Thursday, December 07, 2006

Gargano stumbles on Lehrer's show: no eminent domain quite yet?

Appearing likely for the last time on the WNYC radio show Brian Lehrer Live, Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Chairman Charles Gargano today again defended the Atlantic Yards project and offered some evasive words about exactly when eminent domain would be used for the project.

The interview ranged over a number of issues, but, before it concluded, Lehrer made sure he tackled Atlantic Yards.

BL: I just want to get to Atlantic Yards. Is your final approval vote tomorrow?

CG: Yes. Friday, we have a board meeting at 3:30 to approve the final General Project Plan.

Actually, the ESDC board must do the following, as per the public hearing notice:
These actions include ESDC’s affirmation of the General Project Plan, the condemnation of privately owned land and City owned land, the disposition by ESDC of the Project site and the provision of State funds in furtherance of the Project.

In doing so, they must approve the Final Environmental Impact Statement, as well.

BL: And that’s definitely going to be a yes?

CG: Well, we don’t know. We’ll see. Right now, all of the board members have been given material in advance to review. And then it’ll be up to the board members to vote yes or no.

Would any of the board members--all appointed by Governor George Pataki--vote no? Unlikely.

The eminent domain stumble

BL: Part of that vote is any condemnations that you decide are needed. Does that mean seizing property under eminent domain?

Gargano became a little tongue-tied.

CG: At this point, we have, we do—we have not used, or--have not used to date any eminent domain condemn-condemn-condemnation.

BL: And you don’t anticipate a vote on anything like that tomorrow?

CG: No, there is nothing about that tomorrow.

What exactly does this mean? The ESDC plans to condemn all the property, including that owned by Forest City Ratner, in part to remove tenants with rent-regulated leases.

I asked ESDC spokeswoman Jessica Copen for clarification. She responded, "The Chairman misspoke. Approval for authorization of eminent domain will go before the Board tomorrow. And, no, we have not used eminent domain."

The PACB vote

The project would then have to go to the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), which is controlled by Governor George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Silver has been at odds with Gargano, and may want to hold the project so it could be considered by the administration of incoming Governor Eliot Spitzer, a fellow Democrat. Then again, Silver generally supports Atlantic Yards.

BL: Silver supports this project, so do you expect final approval—final approval--before the governor’s term is up?

Gargano got a little combative.

CG: Y’know, Brian, I don’t want to talk about the governor’s term. He is still the governor. Should we stop work now because his term is going to be up?

BL: I’m asking you if this is going to get done?

CG: I hope so. We intend to—if it’s approved tomorrow at the board, we intend to move it to the Public Authority Control Board for the December meeting, which I believe is December 20.

Spitzer concerns

BL: And Eliot Spitzer has expressed concerns in the past about how much money the state might need to contribute in the future to Atlantic Yards, although he too supports the project. Do you think those numbers are rock solid?

CB: We think so. We’ve hired financial consultants to review those numbers, as we do in every other phase in a project, we hire the experts from the outside to make sure that everything is in order and we are comfortable with the information, and in, this case, with the financial numbers. So, look, I understand, he’s going to be the governor, so he should be concerned. But I think--I would like to to say to Governor-elect Spitzer that we have done everything possible to make sure that the numbers are good.

Well, the numbers are incomplete. And opaque.

ESDC vs. developers?

Gargano, in discussing the failure of the Moynihan Station project, again took aim at the PACB:
The process we have, the PACB, where one of the three…can knock down a project, is a terrible, dysfunctional process....Sheldon Silver has called me all kinds of names. He called me corrupt with out any facts whatsoever… That’s as much of a joke as when he said, ‘I can’t vote for the project, it’s not what the developers want to build.’ We don’t care what the developers want to build. We are the public authority. We want to do something that’s for the public benefit. And Moynihan Station must be built.

An ESDC lawyer had, in a previous case regarding demolitions for the Atlantic Yards project, described the relationship between agency and developer as "collaborative."

Lehrer asked Gargano of Silver's association's with Madison Square Garden and Gargano, who said he ordinarily wouldn't stoop to such criticims, defended himself:
It will come out, I guarantee you, sooner or later, that he’s being influenced by Madison Square Garden, for a number of reasons. And we’ll find out who’s corrupt… His former chief of staff works there as a lobbyist. His daughter works there.

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