Last night at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx, hundreds came out during a rainy Monday to participate in the public hearing hosted by the Empire State Development Corporation on whether or not the State agency should approve $10 million in grants and loans to move their headquarters to the Port Morris section of The Bronx. It should be noted that this same public hearing was held back in August but employment numbers for FreshDirect were overstated therefore a new hearing was held and a new vote will be held in December. It should also be noted that this is only for a portion of the over $130 million in grants, loans, tax subsidies by the city, state, and The Bronx Borough President’s office offered to FreshDirect.
Members of South Bronx Unite and their supporters, including Welcome2TheBronx, arrived early for a 4:30PM press conference but as with other meetings, we were prevented from going into the college while dozens of FreshDirect employees were let in.
After arguing with campus security about their unethical behavior, we were eventually led in and began our press conference after airing our grievance with representatives of the ESD on why we were not allowed into the building.
Once inside the auditorium, the room was packed with almost every single of the 367 seats filled up. Dozens of FreshDirect employees were bussed by the company to the hearing wearing green t-shirts that read “FreshDirect loves The BRX”.
What exactly is the BRX? The company loves the Bronx so much that they can’t even get our abbreviation correct? Many who oppose the company’s move to the South Bronx to exacerbate traffic and asthma along with other health related ailments could not help but shake their heads at this embarrassing faux pas by FreshDirect. (Oh and did we mention that FreshDirect catered the event with water and treats?)
The hearing began promptly at 5pm and testimonies from those in favor or against FreshDirect receiving the subsidies began almost immediately.
One of the first pro-FreshDirect testimonies was given by none other than Larry Scott Blackmon, formerly of NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, who was recently hired by the company in a desperate attempt to garner support in The Bronx for FreshDirect (much like Majora Carter, who was retained as a consultant by the company for the same, he failed quite miserably last night).
Blackmon, once seen as an ally to many was greeted to boos and shouts of “traitor!” and “sellout!”
He appealed to the ESD stating that during his time working at FreshDirect he has been able to meet many from the community who support the company’s move but it should be noted that not ONE single individual or independent organization from The Bronx came to testify in favor of the corporation.
Of the approximately over 60 testimonies given, about 46 were against FreshDirect including physicians who reside or work in the Bronx, local residents, school teachers, reverends from local Bronx churches, a lawyer from the Upper East Side who is suing the company for their “illegal street depots and idling practices” throughout Manhattan, and last but not least New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Missing from the hearing was Mayor de Blasio or any representative from his office to offer testimony. As you may recall, during his campaign he said FreshDirect would never get such subsidies.
Those who testified in favor of FreshDirect receiving these public monies numbered around 15 and all but one had a vested interest in testifying in the company’s favor further proving that this is something that the Bronx does not want. 12 of these individuals were employees of the company including a member of their legal council and Larry Scott Blackmon, two from the Bronx Borough President’s office including Marlene Cintron, Executive Director of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation. If there is such great support in The Bronx for FreshDirect’s move to our borough to worsen hazardous conditions in our neighborhoods, where were they last night?
The Borough President’s office called them a good neighbor since they first announced the deal but a good neighbor doesn’t dump 100 damaged trucks on the waterfront of the South Bronx.
One independent organization supported FreshDirect — a women’s rights group located in Upper Manhattan.
None of the aforementioned speakers on behalf of the corporation provided any concrete data as to why the ESD should approve these monies which would create a hazardous health condition to the neighborhood.
During the 4 hours of testimony (with only a brief 10 minute recess) those who opposed the state giving a company run by billionaires such funds mostly provided testimonies replete with scientific and legal data as to why a trucking intensive company should not be allowed to receive public money to come into a neighborhood already overwhelmed with trucks.
The testimonies described how the Harlem River Yards where FreshDirect intends to establish their headquarters violates the constitutional requirement that the state-owned land on which it is proposed to be sited provide a public benefit and reduce truck traffic.
During its over 20 years, the leaseholder, Harlem River Yards Venture, run by the Galesi Group, has repeatedly violated the intended purpose of this land which was to alleviate truck intensive operations in the area.
Instead they have increased such outfits by allowing companies such as The New York Post, FedEx, and a Waste Transfer company to operate on the land unleashing thousands of trucks through residential streets.
The numerous physicians who testified provided their expert testimonies backed by scientific study after study of the delitrious effects of diesel and trucking pollution on the health of children and adults.
A representative from Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office who delivered her testimony, reiterated the same as well as what everyone agreed to: that the needs and wants of the community for an open and resilient waterfront (it should be noted that FreshDirect’s intended site sits directly on the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan which has received priority status by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for funding) should be listened to.
Throughout the hearings, the opposition to FreshDirect subsidies appealed to the ESD board to reject these monies and support the community’s plan for the waterfront — a comprehensive plan which takes into account the public health and economic development of the neighborhood which was designed by community members.
A resident from Riverdale representing a climate change group of 78 individuals called for an end to deals that deeply divide the borough. She said, “what impacts the South Bronx, impacts the North Bronx. What impacts the North Bronx, impacts the South Bronx. Enough with these divisive policies and we stand by the residents of The South Bronx who also oppose these subsidies.
Jason Ortiz, a lifelong resident of The South Bronx who’s family’s roots in the area goes back to 1954, said in his testimony, “While every other borough in the city is planning, or has completed major waterfront access, including residential, commercial, retail, green space, and pedestrian zones, the South Bronx waterfront is bucking that trend across the city and closing off its waterfront, hyperindustrializing, and adding truck traffic. It is unclear what the social or economic benefits are for the residents of NYC or the Bronx to have a waterfront increasingly shuttered, and blighted, particularly when every other borough is developing their waterfronts into dynamic, economic, and social destinations. ”
Ortiz went on to say:
“Ask yourself, if this is such a great deal for the community, why didn’t Brooklyn Bridge Park become FreshDirect’s new distribution facility? If this is such a benefit for the community, why didn’t South Street Seaport become Fresh Direct’s distribution facility? How about eliminating Chelsea Piers and replacing with a FreshDirect warehouse? All of this sounds silly doesn’t it…except somehow it’s ok for the South Bronx waterfront because? Because? That answer has yet to be answered. Staten Island’s plan for economic revival along the waterfront does not include a Fresh Direct distribution center, or any industrial purpose, but an open waterfront with housing, retail, commercial, pedestrian zone, and green space which will be an economic engine for Staten Island and NYC.
The South Bronx waterfront also has a similar plan that will in fact be the economic and social engine every other borough is already enjoying or planning to enjoy. FreshDirect’s distribution center is not the answer, it is in fact the problem, and we have only one chance to help correct all of the injustice the South Bronx has suffered. I ask that you take a moment today or tonight, and ask yourself whether you want to live next door to the freshdirect distribution center, and whether you want freshdirect to confiscate your waterfront, and whether you believe adding thousands of trucks into your community is a benefit?”
Claire Huene, an attorney who lives on the Upper East Side also testified against the company and said:
“…I live in Manhattan. I am here because, quite simply, I do not believe that taxpayer funds should go to a company that deliberately and systematically ignores applicable regulations.
FreshDirect’s method of delivery in Manhattan is to operate illegal street depots, as I describe in detail in a written statement that I submitted to ESD today. One of FreshDirect’s illegal depots is directly outside of my residential building. As I also describe in my written statement, the Fresh Direct depot continuously violates many – practically all – NYC regulations applicable to commercial delivery operations, creates an ongoing traffic hazard, and constitutes a public and private nuisance. We are preparing a lawsuit concerning FreshDirect’s depot outside our building, and we believe FreshDirect’s street depot operations are equally illegal and problematic throughout the city.
I hope ESD will consider my written statement. In 2009, the New York Attorney General took action against FreshDirect for ignoring NYC’s anti-idling law, and to this day, FreshDirect continues to prove that it believes it is entitled to ignore this and all other regulations applicable to its NYC delivery operations.
Taxpayer funds should not go to support such a company…”
It is a shame that FreshDirect’s CEO, Jason Ackerman, was no where to be seen at this hearing but instead had his employees loaded onto a school bus to come in and show support for the company’s move to The Bronx. It is unconscionable to make your employees do your dirty work.
Throughout the evening, many testifiers against the FreshDirect deal cleared the record that this is not about wanting or not wanting jobs but about wanting good paying jobs for our residents and employees of FreshDirect. Many encouraged the FreshDirect employees who were present and were testifying on behalf of the corporation, to look into their hearts and ask if they could live with their conscience on what their proposed move to The Bronx would do to our residents’ health. Many testifiers told FreshDirect employees that we stand in solidarity with them.
Ramon Jimenez, an attorney who ran for NYS Attorney General under the Green Party told the FreshDirect employees to “seek me out if you are fired because you change your minds about the move or seek me out if you need a good job.”
FreshDirect, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr (who supports this deal yet was absent from the hearing) and his office, State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr (also absent) constantly pit this as people against job creation in the poorest congressional district and the borough with the highest unemployment rate but if that were the case we wouldn’t have come up with a comprehensive waterfront plan that includes an economic benefit to the community.
In the beginning of the hearing, FreshDirect employees were just as loud and boisterous as those who opposed the deal when their respective representatives came up to speak. By the end of the evening, most had gone and those that remained were quiet and appeared humbled by the testimonies given by local residents who would be impacted by their company should they move to The Bronx.
In light of the the overwhelming community opposition, or shall a I say 100% community opposition, at last night’s meeting from people who were not financially beholden to FreshDirect, should the ESD ignore the residents testimonies documented with scientific and legal evidence as to why this deal should not happen, it would be criminal of said agency in the eyes of the public.
It was quite clear last night what the people of The Bronx want and it’s not FreshDirect on our waterfront. Residents, physicians, attorneys, and people from all walks of life agreed that what we want is open space and the chance to breathe free. A resilient waterfront against climate change and not industry on said waterfront that runs counter to New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s mission which is “To conserve, improve and protect New York’s natural resources and environment and to prevent, abate and control water, land and air pollution, in order to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state and their overall economic and social well-being.”
Further information on the FreshDirect Deal, how it affects us, and the company’s track record:
- FreshDirect has been sued by former delivery workers in a claim that the company owes its 300 delivery employees $23,400,000 in lost gratuities.
- FreshDirect claims that it will create 1,000 new jobs in The Bronx but there is no proof that this will happen particularly now that Amazon Fresh has started delivery in New York in direct competition with the company. Amazon Fresh has the ability to move more than $10 billion a year in goods versus FreshDirect under $1 billion. Amazon Fresh is not the only one who is now offering delivery services with Whole Foods, Fairway and Google are now entering the market as well. This will certainly stifle FreshDirect’s projected growth as this competition did not exist when the deal was first announced in February 2012.
- NYS Department of Transportation is aware that the land consisting of the Harlem River Land Yards is historically significant containing evidence of a Ranachqua 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.
- South Bronx residents with asthma is exacerbated and triggered by diesel truck fumes and suffer 8x the national rate of this ailment and 21 times the hospitalization rate in NYC for asthma.
- FreshDirect fired scores of undocumented workers, most of which were working to unionize.
- FreshDirect is exempt from providing a living wage to its workers (as documented by the media including The New York Times) Recently the company agreed to living wages for ONLY its unionized workers in delivery which according to their website is only 1/3 of their workforce. This means that well over 1,500 (2/3) of their workers are excluded from this living wage and will continue to make approximately $8.00 hour. These are far from good jobs for Bronxites.
- Results from a recent Columbia University study suggests that exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) encountered in New York City air may play a role in childhood Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder behavior problems. (See also full journal article in PLOS, Washington Post: Study: Children exposed to high levels of pollution five times more likely to have ADHD, Scientific American: Children’s Attention Deficit Linked to Air Pollution.
- FreshDirect claims that they will convert their 1,000 truck fleet to electric or hybrid, however to date they have not provided a time frame of when they will do so and if they do not convert their fleets, there are no penalties for them if they do not do so. When Superstorm Sandy hit, about 100 of their trucks were destroyed and they had an opportunity then to do so but instead they chose to dump their trucks on the South Bronx waterfront — land which is still not theirs yet.
- FreshDirect does not need to be based in The Bronx to deliver to those who want to use their services. They already travel through our borough into Westchester County and Connecticut for their deliveries. They claim that they will bring healthy produce and food to the South Bronx yet their prices are double that of local supermarkets for similar or the same products.
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