Two weeks ago, 16 months after FreshDirect’s sweetheart deal was announced as a done deal, the company came to the community for the first time.
The meeting with Community Board 1 was not only announced at the last minute but on the very day of the meeting the location was surreptitiously changed not once but twice in a clear attempt to stifle those opposed to the deal.
In that meeting, Bronxites came out in numbers that overwhelmingly spoke they are against FreshDirect’s plan to move to our borough. Only a handful of supporters of the sweetheart deal showed up.
Yesterday evening was no different at the second meeting which this time was held in the cramped quarters of CB1.
About 5 minutes before the start of the meeting, a police officer announced that we had reached capacity and as per Cedric Loftin, District Manager, no one else was to be admitted. This all happened as there were still dozens of local community members coming into the office. Shortly thereafter, Mr Loftin marches into the conference room with 5 or 6 uniformed FreshDirect employees to which community members, including myself, challenged him because the crowd was just told that no one else could come in.
This was but one of many incidents of the evening where we were blatantly lied to and misinformed. When roll call began, community residents who were forced to wait outside the conference room demanded to know what was going on and asked for the second door to be opened so that they could all hear.
The room broke out into shouting match with board members yelling at the residents to be quiet but eventually over 90% of the room began chanting to, “Open the door! Open the door!” until they had no choice but to open the door. It was a simple and legitimate request from citizens of the neighborhood, yet Cedric Loftin was staunchly opposed to budging.
During the first half of the meeting, only 2 individuals testified in support of FreshDirect. One lives in Queens but owns a successful bakery business in Port Morris which FreshDirect buys from and another was a Bronx resident, although his home neighborhood wasn’t discussed.
3 community residents spoke out against the deal including Corrine Kohut, a resident of the immediate affected area and a member of the opposition group South Bronx Unite (of which I am proudly a member of as well) addressed the board and told them that she is very aware that calls have been made to individual board members and pressuring them to vote in favor of FreshDirect.
Julio Pabon also spoke but not as a candidate for City Council District 17 In CB1 but as a concerned resident. He spoke when one of the FreshDirect supporters was running late. He approached the board and immediately said he wasn’t the other individual, he introduced himself and said he’d speak since the other individual hadn’t arrived.
After telling the board that this is an unacceptable project for the community based on previous projects where promises made to the community were never kept, that we deserve waterfront access like any other waterfront neighborhood across the city, Cedric Loftin then proceeded to tell the room that Julio Pabon had lied and said he was the other individual.
This was a flat out lie from Loftin which the crowd immediately began yelling and correcting him that that wasn’t the case.
The meeting proceeded with many interruptions from residents whenever a FreshDirect representative misinformed the board with skewed data.
FreshDirect mentioned the 1,000 new jobs they promise to bring in addition to the over 2,400 they already employ which is the ONLY argument from their camp as to why we should accept them. As he spoke about the jobs, the reality of the “promise” is revealed: the jobs won’t be new ones at first but would most likely be replacing staff who cannot relocate. What is the time line you ask? Mid to late 2016.
I don’t know but Bronxites need jobs now, not 3-4 years from now. Furthermore, they are caught in their own web of lies because the thousand jobs will not begin until much later than 2016 if ever.
Board members questioned them about the trucks, traffic and pollution and once again they misrepresented the data. They claim that in the beginning, they will only be slightly over 100 trucks in the area and eventually just under 300 and that they wouldn’t interfere with traffic because their peak hours are 5AM to 6AM and 3PM to 4PM.
First of all, the roads are already busy in the area from folks commuting from Westchester and Connecticut as they head in during the morning hours using Buckner Boulevard as a shortcut into Manhattan to avoid the tolls on the highway. Also, the afternoon hours that are their busiest are the BEGINNING of our afternoon / evening commute rush hour. The streets are choked with traffic and exhaust and school buses. How are hundreds of trucks going to help?
They also neglect to speak about the fact that trucks will be coming in and out round the clock as their goods are delivered from various vendors.
On changing their vehicles to electric, we were told that that wouldn’t probably happen until 2021. Let that date sink in along with the word “probably”. They claimed that the technology just doesn’t exist for them to do it sooner and they anticipate the technology to be ready around then. Notice the pattern? Already two of their promises on the memorandum of agreement are not definite but probabilities.
Bronxites are promised jobs and clean trucks but when questioned directly by the community board and residents, they could not and would not provide a definite answer and commit to their promises which aren’t legally binding.
After FreshDirect was done with their misinformation session, Cedric Loftin announced that he was going to go around the table in seat order so the board could comment or ask questions to FreshDirect.
Linda Ortiz, a new board member immediately asked to be recognized and Mike Brady, also a new member acknowledged her which according to parliamentary procedures in the city charter of New York, she was in the right to speak regardless of what Cedric Loftin or Chairman George Rodriguez ordered.
Just like the previous meeting which the New York Daily News said the board bungled the forum, the process was railroaded by the District Manager and chair. The room erupted in support of Ms. Ortiz but she sat down and allowed Loftin to proceed in spite of his being in direct violation of city charter.
After several board members declined to comment, Linda Ortiz stood up and began to speak. She was once a supporter of the move but after the debacle of the last meeting she didn’t hesitate to switch against the deal based on how she saw the chair and District Manager trying to force them to vote in favor of FreshDirect. Once she was done, she handed over the floor to Mike Brady, as per protocol which allows her to do so and again Loftin and Rodriguez refused to do so.
The crowd’s response was as expected with more shouting at Loftin and Rodriguez to follow procedures rather than making up their own rules.
When it got to Brady’s turn to speak, after 3 members spoke before him (both pressed FreshDirect hard on their promises and demanded more concrete and binding word from them), he proposed to the board to vote yes on the resolution he began to pass along to the board to turn down FreshDirect’s request for a variance on the proposed site – a variance that is in direct violation to restrictive covenants placed on the land. Once again Loftin and Rodriguez usurped Brady and any city charter procedures by ignoring a motion that was seconded. Not only that but they refused to circulate Brady’s motion to the rest of the board.
Chaos ensued amongst confused board members and eventually the meeting was once again derailed. Residents asked George Rodriguez to disclose his loyalties and accused him of receiving considerable compensation for his organizations for having steered the board to the will of the Borough President’s office.
It was another evening spotlighting our incompetent leaders and the rampant corruption in Bronx politics. Marlene Cintron, who was appointed the head of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation by Ruben Diaz Jr was on hand and at one point was mouthing instructions to Loftin and Rodriguez. I immediately told her to stop it because this wasn’t her meeting nor the Ruben Diaz Jr’s and it belonged to the people.
Gregory Tsougranis, former owner of the BoogieDowner immediately defended Marlene, who has close ties with Tsougranis and told me that I will, “…Never amount to anywhere near Marlene’s accomplishments.” I wasn’t aware that I was aspiring to be like Marlene and although she has been successful in her own right, I simply responded that I don’t want, “to be a sellout like her.”
Tsougranis at one point jumped up from his chair and got directly in the face of Monxo Lopez who indicated that Gregory is also a sellout and doesn’t even live in the community (watch News12 the Bronx’s footage) . The stationed police officer made his way across the room and ordered Tsougranis to sit down immediately.
Before the meeting began, he asked who I was and he introduced himself and immediately began accusing me of slandering him because I said Ruben Diaz Jr made him head film location scout of the borough. In that entry he was referring to I never said that. I simply said that his loyalty was rewarded by Diaz and Cintron when they approached him to put together a film festival.
After the meeting was over and the crowd was ordered to exit the building, I was speaking to a local resident who attended the meeting who said it was the worst meeting she ever attended and far worse than she could imagine I was approached by Tsougranis and he immediately began to harass me asking me to apologize. I had no reason to apologize and the police officer was standing near us. I asked the officer to remove him from my presence due to the fact that he was harassing me and the officer immediately asked Gregory to move away.
It is almost 3AM as I sit here and write this and I can’t believe these events actually happened. Aren’t elected officials supposed to work for us and not the other way around. A good solid 95% of Bronxites who attended are against FreshDirect’s plan. Those in attendance who favored were FreshDirect employees, a lobbyist and representatives of the Borough President’s office.
What does that tell you? Over 40 organizations have signed on to South Bronx Unite’s platform against this plan and only 6 organizations are for it.
Clearly, the people have spoken. If we are a a vocal minority as FreshDirect and Ruben Diaz Jr call us then why is it the community supporters are dwarfed at each meeting? Why does FreshDirect have to bring in employees to show support?
16 months after the battle for our community began it is far from over.