High St. reopening possible, says legal counsel

kang_highst
Photo by Victor Kang.

The debate over the closure to traffic of portions of High and Wall streets at the heart of campus is not likely to end soon.

A legal opinion released Monday by a law firm hired by the Board of Aldermen said the Board has the right to reopen portions of the two streets that were closed in a 1990 agreement between the city and Yale. The Board, which is considering asking for more money from the University for the continued street closure, has come under fire from University officials who have said that Yale has already paid the city more than the agreement required.

“We’ve always said that we felt this was a successful agreement,” said city spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04. “I think the key question is — if the Board of Aldermen decides to reopen the streets — what is the economic cost to taxpayers?”

The original agreement, reached in 1990, allowed Yale to close portions of the streets in exchange for a payment of $1.1 million and the University’s support on other matters, including voluntary payments to the fire department and assistance in economic development. Twenty years later, the agreement is up for a planned review as per the original agreement, and some members of the Board have called for additional concessions from Yale in exchange for continued closure.

Yale officials have argued in the past that the city does not have the authority to renegotiate any of the financial aspects of the agreement, as the parameters of the 20-year review are limited to traffic considerations. The legal opinion, solicited by the Board, said this interpretation is incorrect and that the 1990 agreement “virtually acknowledges [that] the city has the authority to reopen the streets,” adding that “there will be no adverse legal impact to the city” if it chooses to do so.

But Benton said this week’s legal opinion “added nothing new” to the debate over the streets’ closure, because “neither the city nor Yale has ever contended that the Board did not have the right to take back the streets.”

Beyond the legal implications, the city may face some negative financial consequences should it choose to reopen the streets, Benton said. Reopening High Street to general vehicular traffic would cost nearly $1 million, she said, because the street would have to be repaved. Reopening the streets would also place Yale’s annual voluntary payments — which totaled nearly $8 million in 2011 — in question, as they are officially tied to the 1990 agreement.

“What [the legal opinion] doesn’t answer is what would be the financial impact, the practical impact if the Board chooses to reopen those streets,” Benton said. “I don’t think anybody could say that it would be better for Yale or for the city to have cars driving on High and Wall streets.”

Yale spokesman Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, who served two terms as Ward 1 alderman starting in 1990, said he remembers the original agreement’s “intent beyond technicalities” was about promoting town-gown relations. Expectations for improvement in the relationship between New Haven and Yale as a result of the agreement, he added, have been “vastly exceeded” over the past 20 years.

Morand said that in the agreement Yale said it would make payments of just over $2 million a year to the city, but in practice the University has chosen to pay nearly four times that amount.

“Yale’s voluntary payments of more than $65 million since 1990 far surpass anything conceived then,” Morand said in an email Tuesday. “Yale’s $20 million investment in the homebuyer program, the million to support New Haven Promise and investments in downtown retail all exceed any commitments made in 1991 and show the partnership has been a great deal.”

Representatives from the Hartford-based law firm — Joiner, Ricketts, Andrews and Henry, LLP — will answer questions at the Board’s city services and environmental policy committee meeting this evening, at which aldermen will consider the streets’ continued closure. Ward 1 Alderwoman-elect Sarah Eidelson ’12, who said during her campaign that she supported the Board’s decision to seek independent legal counsel about the original street closure agreement, said she would be attending the meeting to develop a better understanding of the opinion’s details.

“I look forward to being a part of the process of determining how we move forward on this issue and come to conclusions that are beneficial to all of the parties involved,” Eidelson said in an email Tuesday.

The original 1990 agreement passed the Board of Aldermen by a vote of 19–7.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    There you have it.

    Yale wishes to be IN

    but NOT PART OF,

    New Haven.

    • ycollege14

      Don’t be hyperbolic. I hardly think it unreasonable for a University to want to preserve one piece of its campus untraced by streets. City streets already cut through and surround most other places on campus. It’s not about keeping Yale apart from the city.

    • lakia

      Thank God.

    • Frashizzle

      The city acts like our agreement is entirely new. Colleges almost always have such an arrangement with their cities.

      • thenomad14

        Exactly. For Pete’s sake, Yale is already scattered enough. It’s just trying to retain what is left of its actual “campus”.

    • Jaymin

      Yalies choose to dissociate themselves from New Haven because when they try to go to New Haven, they get mugged and risk getting shot.

  • Kierkagaard07

    Perhaps future “voluntary payments” could be indexed to the New Haven murder rate?

    • Frashizzle

      Frashizzle likes this.

  • MsMoneypenny

    I can see reopening Wall St and High between Wall and Grove, but leave Rose Walk alone!

  • ycollege14

    Greedy city. That portion of High Street is closed for a reason. It cuts right through the heart of our campus. The way drivers speed down Elm, take liberties with stoplights, and generally endanger pedestrians does not instill confidence in me as to the safety or benefits of opening it. As if paying for part of the college education for New Haven students is not enough (and that’s not to say I don’t support those payments, I think spending money in that way is completely productive and sets a good example), now the city wants to allow traffic through Cross Campus? Ridiculous. All it seems to be able to do is take like a greedy baby that can’t fend for itself and has to suck from it’s rich mother.

    Not to mention that that is a very small distance. Would that really greatly benefit anyone to open it to cars?

  • cyalie

    Three words: New Haven Promise.
    Yale has done more than enough for this cesspool already.

  • JohnnyE

    If our administration regularly stood up to the leeches rather than appeasing them every single time, we would possibly not even have to deal with this High/Wall St. problem.

    • Frashizzle

      Thank you!

  • Iago

    Leeches in a cesspool. Ah, the level of discourse! Patronizing attitude aside, Yale is good for New Haven, but the “voluntary payments” it makes do not come close to covering services the University requires. Unlike Yale, I pay taxes on all the property I own, thus residents must necessarily pick up the slack. When a Yale student ran somebody over at a fraternity tailgate party a few weeks ago, for example, it was the city that responded while the University and the fraternity were busy covering themselves.

    And by the way, ycollege14, you should learn the difference between “its” and “it’s.”

    • lakia

      Why yes. of course, Iago, if Yale were to close or move, New Haven would be SO much the better for it. How very blind or just plain stupid you are. New Haven would be Detroit. It practically is now, anyway.

    • Frashizzle

      Yes, Yale certainly hogs all of the city’s resources, you’re right (all sarcastic). It’s not like we’re the main reason that there are any businesses on Broadway and Whitney, near TD. It’s not like we provide a large campus police force and a transit service that reduces our impact on city traffic. It’s not like our dining and service units don’t bend-over-backward to provide jobs cave to union demands. (And if you don’t think I’m right, just go into commons one day. You’ll immediately be greeted by two card-swipers who could be replaced by a cheap machine and about a dozen employees who are perpetually on-break).

      • Iago

        Take your meds, lakia, and reread my post. I wrote that Yale is good for New Haven, and I’m offended by the coded racism in your comments. Frashizzle, the relationship between Yale and the unions has been a long and painful one. Do some homework. And since the most of the elitist businesses on Broadway and Whitney are Yale properties, the money they make pretty much goes right back into the University.

        • lakia

          Wow Iago, get that chip off your shoulder, it must be painful. The comparison to Detroit had to do with the trouble in the MOTOR city since the American automotive industry began to rapidly decline. New Haven would suffer a similar fate if Yale were not present, and the crime IS already unchecked. Nothing to do with color or racism, just economics and crime. That card you pulled…..is getting pretty old and useless.

          • Iago

            How about your comment “unchecked thug population?” Yeah, that’s very vanilla. You also jumped to an invalid conclusion about the “card” that I pulled, unless you’re referring to the immigration card my great grandparents may have needed when they emmigrated from Northern Europe over a hundred years ago.

          • lakia

            1) You don’t have to BE black to play the race card.
            2) There was no CODED racism. I meant black crime, next time I’ll be more specific. But that is a separate issue from the REASON the cities decline can be compared.
            3) Black crime is not racism, it is a statistic.
            4) If the use of the WORDS black crime i.e. thuggery is offensive to you- address the problem, not the manner in which the problem is addressed.
            5) There are plenty of white thugs the world over, in New Haven, not so much.

        • carbon

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  • whatwhat

    This is ridiculous. I agree with ycollege14. The part of High Street that cuts through Cross Campus should be closed, for sure. The Board of Alderman is being greedy, asking even more money when Yale has already far exceed its expected (monetary) voluntary contribution. And people drive on High Street from Wall and Grove all the time. Same with the portion of Wall Street that’s supposed to be cut off. Should Yale seek compensation for the city reneging on their agreements?

    • lakia

      Yale should file a class action lawsuit, against the city, for the daily assault of New Haven’s unchecked thug population upon the student’s physical and emotional well being.

  • tartanjug1

    I remember when both streets were open and we should have them open again. The original concept was that both streets would have NO traffic and would be ONLY for pedestrians. Now, the Wall Street section that is closed has been designated as “special” parking for upper eschelon Yale community. New Haven needs those parking spaces and should return Wall and High Streets (especially near the Law School) back to the City of New Haven where they once were used successfully as regular city streets.

    • Frashizzle

      Why would a non-Yale affiliate want to park on the closed-off portion of Wall St.? It’s at least a 5 minute walk from anything non-Yale.

  • wtf

    Albertus Magnus College does not pay property taxes to the city of New Haven either, but no one seems to care. Why single out Yale for all this vitriol?

    • wtf

      obviously, I have nothing against Albertus Magnus. I’m just trying to point out how ridiculous it is that the city is trying to use Yale to solve all of its problems.

  • The_Lorax

    Talk about sliding backwards! Jeez, Yale is a good citizen to this town. The shake-down is really distasteful and is so naive. Talk about a young buck throwing a Molotov cocktail into the DMZ as a pointless gesture. You have no idea what you’re meddling with! Clearly anyone who thinks trying to blackmail Yale over this was not here in the pre-agreement days when town-gown relations sucked. The relationship is so different now and so much better. Anyone who remembers what it was like back then would not ever want to be the person responsible for sparking a conflict that would take Yale and New Haven back to the simmering tensions of yore. “Those who do not know their history…” and all that.

    Plus, let’s be clear, the High and Walls streets aren’t THAT important to Yale. It was nice when they were closed, but really, there wasn’t so much traffic as to make it a problem if it were to come back. I can easily support the University saying “fine, take your damn streets, but no more cashola for you”. Then those idiots will really have something to be proud of because they’ve played their last weak card and they have nothing else to hold over Yale except deciding to re-pave Elm Street during Commencement. The Feds determine non-profit status and that’s that. Deal with it in the spirit of cooperation or not, but there ain’t one thing you can do about it.

  • anonymousyalie8879

    I don’t think anyone truly believes that this is really about reopening High and Wall Streets. This is about a leech city taking wanting more than they have already received. The Aldermen are desperate for money, and when they don’t really have the power or support to seek funds elsewhere (taxes), what do they do? Try and leech more money off of Yale. F***ing New Haven…

    On another note, remember the mugging on Wall St in front of Beineke Plaza a few weeks ago? And the mugging on the doorstep of Rosenfeld Hall last week? Muggers are getting more and more bold and I don’t want those sections of Wall and High open to general traffic. Call it elitist or classist, but I’m all for keeping Yale isolated from New Haven as much as possible. It’s a dangerous town, and it’s totally reasonable to want this.

  • Branford73

    City spokesperson Benton seems to admit it’s an empty threat — sort of like scabbard rattling instead of sabre rattling. In this economic climate the city will not spend the necessary money to repave and open the streets. Ignore this.

    If I were a New Haven taxpayer I would ask who the idiot was who spent taxpayer dollars on legal fees for such an opinion.

    • Branford73

      I forgot AFSCME had its fingers in this last spring:

      http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/may/04/town-and-gown-dispute-closed-streets/

      “At a press conference on the corner of Elm and High Streets, union officials clashed with University representatives about whether Yale is fulfilling its financial obligation to New Haven. While representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which includes five city unions, said the agreement was never meant to be indefinite, Yale officials said it was a one-time payment only subject to a traffic-based review.”

      I hope someone from YDN goes to the meeting and asks the lawyers if their fees were paid by the city or by AFSCME or if they already represent the union. I tried to check but tonight the firm’s website was down.

      • The_Lorax

        The plot thickens…thanks for tracking that down. I’ll be interested to hear the follow-up.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I remember both streets when they were open. Didn’t Yale make some quid pro quo with New Haven to get the streets closed?

    regardless of all the quibbling this fact remains; Yale’s architecture and behavior implies that New Haveners are outsiders, and that the INSIDER are the privileged.

    You townies should just shut up and serve us Yalies. It’s your station in life to do so.

    • Branford73

      Doesn’t paragraph 4 of the article answer your question?

      • The Anti-Yale

        And part of the quid pro quo was a review after 20 years. So what’s the gripe. You paid your rent, now the lease is up. We want our property back.

        • sonofmory

          PK – it is not your property. What more would you like Yale to do for the New Haven community? If you could provide some examples, I would appreciate it. All you talk about is how the architecture and behavior keeps people out. Would you like Yale to tear all of its buildings down to make them look more like New Haven? I just really don’t understand what more you want – the New Haven promise, Union contracts, free sports camps…aside from making it a community college, what should be done?

        • Branford73

          I haven’t read the whole agreement but no one has said it was a lease, which ordinarily involves specified periodic payments and procedures to be followed for vacation of the premises or renewal of the lease. The YDN article I cited above said some were trying to convert the agreement into a lease. A lease would also include a right in the leaseholder to exclude anyone it wishes from the premises. Does anyone believe Yale could declare a persona non grata standing on the closed streets a trespasser and have the person arrested?

          New Haven doesn’t even want the streets back (reopened). Some factions just want to use it as another bargaining chip for higher voluntary payments. It seems like an odd strategy, to threaten something in order to increase voluntary behavior, especially when everyone knows the threat isn’t even desired by the party issuing it.

          Yale can certainly show its ugly arrogant side from time to time, squeezing out long-time businesses from property acquired by Yale Properties (or the seizure of academic prize money for the general scholarship fund as another example). But i don’t see this street closure issue as an example of that.

  • joey00

    Open those streets up and all you’ll get it a bunch of drivers driving around and around joyriding,sightseers,cruisers drinking and smoking while buggin on ya’s.
    And where would New Haven be w/o Yale ? Maybe a lot of factories would have obtained Government funding that they fight with Universities like Yale over,if Yale was out of the equation,the town would be full of homegrown folk who care about their community and take pride in neighborhoods,not a bunch of foreigners who would’nt pee on you if you were on fire.
    We would not have such horrific patronage,cronyism,family run departments who lie and swear out arrest warrants in their quest for free medical and pensions,so as they can have 8 kids in marriages with second cousins,flooding union halls with these inbred works of ARTS & Sciences

    • JE14

      what is this even?