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Chinatown Groups Split Over City Involvement

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Last month, we wrote about a new conflict that had arisen on the Chinatown Working Group, a coalition of more then 50 organizations trying to come up with a long range community development plan.  Some of the groups represented felt as though the city was exercising too much influence in the selection of an urban planner, who will help refine the proposal.  As DNA Info reported yesterday, those groups are now stepping up their criticism:

Eight Working Group organizations met Wednesday to voice their concern over the city’s growing involvement in the development of the plan. The EDC “now wants to intercede in the process and take control,” said Josephine Lee, of the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association. “We’re calling on the city to stop interfering in the community planning process.” The EDC currently has four votes to the Working Group’s three in selecting the planning consultant, something advocates at Wednesday’s press conference claimed could open the door to a rezoning plan influenced by developers. “Community advocacy is being undermined in this way,” said Jan Lee, of the Civic Center Residents Coalition. “Time and again, our communities must advocate for themselves. We simply cannot and must not accept this system.”

In response, Thomas Yu and Jim Solomon (co-chairs of the Chinatown Working Group) released the following statement:

Eight of the 52 voting member organizations belonging to the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) recently sent an “open letter” to Mayor Bloomberg calling on the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) “to stop interceding in the community planning process of the Chinatown Working Group”.  As the elected co-chairs of the CWG, if we believed NYCEDC and/or the City was, in fact, “interceding” in the CWG’s unprecedented, open, transparent and independent community-based planning process we also would have signed the letter – and, no doubt, so too would the majority of CWG members.

Last April, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) approved a $150,000 grant for a CWG planning consultant with NYCEDC as the “fiscal sponsor”. NYCEDC’s role was first proposed to the CWG by the City to expedite funding – not to control it. As many will recall, Deputy Mayor Lieber wrote a “Memo of Understanding” to Councilmember Gerson in November 2008 pledging LMDC funding for the CWG. A year passed without the CWG getting a penny despite our numerous attempts. Finally, the City and LMDC proposed NYCEDC as a conduit for the funding. On several occasions this past Winter and early Spring, we notified both the Full CWG and its Steering Committee of this proposal.  No objections were raised.

NYCEDC has repeatedly pledged to the CWG that it views its role as “facilitator” in support of the CWG’s process and goals. To date, nothing has suggested otherwise. The Scope of Services that will dictate what is expected of our planning consultant was created by the CWG (not NYCEDC). The scoring criteria that will be used to evaluate planner applicants were drafted by the CWG (not NYCEDC). Both documents are available to be downloaded from our website: www.chinatownworkinggroup.org

The process for selecting the CWG’s Planning Consultant will be guided by the CWG while following NYCEDC guidelines. Within the month, NYCEDC will issue a Request For Proposals (“RFP”) from interested planning consultants. The evaluation and scoring of consultant bids will be conducted in September by a joint committee of CWG and NYCEDC representatives. The Full CWG expects to interview, in person, scoring “finalists” in early October, and recommend to NYCEDC which planning consultant should be hired shortly thereafter.

The consultant will report directly to the CWG.

A source of legitimate concern among all CWG members is NYCEDC’s insistence on retaining a majority of votes (four to the CWG’s three) in the planner selection process. NYCEDC contends it must do so given its fiduciary responsibility for the LMDC grant. We strongly believe whomever the CWG chooses as its planning consultant must be confirmed by NYCEDC. NYCEDC has given no indication this will not be the case.

It should be noted the CWG lacks the infrastructure to administer its own “RFP” process (e.g. a legal department to draft contracts), so NYCEDC’s considerable resources are of great use to the CWG.

Admittedly, this joint effort between the CWG and NYCEDC requires a level of trust on both sides. Until proven otherwise, it seems premature for CWG members to conclude NYCEDC is acting in any way other than good faith in the community planning process of the Chinatown Working Group.

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