Monday, September 04, 2006

Jobs & housing promises sway Crain's poll, but what was left out?

So it doesn't make much of a difference, apparently, that the number of jobs promised in the Atlantic Yards plan has plummeted precipitously, that the percentage of affordable housing would not be the once-promised 50 percent, that 900 of the promised 2250 affordable housing units would rent for over $2127 a month (for a four-person household), and that most of the affordable housing wouldn't be built until the second phase of the project, after 2010.

That's a conclusion after a poll in this week's Crain's New York Business is described in a headline as "60% support big Brooklyn arena plan," with the deck "Prospect of housing and employment sways New Yorkers, Crain's poll finds."

Of course, a poll can also find what the pollster is looking for, and I'm confident that the issues above weren't raised in the poll. (I've asked for the questions, but haven't seen them yet.)

What if people were better informed? What if, say, our local press checked and pointed out that:
--claims of $1.4 billion in revenue were vastly inflated, and that our government isn't telling us the truth
--that the average rent in the affordable housing, if all the units were distributed to four-person families, would be $1542 (note that there would be 225 apartments in the first band, 675 in the second, and 450 in the other three)
--that the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard was sold for less than half its appraised value and that gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer has objected to the city's below-market offer for the Hudson Yards.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: a little more than one in four Brooklynites, and only one in five New Yorkers are following the issue closely. It would be interesting to drill down: do the people who remember the most recent New York Times editorial support the project, and do the people who remember the New York magazine cover story oppose it?

Note that the poll was taken during the week after the Aug. 23 public hearing. What if the press had reported that many of the people praising the project came from groups that had already benefited from the developer's largesse?

Along with Crain's, the poll results have been reported dutifully in the Daily News.

The article says

Erik Engquist's Crain's article begins:
The colossal and controversial Atlantic Yards development is favored by a solid 60% of city residents and disliked by only 25%, according to a Crain's New York Business poll. New Yorkers cite the jobs and affordable housing that it promises for Brooklyn as the two most important benefits of the project. Support for the proposal is running at a robust 60% in Brooklyn as well, though opposition there is stronger, with 33% viewing it unfavorably. The poll, conducted by Charney Research between Aug. 23 and Aug. 28, surveyed 601 people representing a cross section of the five boroughs. It has a margin of error of 4%.

Without knowing the questions asked, it's hard to really estimate the validity of the poll, as noted in a previous Pace poll. Were any questions asked about eminent domain?

Little shrinkage?

Engquist continues:
The public's opinion of the 8.7 million-square-foot project influences the state officials in charge of the approval process, which is nearing a conclusion. If they take their cue from local sentiment, the officials will probably demand only a modest reduction in the development's size--not a fundamental redesign. "The meaning of the poll is that New Yorkers are broadly pro-development, and that includes people in Brooklyn who are close to this project," says Craig Charney, the research firm's president.

Is this a plebiscite? Why should uninformed New Yorkers regulate the scale of the project, rather than close analysis of the DEIS, such as the effect of development on traffic? Another meaning of the poll is that a combination of Forest City Ratner publicity and weak journalism have papered over major questions about this project.

Not a racial divide

The article states:
Support for Forest City Ratner's $4.2 billion plan runs across racial, economic and gender lines, the poll shows. The proposed complex of 16 office and residential towers and a basketball arena is viewed favorably by 56% of African-Americans, 58% of whites, 68% of Latinos and 72% of Asians. The results contradict the popular characterization of detractors as white elites and fans as poor minorities. Only 26% of whites say they are somewhat or very unfavorable toward Atlantic Yards, compared with 30% of blacks. Opposition among residents of households with income below $20,000 or above $100,000 was identical: 29%. It was 22% in households with incomes between those amounts.

That's interesting. It's still fair to say that the most visible detractors are mostly (but hardly exclusively) white and the most visible fans are poor minorities. They're the ones with the greatest stake--homeowners and residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, and members and followers of groups like BUILD and ACORN that have been supported by Forest City Ratner.

The effective CBA

The article continues:
The poll shows why Forest City has trumpeted its deal with community groups setting aside apartments and construction jobs for local residents, and why opponents have tried to discredit the pact. A whopping 86% of respondents call it an important benefit. That figure is 70% even among those who don't like the project.

It's not simply that opponents have tried to discredit this pact. Opponents have seized on valid criticism from impartial experts like Good Jobs New York.

The article continues:
Housing important
The project's proposed 2,250 apartments for low- and middle- income renters receive a similarly robust endorsement: They are deemed an important benefit by 92% of the development's supporters and even by 66% of its detractors.


Again, unless it's explained that it's a privately-negotiated affordable housing bonus, and that the affordable housing would come late in the project, unlike in actual rezonings, it's difficult to characterize.

B-ball blahs

The article continues:
Forest City's plan to move the Nets from New Jersey to the arena, at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, is less of a factor. Only 58% describe it as an important benefit, while 40% say it's not. More men than women praise the basketball component, and college-educated women are the least impressed, with 53% calling it unimportant. In fact, college-educated women are the least enthusiastic about Atlantic Yards as a whole. Yet half of them like it, while 32% do not.

This suggests that it did make sense for Forest City Ratner to play down the "Jobs, Housing, and Hoops" slogan. That makes today's Daily News headline, N.Y.ers all pumped up over Nets deal - survey, sound odd.

Most unaware

The Crain's article states:
The Crain's poll indicates that 28% of Brooklynites and 20% of New Yorkers are following the issue closely. Most New Yorkers are not bothered by some common criticisms of the project. Only 34% say its significant costs to the city--such as those schools and infrastructure entail--raise serious doubts in their minds. Just 29% express misgivings when told that the project, which includes a 62-story office tower, is out of scale with the neighborhood and will promote gentrification.

Maybe that's because most people don't know what the costs are, or have seen graphics that show the scale of the project, or have been told about the immense flaws in the DEIS.

What ULURP?

The article states:
Of greater concern is the fact that the city's land-use review process was not used to consult the community on Atlantic Yards. That raises doubts in 40%, including 53% of those who are college-educated, but just 27% of those who didn't get past high school.

Were respondents asked what they thought of the Empire State Development Corporation scheduling a community forum on primary day?

Rugged optimism

The article closes:
City will deal with it
"I don't think the neighborhood had enough input, and I think it's too big a project," says Richard Wald, 64, of Far Rockaway, Queens. "I'd like it to go back to the drawing board." He says that though it would be nice to have the Nets, they should return to their former home on Long Island. "City land is too valuable," he explains. Edward Altman, 83, of Brooklyn Heights, sees the project differently. "There are problems with Atlantic Yards, but they'll be overcome and I think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages," he says. The project would create jobs and residential units, he says. "I know most [of the housing] will not be moderate- or low-income, but enough of it will be. "The stadium for the Nets has been overemphasized," Mr. Altman says. "It's not like a football stadium where you get 70,000 people in the daytime. It's 19,000 people--at night." Though he acknowledges that traffic would increase, "the city will have to find a way to deal with it," he says.


Mr. Altman, meet Mr. Ketcham, who says the city is unprepared.

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