to respect him. His grandfather said he taught Kidwell to do as he was told without question, no matter how he felt about his drill instructors at the time.

"It shows respect and trust to the drill instructors when recruits listen and do what they are told," said Richard Kidwell. "There is always a reason for the things they tell you to do. There is always a lesson they are trying to teach."

Kidwell soon adapted and found a family in his platoon members and drill instructors. He said unlike the sports teams he had been on throughout his school years, he felt the Marine Corps was a true brotherhood.

"My senior drill instructor was like a father, while the other drill instructors were like close uncles," said Kidwell. "They taught me how to be a part of something important and not take it for granted."

He said the other recruits were like brothers to him and he learned no matter how much he wanted to argue with them at times, it was important to work together. Without the teamwork and the feeling of the brotherhood, mission accomplishment is impossible.

Just like his family at home, his platoon mates provided him with the motivation and inspiration to work through the hard times. They kept each others' spirits up and helped each other whenever anyone needed it.

Kidwell said his favorite part of training was the knowledge and discipline he was able to retain.

Kidwell will continue his training during Marine Combat Training School of Infantry, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. He wants to make a career of the Marine Corps and is even hoping to earn an officer's commission and eventually become a pilot. In the meantime, he is taking one step at a time, living life day-by-day.

"I feel this is exactly where I am destined to be for this part of my life," said Kidwell.

Learn more about Marine Corps service opportunities.

© Copyright 2008 Marine Corps News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Questions of Rent Tactics by Private Equity

Date: Fri, 9 May 2008 05:56:14 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Anne Z. Whitman"
Subject: Fwd: Questions of Rent Tactics by Private Equity
To: "Jordi Reyes Montblanc"

Note: forwarded message attached.

Anne Z. Whitman


Questions of Rent Tactics by Private Equity

Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times
Tenants of an apartment building in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan gather in their lobby to discuss allegations of harassment by the building's owner.

Published: May 9, 2008

Private investment firms have been amassing what may seem like unusual stakes in New York real estate: they have bought hundreds of apartment buildings with thousands of rent-regulated units across the city that produce decidedly meager returns.

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Investors as Landlords

RelatedTimes Topics: Rent Stabilization and Rent Control

As regulatory filings and promotional materials show, the companies expect to generate higher returns quickly by increasing rents after existing tenants vacate their units. Their success depends upon far higher vacancy rates than are typical in rent-regulated apartments in New York.

Some residents and tenant advocates say that they began seeing what they consider a pattern of harassment of low-income tenants this year and suspect that it is a result of the new owners’ business models. Tenants have been sued repeatedly for unpaid rent that has already been received by the landlords; they have been sent false notices of rent bills, lease terminations and nonrenewals; and they have been accused of illegal sublets.

The companies dispute the charges of harassment and say they are protecting their rights.

Nevertheless, tenants must answer the notices in court, but many have responded by moving out, court documents indicate. When they vacate the apartments, the owners can increase the rents substantially.

“Predatory equity is undermining the best efforts of New York City and state elected officials to slow the loss of affordable housing,” said Benjamin Dulchin, deputy director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a nonprofit organization. “Both the private equity funders and the lending institutions are aware, or should be aware, that harassment of tenants is taking place as a result of their financial models.”

Private investment funds have boomed in recent years, buying companies they considered undervalued in industries as diverse as communications, hotels and energy, streamlining operations and then selling them at a profit. For example, private equity firms have bought nursing homes, often slashing expenses and reducing staff to increase their profit.

New York provides an unusual opportunity because it is one of the few cities with a large inventory of apartments whose rental rates are regulated and kept below market levels.

In the last four years, developers backed by private equity firms have acquired almost 75,000 rent-regulated apartments, Mr. Dulchin said, or about 6 percent of the city’s 1.2 million such units. Major private equity-backed participants in this market include Vantage Properties, which has partnered with Apollo Real Estate Advisors; the Pinnacle Group, a unit of Praedium Capital; and Normandy Real Estate Partners.

These companies often make clear that raising rents is crucial to their financial goals. On its Web site, Normandy Partners states “the increased institutional appetite for New York City rent-stabilized housing transactions” and adds: “There is a near-term opportunity to increase cash flow by converting rent-stabilized apartments to market rate as tenants vacate units.”

The companies say that they are not harassing tenants and that they are only trying to protect their rights by enforcing legitimate rules governing regulated apartments.

But the New York City Rent Guidelines Board says the vacancy rate on rent-regulated apartments is 5.6 percent each year. Buildings with vacancy rates far higher suggest resident harassment, tenant advocates say.

Vacancy rates have risen above 20 percent in some buildings owned by Vantage Properties; in some Normandy buildings, the rates exceed 30 percent.

If an apartment is rent regulated, yearly increases cannot exceed the amount set annually by the Guidelines Board. Most recently, it was 3 percent on a one-year renewal lease.

When an apartment becomes vacant, rents can climb as much as 20 percent. When that rent rises above $2,000, regulations no longer apply, and tenants must pay market prices.

To generate returns expected by private equity investors and to pay off the debt used for their purchases, tenant advocates say that managers of the properties are intimidating residents in the hopes of forcing them to leave so that rents can be raised.

Rent-regulated apartments account for 57 percent of the total in the Bronx, 42 percent of the apartments in Brooklyn, 59 percent in Manhattan, 43 percent in Queens and 15 percent of those on Staten Island, the Guidelines Board says. Many of the buildings bought by private equity investors are in neighborhoods that are being gentrified.

Vantage Properties, led by Neil L. Rubler, has paid more than $1 billion in the last two years to buy 9,200 rent-regulated apartments in Queens and Upper Manhattan. Investing alongside Vantage in many buildings is Apollo Real Estate Partners, an investment firm founded by William Mack in partnership with Apollo Management, a private equity firm created by Leon D. Black, a former Drexel Burnham Lambert banker and acolyte of Michael R. Milken.

Last month, Mr. Black announced a plan to sell $500 million worth of Apollo Management shares to the public. Apollo Real Estate Partners will not be part of that sale. A spokesman for Mr. Black said it was a separate company in which he had a stake but exercised no control over it.

In a group of buildings in Queens with 2,124 apartments, Vantage has filed almost a thousand cases in housing court against tenants since October 2006, according to Robert McCreanor, director of legal services at the Immigrant Tenant Advocacy Project of the Catholic Migration Office in Sunnyside.

Mr. McCreanor said he searched public records for similar actions by the previous landlord. He found no more than 350 in any year. “What’s offensive about these business practices is they seek to generate above-average profits by displacing poor people and people who are vulnerable,” Mr. McCreanor said.

A spokeswoman for Apollo Real Estate declined to comment on the accusations. But Mr. Rubler called them baseless. “Any exploration of the way we conduct business would reveal that we are steadfastly determined to uphold the rights of our residents and have absolutely no interest in harassing them,” he said. “They are our valued customers, and we treat them as such.”

Mr. Rubler said most of his tenants have positive experiences. Claudia Williams, of Corona, Queens, was asked by Mr. Rubler to talk with a reporter. She said that Vantage was allowing her to live in her mother’s apartment even though she had not been the primary leaseholder.

Phyllis Miller, a resident of Savoy Park in upper Manhattan, said she believed that tenants who were unhappy with Vantage simply disliked change.

But Jose Ricardo Aguaiza, 45, who works as a doorman in Manhattan, said he has lived in the same apartment in Woodside for 14 years and never had a problem until Vantage took over in 2006. Since July 2007, Mr. Aguaiza has been sued by Vantage three times, twice for nonpayment of rent that he was able to demonstrate the company had received.

“They refused to give me a renewal contract,” Mr. Aguaiza said. “And in court, the lawyer from Vantage offered to give me three months’ free rent for moving out.” Mr. Aguaiza said he turned down the offer.

On April 10, Mr. Aguaiza and five other rent-stabilized tenants living in Queens sued Vantage. The plaintiffs say the company has engaged in deceptive practices that violate New York’s consumer protection laws. Five more tenants are joining the suit.

Janice Williams, who works as a freelance producer in television, has lived in a Vantage building in Sunnyside since July 2005 and is a plaintiff. When she moved in, the building was owned by Nathan Katz Realty.

In October 2006, Vantage bought the building. Ms. Williams said the property managers rejected her request for a lease renewal in April 2007. They said she was not entitled to the rent-regulated unit because her primary residence was in Greenwich, Conn. But the Sunnyside apartment has been her primary residence since September 2005, Ms. Williams said, and is on her driver’s license and her voting card. She appealed to the New York State division of housing and community renewal and won.

“Our apartment building is 72 units, and a little over 20 apartments in the span of a year and a half have turned over since Vantage bought it,” said Ms. Williams, who has organized tenants.
The turnover Ms. Williams cited is in keeping with a description of Vantage’s strategy in a 2007 document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission after its purchase of 455 rent-regulated apartments in Washington Heights. The filing described the company’s business model as a “recapturing” strategy. Under the plan, Vantage expected in its first year to turn over 20 percent to 30 percent of the units, five times the typical vacancy rate. Vantage aimed to recapture 10 percent of the units each year afterward.

Only 5 of the 455 units were empty at the time of the filing. All but one unit was regulated, with average monthly rent of $752, or 65 percent below market.

Once the apartments become vacant, the document said, Vantage will renovate the units and raise rents “to market levels.” That will generate enough cash to service the $70 million in debt that comes due in 2014.

Vantage’s debt service is an estimated $1,098 monthly on each unit, almost 50 percent more than the average rent. Mr. Rubler said that the description of the recapture program was “not our words,” but those of the debt security’s underwriter, Credit Suisse Securities. “I think they overstated significantly the focus on turnover in the business plan,” he said.

When asked about legal actions taken against tenants, Mr. Rubler said all were mounted solely to protect his company’s rights. “Only in instances where we need to act to protect our own rights do we ever find ourselves in any litigation with a tenant and it is never with the intention to harass them,” he said.

The company is also meeting with its tenants to improve communications, he said.

Normandy Partners, with almost 2,000 rent-regulated apartments in 42 buildings in the Bronx, East Village and Sunnyside Queens, is another significant landlord backed by private equity. It is a partner with Vantage in 1,650 units in Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Mr. Dulchin said the Normandy Partners’ buildings have also had high turnover — more than 30 percent — since they were purchased by the investors.

A spokesman for Normandy declined to comment.

Pinnacle Group is a third big developer that has joined forces with a private equity firm, Praedium Capital of Chicago. In December 2006, Pinnacle settled a suit brought by the New York attorney general’s office accusing it of rent-gouging. Pinnacle paid $100,000 without admitting to or denying the accusations. The company did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Responding in part to indications that harassment is systemic, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signed legislation in March making it illegal for a landlord to file repeated and baseless court proceedings to force a tenant to vacate an apartment.

Under previous rules, tenants could take their landlord to housing court only over the apartment’s condition or for a failure to provide essential services.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Great Yeshiva ‘Riots’ Of ‘68

............New York
The Jewish Week News

The Great Yeshiva ‘Riots’ Of ‘68

by Gary RosenblattEditor and Publisher

Forty years ago this spring, Columbia University was rocked by student riots, and Yeshiva University, where I was a senior, was the scene of a major water fight in the dorm and impromptu volleyball game on the streets of Midtown. And therein lies a tale.

Keep in mind that the spring of 1968 was one of the most
tumultuous times in modern American history.

The Vietnam War was raging, April brought the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and subsequent riots across the country, and only two months later, Sen. Bobby Kennedy was murdered moments after he won the California primary for the Democratic presidential nomination.

One sensed that the violent events taking place, less than five years after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, were changing the course of American history, putting the nation on a downward spiral.

The student riots at Columbia that spring ostensibly were in protest of a university housing plan that would displace poor residents in the Morningside Heights neighborhood. But they were more about anger over Vietnam, and the assertion of an emerging sex, drugs and rock-and-roll attitude among young people deeply suspicious of the Establishment.

Caught up in the atmosphere of the times, a group of Yeshiva seniors took the subway down to Columbia on several warm afternoons to participate vicariously in the rebellious mood by watching as students screamed at the cops, called them “pigs” and tried to provoke a violent response.

Despite the fewer than 60 blocks that separated them, the Columbia and YU campuses were really light years apart. One was at the cutting edge of revolution; one was framed by Talmudic study steeped in disputes of centuries past.

So the edginess of the times, compounded by final exams, played out in a major water fight in the main dorm one spring night at YU, with scores of students in their swim trunks heaving large cans of water on each other, and sometimes out the window onto Amsterdam Avenue.

Soon, the fire department arrived, with firemen wading through the puddles in the dorm halls, axes at the ready, responding to calls from neighbors. Surveying the scene, though, they were good-natured about the mess and didn’t stay long.

Hours later, well after midnight, two student activists from Columbia’s SDS chapter appeared at my dorm room. SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) was the radical group behind the Columbia protests, and it seems they had received notice that, in their memorable words to my roommate and me, “Yeshiva was being liberated.”

They said they were there to help us plan a takeover of the president’s office.Too embarrassed to explain that the commotion at YU was a water fight, not a student protest — and that any prospective rebellion at YU would have been quelled by a rabbinic scholar announcing that such acts were halachically not permissible, or just not right — we listened as they urged us to secure maps of the administrative buildings and fortify ourselves for a long stay.

We nodded, scribbled notes, thanked them for their advice, and finally were rid of them, raising our fists to meet theirs in solidarity.

Then we had a good laugh before going back to sleep in preparation for another day of Talmud study and exams.

A few nights later, a few of us seniors decided it would be a great idea to ease the tension of finals by challenging the girls of our sister school, Stern College for Women, to an evening game of volleyball. This presented two immediate challenges: first, the men’s and women’s campuses were separated by more than 150 city blocks, with the men’s campus in Washington Heights and the women’s on the East Side, in Midtown. And second, neither school had a real sports facility at the time.

Undaunted, though, we scheduled and publicized the event at both campuses, and on the chosen night, about a dozen of us enthusiastic fellows trekked down to the Stern dorm on East 34th Street by subway with our gear, consisting of one scuffed-up volleyball.

It was a lovely spring evening and within a few minutes of our arrival, dozens of women came pouring out of their dorm (including, I found out much later, my future wife, who I had not yet met), bringing a few white bed sheets, which we tied together as a makeshift volleyball net.

Picture the scene, if you will, of this improvised game playing itself out on a busy sidewalk between Park and Lexington avenues, with scores of college students joyfully batting a ball back and forth over some white sheets in the shadow of the Empire State Building.

It was a magical moment, too good to last. And sure enough it didn’t, ending in near-disaster.

Not 10 minutes into the game, the Stern dorm mother (yes, dorm mother), true to form, called the police. And moments later, a frightening display of NYPD power was upon us.

It turns out that the police had been told that the Yippies, an anti-war activist group led by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, were rumored to be planning one of their impromptu protests in the city that night. The Yippies were well known for carrying out sometimes comical acts of rebellion, most famously having protestors throw fistfuls of dollars from the gallery onto the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. So when the cops heard of commotion on 34th Street, they responded immediately, and full throttle.

We heard loud sirens, and the next thing we knew we were facing three or four police cars and two paddy wagons that had roared right up onto the curb. Cops in riot gear poured out, some with gas masks, billy clubs in hand. It was truly scary.

After some tense moments of confusion, we convinced them that we were not staging a demonstration but rather the Yeshiva version of college high jinks. They were not amused, reminding us that we were obstructing a public walkway.

But they left soon after, and we hung around on the street, talking into the night, marveling at the full moon, the cool breeze and the infinite wonders of New York City in the spring of ‘68.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City

Date: Tue, 6 May 2008 20:05:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Anne Z. Whitman"
Subject: Fwd: contribute your images of a NYC threatened by over development to a show at the NYPL called "Eminent Domain"
To: "Jordi Reyes Montblanc"

Note: forwarded message attached.

Anne Z. Whitman

Go to the online exhibition section.

Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City
From May 2, 2008 through August 29, 2008
D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall (First Floor)
Humanities and Social Sciences Library,
5th Avenue and 42nd Street,
New York, NY 10018-2788 (directions)
Hours: Click here for schedule

See related Online Exhibition.

The exhibition Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City features the work of five contemporary New York–based photographers drawn primarily from new acquisitions in the Photography Collection.

Thomas Holton’s The Lams of Ludlow Street is an empathetic account of one family’s daily life in Chinatown and a photographer’s personal quest to better understand his own heritage.

Bettina Johae’s borough edges,nyc is a digital project exploring the edges of the city's five boroughs, which the photographer physically traversed as a way of “remapping” the supposedly well-known city.

In Window, Reiner Leist used a 19th-century camera to photograph the view from his 26th-floor apartment on Eighth Avenue overlooking downtown Manhattan. At different times on almost every day during the past decade, Leist captured a slice of Manhattan that includes One Penn Plaza, Madison Square Garden, and, until September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center towers.

Over the same period of time, Zoe Leonard tracked changes and disappearances occurring on the Lower East Side as a result of the city’s economic transformation; her Analogue also serves as both elegy and homage to a long-standing tradition of documentary photography.

In his series Untitled/This is just to say, Ethan Levitas photographs individual train cars and their passengers along the elevated lines of the New York City subway, capturing unexpected moments of connection and contradiction in the most obvious and overlooked of public spaces.

Levitas’s project, like all of the works in Eminent Domain, deals with the life of the city in terms of passage (of seasons and time, people and place) and exchange (between individual and collective, interior and exterior).

Turning on the nature of photography itself (which always complicates the relationship between private and public property), the works in the exhibition intersect and resonate with current concerns about the reorganization of urban space, and its public use, in New York City.

A publication accompanying the exhibition will include written meditations on these themes by the Bronx-born artist Glenn Ligon, who is known for his multi-media explorations of critical issues in contemporary culture.

Acquisition of works for this exhibition was made possible through the Estate of Leroy A. Moses, which provided funds to purchase photographs that enhance the Library’s collection of New York City views from 1950 to the present day.

Support for this exhibition has been provided by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc., and by an anonymous contribution in honor of Elizabeth Rohatyn.

Additional support has been provided by The L Magazine, the exhibition's Media Sponsor.

Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Mahnaz I. and Adam Bartos, Jonathan Altman, and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Veterans Benefits Enhancement

Senate Passes Veterans Bill
Week of May 05, 2008

The Senate recently passed S. 1315, the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007, by a vote of 96 - 1. The act includes provisions to: (1) establish a new program of insurance for service-connected disabled veterans; (2) expand eligibility for retroactive benefits from traumatic injury protection coverage under Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance; (3) increase the maximum amount of Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance that a service-connected disabled veteran may purchase; (4) provide individuals with severe burn injuries specially adapted housing benefits; and (5) extend the monthly educational assistance allowance for apprenticeship or other on-the-job training to two years. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

Congressional Legislation

Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act
Bill # S.1315Original
Sponsor:Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Cosponsor Total: 2 (last sponsor added 04/22/2008) 2 Democrats

About This Legislation:

Disabled Veterans Insurance Improvement Act of 2007

Increases from $90,000 to $200,000 the maximum loan guarantee amount under the veterans' mortgage life insurance program. Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to grant level-premium term life insurance to any veteran less than 65 years old who has a service-connected disability. Sets the maximum coverage amount at $50,000. Reduces the coverage amount by 80% once the veteran turns 70. Includes certain members of the Individual Ready Reserve under the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance program.

Detailed, up-to-date bill status information on S.1315.

Congressional Legislation Details

Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act Bill # S.1315

05/07/2007: Introductory remarks on measure. (CR S5657)
05/07/2007: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs. (text of measure as introduced: CR S5658)
06/27/2007: Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Ordered to be reported with amendments favorably.
08/29/2007: Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Reported by Senator Akaka under authority of the order of the Senate of 08/03/2007 with an amendment in the nature of a substitute and an amendment to the title. With written report No. 110-148.
08/29/2007: Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 336. 04/17/2008: Cloture motion on the motion to proceed presented in Senate.
04/22/2008: Cloture on the motion to proceed invoked in Senate by Yea-Nay Vote. 94 - 0. Record Vote Number: 109.
04/22/2008: Motion to proceed to measure considered in Senate by Unanimous Consent. 04/23/2008: Measure laid before Senate by motion.
04/23/2008: S.
AMDT.4572 Amendment SA 4572 proposed by Senator Burr. To increase benefits for disabled U.S. veterans and provide a fair benefit to World War II Filipino veterans for their service to U.S.
04/23/2008: Motion to proceed to consideration of measure agreed to in Senate by Unanimous Consent.
04/24/2008: Considered by Senate.
04/24/2008: Passed Senate with an amendment and an amendment to the Title by Yea-Nay Vote. 96 - 1. Record Vote Number: 112.
04/24/2008: S.AMDT.4572 Considered by Senate.
04/24/2008: S.AMDT.4576 Amendment SA 4576 proposed by Senator Akaka. Of a perfecting nature.
04/24/2008: The committee substitute as amended agreed to by Unanimous Consent. 04/24/2008: S.AMDT.4576 Amendment SA 4576 agreed to in Senate by Unanimous Consent. 04/24/2008: S.AMDT.4572 Amendment SA 4572 not agreed to in Senate by Yea-Nay Vote. 41 - 56. Record Vote Number: 111.
04/24/2008: Message on Senate action sent to the House.
04/24/2008: Received in the House.
04/24/2008: Held at the desk. Committee/Subcommittee Activity: Veterans' Affairs: Referral,
In CommitteeAmendment(s):
S.AMDT.4559 S.AMDT.4560 S.AMDT.4561 S.AMDT.4562 S.AMDT.4563 S.AMDT.4564 S.AMDT.4565 S.AMDT.4566 S.AMDT.4567 S.AMDT.4568 S.AMDT.4569 S.AMDT.4570 S.AMDT.4571 S.AMDT.4572 S.AMDT.4574 S.AMDT.4576
Sponsor/Cosponsor(s) 2: Akaka, Daniel (D-HI) Salazar, Ken (D-CO) Summary:
Disabled Veterans Insurance Improvement Act of 2007
Increases from $90,000 to $200,000 the maximum loan guarantee amount under the veterans' mortgage life insurance program. Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to grant level-premium term life insurance to any veteran less than 65 years old who has a service-connected disability. Sets the maximum coverage amount at $50,000. Reduces the coverage amount by 80% once the veteran turns 70. Includes certain members of the Individual Ready Reserve under the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance program.
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Benefits Agreement to Decide Funds Allocations in Manhattanville

Benefits Agreement to Decide Funds Allocations in Manhattanville
By Daniel Amzallag
As neighborhood criticism of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation subsides, members of the corporation say they are four months into developing a full community-benefits agreement.

The LDC was formed as a group of community representatives to negotiate and detail a benefits agreement with Columbia that could help to mitigate and compensate for the effects of its Manhattanville expansion. A “memorandum of understanding” between the LDC and the University outlining some general agreements was signed on Dec. 19, the morning the City Council passed a rezoning required for the expansion.

The memorandum, worth $150 million in total, promises $76 million from the University over the next 12 years toward programs related to education, health care, and job training. It includes $24 million Columbia had already announced that it would spend on affordable housing, and an additional $20 million toward “inclined services” intended for quality-of-life improvement. The memorandum also commits Teachers College, a Columbia-affiliated institution, to build a community-based public demonstration school worth an estimated $30 million.

The LDC has been meeting weekly—both privately and with University officials—since January to negotiate the specifics of these funds, such as which jobs will be created and how much will be offered to offset environmental impacts, LDC officer Susan Russell said.

“We’re all working very hard. I think we’re doing good work, and we’re looking for a superior outcome that will provide tremendous opportunities for the West Harlem community and a good relationship with the University,” said Russell, who is also chief of staff for Councilman Robert Jackson (D-Manhattanville and Washington Heights).

In addition, the city has pledged $150 million—unlinked to the University’s commitment—to be channeled by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development to affordable housing in West Harlem.

Despite what it sees as recent strides, the LDC generated a great deal of controversy in the months immediately preceding and following the City Council vote. Five members resigned from the LDC last year, citing alleged misrepresentation and a “rigged process.”

Some have raised concerns about the nature of the memorandum of understanding, worrying that it is non-binding and too weak. Community Board 9 member Walter South said that those who resigned “are not stupid—they could see the handwriting on the wall. They could see that nothing was going to happen, and nothing has happened.”

Protests from several members of CB9 were frequently brought to the board’s monthly meetings, but since January the issue has not been voiced. “In general the anger that’s in the community about this whole business [the MOU] is what is driving the lack of any interest in what’s going on,” South said.

Russell said she could not specify a timeline for when the community benefits agreement would be finalized. “I don’t think it’s productive or makes any sense to say we hope to be done by ‘x’ or we hope to be done by ‘y.’ It will be done as soon as is practical,” she said.