Mychal’s NYMTC Testimony


Mychal Johnson at the Harlem River Rail Yards


Mychal Johnson also testified at today’s hearing. Thank you for a job well done! 

New York Metropolitan Transit Council
March 1, 2012
Statement of Arthur Mychal Johnson

My name is Arthur Mychal Johnson.  I am a resident and homeowner in the South Bronx, and I am a member of Community Board 1 and the Economic Development and Land Use Subcommittee.

I have come here today to identify a very serious problem we have with one of New York State Department of Transportation’s properties.  The property, owned by the State of New York under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation, is a 94 acre waterfront lot in the South Bronx known as Harlem River Yards.  The property was leased for 99 years in 1991 to a private developer, Harlem River Rail Ventures, Inc. (having an office c/o the Galesi Group, Building 6, East Road, Rotterdam, New York, 12306), for the purpose of increasing utilization of rail freight services and reducing truck traffic congestion.

One Final Environmental Impact Statement was approved, purporting to cover all possible developments on the land over the full 99 year period.

Over the last 21 years, Harlem River Rail Ventures has failed to develop the intermodal rail terminal, which was the centerpiece of the policy behind the Department of Transportation’s lease of the land.  During that same 21 years, however, the community has been forced to endure severe health hazards as a result of poor air quality caused by uses of the Harlem River Yards.

In the South Bronx, we have an asthma epidemic.  Asthma hospitalizations are five times the national average; asthma deaths are three times the national average; and it is estimated that 1 in every 5 children in the South Bronx has asthma.

Harlem River Yards currently holds a FedEx hub making over 1,400 daily truck trips through the neighborhood, the New York Post printing and distribution center, and a 5000 ton per day waste transfer station, one of four waste transfer stations located within a 1/8 mile radius.  And, Fresh Direct has just received more than $100 million in public subsidies to relocate to the Harlem River Yards, adding upwards of 2,000 daily vehicle trips through the neighborhood.

The cumulative effect of such facilities is staggering.

The industrial and heavy manufacturing uses on Harlem River Yards are also inconsistent with the surrounding area, which has been repeatedly rezoned over the last 21 years to foster residential and commercial development, explore community access to the waterfront, which Harlem River Yards blocks, and to turn the area into a “Gateway to the Bronx”.

In 1997, a five-block area adjacent to the Harlem River Yards was rezoned as a mixed use district. The new zoning was a catalyst for strengthening the area’s emerging antique businesses and for revitalizing the residential character of this historically mixed use neighborhood.  As a result of the rezoning, approximately 42 rowhouses were rehabilitated, 36 new residential units were created or reactivated on upper floors of buildings, 50 lofts in a former piano factory were converted, and new ground floor retail and exhibit spaces were opened.

Then in 2005, building on the success of the 1997 rezoning, New York City Council rezoned a further eleven blocks surrounding the area for mixed use, this time including a focus on improved waterfront access.

The New York City Department of City Planning began examining options for waterfront access for residents cut off from the waterfront because of Harlem River Yards, and included the area in the agency’s Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan.  In response to the rezoning, a new 419-unit residential development adjacent to the Harlem River Yards was built in 2010 and is now occupied.

The current usage of Harlem River Yards is no longer compatible with the change in the area’s residential composition.  Severe risks exist for even higher asthma rates and other related health conditions.

Therefore, I request that the Department of Transportation place a moratorium on all new development at Harlem River Yards, including with respect to Fresh Direct’s proposed development, and conduct a thorough review of the current uses of the land, as well as the cumulative effects of such uses on the residents of the South Bronx, taking full account of the socio-economic makeup of the neighborhood and the disproportionate impact on the poorest congressional district in the country.

Lily’s NYMTC Testimony

The wonderful Lily Kesselman testified at todays New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) annual meeting. Below is her testimony.
Good morning!  My name is Lily Kesselman and I’m a resident of the South Bronx. 
I come to you to voice concerns from residents in Mott Haven – also known as Asthma Alley.  I’m also a student at Farm School studying urban farming and food justice.
According to the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems Robert F Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Bronx county has one of the highest asthma rates in the United States and rates of death by asthma in the Bronx are 3 TIMES the national average; hospitalization rates are 5 TIMES higher and in some neighborhoods it is estimated that 20% of ALL children have asthma. Within NYC the disparity in asthma hospitalization rates is pronounced – one study shows hospitalization rates in Bronx County and East Harlem are 21 TIMES high than those in affluent parts of the New York. 
Bronx County has the highest pediatric asthma hospitalization rates in the New York area.  Asthma has been linked to numerous pollutants including carbon monoxide, and a particularly dangerous particulate exhausted exclusively from diesel engines.  The South Bronx residents are in a critical situation – we need to REDUCE traffic, congestion and these appalling statistics. 
The Harlem River Rail Yard Ventures lease was designed to “Reduce Congestion from Truck Traffic” by completing an intermodal rail system, which they have not.  Since the lease took effect, the Harlem River Rail Yard Ventures has not taken one single action to reduce congestion; they continue to sublease land to business that that block public access to the waterfront and bring in thousands of trucks through our streets each day.
And now they want to bring in FreshDirect.  This “deal” was never brought up for discussion at Community Board 1.  This “deal” is funded by taxpayers. This “deal” is detrimental to The South Bronx. This “deal” is literally killing New Yorkers.  This “deal” gives not only taxpayer money in the millions but taxpayer land to corporate entities for private profits. 
I was at the State of the Borough with Ruben Diaz Jr., who stated that FreshDirect will purchase 10 electric trucks with a “WISH” to convert all trucks someday with no promises, all funded with public money and no recourse if their “Wish” is not fulfilled.  No recourse.  None. They can buy whatever trucks they want, pay whatever wages they want and not repay a dime.  And the company say they will purchase these trucks fro, Smith Electric, has not even built it’s factory in The South Bronx yet but is another recipient of Tax breaks and incentives from New York Taxpayers. 
At the moment current Harlem River Yards tenants rack up 42,000 truck trips per month and the FreshDirect proposal would add 30,000 diesel truck trips and 60,000 vehicle trips through this neighborhood each month.  Further, the NYS DOT’s tenant, Harlem River Yards Venture, will not accept the offer from the EDC for an easement that would allow the footbridge to be completed and allow residents to walk to Randall’s Island.  Since the Harlem River Yards lease was signed, the areas surrounding the site have been rezoned for residential use and the area has been included in the NYC Comprehensive Waterfront plant – but this, along with The Greenway – can not be completed due to the Harlem River Rail Yards Ventures.
The NYS DOT has committed $10 million dollars in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funding for the first year offering vouchers of $20,000 per vehicle.  How about using funds to create spaces that combat  asthma and give all taxpayers and residents access to this public land that belongs to New Yorkers?  This land belongs to New York State, meaning residents should have access to this land and should have a voice in how it is used.  Why does New York State fund a private company with both public property and public land for the benefit of just a few business owners? And why must South Bronx residents have to suffer the life long physical consequences of asthma to the benefit of Fresh Direct?  
And why should Bronx residents be forced to live with an eyesore of a factory built along a scenic waterfront property when every other neighborhoods enjoys city funding to develop these areas as recreation and residential oaisiss? 
Also, I am the daughter of a member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians in the Northwest Coast. The Department of Transportation is aware that the land consisting of the Harlem River Land Yards is historically significant containing evidence of a Ranchqua Village and burial ground. The DOT acknowledges that artifacts of the Ranchqua Village may be present beneath the 15 feet of fill that now covers portions of the site. It is unconscionable that the DOT would allow and  fund Fresh Directs 500,000 sq ft facility on top of this native American settlement ultimately destroying archaeological evidence of the village and burial ground. This property needs to be protected and studied.  These artifacts concern all people and we have the right to explore this land.
We want the NYSDOT review the lease conveniently written by the Harlem River Rail Yards.  We want the Harlem River Rail Yards Ventures to be forced to comply with an easement giving residents access and enabling the completion of the walkway.  We want The Greenway. We want Fresh Direct out and we want to bring in sustainable business and families – not be forced out of our waterfront property by publicly funded corporations.

What You May Not Know About Fresh Direct (Video)

What You May Not Know About Fresh Direct from Olivia Smith on Vimeo.
Controversy is growing over Fresh Direct’s planned move to the Bronx. The online grocery store received almost $130 million in tax credits and cash incentives from New York state to relocate. But lost in all this is what you may not know about Fresh Direct and its impact on the environment. Olivia Smith reports.

The Brian Lehrer Show – Feat. Ruben Diaz Jr.

Listen to Ruben Diaz Jr. on the Brian Leher Show, the BP mentioned that the community had an opportunity to provide input on the FD plan on at least two occasions. The first was the IDA hearing after the announcement was made two days later in Manhattan.  The other, he claims was made by EDC to the Community Board which is FALSE!!!!

The community board was not consulted.

Listen Here!

FreshDirect does not belong in the Bronx

FreshDirect does not belong in the Bronx:
Online grocer will add 2000 daily truck trips through “asthma alley” and build on waterfront land documented as site of Native American burial ground
South Bronx residents continue to ask New York City and New York State residents to oppose FreshDirect’s publicly-funded relocation to public land on the South Bronx waterfront.  Documents withheld from the public by Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, but obtained recently through the Freedom of Information Law, demonstrate that our elected official are lying to South Bronx residents.
Cuomo, Bloomberg and Diaz talk about bringing jobs to the South Bronx, the poorest congressional district in the country with the highest unemployment rates in New York. They are lying to us.  FreshDirect is not bringing 2,000 jobs to the South Bronx; those are not new jobs, they are existing jobs and there was never a credible threat that FreshDirect was moving any of those jobs to New Jersey.  Cuomo, Bloomberg and Diaz tell us that FreshDirect has committed to hiring local residents, but their Memorandum of Understanding says in black and white that it is unenforceable and that it is not for the benefit of any resident of the Bronx or any other citizen.  Cuomo, Bloomberg and Diaz tell us that FreshDirect will bring 1,000 additional jobs to the South Bronx in the next ten years, but FreshDirect has no obligation to create a single new job; they get to keep every penny of the taxpayer’s $127.8 million even if they reduce their workforce.  Moreover, FreshDirect would be exempt from any local living wage mandates adopted by the city, 40% of its employees currently earn $25,000 per year or less, and FreshDirect’s abysmal record of labor practices includes 27 discrimination and nine unfair labor claims against the company in the last four years alone.
Cuomo, Bloomberg and Diaz tell us that FreshDirect will build on land that has been dormant for decades and imply that this public land would not otherwise be used or developed.  They are lying to us.  FreshDirect wants to build on part of a 94 acre waterfront plot of public land owned by the state of New York.  In the 20 years since the state leased this public land to a private developer, the Department of City Planning has rezoned the area surrounding the proposed FreshDirect site to promote profitable residential and commercial mixed use development of the 1.9 miles of South Bronx waterfront.  Further, the South Bronx has been included in the New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan to increase our community’s access to the waterfront, connect us to the Randall’s Island and East Harlem Greenways, and otherwise maximize economic development potential.  The proposed site is directly next to existing and new residential developments and funding already has been approved to build a pedestrian connector from the South Bronx to Randall’s Island.  Further still, the proposed FreshDirect site contains a documented American Indian settlement, the Ranachqua Village and burial ground.  Rather than giving real assistance to our community by promoting sustainable development and preserving our heritage, Cuomo, Bloomberg and Diaz continue their pattern of using taxpayer money to relocate industrial and manufacturing companies from more affluent communities to the South Bronx.
The only honest statement that Cuomo, Bloomberg and Diaz make is that the FreshDirect project will have a major impact on the South Bronx.  The FreshDirct project will bring an extra 1,000 truck trips a day and 2,000 vehicle trips per day through the most congested traffic corridors of the South Bronx, a community nicknamed “asthma alley” because we have asthma hospitalizations five times the national average.  Offensively, the supposed purpose of leasing this public land to a private entity was to develop an intermodal rail yard to reduce truck traffic on New York City streets.  That turned out to be rubbish, literally.  Rather than building that rail hub, this developer subleased our land to a solid waste transfer station, whose trucks bring 3,000 tons of garbage per day through our community, and a FedEx hub that brings another 1,432 truck trips per day.
This misuse of our public land for private benefit is at our expense.  This abuse of our land is causing unconscionable levels of air, water, land and noise pollution, frustrating city planning efforts to sustainably develop our community, and continuing to block South Bronx residents’ access to our waterfront.  Adding insult to injury, FreshDirect does not and has never served our community, and there is no enforceable requirement or plan that they will ever do so.  Only an obscenely undemocratic process could lead to a plan like this.  Cuomo, Bloomberg and Diaz did not consult with the people of the South Bronx, did not consult with Councilwoman Melissa Viverito, and did not consult with Community Board 1 before announcing on February 7 that FreshDirect would receive public money to abandon Queens and move to the South Bronx.  The sole public hearing on this project was a complete sham; it took place in Manhattan and two days after the deal was announced.  Subsequent attempts to gain community support have been met with overwhelming disapproval.  Degrading the very people he is supposed to represent, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz created a Facebook page to “illustrate to the company just how many Bronx residents are willing to not only use their service, but have the technical capabilities to do so.”  The site was overwhelmed by opposition to the deal.
The people of the South Bronx demand better.
South Bronx Unite | is a coalition of South Bronx residents, organizations and allies.

South Bronx, Demanda Respeto!!!!!!


South Bronx, Demanda Respeto.



¡Díle “NO” a Fresh Direct!

El problema:
La compañía FreshDirect ha propuesto mudarse al Sur del Bronx desde su ubicación actual en Queens. ¿Qué significará este mudanza para nosotros, los residentes del Sur del Bronx?

  • Cientos de camiones más pasando por nuestro barrio que ya sufre de las tasas de asma más altas del país.
  • Promesas de empleos, pero ninguna garantía.
  • FreshDirect no se comprete a ningún salario digno para sus empleados.
  • Actualmente FreshDirect no acepta los cupones de alimentos (la tarjeta EBT), ni ofrece servicio a domicilio en el Bronx salvo los códigos postales de 10463, 10470, y 10471 (Riverdale y Woodlawn)
  • Con major planeamiento, los $120 millones en subsidios ofrecidos pueden crear más y mejores trabajos.

La alcaldía y presidente del condado del Bronx han ofrecido a FreshDirect más de $120 millones en subsidios provenientes de nuestras contribuciones de impuestos. ¿Por qué darle a una corporación nuestro dinero mientras se están cerrando nuestras escuelas? Hay mejores opciones: ¡Trabajemos juntos para un mejor acceso a la costa!

El propósito de FreshDirect es construir una fábrica enorme en Harlem River Rail Yards en la costa del Sur del South Bronx, ubicado al sur de la calle 132. En realidad, esta propiedad es pública y pertenece al Departmento del Transporte del Estado de Nueva York. ¡Un desarollo de uso mixto con vivienda asequible, espacios comerciales, educacionales, y  recreacionales con acceso al río sería mejor para todos!

¿Como se puede decirle “NO” a Fresh Direct en el Sur del Bronx?

  1. Contacta: Fiscal General del Estado de Nueva York Eric Schneiderman
Díle: “Pare a Fresh Direct. Investigue el contrato de Harlem River Rail Yards.”


  1. ¡Díle a todo el mundo!

South Bronx Unite in the News

In the last week we’ve made quite the splash! We will continue to Unite as a community to let our voices be heard. 

New York Times: In Bronx, FreshDirect and Land of Great Promises
Michael Powell – February 20, 2012
Bronx TimesMott Haven residents rally over relocation of Fresh Direct headquarters
Kirsten Sanchez – February 20, 2012
The Riverdale PressUnder the wire
Adam Wisnieski – February 15, 2012
Crain’sDid FreshDirect deserve more than $100M in tax breaks and subsidies?
February 15, 2012 (69% say no)
WNYCLiu Questions $100M Fresh Direct Subsidy
February 15, 2012 – 10:32 AM
New York Times: Criticism of FreshDirect Deal Is Off Base, City Officials Say
Charles V. Bagli – February 14, 2012
NY Daily NewsAn $83M ‘Direct’ deposit
Daniel Beekman – February 14, 2012
El DiarioProtestarán contra instalación de Fresh Direct en El Bronx
Jose Acosta – 2012-02-14
NBC New YorkSome Opposed to FreshDirect’s Planned Move to Bronx
Feb 14, 2012
The Village VoiceCity Panel Votes to Approve $128 Million FreshDirect Payoff (liveblog)
Neil deMause – Tue., Feb. 14 2012
Mott Haven HeraldCity approves FreshDirect subsidies
Joe Hirsch – 14. Feb, 2012
DNAinfo New YorkCity To Vote on Fresh Direct Deal Tuesday, Despite Pleas to Delay Decision Patrick Wall – February 14, 2012
GothamistFresh Direct’s Sweet Gov’t Subsidies Sicken Some In The Bronx
February 13, 2012
The Village VoiceSome People Are Not Happy With FreshDirect’s Move to the Bronx
Sam Levin – Mon., Feb. 13 2012
Crain’s New YorkOpposition to FreshDirect subsidy deal mounts
The New York ObserverFight Over FreshDirect Facility Continues
Hunter Walker – 2/13
News 12Protesters take to the Web against Fresh Direct
Feb 13, 2012
Mott Haven HeraldMott Havenites say ‘no deal’ to FreshDirect
Amora McDaniel – 10 Feb 2012
DNAinfo New YorkFresh Direct Deal Blasted by South Bronx Residents and Activists
Patrick Wall – February 9, 2012
New York PostDeal with the devil: Tax breaks with strings
Nicole Gelinas – February 9, 2012
Daily NewsBronx residents to weigh in on new Fresh Direct HQ
Daniel Beekman – February 08, 2012
News 12Plan to open Fresh Direct HQ in Bronx causes stir
Feb 8, 2012
NY1Bronx Residents Speak Out Against New FreshDirect Headquarters

A great NYT article featuring Mychal Johnson

To wander the industrial prairies that edge the Harlem River in the Bronx is to discover an archaeological dig of government subsidies and unfilled promises.
Here, between the peeling steel girders of the Willis Avenue and Robert F. Kennedy Bridges, Mychal Johnson, a lithe, goateed and good-humored Mott Haven resident and community board member, sweeps his arms at grass rising waist-high out of rail pilings, and at the massive green wall of a waste plant.
Soon, FreshDirect, the deliver-groceries-to-your-apartment company, is to build a sprawling, taxpayer-subsidized plant here, with 130 delivery trucks rumbling about day and night.
“This was supposed to be where railyards changed the city’s transportation,” Mr. Johnson says. “Now we’re going to have trucks pouring more pollution into a neighborhood with the worst asthma rates in New York.”
In the early 1990s, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo gave the Galesi Company a sweetheart of a 99-year lease to control these 104 acres, the Harlem River Yards. The governor promised a world-class train yard that would create 5,000 jobs and give the city cleaner air. None of that happened. Galesi, however, found a land of promise. The company had leased the acreage at one-third the going rate. And public agencies poured in tens of millions of dollars in subsidies to place rent-paying companies on Galesi’s land.
Now FreshDirect steps into this gilded breach, holding a $127.8 million fistful of cash and tax breaks. City and state officials often describe FreshDirect, which will lease its land from Galesi, as “iconic.” Certainly its owners tug at public subsidy programs with the assurance of a farmer sitting before a swollen dairy cow.
Not long ago, FreshDirect got a $2 million subsidy to build in Queens. Then the company batted its eyes at New Jersey, and officials there dangled a $100 million subsidy package. This seemed more a feint than a threat, as FreshDirect would have been on the wrong side of the clogged Hudson River tunnels from its customer base. But New York officials tumbled over themselves getting to the bargaining table.
Before we go further, let me make an admission. I’ve called FreshDirect, particularly when our boys were young and schlepping them to the supermarket promised a cacophonous experiment in emotional meltdown. I don’t doubt there is a market for bringing groceries to the harried.
City officials faced a difficult choice. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has tried to steel himself against the siren song of corporate welfare. He risked second guessing, should FreshDirect, with about 2,000 working-class jobs, depart.
As for the Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., this deal made a small-town booster of him. He signed an unenforceable memorandum in which FreshDirect talks of, maybe, reserving 300 jobs for Bronx residents. His staff members tossed up a Facebook site: “Bronxites for FreshDirect.” Alas, those who are posting appear mostly to be opposed, perhaps because FreshDirect refuses to deliver in much of the Bronx.
Mr. Diaz was undaunted; he framed the question for the naysayers: “Do we say no to the potential of 3,000 jobs?”
That’s the wrong question. The company has promised to create 1,000 jobs over the next 10 years. And the city can exact no penalty for failure. Should FreshDirect fall short, it faces no requirement to repay the subsidies.
Jason Ackerman made his bones at a now-defunct investment house before founding FreshDirect. He is very 21st century, talking of locavores and freshness and supporting farmers. His warehouses tend more toward the early 20th century. If you haul 50-pound boxes in the 38 degree chill of the warehouse, you can make $8.75 an hour; ride the trucks, and haul boxes down sidewalks and up stairs, and you get $8, along with whatever tips are tossed your way.
Local 805 of the Teamsters made unsuccessful runs at organizing the warehouse workers. In the last effort, just before the certifying election, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced a surprise audit of FreshDirect. The company checked its files for Social Security cards and — surprise! — found many workers without documents. Between 100 and 300 left.
The company insisted it had nothing to do with the audit.
There are those, not the least South Bronx residents, who wonder if America’s densest city should so richly encourage a business that pays little and logs tens of thousands of pollution-belching hours to make deliveries. They could use parkland instead. City officials wave off such objections as beside the point.
As for Mr. Ackerman, he is buoyant. He wrote the cover letter to accompany his application for the subsidies.
“We are proud to support New York, through employment, service and good will!” he wrote. “We are New Yorkers!”
How grand. Imagine if his company paid for that pleasure.

Harlem River Working Group Meeting (Emergency Change of Location due to FreshDirect Decision)

Please join us at the HRWG meeting (see details below). Both Senator Serrano’s chief of staff and Councilmember Foster’s chief of staff will be attending!
We have changed our meeting to a place in Community Board 1 due to the situation that has been occurring around FreshDirect.
The Emergency Change of Location
Harlem River Working Group Meeting
Thursday, February 16, 2012
6-8 pm
East Side Settlement House Cafeteria
201 St. Ann’s Avenue
(at the corner of 137th Street – 1 block from Brook Avenue)
Directions: Take the 6 Train to Brook Avenue Stop.
NOTE:  5pm, HRWG members may want to meet at the corner of 132nd and St Ann’s Avenue to discuss the Highbridge Yards Site and walk to the site of the Proposed Greenway connector at 132nd and the Amtrack Bridge.
Please send other agenda items for the meeting ASAP.
Thank you for your understanding about the last minute changes!!