As reported by Recode:
Members of a New York City council committee denounced terms of the recent Amazon HQ2 deal in the first of three public hearings being held about the plans.
“We are not in the business of corporate welfare here at the city council,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, referencing the up to $3 billion in government subsidiesthe company will receive. Johnson, one of the fiercest critics of the deal, spoke at the council’s Committee on Economic Development hearing on Wednesday at City Hall.
Amazon says the move will bring at least 25,000 jobs to the city over the next decade and $27.5 billion in state and city revenue in the next 25 years. Johnson contested these numbers at the hearing, saying they warrant an outside independent verification beyond the report the state commissioned.
Johnson and other council members were upset about being denied oversight of the plan — but that wasn’t on Amazon alone. Both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo worked together with Amazon to bypass the standard review processes that would have given the city council a chance to veto or even review the deal. The hearing was the first opportunity council members had to publicly and directly vent their frustrations to key people behind the negotiations.
While city council members have threatened to throw a wrench in the process, they’re limited in what they can do. A five-member state board is expected to vote on some aspects of the deal in the new year. Some council members are hoping they can influence new appointees to the board to vote against the plan, but it’s not clear how realistic that outcome is.
As reported by Business Insider:
The New York City Council held its first in a series of planned hearings about Amazon’s HQ2 deal on Wednesday morning.
During his opening remarks, the council’s speaker, Corey Johnson, called the hearing “atypical” in its nature given how little input the council had earlier in the process.
“There’s a reason why the City Council is so involved in land use,” Johnson said in his opening statement. “It’s intended to protect the people.”
The state of New York pursued the deal as a General Project Plan, a state process that circumvents a local approval process that would involve the city council. Use of that program does not need approval from the city council…
The council invited both the Economic Development Corporation and Amazon representatives to answer questions from members and the public. Holly Sullivan, the Amazon executive who led the search for HQ2, and Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, were in attendance and responding to questions.
“We are still in the very early stages of this process and intend to be an active participant in the issues facing the community and make community investments that benefit New York City residents,” Huseman said in opening remarks. “Most importantly, we are here to listen and learn. New York is one of the greatest cities in the world and we are grateful for the opportunity to be a contributing part of its fabric.”
As reported by the New York Times:
It was variously described as a rite of passage, a take-your-medicine moment and a very New York-style welcome: Two Amazon executives raised their right hands and then faced more than three hours of public grilling by the New York City Council.
But if the ritual of barbed questions and evasive answers was not unusual, the circumstances of Wednesday’s hearing were: Amazon does not need the Council’s approval to locate new offices in Long Island City, Queens. Still, the appearance marked the company’s first major foray into New York’s public spotlight since announcing the deal.
Council members took advantage of the executives sitting before them to vent their anger at the terms of the agreement, as well as at Amazon’s business practices, treatment of labor unions and work on behalf of federal immigration officials…
“We believe this project will be a positive economic impact for the city and the state,” said Brian Huseman, vice president of public policy for Amazon. Repeatedly, his remarks were met by guffaws from the audience of antagonists.
Lobbyists for Amazon, hired to navigate an increasingly hostile political landscape, sat in a row near the front, and could be seen occasionally huddling with a de Blasio official on the sideline…
“James, you disrespected this body with how you handled this process,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Long Island City, said to James Patchett, the president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, during a particularly aggressive exchange…
Mr. Patchett showed more frustration with the Council, sparring at several points with Mr. Van Bramer, who pressed him to discuss Mr. de Blasio’s involvement in the negotiations.
“I certainly spoke with him or met with him in person over 10 times,” Mr. Patchett said of his interactions with the mayor.
“So the mayor cannot meet with many of his own commissioners about everyday city business and how the city functions,” Mr. Van Bramer said, “but he can meet with you 10 times at least in the last year just on this Amazon deal?”
At about the same time, the mayor’s press secretary posted a 2017 letter on Twitter from Mr. Van Bramer that expressed support for the city’s bid to bring Amazon to Long Island City. (Mr. Van Bramer has said he regretted his early enthusiasm.)
As reported by Curbed NY:
The first of a promised series of City Council hearings on the deal to bring Amazon’s second North American headquarters to New York City was at times contentious, but did little to shed light on what, if anything, will change regarding the subsidies Amazon is getting for locating its offices in Long Island City. Representatives from the NYC Economic Development Corporation and Amazon were also criticized for the decision to cut the City Council out of the process, forgoing the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) in favor of the state-led General Project Plan (GPP)…
Johnson suggested the anger seen in Queens over Amazon’s arrival was because the company chose to “avoid the land use process.” Patchett and Huseman argued that even without ULURP, plenty of community input that would happen under the Community Advisory Committee, announced the day before the hearing. (As Johnson noted, this will have no legal authority.) An hour into the hearing, Huseman told the Council that it was the company’s view that the GPP was “the most efficient” route to taking care of the land use and design issues around the project…
Some of Patchett’s testimony took aim less at the Council itself and more at the people who’ve decried the deal at all. Bringing up the city’s economic downturns in the late 1980s, post-9/11, and at the peak of the Great Recession, Patchett said the addition of Amazon to the city’s economic portfolio would help the city weather the next financial storm whenever it happens, echoing a recent Times op-ed which argued for the city to rely less on Wall Street…
Amazon posited itself as just your friendly “customer-centric company,” not a trillion-dollar corporation whose warehouse workers routinely describe awful working conditions and are kicking off a union drive locally due to said working conditions. Pitching a government hellbent on deportation schemes some facial recognition software is just making sure the government “has the best technology available to them,” not amoral profit seeking.
Van Bramer did see some positives from the afternoon. “By putting this pressure on and shining a bright light on this, we’re having an effect on all of this,” he told Curbed. “We’re putting a lot of pressure on them to answer for what they’ve agreed to in the deal. I think that’s a good thing and I do believe that will produce some changes here.”
— Posted by JVS on 1.5.19, backdated to 12.12.18