Sunday, July 22, 2007

In the Times: the Public Editor looks at the Times, an affordable housing delay, and no response to "Cracker Barrel 2.0"

In today's New York Times, new Public Editor Clark Hoyt, in a column headlined Tiptoeing Around the Family Business, examines how the Times has had trouble covering the challenge by a major outside shareholder to the stock structure that leaves the Ochs-Sulzberger families in control of the company.

Hoyt observes:
Amid all this turmoil [in the news industry], aggressively reported and analyzed in The Times, there has been a comparative silence in the paper about its own owners, their challenges and their strategy. From Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to Landon Thomas Jr., a business reporter who has been assigned stories about The Times, everyone acknowledges a fundamental truth: It’s hard to write about yourself.

He could have gone even further to discuss the Times's sketchy coverage of its own real estate deals, in selling its old building and acquiring land for the new Times Tower, built by the parent New York Times Company and developer Forest City Ratner. And that might have led to scrutiny of the Times's coverage of Atlantic Yards.

Affordable housing delay

A Real Estate section article The Long Road to Affordable Housing explains how a project on Long Island, in Huntington, approved in 2000 still hasn't delivered promised affordable housing--just shells. The controversy includes a town decision to grant certificates of occupancy for market-rate units before the affordable housing was built, counter to the stated requirement, and a series of lawsuits. And the developer wants to raise the price of the units by about one-third,

The Times reports:
“The sum total of all of this,” said Ellen Schaffer, an assistant town attorney who has worked on the latest actions, “is we have a developer granted zoning to build over 1,000 market-price units who failed to produce any of the public benefits that were to come from the Greens.”


There's no direct parallel to Atlantic Yards, just a reminder that details matter, as does contract language. And we still haven't seen the documents from the Empire State Development Corporation that would offer governmental oversight of the Atlantic Yards affordable housing. (As for Forest City Ratner's "legally binding Community Benefits Agreement," that means housing partner ACORN would have to go to court to try to enforce it and ACORN has already given the developer some slack.)

(Update: A reader writes:
I think the parallel element that is most important is that negotiation of subsidy is based on an allowance for developer profit after costs. On mixed projects, negotiations achieve an overall balance. We are in an environment of generally rising construction costs. By delaying the delivery of the low income portion of a project it is made the portion of the overall project most likely subject to increasing costs. Increasing costs tends to be a basis for the developer to ask for an adjustment of the deal in the developer's favor. When the market rate units are in place and the lower income units are not after construction costs rise the public not only loses leverage, but also face the question of whether the deal should be recut in the developer's favor which then involves a sort of apples to oranges type of analysis with the developer having a few extra arguments in the developer's favor that are problematic to counter.)

Unpublished letter

Two weeks after the Times City section published an article on Brooklyn blogging, it has published no letters in response. My unpublished letter to the editor:

For the third time (1 & 2), most recently in "Cracker Barrel 2.0" (July 8), the Times has unquestioningly promoted the dubious claim, made by the web site Outside.in, that Brooklyn's Clinton Hill is America's “bloggiest” neighborhood.

As I showed at the Brooklyn Blogfest in May and, as a look at Outside.in confirms, a plurality of posts grouped under "Clinton Hill" concern the controversial Atlantic Yards project, planned for Prospect Heights.

Two blogs, NoLandGrab.org and my Atlantic Yards Report, provide daily coverage of the project; mine offers reportage, analysis, and media criticism, while No Land Grab exhaustively catalogs and critiques Atlantic Yards-related news and web items.

Beyond the failure to follow the Outside.in trail, the omission of even a glancing mention of Atlantic Yards in "Cracker Barrel 2.0" was curious; after all, the Times in April 2006 reported how the response to the project had coalesced in the blogosphere.

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