Dec. 7, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Queens residents and activists turned out in full force to Community Board 2’s monthly meeting yesterday to demand that the board say no to Amazon’s headquarter plans and back down from even considering negotiations with the tech giant.
The packed meeting hall saw more than two hours of testimony from about 75 people, largely made up of anti-gentrification activists and some CUNY professors, who listed the ways Amazon’s 4 million square foot campus in Long Island City would adversely impact the borough.
Many said the new headquarters would increase housing costs, further strain area infrastructure and accelerate gentrification, among other fears. They also slammed the secretive city and state proceedings over the deal and the resulting incentives package of $3 billion to the world’s wealthiest company.
Several speakers also said Amazon has a history of employing anti-union tactics, and brought up the company’s efforts to sell facial-recognition technology to Immigration and Customs Enforcement as reasons for further rejecting the corporation’s plans.
Last night’s meeting marked the first since Amazon’s headquarters announcement, and follows deliberations held by the board’s Land Use Committee last month over how to proceed with the bombshell campus announcement.
While attendees urged the board to immediately take a “no” stance on the project and rebuff talks with Amazon, the board’s leadership recounted the conclusion reached at last month’s committee meeting—that it has yet to take a position, but will take a seat at the negotiating table.
The board also plans to hold a town hall over the Amazon plan in January.
The majority of speakers during the evening were members of Queens Neighborhoods United, the Jackson Heights-based organization that has recently fought against rezoning plans in Elmhurst, and developers locating a Target store in the area.
“As the city continues to give tax abatements and any other sort of facilitation to real estate interests who put our waterfronts at risk, spike up our rents and leech up our public infrastructure, I ask you Community Board 2—is this our city, or is it the real estate industry’s city?” said Jorge Cabanillas, a Jackson Heights resident and QNU member.
Another QNU member, Jay Koo, began a “CB2 no HQ2” chant after urging the board to firmly say “no” to Amazon with “no negotiations, no concessions”—a sign-off used by many during the meeting.
Several professors from LaGuardia Community College said the corporation’s presence will harm the thousands of students at the school rather than provide a benefit for them—departing from the warm welcome the CUNY board of trustees gave to Amazon.
Arianna Martinez, a professor of urban studies at the CUNY school, said Amazon will only lead to the city’s housing market getting worse, the disappearance of small business, and the decimation of the immigrant communities that make up Queens.
“These young people, these students are the future of our city and the ones most threatened by the proposed Amazon headquarters,” she said, referring to the large immigrant and working-class demographic of the school’s student body.
Toward the end of the night, when most of the speakers had emptied out of the hall, Denise Keehan-Smith, chair of Community Board 2, reiterated that the board had not taken a position yet because it has yet to see Amazon’s plans.
“We really don’t have much information other than what’s been out there in the public,” she said.
The board, she added, has agreed to meet both Amazon and the Empire State Development Corporation for separate discussions on the deal, and expects to do so before the end of the year—seemingly in contrast to attendee demands for no sit-downs.
The board chair, furthermore, has already spoken to representatives from the two parties to highlight general concerns expressed many a time by the board, including impacts on infrastructure and resiliency, cost of living, and displaced businesses and residents.
She noted that the board will be part of the community advisory council formed as part of the state-run process Amazon is moving through, which both Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris have rejected taking a seat on.
The board will also join on the advisory group created for the Long Island City infrastructure fund, another component of the Amazon deal.
Meetings for both groups have yet to be scheduled.
The state, which has started on a 14-month planning process for Amazon’s campus, expects the company to hand in working plans for the development in coming months. The planning process, they say, includes opportunities for public input.
Both city and state anticipate Amazon will begin moving into its Anable Basin headquarters in 2022 at the earliest.
The company, for the time being, will operate out of One Court Square beginning in 2019.