Aldermen weigh street closures

The Board of Aldermen’s City Services and Environmental Policy Committee convened Wednesday night to discuss the continued closure of High and Wall streets.
The Board of Aldermen’s City Services and Environmental Policy Committee convened Wednesday night to discuss the continued closure of High and Wall streets. Photo by Joyce Xi.

The latest discussion of Yale’s right to keep portions of High and Wall streets closed to cars ended without any major decisions.

The Board of Aldermen’s City Services and Environmental Policy Committee met Wednesday evening regarding the continued closure of High and Wall streets under a 1990 agreement between the city and University. The meeting was spent discussing a legal opinion released earlier this week which stated that the Board has the “sole authority” to reopen the streets should it choose to do so, and ended without reaching a decision on the matter.

“It was helpful to lay out where our options are, having an outside party clarify that for us,” said Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, who chairs the committee, following the meeting. “It gives [the Board] more confidence to make a decision because it’s now clear what exactly our purview is.”

During the meeting, Elicker presented what he saw as four options that the board could pursue: choose to keep the streets closed by not acting, sue Yale and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. for failing to follow aspects of the agreement regarding the creation of working groups, renegotiate the agreement with the University or reopen the streets unilaterally. Robert Ricketts, one of the attorneys who wrote the opinion, said he agreed with Elicker’s analysis.

Aldermen who attended the meeting said they did not want to reopen the streets, as doing so might have harmful economic consequences for the city.

“I don’t think any of us wants to reopen the streets,” Ward 30 Alderman Darnell Goldson said during the meeting, with several aldermen nodding in agreement. Goldson asked Oliver Dickens, who co-authored the opinion with Ricketts, if it would be unreasonable to ask Yale for a new contract similar to the 1990 agreement. Dickens said no.

The original agreement 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 payment to the fire department and assistance in economic development. Twenty years later, the agreement is up for a planned review under the terms of the agreement, and some members of the board have called for additional concessions from Yale in exchange for the streets’ 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. The scope of the review was limited to considerations of “general vehicular traffic,” with a professional review finding that traffic and pedestrian safety was in working order, Yale spokesman Mike Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said after the meeting.

But the legal opinion states that the 1990 agreement “virtually acknowledges the City has the authority to reopen the streets,” and adds that there will be no adverse legal impact to the City if it chooses to do so.

Morand said that the original intent of the 1990 agreement was to promote a stronger town-gown partnership, adding that “no one could have dreamed” how successful agreement would be in improving town-gown relations. Given the contributions Yale makes to New Haven — including voluntary payments that exceed those set out in the 1990 agreement by a total of over $20 million, $4 million of funding for New Haven Promise, annual funding to the tune of $1.6 million for the Economic Development Corporation and $25 million for the University’s Homebuyer Program — the University has more than met the expectations in the original agreement, Morand said.

Towards the end of the meeting, Ward 15 Alderman Ernie Santiago said he thought the Board should seek a fair agreement with Yale and then “move forward,” adding that he thought the committee had spent too long asking about past actions. Ward 25 Alderman Greg Dildine, who is vice chairman of the committee, echoed his sentiment.

“I hope for continued amicable town-gown relations going forward because I believe that’s important to the city,” Dildine said.

After the meeting, Elicker said he felt that some members of the board saw the debate over the streets’ continued closure as a way to make the agreement clearer. Others, he said, looked at the agreement as a way to renew the 1990 agreement with additional payments from Yale.

After the committee voted to table the debate until its next meeting, Elicker said board members would meet individually and perhaps with University officials before rejoining to continue the discussion.

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