Nov. 30, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
A group of council members are set to introduce legislation soon that they say will help prevent “backroom deals” like the one that brought the controversial Amazon HQ2 project to Long Island City.
The bill, backed by Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer, Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, would bar the city from participating in corporate bidding processes that require non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, as was the case with HQ2 proceedings.
The hush negotiations are one component to the tremendous backlash over Amazon’s recently-announced headquarters in Long Island City, but have proved to be a major flashpoint for opponents of the plan.
The secret dealings leading up to Amazon’s decision, opponents say, were a way for the city and state to keep the public—including local officials—in the dark in order to push the deal through as quickly as possible.
Valuable input, they add, could have been given at the local level to push for a better deal—if negotiations with the company weren’t private.
“This piece of legislation is going to go a long way to making sure that democracy doesn’t get shelved in the future,” said Van Bramer, one of the central opponents to the Amazon project.
He added: “Transparency should be the minimum requirement when you’re talking about shelving out billions of dollars in taxpayers money.”
The three lawmakers said in their announcement yesterday that their bill would have changed the course of the controversial HQ2 proceedings with the city if it had already been in place.
“…The city would have had to say to Amazon, ‘You’ve got two choices—we can tell the public what our bid looks like, or we won’t be able to bid’,” Lander said to reporters.
The bill follows a similar piece of legislation set to go through Albany and introduced by State Sen. Michael Gianaris, another vocal opponent of the Amazon deal.
Along with the bill’s introduction comes plans for oversight hearings within the City Council over Amazon HQ2 proceedings. The hearings, according to reports, will take place over the course of several months beginning in December, with high-ranking city officials like Alicia Glen, deputy mayor, and James Patchett, CEO of the Economic Development Corporation, invited.
“New Yorkers deserve to know the fine details of the closed-door negotiations that led to this corporate giveaway,” Van Bramer said about the hearings.
Amazon’s HQ2 announcement came with the release of the memorandum of agreement it reached with the city and state, which detailed must-haves and other parameters related to its upcoming 4 million square foot headquarter build-out.
Components of the agreement, reached only after talks between a select few city, state, and Amazon players, include promised job output numbers, commitments to infrastructure improvements, and provisions for open space, a school, and more at the Anable Basin headquarter site.
The deal also lays out state and city subsidies for the company, set at a current $1.5 billion, with other government programs, credits and incentives possibly pushing the number to around $3 billion.
In response to criticism about its secretive proceedings, city and state officials say it had been made clear many months before the HQ2 announcement that negotiations would have to be done behind closed doors. Private talks, they say, are essential to maintaining competitiveness in a large project.
City and state officials also said that the only secretive component of the deal were the negotiations leading up to it, and that now begins a “very public conversation” on Amazon’s campus, including its design and build-out.
“A lot of folks have reacted to this thinking that this is a fully designed project,” Patchett said during a media briefing last week. “The truth of the matter is it’s not.”