Progressives opposing Queens development target AOC

Darling of the left is blamed by it for helping city plan Sunnyside Yard project

Dec.December 04, 2019 01:03 PM
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sunnyside Yard (Credit: Getty Images, iStock, and SunnySideYard)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sunnyside Yard (Credit: Getty Images, iStock, and SunnySideYard)

No elected official is safe from the ire of New York City’s emboldened left — not even its standard-bearer, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Groups opposing the 180-acre Sunnyside Yard development in Queens, including the Democratic Socialists of America, are targeting the de Blasio administration and the development’s steering committee, a roster of community leaders and elected officials including AOC.

Sunnyside Yard

Sunnyside Yard

The groups are hoping to strike a nerve with a “massive Twitter storm” in response to a digital town hall the city’s Economic Development Corporation will hold tonight. They have even co-opted the Twitter handle @sunnysideyards, which links to a profile of the coalition to stop the project.

“When you’re in office, you’re immediately a target,” said Alex Crowley, of the Queens DSA Housing Working Group. “We’re not ‘buddy buddy’ with people in office. They need to do stuff for us. There are no special privileges for any elected officials.”

Ocasio-Cortez, whose upset election victory in 2018 was powered by the DSA, did not respond to a request for comment.

The DSA is also joining other groups to call for the wholesale elimination of the EDC, a nonprofit corporation that serves as the landlord for 66 million square feet of city-owned property and manages capital projects totaling $10 billion. The EDC has a hand in nearly every major project involving land owned or controlled by the city, including the redevelopment of Willets Point in Queens and Hunts Point in the Bronx, the would-be Amazon campus in Long Island City and the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park.

“We would reject [negotiations with the EDC] completely,” Crowley said. “We want to abolish the EDC and stop it entirely.”

The groups, which include the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project, Justice for All and Woodside On the Move, say that the development process has been conducted undemocratically. After Amazon’s exit, they say, the EDC was leery of community opposition in Queens. Rather than engage with the dissenters, activists say, the agency “cynically” listed AOC and other elected officials’ names on a steering committee that has little accountability.

“Members of the community won’t be able to raise concerns, so we decided to boycott the webinar,” said Iván Contreras, an organizer at Woodside On the Move. “We want the EDC to stop the development until we have a clear and democratic process. We want [AOC] to step off the steering committee and help amplify our voices.”

The steering committee has more than 30 members representing a broad array of stakeholders. It was formed not only to shape a development that enjoys public and political support but to ward off the kind of criticism that Contreras leveled about lack of community input.

“Sunnyside Yard presents an opportunity to build a stronger New York for generations to come and meet the needs for more open space, transit, housing, jobs and green infrastructure in Western Queens,” a spokesperson for the EDC said in a statement.

The statement pointed to numerous public meetings, interviews with stakeholders, technical experts and public officials the EDC has held, and acknowledged that “in any long-term planning process there will be questions and concerns, and community engagement is critical.”

The agency’s web page on Sunnyside Yard calls the process “a once-in-a-century opportunity to collaboratively design and plan the future of New York City—by the public, for the public.”

The project itself is years from happening, if it ever does. It involves decking over a massive rail yard, as was done at Hudson Yards, but without the high rents and luxury housing that can make up the costs of building the deck and the huge number of affordable apartments envisioned for Sunnyside.

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