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Avella, biz group slam EDC

The city has awarded a contract to install sewers in Willets Point, where water often stands stagnant in puddles long after it rains. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

The city Economic Development Corp. has taken heat for awarding a Willets Point sewer contract to a company outside the city while drawing ire on another front about the contentious topic of a living wage.

Cruz Contractors, based in New Jersey, won a contract with the EDC to install sewers for the city’s Willets Point Redevelopment Project, according to documents obtained by Willets Point United, an organization opposed to the use of eminent domain for the project.

That did not sit well with state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside).

“It’s just stupid on behalf of the city,” he said of the contract, which will install two kinds of sewers in the Iron Triangle, which Avella said should have been done decades ago.

The senator said the request for proposals should have included a provision that required a certain number of contracts to be awarded to businesses in the borough.

“If you’re going to use taxpayer dollars for a project within the city and state with high unemployment, why should we not give preference to local contracts and local business people?” he asked. “I think that only makes sense.”

But the EDC said its hands are legally tied since it cannot pick a company simply based on location.

“We are precluded by law to discriminate based on geography,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Friedberg.

But Avella said many municipal contracts stipulate that a certain percentage of the companies need to be run by minorities or women.

“If we can do that, we can include geography,” he said.

The EDC has also been criticized by Willets Point United, a property owners group, over the topic of a living wage requirement for retail employees who might one day work in the planned $3 billion development that will include both commercial and residential space

The group cited a recently leaked letter written in 2008 from the city to Gary LaBarbera, then head of the city Central Labor Council, that said the request for proposals would include language about a living wage.

The letter states: “As we discussed, we will include the following language in the Willets Point RFP .... NYCEDC will view favorably development plans that maximize the number of jobs that meet the city’s living wage and health benefit standards (‘living wage jobs’).”

But the actual request for proposals did not include such language. And the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which touted the redevelopment project as a boon for local workers, is not happy.

“They clearly broke the promise and reneged on what they said,” said Dan Morris, a spokesman for the union and for Living Wage NYC Coalition.

Morris said a living wage bill, currently being debated in the City Council, would prevent this from happening in the future.

But the EDC said it always seeks to find good jobs for New Yorkers.

“When seeking proposals for development, the city always considers the creation of well-paying jobs in addition to other factors like the feasibility of the project, proposed uses, job density and cost to taxpayers,” Friedberg said.

The “living wage” is the subject of a City Council bill, which does not enjoy unanimous support in New York political and economic circles.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has publicly stated his opposition to the bill, along with Queens Chamber of Commerce President Jack Friedman, who say it would be bad for business.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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