Using NY’s New Environmental Protections, AALDEF Files Lawsuit Against Two Bridges Development in LES and Chinatown
NEW YORK — Today, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) filed a lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs from the Lower East Side and Chinatown neighborhoods in downtown Manhattan, whose rights to health, welfare, and safety have been infringed upon by the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Development (LSRD) project. The construction of this large-scale project exacerbates respiratory, cardiovascular, and mental health issues for the community, which has already been hard hit by the now over two-year COVID-19 pandemic.
Jack Lester is serving as co-counsel in the case, which makes novel use of the New York State constitutional amendment enshrining basic environmental protections. Council Member Christopher Marte, who represents and lives in the 1st District, is a named plaintiff in the case.
“Today, we are filing a lawsuit to tell the City that we are not going to be ignored any longer. New Yorkers’ right to a healthy environment and clean air must be applied universally, and must be fiercely defended especially in communities of color. Residents of Two Bridges have been organizing against these towers for years, and for years we have been able to delay their construction. It has been so long since we started this fight, that new laws have been passed, and we have stronger protections in place from the environmental hazards that the City blatantly disregarded when it approved the towers. The only way to stop these dangers for good and across all the Lower East Side and Chinatown is by passing the full Chinatown Working Group Rezoning Plan. My office remains committed to this community-based plan, and have been working on it since our first day in office,” said Council Member Christopher Marte, District 1.
Article 1, Section 19 of the New York State Bill of Rights, which was signed into law earlier this year in January, enshrines basic environmental protections to each citizen of the State of New York. The new amendment states that “each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”
“Residents of the Lower East Side and Chinatown have faced decades of neglect to their health and environmental conditions, with disproportionately high rates of asthma and lung cancer following the September 11 attacks and continued high levels of poverty and substandard housing. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these inequalities as communities of color continue to shoulder the brunt of the illness, both as high-risk patients and as essential workers that our city depends on,” said Bethany Li, Legal Director of AALDEF.
For residents of the Lower East Side and Chinatown neighborhoods, this disruptive and harmful construction projects piles on to a history of systemic racism and environmental trauma. Historically, the Lower East Side was the site of numerous automobile repair garages and gas stations, resulting in multiple oil spills and higher than average soil and ground water contamination. The location of both neighborhoods in lower Manhattan also placed them in close proximity to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In the years following the attack, public health studies have found increased rates of childhood asthma and the worsening of preexisting asthma in Chinatown in correlation with the increase in air pollution and the exposure of toxins released during the attack.
“Why are these towers being built here? The only answer that makes sense is that our leaders don’t think the existing residents of our community are worth protecting. That is classist and racist. We deserve the same protection as the families in other neighborhoods have. We deserve to not have our health and safety targeted so that the city and luxury developers can make more money," said Barbara Kempe, a resident and plaintiff in the case.
“Bad developments like Two Bridges would never have happened if the Chinatown Working Group zoning plan was in place. The plan was created by Chinatown and Lower East Side residents to ensure new developments actually help improve the community and the residents impacted by construction. This lawsuit is a warning to developers, to let them know that they can’t come in and change our neighborhood without our input,” said Jihye Song, member of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
Learn more about the Chinatown Working Group plan here.