Amazon: What is it that Jody has to hide?

6 OCT 2020 — 

It’s now public knowledge that the Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust hopes to have Amazon as their anchor tenant for their R 4 billion in-the-floodplain 150 000 m2 development at the River Club.  But for someone who claims to have “always approached this project with maximum transparency”, there are some things that are rather puzzling about Jody’s relationship to Amazon.

Firstly, when the Basic Assessment Report documents were posted by the environmental consultants for the Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust on their website in February 2020 for comment as part of the public participation process, the documents included an Appendix K1b which was  a Supplementary Planning Report in two parts. Pages 30 to 43 described the Amazon campus slated for this project as including 70 000 m² of floor space for the Amazon campus, constituting almost half of the development in total and more than half of the commercial space. The report noted that Amazon “has global standards for the floor plates of their buildings” which “mean that the various building comprising the Amazon campus have a very distinctive rectangular footprint.” That is evident in the image above in which the Amazon buildings are depicted as rectangular monoliths (5 of them) varying between 32m to 45m in height. One such view of the view is in the image above.

The proposed eco-corridor and Khoi media and heritage centre is not visible in this photo because of the size of the behemoth in front of it.

The Supplementary Report went on to detail how the Amazon campus will provide in the range of 1 500 – 1 900 parking bays though it was said that “a large portion of staff working at the Amazon campus” (not specified) would rely on public transport and be provided with an Amazon bus service to transport people to the nearest public transport station. Moreover, it was stated that the building construction would be driven by sustainable principles with the objective of achieving a 5-star rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa. But any thoughts of the grounds being open to the public are wishful thinking since “Amazon is a very security conscious organisation” and the Amazon campus will be completely controlled to “maximise security.”

All this was very perplexing since the Amazon campus is located right opposite the eco-corridor and proposed heritage area. In fact, 5 buildings ranging from 32 to 44m high, will tower over anyone performing any rituals at the amphitheatre and office workers will merrily be able to gaze down at any spiritual ceremonies being conducted in the open space.

However, even more perplexing was the fact that on the 14th February 2020, at the end of the period for comments to the consultants, all the BAR documents from the environmental consultant’s website. After I&APs asked why the documents were removed, since I&APs could still legally submit comments directly to DEADP, the  consultants reinstated the BAR documents on the 26th February but did not reinstate the specific Appendix. When we asked why these documents were not reinstated, we were told “The document(s) you referred to inadvertently included proprietary information required for the rezoning application, and not intended for the environmental application.” But these documents were not included in the submissions for the rezoning, whose 703 Mb of documents provide no images of the Amazon Campus nor mention of its tight security nor is parking burden, nor the requirement for its buildings to have a “very distinctive rectangular footprint.”

What exactly was it that Jody didn’t want you to know?

Is it the fact that Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has committed US$ 10 billion to a Bezos Earth Fund to address the climate crisis, yet the City’s Department of Environmental Management noted that “the City has significant concerns regarding climate change impacts both in terms of potential climate impacts on the proposed development as well as the potential impact of the proposed development on climate risks in the area.”? The department disputed what is called an “unsupported statement” by the developers that the proposed development was “largely consistent” with the City’s Climate Change Policy. Far from it, said the Director of Environmental Management – the City had submitted “substantial comments … on a range of issues relating to Climate Change” but there were no responses to these comments.

In fact, “without a Climate Change Impact Assessment having been conducted, the EAP’s assertion that the City’s Climate Change Policy has been addressed, is unsubstantiated and actively countered in the design proposal. The design concept shows disregard for addressing climate change impacts such as retaining waterways and wetlands as green lungs which reduce the heat island effect of global warming by cooling the atmosphere through evaporation, keeping waterways and floodplains open and unobstructed to provide resilience to flood risk in heavy rainfall events, and recharging ground water and the aquifer through natural percolation. Infilling a river course and developing within the floodplain are not consistent with the stated objectives of the City’s Climate Change Policy. Furthermore, no consideration appears to have been given to the concerns expressed in the City’s Climate Change comment for the loss of climate resilience caused by infilling the floodplain, the heat island effect that is already evident in this area, the uncertainty of the assumed 15% increase in rainfall intensity and the more recent projections of significant sea level rise.”

Is this the environmental nightmare that Amazon is buying in to? We have no idea what Jody has told Amazon.

In fact, has he told Amazon about the decision by Heritage Western Cape that his HIA failed to meet the requirements of the National Heritage Resources Act, and that the willingness of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning to issue the Environmental Authorisation is, as far as they are concerned, simply illegal?

Transparency would be a good thing, though. Perhaps Jody would like to answer our letter of February 2019 when we wrote to all developers involved in development in Observatory, to declare any funding to political parties. Jody didn’t even bother to answer our letter. But it’s not too late to live up to a commitment to transparency. It would be great to hear if LLPT or Jody have made any donations to political parties over the past two years and provide details. That would be a great contribution to political openness and transparency.

And what about the fact that a local Observatory homeowner was approached by your consultant hydrologists to discuss flood proofing their house because of the ‘small risk’ of flooding due to the development? The homeowner asked the hydrologists to engage with the Observatory Civic Association over the matter. However, they never approached us. When the homeowner asked the hydrologists why, he was told by the hydrologists that his client didn’t want to engage with the OCA. That doesn’t sound very transparent to us.

Oh, and then there was the mysterious episode when LLPT attempted to join the Observatory Civic as an Observatory business in August 2019. Within hours of sending through a membership fee, we were bombarded with one question – how many members do you have? We were asked that question three times with the space of hours. But Jody didn’t need an answer to the question since he went ahead anyway to make a public claim that any delay to his dream development was being “perpetuated by only a few in the community”.  As you know, the Civic is supported on the River Club objection by most residents in Observatory, more than 60 other First Nation Groups, Civics and NGOs and close to 20 000 people who have signed this petition. Pity Jody wasn’t as transparent then as he claims to be now.

Jody also made public claims that he was “sick of all the lies” over complaints that his intended plans will mirror Canal Walk. To be accurate, though, we always said his plans were to create a mini-Century City on the Liesbeek. Jody did not like that claim but, strangely enough, we aren’t the only ones who have come to a conclusion that his plans should be compared to a Century City style development. The chair of the Municipal Planning Tribunal, David Daniels, in gushing over the development, made the comment that the River Club Development “will be a destination like Century City is a destination.” If Jody’s plans wasn’t planning to create his own Century City on the Liesbeek, why is David Daniels of the same mind as the OCA?

In contrast to all this bluster and hubris, the Observatory Civic Association, as a democratic organisation, is very transparent. So transparent are we that we post our minutes on our website. That transparency has come at our cost, we have discovered, since Jody’s so-called Heritage Consultant has used that to try to discredit opposition to the development. In the MPT meeting, Mr Arendse referred to a screenshot of our minutes in which it was stated that the Goringhaicona would support the OCA should it go to court over the rezoning. It’s unclear as to what the conflict of interest is there. However, what is clear is that this supposed piece of evidence was also used in an anonymous and vitriolic smear campaign in March 2020 against the OCA, the Goringhaicona, TRUPA and other individuals who were not supporting the developer at the time the Heritage Appeal Tribunal was concluding. So, while the OCA is completely transparent, those interests who want this development to go ahead at all costs are willing to use anonymous emails with false and prima facie defamatory statements to bulldoze the opposition.

After we exposed the malicious emails, LLPT distanced themselves from the campaign, saying they “were not in any way involved with any alleged defamatory documents” and distanced themselves from “any defamatory statements generally.” They added that the LLPT believed that “legislative process governing the River Club redevelopment proposal … should be transparent, fact-based, fair and objective.”  On that point, we completely agree.

Let’s see that transparency.