Monday, January 14, 2008

The dubious crime statistics and the missing cloud over the AY court case

State Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden's dismissal Friday of the case challenging the Atlantic Yards environmental review seemed like a slam dunk for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and other defendants.

However, as I wrote, regarding the dubious claims of increased crime in the project footprint, Madden simply punted, stating that "since the incidence of crime is just one of the factors in determining blight... petitioners' arguments as to the accuracy of the crime statistics need not be addressed."

But what if she had tried to assess that factor in the state's claims of blight? That might have led, if not to a full unraveling of the defense case, at least the start of a cloud--potentially, a large cloud--over its legitimacy, notably the Blight Study.

(It was attached to the General Project Plan, however, the ESDC, which responded in detail to challenges to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS, before approval of the project, did not respond in detail to the Blight Study.)

Any intellectually honest analysis would've concluded that the crime claims were dubious, if not bogus, as I explained in July 2006. Community Board 2 commented: The crime statistics in the DEIS are misrepresented and cannot be used honestly as evidence of blight.

Lawsuit claim and response

The lawsuit stated (p. 51, # 269):
The Blight Study's section on crime is factually erroneous, relying on data from only a small portion of the Project site already within the ATURA and failing to provide any factual support for the claim that crime in the Project site as a whole is greater than crime in the surrounding area.

The ESDC's one-word response (p. 118): Denied.

In comments to the Public Authorities Control Board in December 2006, after the ESDC board approved the EIS and the General Project Plan, the ESDC sidestepped a response to the claims about crime.

The judge's options

As we know, Madden decided not to even analyze the debate about crime. Given that she had eight months to write the decision, and that laypeople can find the flaws in the crime claims, it would not have been that difficult for the judge to declare doubts about that element of blight.

Thus, Madden could have given some credence to the petitioners' claims that the incidence of blight was overstated, while still affirming that the footprint was blighted.

Or maybe it would have led Madden to rethink her statement that the "blight conditions documented in the Blight Study... provided a rational basis for the ESDC's conclusion that continued new development on the project site was unlikely."

Stagnant Prospect Heights?

Remember, the petitioners contended--based on newspaper articles (here's the latest from the New York Times real estate section) and citations of recent and new development--that the project footprint and environs was undergoing redevelopment. The ESDC called that claim speculative.

It didn't get cleared up in court. “OK, let’s compare our analysis to the market analysis they did,” commented petitioners' attorney Jeffrey Baker sardonically in court last May. “Sorry, I can’t. They never did.”

Remember, Department of City Planning official Winston von Engel said in March 2006 that the city had not tried to market the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard. And a year later, Chuck Ratner of parent Forest City Enterprises offered his own off-the-cuff market analysis, calling the project footprint "a great piece of real estate."

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