Category Archives: Media Coverage

Asthma Alley – Documentary

https://vimeo.com/290938871

In ASTHMA ALLEY, Cynthia Ruales finds hope in music when climate change, air pollution and worsening pollen seasons intertwine in ways that make it hard for her to breathe. Cynthia lives with her mother in an area of the South Bronx known as “asthma alley” where the rate of this chronic disease is 8 to 12 times higher than the national average. While Cynthia fears the drug and gang violence that define her neighborhood, she worries even more about the daily assault on her body caused by the highways, truck thoroughfares, and open-air industrial facilities that surround her. Although she discovers that she can increase her lung capacity by playing the saxophone and clarinet, she continues to suffer life-threatening asthma attacks. Her story sheds light on the complex relationship between fossil fuel combustion, climate change, more potent pollen seasons, and increased emergency room visits. Cynthia performs in a much-anticipated concert organized by community activists to raise awareness about record-high asthma rates in the South Bronx. The widespread distribution of this film is essential to amplify the voices of the environmental justice advocates who are behind the event featured in the film’s finale, and to respond to the fact that environmental harms are distributed along familiar lines of race and poverty.

The People’s Environmental Impact Statement

South Bronx Unite (together with several local businesses and community members) has partnered with Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health on an 18-month collaborative research project measuring air quality, traffic and noise in the Mott Haven-Port Morris area before and after FreshDirect adds its additional 1,000 diesel truck trips through the community every day. This study is unprecedented and critical to demonstrate the need to address the health crises in the South Bronx and enact mitigation measures to change health outcomes.

2013 At-a-Glance

 

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2013 At-a-Glance

Together, our South Bronx Unite community worked thousands of volunteer hours to achieve the following key accomplishments in 2013:

(1)  A Lawsuit, an Appeal and a Special Plea from Internationally Renowned Natural Resources Defense Council

In March, our attorneys from New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) argued in the Bronx Supreme Court that FreshDirect and government officials failed to sufficiently assess the environmental impact of the company’s proposed move to the South Bronx when they relied on a 1993 environmental review of the site to evaluate the impact of FreshDirect’s self-disclosed 1,000 daily diesel truck trips through a residential community notoriously plagued by high rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease.  Despite expert testimonies documenting the severe health and environmental consequences of the project as well as the overwhelming support of 50 organizations calling for a full environmental impact statement and the denial of subsidies, Justice Mary Ann Brigantti-Hughes delivered her ruling in June that a two decade old environmental analysis was sufficient for this community.  We appealed the decision, together with support from internationally renowned Natural Resources Defense Council, which filed an amicus brief in support of South Bronx Unite and blogged “Will Fairness Prevail in the South Bronx?”  In December, South Bronx residents flooded the Appellate Division, First Department, courtroom as NYLPI argued our appeal before a panel of judges.  While we await the decision of the First Department, we are mindful that our legal system does not always provide an avenue toward justice and that we must keep focusing on a broad-based and diverse opposition to this project.

(2)  A Senior U.S. Congressman Standing Up Against Subsidy and Land Grabs in the South Bronx and an Incoming Mayor, Public Advocate and Speaker of City Council Opposed to the FreshDirect Subsidies

Throughout 2013 (as we did in 2012), the South Bronx community successfully blocked FreshDirect from receiving the undemocratically-promised $127 million in subsidies.  In June, Comptroller John Liu voted “no” to the subsidy package (as he had in 2012) calling it “another Bloomberg big business boondoggle.”  Now, as the Bloomberg administration comes to an end, we are excited to continue our fight with both new and seasoned elected officials with whom we have been actively engaging in our struggle through meetings, waterfront tours, phone calling campaigns and postcard campaigns, including:

  • U.S. Congressman José Serrano – who unequivocally blocked Empowerment Zone funding being sought by FreshDirect in December
  • Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio – who strongly criticized the FreshDirect deal when the issue was routinely elevated to the mayoral debates in September
  • City Council Speaker-elect Melissa Mark-Viverito – who was the first elected official to confront the undemocratic deal
  • Public Advocate-elect Letitia James – who, from the beginning, stood with our community against the enormous subsidy which, according to Tish, would provide an “unfair advantage over others…[when] grocery stores all over the city are suffering”
  • State Senator José Serrano and Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo – who joined with Congressman Serrano and Council Member Mark-Viverito in reaching out to the NYS Department of Transportation with respect to the alarming health consequences being caused by the current uses of public waterfront land at Harlem River Yards (including where FreshDirect proposes to build)

As we look to 2014, we are profoundly aware of the numerous additional hurdles FreshDirect must cross, each of which presents a new opportunity for the community to be heard on this project, including the need for FreshDirect to receive a zoning override as well as the need of FreshDirect to make a formal application, triggering formal hearings, for the additional $50 million subsidy from the Empire State Development Corporation.  A few Bronx politicians continue to advocate for and aggressively protect antiquated policies of subsidizing polluting industries with low wage job promises in the South Bronx.  Change is hard.  In 2014, we will continue trying to find ways to work with all of the borough’s elected leaders for the betterment of the Bronx.

(3)  A Re-Envisioned Waterfront – Memorialized in the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan

In March, South Bronx Unite developed the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan, a blueprint of seven interconnected waterfront projects along the Mott Haven-Port Morris coastline that have been the subject of decades of community advocacy.  The seventy-five page proposal was drafted and presented to the NYS Open Space Region 2 Advisory Committee, which voted overwhelmingly in favor of recommending the entire plan for priority designation in the NYS Open Space Conservation Plan.  We await public hearings on this matter, likely to take place in early 2014.  Meanwhile, we continued to host local events to continue brainstorming and refining the waterfront plan, including in collaboration with resident architects, CUNY-based urban planners and architects from the Catholic University of Puerto Rico (adding to 2012’s collaboration with urban planners from Columbia and Pratt.)  We held multiple environmental bike tours of the waterfront, including one in conjunction with the city-wide Turning the Tide initiative on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.  We also worked with local businesses as well as Museo del Barrio and La Respuesta to host international urban art festival, Los Muros Hablan (The Walls Speak), which brought together international muralists to create a series of murals, including two in Mott Haven (on 138th Street and Grand Concourse) focused on environmental justice and our waterfront.

(4)  A Story Being Watched Beyond the Geographic Boundaries of the South Bronx

Our resident media team has worked tirelessly to ensure our story is told broadly and loudly though our voices.  2013 media mentions include:

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Cancer hitch-hikes on South Bronx highways (Mott Haven Herald)

“Air pollution in the South Bronx may be more dangerous than previously believed. For more than a decade residents, politicians and advocates have pressed to curb air pollution in the region with a focus on the epidemic of asthma and other chronic pulmonary conditions. Now the International Agency on Cancer Research, a branch of the World Health Organization, is warning that outdoor air pollution causes cancer.” See full reporting from the Mott Haven Herald here.

National Resources Defense Council Asks “Will Fairness Prevail in the South Bronx?”

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) submitted an amicus brief in support of the South Bronx Unite lawsuit to block FreshDirect from relocating its trucking operation to a South Bronx neighborhood with asthma rates eight times the national average.  Last week, NRDC posted the below excerpt on its blog – available in full here.

NRDC: “Will Fairness Prevail in the South Bronx?”

“This week, a South Bronx community might have a rare chance at environmental justice.
In 2012, the city approved a proposal to relocate online grocer Fresh Direct’s headquarters from Queens to the Harlem River Yard site in the Mott Haven community of the South Bronx.

Under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA“), anytime New York City or State agencies take an action that may have significant adverse environmental effects, they are required to conduct an environmental review before moving forward with the project. This review requires that the acting agencies evaluate all potential environmental impacts, identify all practicable mitigation measures for such impacts and, ultimately, select any alternative action that will minimize or avoid environmental harms to the maximum possible extent.

It’s a great system that requires everyone involved to take a hard look at any proposed action and think of ways to minimize related environmental harm to the community. The SEQRA process has improved (or even halted) countless projects that would have otherwise been much more environmentally damaging.

In this case, however, the quality of environmental review that the city and state conducted was uncharacteristically poor. In fact, the government made many of its determinations about the project’s environmental impacts on the basis of a 20-year-old environmental impact statement from an entirely different project.

But the neighborhood has changed significantly since 1993 and is more residential than when the original environmental evaluation was done. The current Fresh Direct project is also a departure from the development that was originally envisioned on the site 20 years ago, so much of the environmental review is based on a project that will never be, instead of the project that’s actually expected to be sited there.

NRDC, which isn’t a party to this dispute, weighed in with a “friend of the court” amicus brief, asking the court to rule that this environmental review was inadequate and undercuts the purpose of New York’s environmental review statute. At minimum, the government should update its old review to consider changes in the character of the neighborhood and the project, and to closely evaluate viable design alternatives that could mitigate the project’s impacts on the community.

As attorneys on both sides of this case argue it out in court today, let’s hope that everyone remembers SEQRA’s purpose and what’s really at stake here – public health and environmental protection, as well as fairness for a community that often seems to get the short end of the environmental stick.”

Statement on IDA’s Approval of Subsidies for FreshDirect

 

South
Bronx Unite (SBU), New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), and Good
Jobs New York (GJNY) Condemn New York City Industrial Development Agency’s (IDA’s)
Approval of Subsidies to FreshDirect
 
New York, NY – July 23, 2013 – This morning the Board of the New York City Industrial Development Agency voted to approve the issuance of tens of millions of dollars in City subsidies to FreshDirect to help facilitate the company’s proposed relocation to the South Bronx. South Bronx Unite (SBU), New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), and Good Jobs New York (GJNY) issued the following statements in response:
“Hospitalization rates for asthma in the South Bronx are 21 times higher than those of more affluent parts of New York City,” said Libertad Guerra, professor, resident and South Bronx Unite petitioner.  “IDA’s approval of this subsidy for FreshDirect makes the City directly complicit in exacerbating the devastating health crisis in the South Bronx, implicating every New York City taxpayer with them. We urge the entire city to boycott FreshDirect until it stops its plan for the South Bronx.”
“Offering FreshDirect an enormous subsidy to build a diesel trucking facility in an area with the highest rate of asthma in the
nation is criminal. And to add an enormous warehouse, underground parking lot and fueling station in a South Bronx waterfront flood zone is a gross misuse of taxpayer money, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Sandy,” said Harry Bubbins, Director of Friends of Brook Park and South Bronx Unite lawsuit petitioner. “This is an out-the-door extravagance of an out of touch Mayor wasting our tax money. The IDA approval of this subsidy undermines all the efforts that went into Bloomberg’s multi-billion dollar plan to protect our coastline and better utilize open space to absorb storm surges. The site on which FreshDirect proposes to build is directly next to two power plants on our vulnerable coastline.”
Gavin Kearney, Environmental Justice Director at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, added, “Today the IDA voted to waste millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize a project that will bring 1,500 diesel truck trips every single day to the South Bronx—a community already suffering from high rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease and numerous other health problems created by diesel exposure. The health and quality-of-life impacts of this project will be severe. The vague promises of jobs and clean trucks made to justify this massive hand-out are just that—promises made to put an appealing public relations veneer on a rotten proposal. FreshDirect squeezed tens of millions of dollars out of the City without obligating itself to hire residents of the South Bronx or obligating itself to run clean trucks. While today’s vote is unfortunate, it is nowhere near the final word. Numerous government approvals remain and we continue to seek justice for South Bronx residents through the courts.”
Bettina Damiani, Project Director of Good Jobs New York, stated, “Today, FreshDirect was approved for one of the largest corporate
giveaways of city subsidies during the Bloomberg Administration. Despite its multi-million dollar price tag and rhetoric from officials, there are no job related recapture provisions from the IDA that requires FreshDirect to create any good jobs for Bronx residents. In what is possibly the last major action by the IDA board of this Mayoral administration, taxpayers and Bronxites are again expected to fork over subsidies for an unaccountable and environmentally
destructive subsidy deal in one of our poorest neighborhoods.”***************************
NYC COMPTROLLER LIU STATEMENT ON CITY’S
$127 MILLION FRESH DIRECT GIVEAWAY

Details Small-Biz Tax Cut to
Spur Economic Development

***************************
NEW YORK, N.Y. – City Comptroller John C. Liu today cast the lone “no” vote on the Industrial Development Agency’s $127 million subsidy for Fresh Direct, which received final authorization. He stated the following:
“This was a bad idea when it was first voted on a year ago, and it’s an even worse one today. New York City needs jobs, particularly in the Bronx, but this is a wasteful way to do business that picks taxpayers’ pockets in order to reward fat cats.
“During the Bloomberg Administration, the Economic Development Corporation has doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare to companies that fail to deliver on their promise of jobs for New Yorkers, and we have no reason to believe this will be any different.
“Even if the EDC’s dubious projections turn out to be accurate, the Fresh Direct deal will go down as yet another Bloomberg big business boondoggle. Spending roughly $127 million to create 964 new jobs—$131,397 per job—just doesn’t make economic sense.
“Instead of these big corporate giveaways, our tax dollars would be better spent helping level the playing field for a truly vital engine of job growth in New York City, small businesses.”
At a press availability, Liu spoke about his proposals to end subsidies for big corporations and instead create $400 million in savings for small businesses. In particular, he called for:
  • Eliminating the City’s General Corporation Tax for the 240,000 businesses with annual tax bills under $5,000
  • Exempting businesses that make less than $250,000 in annual income from the City’s Unincorporated Business Tax
  • Reducing fines on small businesses
Background
In April 2013, Comptroller Liu released The People’s Budget, which details his proposals to eliminate giveaways for big corporations and cut taxes and fines for small businesses by $400 million. More info is available here (particularly on pages 5 – 8 and 41 – 42):
In March, 2012, Comptroller Liu released an audit that found the EDC gave $318 million to companies that didn’t deliver the promised jobs:
In February 2012, Comptroller Liu’s Office voted against approving the Fresh Direct subsidy: