Category Archives: Statements/Press Releases

The Mott Haven Nine

Arrested for Protesting FreshDirect in the South Bronx, the Mott Haven Nine Appear in Court Today to Fight Charges

Update: We won.
Protest charges dismissed!

Read the Full Story Here.

“Our actions are reflective of our belief, to paraphrase Dr. King, that one who violates an unjust law is in reality expressing the highest regard for the law.”
– Rev. Rubén Austria, Mott Haven Resident, Director, Community Connections for Youth
“How can the city and state give a company $128 million in subsidies when they refuse to even conduct an environmental impact assessment of what thousands of additional diesel truck trips would do to our children, our seniors, and all our neighborhood residents?”
– Mychal Johnson, Mott Haven Resident removed from Community Board 1 by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. after expressing his opposition to the FreshDirect deal
“Would New York give FreshDirect $128 million of our tax dollars to pollute public waterfront land in the West Village with up to 2000 diesel truck trips a day? No. This is
blatant environmental racism.”
– Leah Kozak, Mott Haven Resident, Program Director, The Micah Institute, New York Theological Seminary
“Our new mayor, our public advocate, our speaker all ran on the platform of overturning Bloomberg era policies that put profits over people and favored corporations over communities. It’s time for them to step up and use their authority to overturn this deal, the way they’ve put an end to other Bloomberg era disasters.”
– Harry Bubbins, Mott Haven Resident, Director, Friends of Brook Park

Appellate Decision on FreshDirect | Reinforcing the Tale of Two Cities‏

Appellate Division Defers to Bloomberg-era Approval of FreshDirect;
South Bronx Unite Calls Decision a Disappointing Reinforcement of the Tale of Two Cities 
 
Claim Challenging DOT Approval of Waterfront Sublease Remains Open and Subject of April 7th Oral Argument; Group Also Considers Seeking Relief from Court of Appeals 
 
Further Hurdles Faced by FreshDirect Before It Can Break Ground 

Today, the Appellate Division ruled in favor of a Bloomberg-era Industrial Development Agency decision to provide $80 million in subsidies to Fresh Direct to move its trucking operation to a South Bronx waterfront flood zone without any living wage requirement and without any requirement to assess or address the environmental impact of an additional 1,500 daily diesel truck trips on the asthma-plagued community.

“This is a disappointing reinforcement of the tale of two cities,” said Mychal Johnson of South Bronx Unite. “Today, the courts told us that a 21 year old environmental impact statement is good enough for the people of the South Bronx, who suffer asthma hospitalization rates 21 times that of other New York City neighborhoods. We say it is not.”

“More than 50 organizations stand with us in opposing this project, and more than 1,000 people city-wide are boycotting this company because of its intentions for the South Bronx,” said Rev. Ruben Austria, also of South Bronx Unite who, along with eight others, was arrested last week when attempting to plant sunflowers on the proposed site in opposition to the project following a community parade of residents and religious leaders. Citing Dr. King, Rev. Austria explained, “One who breaks an unjust law openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

Gavin Kearney, lawyer for the residents and Director of the Environmental Justice Program of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, stated “we’re surprised by the decision of the Appellate Division given the strength of our claims and will be giving serious consideration to seeking relief from the Court of Appeals.”

Still open is the legal claim challenging the approval by the New York State Department of Transportation of the sublease of public land to FreshDirect, yet another diesel truck intensive business on the South Bronx waterfront. Oral arguments will take place on April 7th at the Bronx County Supreme Court.

FreshDirect faces numerous additional hurdles before it could break ground at Harlem River Yards. For example, in order for portions of an approximately a $50 million subsidy package to be awarded by the board of the Empire State Development Corporation, the state must hold a public hearing. In a sign of how difficult that approval could be, three months ago at the behest of board member and South Bronx Congressman Serrano, the Empowerment Zone board (housed at the ESDC) denied FreshDirect $3.5 million in subsidies. In addition, zoning regulations do not allow the project to proceed as proposed, requiring a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure process to take place, along with related public hearings.

FreshDirect also faces setbacks that may impact its proposed move, including a class action lawsuit filed last week against the company by workers claiming that the company improperly withheld more than $23 million in overtime wages and tips. In addition, FreshDirect’s sole international shareholder, UK grocer Morrison’s, will sell its share in the company following an 11% drop in profits.

100 March, Nine Arrested in Protest of FreshDirect Relocation to South Bronx: Group Asks Mayor de Blasio to Drop Opposition to Environmental Lawsuit

 

 

Nine South Bronx residents were arrested when blocked from
entering public brownfield land on the South Bronx waterfront, the proposed location of FreshDirect. Their intention was to plant detoxifying sunflowers.

Residents have filed a lawsuit in opposition to FreshDirect’s proposed relocation. The lawsuit seeks a full environmental impact study of the proposed project. Mayor de Blasio has the opportunity to drop the City’s opposition to the lawsuit, thus compelling the environmental review.

 Those arrested include faith leaders, directors of local
organizations and other South Bronx community leaders. They arrived at the Harlem River Yard as part of a march of more than 100. The event was peaceful and exuberant. It included traditional
Puerto Rican plena drummers, a mariachi band, giant puppets, local children playing cello, and an interfaith reflection.
FreshDirect, if allowed to proceed, would bring 1,500
additional daily truck trips through the South Bronx. This plan is a
Bloomberg-era relic attempting to give the diesel-intensive grocer nearly $130 million in public subsidies to move to this public waterfront land. This community is already burdened by asthma hospitalization rates at 21 times that of other New York City neighborhoods.

SBU Receives 2014 Environmental Justice Award

 

Last Friday, March 14, 2014, South Bronx Unite and Bronx Council for Environmental Quality were presented with the 2014 Environmental Justice Award in recognition of the extensive work against the proposed relocation of FreshDirect, the creative visioning of an alternative open space plan (the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan) and the seamless interconnection to broader environmental quality initiatives across the borough. The award was given by the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing more than 25,000 faculty and staff at the City University of New York (CUNY) and the CUNY Research Foundation, following the Thirteenth Annual Nature, Ecology & Society Colloquium on “Our Environment in Transition” at which South Bronx Unite and Bronx Council for Environmental Quality presented on “An Expanding Circle of Green Justice: Public Participants Map Out a Sustainable and Resilient South Bronx Waterfront.”

South Bronx Unite Urges Bronx Council Members to Support Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker

South Bronx Unite, a coalition of Bronx residents, organizations and allies, encourages members of New York City Council to support Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker.  For the reasons set forth below, including her courageous and principled civil, environmental and labor advocacy, as well as her track record of successful collaboration with colleagues across all levels of government, we believe Melissa would make an exceptional Speaker.
When the governor, mayor and borough president promised an elite
grocer a $127 million subsidy to relocate its diesel trucking operation to asthma alley in the South Bronx without an environmental impact statement nor living wage jobs, Councilwoman Mark-Viverito was the first elected official to say
slow down and involve the community.
And when Mott Haven, Port Morris and Melrose residents approached Councilwoman Mark-Viverito with extreme concern about asthma hospitalization rates 21 times that of more affluent neighborhoods in NYC, Melissa joined Councilwoman
Arroyo, State Senator Serrano and U.S. Congressman Serrano to issue a joint letter to the Department of Transportation asking for a moratorium on all truck-intensive projects until a health impact analysis could be done.
A forceful leader in participatory budgeting, Councilwoman
Mark-Viverito empowers communities to prioritize needs in a transparent and engaging process.  From lighting and laptops
to youth programs and a solar-powered greenhouse at Millbrook Houses, Melissa galvanized civic engagement in the South Bronx by letting us decide what is important.
Last year, car wash workers walked out of the Sunny Day Car Wash in Mott Haven having not been paid for weeks.  Those who had complained were fired.  Melissa joined forces with State Senators Rivera and Serrano in support of the workers, and, after months of picketing and negotiating, the workers won their jobs, back pay and a labor contract.
Councilwoman Mark-Viverito has supported our safe street rallies
following deaths of local residents hit by trucks in Mott Haven, and she has lifted up harm reduction initiatives of Melrose-based residents and organizations.  She has collaborated on international mural projects bringing life and color to our streets; she has supported community organizations and landscape architects designing green alternatives to the Port Morris waterfront; and she has facilitated city agency support of transformative community gardens as well as the restoration of a wetland system in Mott Haven with native plantings.
It is particularly meaningful to the South Bronx – as it is to the
city, the nation and the world – that Melissa will be the first Latina Speaker of City Council.
Her vision and values have been shaped by a district reflective of the
richly textured fabric of New York City, which, like many parts of the city, has withstood an unfair share of burdens without recognition and evation of its potential contribution.

 

We are confident that Melissa, as Speaker, will continue to open doors, implement policies and take principled positions to advance community engagement in subsidy allocation, open space preservation and accessibility, equitable waste management and fair opportunities in education.

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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South Bronx Unite and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest Applaud Congressman José Serrano and New York Empowerment Zone Board’s Rejection of $3.5M FreshDirect Subsidy

In the Face of Certain Defeat by the NYEZ Board,
FreshDirect Withdraws Application for $3.5 Million in Subsidies to Relocate to the South Bronx

Today, FreshDirect’s proposed move to the South Bronx suffered a serious setback when it had to withdraw its $3.5 million request via the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (BOEDC) for funding from the New York Empowerment Zone (NYEZ) Board.  The withdrawal occurred amidst strong community opposition and after FreshDirect learned that the Board planned to vote “no” and reject the application.
In comments made at the Board meeting after the withdrawal had occurred, Board Member and Congressman Jose E. Serrano made clear that he would have voted “no” on the proposed package today, and would do so at any time in the future if BOEDC should decide to resubmit FreshDirect’s application for funding.   Even though the BOEDC and FreshDirect quietly removed their application from the agenda, at the meeting Congressman Serrano, who represents South Bronx residents living in the Empowerment Zone, voiced his strong objections to FreshDirect’s application to receive funds through the Empowerment Zone program and BOEDC’s overall track record as administrator of the Empowerment Zone program in the South Bronx. Congressman Serrano also stated that there’s a new era underway with Mayor-elect de Blasio, who has labelled the proposed subsidies for FreshDirect a “mistake” that is exemplary of the all too common large, unaccountable corporate handouts that fail to deliver on promised “economic development” and fail to pull areas like the South Bronx out of poverty.
In response to this morning’s outcome, Christina Giorgio, Staff Attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest said, “We are pleased that Congressman Jose E. Serrano has sided with the community and blocked FreshDirect from receiving the requested $3.5 million subsidy package.  Empowerment Zone funds are to be invested in businesses committed to improving the quality of life for local residents.  FreshDirect, with its thousands of daily truck trips and its low-wage jobs, clearly misses the mark and the Congressman Serrano was right to reject the application.”
Mychal Johnson, South Bronx resident and member of South Bronx Unite, added, “This is an important victory in our effort to ensure that the community’s voice matters and real environmental and economic justice are served.  It is simply irresponsible to offer public grants, loans and tax breaks for a project that would have such negative health impacts in the South Bronx.  We are proud and supportive of Congressman Serrano for hearing the community’s concerns and acting in its best interests. It is time to put a stop to this project and to consider how our publicly-owned waterfront can be put to the benefit of Bronxites through inclusive planning and projects that promote the public’s health and economic well-being.”
The New York Empowerment Zone (NYEZ) is one of nine empowerment zones (EZs) established by the Clinton Administration in 1994 to revitalize distressed communities by
using public funds and tax incentives as catalysts for private investment. The designation was accompanied by a federal grant of $100 million and matching grants from New York State and the City of New York of $100 million each, creating a total investment pool of $300 million. The proposed FreshDirect relocation has yet to receive other key approvals.  In addition, the New York State Appellate Court recently heard arguments on a lawsuit challenging, among other things, the City’s failure to require a full environmental impact assessment even though the project would bring more than a thousand diesel truck trips everyday into an increasingly residential community that suffers from high asthma rates.

 

###

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.”

Tomorrow: Court Date to Stop FreshDirect

COURT DATE to Stop FreshDirect!
Thursday, December 5th at 2:00 pm (be there by 1:30 pm for the pre-hearing press conference!)
27 Madison Ave, Manhattan (between 25th and 26th Street)
Help defend the South Bronx from economic and environmental exploitation and stop the $127 million in subsidies to a polluting corporation that has never made a profit and never consulted the local community.RSVP HERE:  http://bit.ly/18olH2a

*****************

BACKGROUND:
The
Appellate Division will hear oral arguments on the appeal filed by the New York
Lawyers for the Public Interest on behalf of South Bronx Unite,
challenging, among other things, the inadequate environmental review performed
by the NYC Industrial Development Agency for the proposed state and city
subsidized relocation of Fresh Direct from Long Island City to the South Bronx.
Preceding the oral argument, NYLPI and South Bronx Unite will host a press
conference in front of the courthouse.

The
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) submitted an amicus brief to support
NYLPI’s claims that further environmental review is necessary and meaningful, particularly in
underserved and environmentally burdened communities such as the Mott Haven
area.

 

WHO:
 Christina
Giorgio, Staff Attorney for Environmental Justice Program, NYLPI
A.  Mychal Johnson, South Bronx Unite
Rev. Ruben Austria, Community Connections for Youth
Libertad Guerra, South Bronx Unite
Bettina Damiani, Project Director, Good Jobs New York
                             

WHEN:
Thursday, December 5, 2013
1:30 pm – Press conference
2:00 pm – Oral arguments
WHERE:
New York State Supreme Court, First Appellate Division
27 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10010



Community Board 1 Amends the Record on FreshDirect

Votes 27-2 Against Land Use Modification Needed by the Company to Move to the South Bronx

Last night, Bronx Community Board 1 voted to reject the minutes of their July 10, 2013 meeting and corrected the record to reflect the Board’s July 10th vote of 27-2 against Fresh Direct’s
request for a land use modification required for their proposed move to the Harlem River Yard. Among the reasons for rejecting the land use modification: overutilization of adjacent street systems, excess bulk and density on the Harlem River Yard and interference with the predominant public purpose of the lease to reduce traffic.

 

“I’m happy to see that the action taken by the Board reflects the concerns of the community,” said Mychal Johnson, former CB1 member removed from the board in May for his outspoken advocacy against FreshDirect.

 

“The board’s decision to rectify the minutes from the July 10th community board meeting signals that the community board is putting small businesses and the health and safety of Bronxites first,” said Michael Brady, CB1 member. “It is now time to
mobilize and achieve the goals of continued job creation, a public waterfront and an accessible health care system that combats asthma and obesity.”

 

Fresh Direct must make a similar but more rigorous application for a land use modification to the State Empire State Development before the project can move forward. The public will have an opportunity to comment on that application at a public hearing as required by
state law.