Atlantic Yards Ombudsman Forrest Taylor has left the ESDC for a job at New York State Homes and Community Renewal, (HCR). Will the ESDC simply refill his seat, or will they reform oversight to improve the way they address impacts from the project?
Forrest Taylor was personally liked by community leaders, who found him sincerely interested in resolving problems. But Mr. Taylor's position was a difficult one. He was an advocate for the community within an oversight structure that is not transparent and lacks the staff and independent board of other ESDC projects smaller than Atlantic Yards. Until the appointment of Project Director Arana Hankin in the fall of 2010, Taylor was the only public employee ever to work full-time on the project. And in an agency that has had six leaders under four governors since Atlantic Yards was announced, Mr. Taylor’s three and a half years with the project represents an unusual example of continuity.
Mr. Taylor's potential often seemed constrained by his situation because his position had little authority or decision-making capacity within the ESDC. Despite his availability, he was often frustrated by his inability to resolve problems in a way that was satisfactory to the community. In October 2009, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries stated " ... the ombudsman system ... is nonfunctional because the higher-ups at ESDC aren't interested in empowering the ombudsman in a manner that would benefit the community."
Forrest Taylor’s departure now presents the ESDC with an opportunity to remake the role so the next ombudsman has authority and resources to responsively address community concerns, and is a partner in decision-making on Atlantic Yards going forward. How Governor Cuomo and Chairman Adams fill this role will be an indication of their sincerity in engaging constructively with the communities surrounding the project and their elected officials.
In April of 2007, 200 feet of the Ward Bakery parapet fell onto Pacific Street during asbestos abatement. The next month, ESDC announced a series of oversight measures to be instituted, including the hiring of a project ombudsman. Mr. Taylor was appointed eight months later; an owner’s representative was also eventually hired. The other announced measures were never implemented.
(Photo Tracy Collins)