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October 29, 2018

Mr. Howard Fiedler
NYC Dept. of Correction
75-20 Astoria Boulevard, Suite 160
East Elmhurst, NY 11370

Public Comment on Draft Scope of Work - CEQR No. 18DOC001Y
Asian Americans for Equality

On behalf of Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), we wish to provide the following public
comment regarding the Draft Scope of Work CEQR No. 18DOC001Y (Borough-based Jail
System/Manhattan Detention Center).

Asian Americans for Equality is a non-profit organization providing social services, affordable
housing, small business loans and advocacy programs throughout New York City for Asian
Americans and all of those in need. Our organization was founded in Manhattan’s Chinatown
nearly 45 years ago to fight for civil rights. Since that time, AAFE has repeatedly stood up for
the Chinatown community, which has often been overlooked and disrespected by City Hall.

In this document, we will be offering direct comments on the Draft Scope, but also addressing
what we see as a problematic and rushed​ ​ process that led up to this environmental review. We
call on the city administration to withdraw the Scope of Work for the proposed Manhattan
Detention Center at 80 Centre St., and to engage our community in a meaningful, collaborative
planning process.

AAFE supports comprehensive criminal justice reform, including the closure of Riker’s Island.
We are prepared to work side-by-side with the city administration, all communities of color and
prison reform advocates to create a humane prison system in New York City. Reform, however,
cannot simply be about shuttering one facility. As part of this plan, it is absolutely essential to
address the root causes of over-incarceration, and to invest in our low-income, immigrant and
minority communities.
Since the city’s plan was sprung on the Chinatown community and neighborhoods in Queens,
the Bronx and Brooklyn two months ago, there has been an uproar in each community, a
predictable outcome given the meager to non-existent outreach that occurred beforehand. We
deplore, however, any efforts to divide communities along ethnic lines, pitting racial groups
against one another. There can be no tolerance for that. But at the same time, the
administration would be wrong to paint opposition to the borough-based jail system with a broad
brush, invoking NIMBYism to discredit legitimate concerns about the city’s plan. The vast
majority in our community support criminal justice reform. The Draft Scope states that the new
jails will, “encourage positive community engagement and serve as civic assets in the
neighborhoods.” There can be no community jail plan that does not meaningfully engage and
involve our low-income, immigrant neighbors, who have devoted their lives to building the
Chinatown community into what it is today. We must all work together for prison reform and
community investment.

We are extremely concerned that the City is proposing a new jail in Chinatown, given the
existing impacts of citywide uses like parking, and security policies like the closure of Park Row,
on Chinatown residents and businesses. It is unfair for the City to present 80 Centre St. for the
new jail without engaging the Chinatown community to share its site analysis. The site selection
process and decision making needs to be more open for this to be a meaningful transparent,
community process. The city has said that the new borough jails are guided by the design
principle of neighborhood integration. However, in the city’s emphasis on design to change a
culture of power abuse, it has forgotten about the people who live, work, and own businesses in
neighborhoods that have carried the burden of citywide uses for decades. The city must meet
us at the table, as equal partners. Together, we can find other ways to address racial inequality
in the criminal justice system and community priorities to increase economic opportunity and
equality for all New Yorkers.

While it is our firm belief that this process must be reset, we feel compelled to respond to
several specific items in the Draft Scope of Work. This in no way should be seen as an
acknowledgement that the current ill-conceived environmental review is destined to move
forward. On the contrary, it is meant to highlight some of the critical issues plaguing Chinatown.
These are issues that the city has ignored for years, in spite of the community’s numerous
pleas. No new project can be seriously considered until these matters are addressed.

Remediation plans prescribed in the city’s Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) Technical
Manual often fail to address community impacts. There is, however, no reason to be bound by
these rules. The administration can demonstrate its commitment to our community by acting on
these concerns now.

---​Indirect Business Displacement

According to the Draft Scope:
“A preliminary assessment describing conditions and trends in employment and businesses
within the study areas of the project sites will be conducted using the most recent available data
from such sources as the New York State Department of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau, as
well as private sources such as ESRI Business Analyst and real estate brokerage firms. If the
preliminary assessment reveals the potential for the proposed project to introduce trends that
could make it difficult for businesses to remain in the study areas, a detailed analysis will be
conducted in accordance with the methodologies of the 2014 CEQR Technical Manual.”

The Chinatown economy has struggled in recent years due to a number of factors, including the
decline of foot traffic, a lack of public parking, increased congestion on the neighborhood’s
narrow streets and spiraling commercial rents. The closure of Park Row, following the
September 11th attacks, was a devastating blow to many Chinatown businesses. The
neighborhood has never fully recovered, and many small shops and independently-run
restaurants are barely hanging on.

AAFE affiliate, Renaissance Economic Development Corporation, has a more than 20-year
track record of assisting small businesses with low-interest loans and technical assistance. Our
counselors hear first-hand from retail business owners about their struggles to survive. There is
no question that their real life experiences cannot be captured through publicly available
government data. Construction of the proposed project will undoubtedly have a direct and
negative impact on the businesses bordering the site. Chinatown’s unique retail businesses
have not only served the community, in many cases, for decades, but they are relied upon by
many Chinese Americans who come to Chinatown from elsewhere in the city and worldwide.

For these reasons, a detailed analysis, including direct interviews with business owners, must
be conducted. An in-depth study of employment and business trends will reveal the special and
fragile nature of the small business ecosystem in this, one of New York’s most endangered
shopping districts.

--​Transportation: Traffic/Pedestrian Safety

The Draft Scope states:

“Based on preliminary estimates, the RWCDS for the Manhattan Site is expected to generate an
increase of approximately 116 vehicular trips in the weekday AM and 123 in the midafternoon
peak hours, and 92 in the Saturday midafternoon peak hour, compared with the No Action
condition. Because the forecasted levels of new vehicular travel demand generated by the
RWCDS would exceed the 50-trip CEQR Technical Manual analysis threshold, the EIS will
provide a detailed traffic analysis focusing on these peak hours.”

At the present time, only five intersections in Chinatown will be studied. This is clearly
insufficient given the acute traffic congestion and safety issues in the neighborhood. At least 13
people have been killed on Canal Street, near the project site, since 2009. The dangers on
Canal, a truck route, are well known. Heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic on main
thoroughfares, as well as narrow side streets, require a study of each intersection within at least
a half-mile of the project site.

The Draft Scope states that the project would, “involve the demapping of Hogan Place between
Centre Street and Baxter Street to facilitate the construction of pedestrian bridges connecting
the proposed detention facility to existing court facilities to the north.” It also indicates that
“loading functions and a sallyport” would be located along Hogan Place. We have major
concerns about the impact of this proposed closure and the siting of a loading facility in this
location, given the congestion issues previously explained. There must be a full review of the
impacts on the local community of closing off yet another neighborhood access roadway.

--Open Space/Shadows

The Draft Scope states:

“The CEQR Technical Manual requires a preliminary shadows screening assessment for
proposed project or actions that would result in new structures or additions to existing structures
greater than 50 feet in incremental height. Because the proposed project would result in new
structures site that would be greater than 50 feet in height, a three-tiered shadows assessment
will be prepared to determine if shadow generated by the proposed project could be cast on
sunlight-sensitive resources, including publicly accessible open spaces, sunlight-sensitive
features of historic resources, and natural features.”
 
The proposed project would be located next to Columbus Park, one of the very few public
spaces in Chinatown and a treasured community gathering place. It is heavily used by seniors
and children, and is integral to the social and cultural life of the neighborhood. This is a resource
that must be protected, both during construction and afterward. A full shadow study should be
conducted, and an analysis of Columbus Park as a historical resource must be completed.

Finally, we have serious concerns about the impact of this proposed project on the endangered
affordable housing stock in Chinatown. AAFE has spent decades helping to protect rent
stabilized tenants from harassment and displacement. While the new detention facility would not
directly displace residential tenants, we must fully take into account the secondary impacts of
the proposal. As previously described, construction of this proposed 40-story jail facility would
disrupt small business, traffic, open space and overall livability, making the neighborhood less
hospitable for longtime residents. Any project that leads to residential displacement is
unacceptable.

For all of the reasons explained above, AAFE urges the city to withdraw this Draft Scope and to
make a commitment to work with the Chinatown community for an equitable plan for both New
York City’s criminal justice system and for our neighborhoods.

Jennifer Sun, Co-Executive Director
Asian Americans for Equality
Thomas Yu, Co-Executive Director
Asian Americans for Equality