Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Richard Lipsky and the "booty capitalists" of the AY CBA

Credit Richard Lipsky, lobbyist around town against big box stores (yet for Atlantic Yards and other Forest City Ratner projects) for introducing the term "booty capitalists" to the local discussion. Actually, he's used the term regarding Wal-Mart's potential move to Brooklyn, but it's equally apt regarding Atlantic Yards.

As Lipsky has written in his Neighborhood Retail Alliance blog:
We have referred to the potential Wal-Mart partners in this effort as "booty capitalists" and although the term was coined by Karl Marx its modern application refers to some opportunists, especially in the African-American community, who, while having few economic resources of their own, will use their political positions and a company's vulnerabilities to their own personal advantage.

(So "booty" is being used to refer to "treasure," rather than the more slangy you-know-what.)

The CBA

To watchers of the Atlantic Yards project, especially its controversial Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), "booty capitalists" sounds like a description of the several CBA signatories who enthusiastically testified at the public hearing last Wednesday without acknowledging they had received financial support from the developer.

Lipsky wrote:
In the process the booty capitalists will undoubtedly evoke terms like economic empowerment to create an effective symbolic cover for their own aggrandizement. It will also not be surprising if we find out, after the fact, that the development effort cost a great deal more than it should have under normal market conditions.
This is exactly what happened in the original NYC case of booty capitalism: the building of a Pathmark Supercenter in East Harlem...What happened in East Harlem was that Pathmark hooked up with Rev. Calvin Butts and the Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC). The supermarket development was then transformed into a community empowerment project and the mostly Hispanic independent supermarket owners were effectively pitted against “The Community.” As a result, the development was also larded up with subsidies from the federal government, low interest loans from the city and a grant from the Local Initiatives Service Corporation (LISC), a spin-off of the Ford Foundation.


For "the mostly Hispanic independent supermarket owners," substitute "many residents of the neighborhoods near the proposed AY site," and the analogy becomes somewhat more direct.

Connecting the dots

In another piece, headlined Watch For the Booty Capitalists, Lipsky even began to connect the dots:
Our own point-of-view is that Wal-Mart’s best opportunity is to find a site in and around a low-income community of color and, once designated, hook up with a community group and, a la Ratner, incentivize the relationship with a lucrative community benefits agreement.

Will he criticize Ratner's CBA? Nope. In fact, he called it "a historic first" and contrasted it with that regarding the Bronx Terminal Market:
Now that the ULURP process has begun Related and the Bronx BP have set up a hand-picked group to craft a community benefits agreement. What Ratner and company took over two years to negotiate...

Unmentioned is that, unlike with the pioneering CBAs negotiated in Los Angeles, the Atlantic Yards CBA was negotiated with groups that all supported the project.

Lipsky likes the Atlantic Yards project, with some vague points about housing (who's paying for it?) and jobs (exactly how many?):
There are a number of legitimate reasons to oppose the development, foremost among them is the use of eminent domain to oust long time homeowners. There are, however, even more compelling reasons to support the project, a development that will create 7,000 units of housing and thousands of part time and full time jobs.

And above all, Lipsky touts the value of basketball, as he's done before.

Lipsky's blind spot

Will Lipsky point out that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard should have been put out to bid, as he argued should be the case for the agency's Hudson Yard in Manhattan? No.

He can go only so far. As Lipsky acknowledged in June:
We do have a point-of-view but our pro union stance is usually restricted to the box store issue, since our main focus is on defending neighborhood stores. Our goal is definitely to advance certain issues but we like to inform as many as possible on the various sides of any policy debate. Sometimes this wish is limited, as some readers never fail to point out, by the fact that we are in business to defend our clients' interests.
(Emphasis added)

Lipsky on AKRF

So we shouldn't expect criticism of "booty capitalists" at the Atlantic Yards project, just as we should not expect criticism of consultants AKRF, which worked on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Empire State Development Corporation.

As noted, Lipsky has written, regarding another environmental review process: The AKRF folks are simply rationalizing their job which is to make a great deal of money by minimizing impacts and conducting dishonest research.
In another post, Lipsky deemed AKRF accommodating consultants" and "trained in the abject aping of its master’s whims.

At the end of the day

Lipsky, according to an 11/14/05 profile in the New York Observer, is getting paid by Ratner to organize an amateur sports league at the proposed Brooklyn arena and to do other lobbying for the developer's projects. Lipsky generally opposes projects that require eminent domain, but told the Observer, "If it was bringing in big-box stores or displacing other retailers, we might have different feelings."

Or, perhaps, if he weren't being paid.

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