Sunday, August 31, 2008

At the DEIS hearing, "an affront to common sense" on adaptive reuse

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

A genteel preservationist took the opportunity to advise on adaptive reuse, which had been dismissed by the Empire State Development Corporation, and didn't get much traction with the crowd.

MS. CHRISTABEL GOUGH: I'm Christabel Gough from the Society for the Architecture of the City. We're an all-volunteer historic preservation advocacy group. And we're here to make some comments on the EIS, specifically on the chapter seven, Cultural Resources. Two buildings in the footprint were determined by the State Historic Preservation Office to be significant historic structures: The former LIRR Stables and the Ward Bakery.

...The consultants say that they examined the possibility of conversion to residential use, but they rejected it. Why? Conversion might entail altering the buildings and then the buildings would lose their integrity. To contend that historic buildings should be demolished so as to avoid changing them is an affront to common sense... and to local preservation laws. The ultimate loss of integrity is demolition, not minor alterations for adaptive re-use.

A VOICE: They don't want no housing.

[The implication was that project opponents didn't want people living near them. I think Gough misheard it as an argument about architecture.

MS. CHRISTABEL GOUGH: Yes, but there could be housing -- there could [be] housing where we built buildings, they're often is. It's done all over the country.

[And Forest City Enterprises, the parent of Forest City Ratner, has done that, as well, in cities like Richmond. It just didn't fit their plans this time.]

From the DEIS hearing: unheeded wisdom regarding the economic claims

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

Late in the hearing, two women with the same first name offered some useful but unheeded wisdom about validating the economic claims behind Atlantic Yards.

MS. KATE GUINEY: My name is Kate Guiney. And I'll be very, very brief. I just want to publicly request that Alan Hevesi, the State Comptroller, audit the proposed Atlantic Yards project by --

(Audience participation.)

MS. KATE GUINEY: -- Forest City Enterprises. I think that the financial numbers and the environmental impact conclusions that we have heard or read about are so widely divergent; we've heard so many different numbers from so many different angles, that I think an audit by a comparatively unbiased party is in order. Thanks.

Questioning the numbers

MS. KATE GALASSI: My name is Kate Galassi. I'm 21 years old and I've lived on Pacific Street for my whole life.

...The benefits laid out in detailed numbers in the DEIS rely on assumptions about new residents coming from outside of the city, about all retail and office space being filled immediately, about Nets fans coming from out of state and a certain number of Nets players living one the city.

These seemingly small assumptions are the fundamental foundation of the promised benefits to the City and the State. Yet, it is not hard to imagine circumstances in which several of these assumptions might play out differently in reality. Once the foundation falters, the whole facade of economic benefit begins to crumble.

Often important assumptions appear in [FCR consultant Andrew] Zimbalist's report, but are absent from the DEIS, misleading the public. If there is solid evidence to back up these claims, it is not presented in the DEIS.

Without this evidence it is unreasonable for the public to believe in the promises made by Forest City Ratner.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

In 2006, as well, Zimbalist's ($73K) testimony was disallowed in court

Three times in the last year sports economist Andrew Zimbalist’s work has been either discredited in a court case or thrown out of court. Let's add a fourth episode to the list, albeit in 2006, in a court case involving the baseball team in Southern California known as the Angels.

The Orange County Register, in a 1/8/06 article, previewed a case in which the city of Anaheim sued the Angels baseball team, arguing that the change of the team name from “Anaheim Angels” to the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” violated a lease in which the team was compelled to keep “Anaheim'” in the name.

The city contended that the change would cost the city $98 million to $374 million. Meanwhile, the team had the third-highest attendance in Major League Baseball and, while the city was concerned about lowered tourism, bed-tax receipts went up 20 percent over the previous year.

Zimbalist, an expert hired by the city, contended that the effect of advertising must be measured over time. Two sports marketing experts interviewed by the newspaper questioned the city’s argument, however.

Alternative considered

The newspaper reported:
A city witness analyzed how much the stadium property would be worth if the city used it for a different purpose, such as hotels, commercial property or entertainment venues. Zimbalist found that value would be $105 million through 2029, based on 1996 dollars.

Angels' court documents say the damage claim is ``speculative, hypothetical, (and) has no basis in fact or reality,'' mostly because city officials failed to show intent to use the land for anything other than a stadium.

Curiously enough, the opposite happened in Brooklyn. Zimbalist’s deeply-flawed study for Forest City Ratner made no attempt to analyze how much the arena block would be worth if used for a different purpose.

While that may be speculative, Brooklyn is different from Anaheim, and such choice land in New York City couldn’t be ignored.

Zimbalist bounced from case

A 1/26/06 article in the Los Angeles Times explained that Zimbalist would not be allowed to testify, according to the trial judge. The newspaper reported:
In analyzing the effect of the Angels' name change, Zimbalist calculated the city had foregone $138.5 million by signing a long-term lease with the team rather than demolishing the stadium, selling the land and reaping taxes from property development.

But that analysis does not offer "the proper measure of damages" in a breach-of-contract case, Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Polos ruled. If the Angels have broken their lease by adding "Los Angeles" to their name and dropping "Anaheim" from use, he said, the damages should reflect the value of the actual benefits lost by the city.

Polos did allow two other experts hired by the city to testify on the loss of the Anaheim name.

The city of Anaheim lost the case.

What it cost

A 2/11/06 Orange County Register article reported that the city spent $2.5 million on the case, including some $169,000 for three expert witnesses.

That included $73,276.60 for Zimbalist, even though he didn’t get to testify.

Zimbalist's Seattle bill was $61,296

Last month, I reported, based on press accounts in Seattle, that expert witness Andrew Zimbalist cost the city of Seattle $17,753 in its effort to hold the new owners of the Seattle SuperSonics to their local lease.

Actually, as the Post-Intelligencer reported yesterday, the total was $61,296, including $59,540 on time spent preparing his report and his 50 minutes of testimony, with the rest going to plus travel expenses.

Zimbalist's report, trashed by an opposing attorney, didn't help Seattle's cause, but the city, which spent $2.96 million in the case, was successful in getting $19 million more in settlement than previously offered.

Zimbalist's report for FCR

As I wrote, we don’t know how much Zimbalist was paid by Forest City Ratner for his deeply-flawed report on Atlantic Yards. But maybe, given that Gov. George Pataki’s administration relied on Zimbalist’s study in a press release, the government should tell us.

Remember, then-FCR executive Jim Stuckey told City Council in May 2004, "It is really not our report, it is Professor Zimbalist’s report."

It deserved the public rebuttal and cross-examination that Zimbalist's work has faced more recently in court.

From the DEIS hearing: "Daniel Ratner" and the Legion of Doom

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

On Thursday, I wrote about the Beckett-like aspects of the hearing. On Friday, I cited a farcical moment in the final community forum. Today let's look at the performance of an eccentric fellow named William Stanford, Jr., who wore dark shades (as he did at this hearing of the Rent Guidelines Board).

Stanford often sounded like a nut, calling his antagonist "Daniel Ratner" (a combo of Bruce Ratner and Daniel Goldstein?), threatening to attack with pro wrestling moves, and charging the aforementioned Ratner with drug smuggling.

But he also made some earthy good sense, questioning the scheduling of a forum on Primary Day with "Are you stuck on stupid?"

The testimony

MR. WILLIAM STANFORD: Thank you for holding this forum. By holding this forum you just gave me a better reason to give Daniel Ratner a flying full nelson off the top rope courtesy of the Legion of Doom.

(Audience participation.)

MR. WILLIAM STANFORD: All right. I'm getting so fed up with Daniel Ratner, his nasty attitude against the people who have low incomes. He's telling the people who live there in Brooklyn, who lives in Brooklyn for years who have low incomes to get the hell out so the rich people can come there and he builds his damn project.

First of all, that damn project belongs in Queens, not here in Brooklyn. Bronx no, where I come from, Manhattan, or Staten Island.

(Audience participation.)

MR. WILLIAM STANFORD: It belongs in Queens, okay. Just put it in College Point or as somebody called it, Garbage Point, okay. The damn project belongs in Queens. Queens only, nowhere else, okay.

I feel like giving Daniel Ratner a flying close line off the top rope courtesy of the Legion of Doom, okay. I feel like taking that camcorder and smashing it over his head. I'm getting fed up with his attitude.

(Audience participation.)

MR. WILLIAM STANFORD: His attitude towards people with the low income who have lived here all their lives for a long time for that matter, is degrading. His project who's tearing down buildings so he can accommodate a stadium that's going to knock out the Atlantic -- the Atlantic Hall [Mall?] which is already there. It makes no sense. Put that damn project in Queens where it belongs and stop tearing down houses here in Brooklyn. Stop telling the people who have lived here --

(Audience participation.)

MR. WILLIAM STANFORD: -- all their lives to get the hell out so rich people could come. And you're telling them, oh, if we -- if we -- if we tell you to get the hell out, we'll pay for your expenses. You know, it sounds like -- you know, you tell -- if Superfly tells you I'm you're mama, I'm you're poppa, then they get the hell out, that's ridiculous. He needs to get over to Queens, okay, take his drug smuggling operation to Queens as well. I'm getting so fed up with it, I really am.

And another thing is you have this forum, it's scheduled for Primary Day. Are you serious? I mean are you stuck on stupid? How you going to put a forum on Primary Day. People want to vote and you're telling them they got to come out here.... You better change that date. Primary Day, Primary Day, we want to vote. We don't have time for this. This is BS, okay, good-bye.

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Thank you, Mr. Stanford. I take it the remarks weren't
directed at the Hearing Officer.


(Audience participation.)

MR. WILLIAM STANFORD: That's Mr. X to you.

(Audience participation.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

As de Blasio stresses AY support, he claims CBA, not government, would guarantee the affordable housing

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

Given his current more critical posture toward Atlantic Yards, note that Council Member Bill de Blasio declared his support for the project up front. He acknowledged concerns--amplified significantly in recent months, as he ramps up his candidacy for Borough President--about the impacts on quality of life.

I've written about de Blasio's failure to do "due diligence" regarding Atlantic Yards. But I hadn't examined his statement at the hearing, which claimed that, because the federal and state governments were not supporting affordable housing, Atlantic Yards "is one of the only ways we're going to be able to make progress," but "only if we insure the community benefits agreement [CBA] is adhered to."

However, the affordable housing depends significantly on city and possibly state housing bonds, both authorized by the federal government. Other elements of the CBA depend on government funding as well.

His statement

COUNCILMAN DE BLASIO: I'm the Councilmember representing, among other neighborhoods, Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, and Cobble Hill, all very close to this site. And I want right up front say I want to express my support for this project.

(Audience participation.)

COUNCILMEMBER DE BLASIO: I am providing written –

(Audience participation.)

COUNCIL MEMBER DE BLASIO: -- I am providing written comments, but I just want to summarize here. I support the project because I believe that we're at a crisis in New York City when it comes to affordable housing.

(Audience participation.)

COUNCILMEMBER DE BLASIO: And I think we're in a crisis when it comes to economic development and providing real jobs for the community. But I also want to stress as much as I believe this project will help move us forward in terms of economic development and especially affordable housing, I also believe very strongly the need for accountability in relationship to the community benefits agreement. I think the community benefits agreement is historic. I think it sets a model that I hope will be followed throughout New York City going forward --

(Audience participation.)

COUNCILMAN DE BLASIO: -- but it must be adhered to. And it's the responsibility of all of us and especially as we elected officials, to ensure that it is scrupulously adhered to. As someone who's been involved in the housing field for a long time, I can say that unfortunately the places that we look to historically for affordable housing are not producing it, meaning our Federal and State government and this is one of the only ways we're going to be able to make progress. But, again, only if we insure the community benefits agreement is adhered to.
(Emphasis added.)

Now I also want to note that the crucial elements of the Draft EIS related to the impact on the surrounding community. Although I do see some important acknowledgments on the kind of actions we have to take to protect our neighborhood surrounding this project, we have much, much more that we have to do than what is indicated in the Draft EIS. It only, in my opinion, begins to indicate what we have to do in terms of traffic and congestion and parking, in terms of reducing any negative impact on neighborhoods during the construction process, and obviously in terms of infrastructure, insuring we have schools and water lines and sewer lines and all the basics we need for a large increase in population.

I see in the Draft EIS an outline of what we have to do, but we have to ensure that actions are taken, that government budgets reflect the needs, for example, for new schools to accommodate the kids who will be living in this area, and particularly for increased public transportation, to take full advantage of the transportation hub that exists. And to ensure that congestion is not untenable.

So those are some of the concerns I want to share. I am very, very concerned that we take that Draft EIS as a starting point and that as we move towards any type of implementation of this project, that there be real commitments and firm commitments by government agencies to address the quality of life needs of the surrounding neighborhood. And that is a precondition about just starting to get into any of the specifics of this project

From absurdism to farce: the community forums conclude with "What for?"

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

Yesterday I wrote how the August 23 hearing at times resembled an absurdist work by Samuel Beckett. But the end of the September 18 community forum devolved into a moment of pure farce, in which a not very well-informed young woman questioned the premise of the hearing and got back a wearily sardonic rebuttal from an audience member.

MS. TAMEKA BROWN: Hi. My name is Tameka Brown. And I represent PPEE [People for Political and Economic Empowerment]. And I'm for the project.

As a single mother -- I am also in the construction business. Just like these men out here that's wanting jobs and low income housing, I also want that too, for me and my daughter to provide a better life for me and her.

On that point, with y'all coming up here and saying all that stuff about the environment and all the rest of the stuff, what for? Why?

MR. TIMOTHY LOGAN, Sierra Club: Because it's an Environmental Impact hearing.

MS. TAMEKA BROWN: What for? What for?

THE PRESIDING OFFICER: Sir, let her finish.

MS. TAMEKA BROWN: What for? The environment's already messed up. There's a hole in the atmosphere, what's up? I mean, come on, let's be real.


To Lew Fidler, AY would replace an "old Buick"

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

He may not have been quite as folksy as State Senator Carl Kruger, but Council Member Lew Fidler gave him a run for his money.

COUNCIL MEMBER LEWIS FIDLER: For those of you who are probably about to boo me, I want to offer you my sympathy, but not my support. You know, I remember when I had to get to get rid of my -- my old Buick, you know, it's a trusty old familiar car. You know, I had it for, you know, longer than I probably should have. And I felt really bad as they drove it off to the junkyard. But you know what, I knew that driving into the future with my beautiful, new union-built car was a whole lot better.

I want to be associated with bringing jobs to Brooklyn; I want to be associated with bringing union jobs to Brooklyn; I want to be associated with bringing housing to Brooklyn...

(Audience participation.)

COUNCILMAN FIDLER: -- I want to be associated with bringing affordable housing to Brooklyn. Yes, some people I know it's unfortunate that your ox is going to be [gored] but you know what, the greater good of this borough, the greater good of this City, the greater good of the people looking for homes; the greater good of people looking for jobs, that's what this project serves and that's why I'm here to support it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"I've been here since 2:00": echoes of Beckett at DEIS hearing

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

There are more than a few places where the dialogue, at least as captured on the transcript, has echoes of absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett, notable for lines like “You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.”

Anonymous voices inside the Klitgord Auditorium lamented that people were not let into the building, that they'd been waiting for hours, and that the public would no longer be allowed to speak at a public hearing.

(Photo of Beckett mural in London by Rachel Scott Halls, reproduced under a Creative Commons license.)

Inside and outside

THE HEARING OFFICER: Thank you, Mr. Watkins. The next speaker is Bob Braun. Is Bob Braun here?

A VOICE: He won't be let into the building. Bob Braun is outside.

THE HEARING OFFICER: In that case, the next speaker is Richard Chernoso (phonetic.) Is Richard Chernoso here?

(No response.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Then the next speaker is Paul Heller.

A VOICE: He also has not been allowed in the building.

A VOICE: These people are not being allowed in the building.

A VOICE: There's a thousand people outside waiting to get in.

Endless waiting

[Later in the hearing]


(No response.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: The next group of speakers will be: Margaret McNabb; Anthony Knight; K. Gleeson; Ronald Washington; Henry Weinstein; Blaise Sarne; Kate Galassie; Stephen Ebaz; Lilana Aristizabal; William Stanford Jr.; Gaston Dweck; Judith Wright; Genevieve Christy; Cecil Henry; and Simon Sarway.

A VOICE: I've been here since 2:00.

A VOICE: I've been here since 3:00. What's going on?

VOICES: We haven't spoke yet. You're not going in order.

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: There are approximately, where I can see, at least 300 people who haven't spoken yet.

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Everybody will speak. We'll continue. The next speaker is Margaret Mcnabb.

(No response.)

(Audience participation.)


(Audience participation.)

(No response.)


(No response.)

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Ronald Washington.

(No response.)

In conclusion, confusion

THE HEARING OFFICER: It is now 11:30. Thanks to the cooperation and courtesy of everyone here today, over 100 people have been able to speak in a short period of time. I have been advised by ESDC that the June 12th hearing --

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: I mean, sorry, September 12th, that at the September 12th hearing, that individuals who were not called will get priority and that there will be a list posted on the ESD website by Friday.

A VOICE: September 12th was promised to be a public meeting, not an official hearing. Are you now stating it's a public hearing?

THE HEARING OFFICER: I am not stating it's a public hearing, it's just an additional forum --

A VOICE: So if it's not a public hearing --

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Sir, sir, sir, please sit down.


THE HEARING OFFICER: This hearing --

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: -- this hearing is concluded. There is another hearing, an additional hearing scheduled --

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Please sit down. Please sit down.

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Please sit over there. Please sit over there.

A VOICE: I want to know if it's a public hearing.

THE HEARING OFFICER: Ma'am, please sit over there.

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: It is not a public hearing --

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: If everyone would please be quiet.

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Ma'am, please be quiet It is not a public hearing. I am told it is a community forum. And at that community forum, which I'm told, that the transcript will be made available to ESDC that --

A VOICE: So you're concluding a public hearing tonight and not holding another
one, is that what you're saying?

[Had the additional community forums been considered public hearings, the comment period would have been extended. The issue was part of the lawsuit over the environmental review, which is under appeal; a judge ruled that the community forums, despite their resemblance to the public hearing, were essentially an expansion of the opportunity for written comments.]

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: This hearing --

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: -- this hearing is now closed.

A VOICE: So there will not be another public hearing --

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: There will not be another --

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: -- public hearing.

A VOICE: When?

THE HEARING OFFICER: There will not be another public hearing.

A VOICE: There will not. So you are not allowing the public to speak at this public hearing.

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Again, I am here as an independent hearing officer. And you may make a request from ESDC --

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Sir, let me talk. I can tell you that the hearing now is closed.

A VOICE: Is there going to be another public hearing?

THE HEARING OFFICER: No. Again, one additional thing, the written comment period is extended to thirty days. I believe it's September 22nd, written comments can be made and will be included as part of the record.

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Thank you and good evening.

Elections = term limits? The disingenuous Marty Markowitz

With Mayor Mike Bloomberg quietly exploring the possibility of having the City Council--not the voters--overturn term limits, term-limited Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, undeclared for mayor and unsure of his next move, has signed on.

The Sun, in an article headlined Markowitz Calls for Ending Term Limits, reported Tuesday:
"New York City has always had term limits: They're called elections," Mr. Markowitz said yesterday in an interview at City Hall, where he held a press conference calling for greater federal funding for the city's senior centers. He added that his support for ending term limits would have a direct impact on his own political future.

"If Brooklynites would have me again, I would love to serve as their borough president," Mr. Markowitz said.

The justification

Markowitz suggested that term limits empower a "faceless, nameless bureaucracy" and, as the Sun reported, second terms are often less effective under the current two-term system, as they must devote much of their time to planning their next campaign rather than governing.

Well, um, shouldn't they be planning their next campaign for their job, as well? And how much of what Markowitz does is governing and how much is promotion?

The rebuttal

City Council Member and BP candidate Charles Barron offered the Sun a rebuttal:
"A lot of people give that old line about term limits, 'It's called Election Day,' but it's almost impossible to get incumbents out," he said in an interview. "There are too many people in office who have really rendered themselves ineffective and need to go. We need new blood and new leadership."

The New York Times, in its initial coverage, neglected to include that obvious rebuttal. A follow-up included criticism from challengers.

The "ultimate job"?

The Times also reported that Markowitz has long said that the job of borough president was one he had always coveted, calling it “the job of a lifetime.”

The Times didn't point out that, as speculation began about a race for Mayor, Markowitz excised from the Borough President's web site the claim that borough president "is the ultimate job" and that he had no interest in becoming mayor.

Term limits the answer?

In a comment on the Times's CityRoom blog, former City Council candidate (and longtime gadfly) George Spitz suggested that term limits don't work all that well:
Changing the New York City Charter to substitute for the present single-member district selection method, a proportional representation system, consisting of the multimember districts, similar to that used by the Democratic Party in choosing presidential delegates might provide a more representative City Council. Substituting a modest filing fee refundable to candidates obtaining 15% of the vote as a replacement for the draconian signature requirements which cause many non-organization candidates to be removed from the ballot could also aid in the creation of a more diversified City Council. Providing equal distribution of campaign finance funding and/or making the Video Voters Guide interactive so voters can question all candidates running in their own constituency should improve citizen awareness as well as offering greater representation for varied viewpoints.

I think the proportional representation system is especially worth consideration, especially given how some City Council districts are irregularly drawn.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

At the DEIS hearing, invocations of Brooklyn street cred

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

From Assemblyman Roger Green to various community members, supporters of the Atlantic Yards project stressed their connections to Brooklyn, which might have led a casual observer to conclude that supporters were the "real Brooklyn." Even the one union guy who spoke that night, Dan Jederlinic, was a Brooklyn resident, though many if not most of the union representatives at the hearing were from out of the borough or even the city.

Perhaps because they were focused on actually responding to the DEIS within their precious three minutes, or perhaps because some were relative newcomers, project opponents initially didn't try to match the Brooklyn rhetoric. Though that ultimately changed, it's not what made the news.

Born in Brooklyn

Green came out swinging.

ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN: I want to start by saying for some of you that I was born in Brooklyn --

(Audience participation.)

ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN: -- okay. I was raised in Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN: I grew up in Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN: I walked these streets before some people got here.

(Audience participation.)

ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN: And in walking these streets, like the Reverend Camara said, say some of you have not been in the Fort Greene Housing Project with the unemployment rate....
Anomalous opponent

The first project opponent who spoke was, anomalously, from outside Brooklyn, the Westchester village of Pleasantville, and that story line made the news.

MR. TAL BARZILAI: Yeah. I'm a resident of Pleasantville, New York. And I know I don't really live in this borough, but my statements are just as important here.

The response

Barzilai's hometown was not ignored by a streetwise fellow named Umar Jordan, who represents a group, My Brother's Keepers, about whom I could find no information, and who otherwise has not been part of the Atlantic Yards debate. (A Lexis-Nexis search turns up a 4/21/04 New York Beacon article about Jordan attending a summit on youth violence in East New York.)

Jordan somehow suggested that Atlantic Yards opponents unfamiliar with the 'hood in Brooklyn were inauthentic, though, as I pointed out, his descriptions almost certainly applied to many potential AY residents.

MR. UMAR JORDAN: [Where] Brooklyn at? My name is Umar Jordan and I represent My [Brother's] Keepers. I heard a lot of people come up to this microphone saying that they're from Brooklyn and they've been in Brooklyn. I'm here to speak for the underprivileged, the people that don't get the opportunity to work. The brothers that just came over out of prison, yeah, you know, wants to get a job too.

MR. UMAR JORDAN: And for -- and for the people that are going to, people that say they represent our community, this is Brooklyn. If you never been in the Marcy projects, you ain't from Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

MR. UMAR JORDAN: If you haven't been to Betsy Head pool, you ain't from Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

MR. UMAR JORDAN: If you never been in the Marcy Projects, you ain't from Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

MR. UMAR JORDAN: If you haven't to Brownsville or East New York, Flatbush, you not from Brooklyn --

(Audience participation.)

MR. UMAR JORDAN: -- you just visiting. I'm speaking about the people that really never been to Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

...And this is for people that are unpleased with the behavior of Brooklyn. Well, I suggest you go back up to Pleasantville or wherever it is --

(Audience participation.)

More local cred

A Community Board 8 member had his say.

MR. MEREDITH STATON: It's pronounced Staton, S-T-A-T-O-N. Good evening, folks. I'm a member of this community and the community board, as well as member of Crown Heights. I've been living in this community for forty years.

MR. MEREDITH STATON: I'm not a newcomer here, I've been here for years and years. A lot of people claim where they came from. They come from Brooklyn, from Manhattan –

(Audience participation.)

Some response

Some critics began to cite their Brooklyn cred.

MR. MICHAEL UTEVSKY: My Name is Michael Utevsky. I live in Fort Greene. I've lived in Brooklyn for 30 years. I'm a Board Member of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy, and I am speaking on its behalf tonight.

MS. ASTRID LEGROV-SOLOMON: Having lived in this area since the 1960s I have witnessed the rebirth of what once -- were once elegant streets that had been left for decay. House by house and block by block people invest with their money and sweat to bring back this brownstone area. Now tourists come on buses and go on walking tours to get a glimpse of what 19th and early 20th century streets look like. Other cities cherish their old neighborhoods. The world knows Manhattan as the borough of skyscrapers. Brooklyn is the borough of neighborhoods.

MS. PATTI HAGAN: My name is Patti Hagan from 117 St. Marks Avenue. I am founding member of Prospect Heights Action Coalition - the little group that declared war on Ratner's expansionist Brooklyn empire in July 2003.

I'm here as an expert on ordinary life in Brooklyn. Over two decades I have watched developer Ratner relentlessly push his way into Brooklyn - along imaginary paths of blight. That's how fortress MetroTech rose up over the thriving artists and small business community on Bridge, Lawrence and Duffield Streets and killed it.

Bridging the divide

Given the race/class divide evident at the hearing, some of the more powerful invocations of Brooklyn cred came from black residents who questioned or opposed the project.

Captured partially in Brooklyn Matters was the statement by SHIRLEY MCRAE, the Chairperson of Brooklyn Community Board #2: ...Bypassing ULURP means that no local official will have a vote for the development of this project. Now listen, you have to agree on one thing, whether you are for this project or whether you are against this project, the community needs enough time to review these massive documents.

(Audience participation.)

MS. SHIRLEY MCRAE: The amount of time provided by the -- if the community that we all live in and serve, and don't even talk about Brooklyn because I've been here in Brooklyn among six decades.

(Audience participation.)

Later came a voice from the projects.

MR. ED CARTER: My name is Ed Carter. And I'm known as the living legend of Fort Greene... I'm the President and Chairman of the Relocation and Modernization Committee of Fort Greene Projects...

We have over 200 vacant apartments at the Ingersoll site. I served on Community Planning Board #2 for forty years... I've been here, I've been in the struggle. I heard so many people sitting tonight and talking, Reverend Daughtry, for example, I've been in this struggle five or ten years before he get out. I seen [a] lot of the people get bought out. And have no doubt, the truth will set you free.

Late in the evening, a man with a Caribbean accent offered perhaps the angriest response to the project.

MR. LLOYD HEZEKIAH: My name is Lloyd Hezekiah. For over 35 years I have owned a home in historic Fort Greene and contributed actively in its in development. Yet, so called gentrification began there more than 35 years ago. The current plans for Atlantic Yards should be dumped in the Atlantic Ocean...

More back and forth

MS. PAT BOONE: Good evening. My name is Pat Boone. I am a President of New York ACORN.

(Audience participation.)

MS. PAT BOONE: While I represent the entire state of membership all over the state, I also represent over 3,800 City Dwellers, the majority of which live right here in Brooklyn. I was born, bred and have lived life-long in Brooklyn. In fact, I was born right here on Bergen Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue. My church is on Bergen Street between 3rd and Nevins. So I am very, very interested as to what goes on in this neighborhood. And as reflective of my membership and all of my family members and residents from this neighborhood, I believe that this project is beneficial for every single Brooklynite there is all over.

Later, a pugnacious response from another CB8 member.

MR. ROBERT PUCA: My name is Robert Puca. I live on Dean Street. I live in the Newswalk Building, the Newswalk Condo which is adjacent to the Rail Yards so --

(Audience participation.)

MR. ROBERT PUCA: Do me a favor, let me speak. You'll get your chance to speak. If anyone would feel the impacts of this proposed project, it would be the Newswalk Building. I'm a member of Community Board #8. I was born in the -- it was called -- it used to be called the Jewish Hospital. It was on Classon Avenue. That's where I was born. I've been a full time -- just so everybody knows, I've been living in Brooklyn for 43 years. I was born on Classon Avenue.

Becoming a ritual

As the evening continued, more project opponents began to ritually cite their history in Brooklyn.

MS. AUDREY DOYLE: Good evening. My name is Audrey Doyle. I have lived -- I have lived in Fort Greene for about thirty years.

MR. PETER VITAKIS: My name is Peter Vitakis. And I have been a resident of Fort Greene and the surrounding neighborhood for forty years.

Questioning authenticity

Later in the evening, Scott Turner of Fans for Fair Play tossed an autographed basketball to the crowd, then confessed the autographs from Nets players were fake, a prelude to a challenge to the calls for authenticity.

MR. SCOTT TURNER: ...I'm just going to say one thing, for people who are preaching independence, and I support independence on all levels, for people preaching independence, you sure are depending on rich, white folks to buy luxury condos to make their affordable housing. And the people who talk about community, and I wish the DEIS --


MR. SCOTT TURNER: -- would have done a study on what it means to be a Brooklynite. You are depending on a heirloom from Cleveland, a rich, white guy and you're calling him a savior. That's not independence, that's not independence.

Nearly a month later

Brooklyn cred was invoked at the two follow-up community forums. One forceful response, at the September 18 community forum, came from a Brooklyn resident named Bill Gillen:

MR. WILLIAM GILLEN: I live at 193 State Street in Downtown Brooklyn. My familiarity with Brooklyn goes back to 1947. My father worked at The Daily News plant on Pacific Street. Many of you now know that as condo development. We moved from the Bronx to Crown Heights where I attended and graduated from St. Gregory's Elementary School on St. Johns Place at Brooklyn Avenue.

Like Reverend Daughtry, who spoke here in August, I, too, hold Brooklyn dear. All my children are still here in Brooklyn. I have three grandchildren living here and many, many friends and associations. After my years in college and the Army, I returned to Brooklyn in '69. Since then I have lived in Fort Greene, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights so I believe I know something about this part of Brooklyn.

And what I know is that this project is wrong. It's wrong for our communities, it's wrong for Brooklyn, it's wrong for New York City and it's wrong for New York State.

But he didn't get to speak early that first night.

"We talk about people and we talk about children": Carl Kruger's "Brooklyn" aria

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

As I write today, a lot of people at the hearing invoked Brooklyn. However, no one did it quite like Carl Kruger, who conjured up an aria of Brooklyn buzzwords: communities, children, neighborhoods, jobs, and housing.

SENATOR CARL KRUGER: My name is Carl Kruger. I'm the State Senator representing the Southern Tier of Brooklyn and I think that tonight "Brooklyn" is the operative word. We're not talking about the Nets Arena. We're not talking about Forest City Ratner. We're talking about Brooklyn, we're talking about communities, we're talking about Brooklyn first. And what better setting for us to talk about Brooklyn than to talk about job creation; to talk about union jobs --

(Audience participation.)

SENATOR CARL KRUGER: -- building a union project; What better way can we talk about Brooklyn than talking about affordable housing; What better way can we talk about Brooklyn than bringing an arena and a first-class team it the doorstep of what is truly the capital of the world, our borough, Brooklyn;

(Audience participation.)

SENATOR CARL KRUGER: How better tonight can we talk about Brooklyn than to talk about development. When we talk about development, we talk about neighborhoods; We talk about sustaining the old while we build on the new; We talk about creating communities where communities existed; We talk about change; and We talk about growth; We talk about a borough and we talk about a city; We talk about people and we talk about children; We talk about what it means to each and every one of us and what we hold near and dear. So today, as this Commission deliberates the very process for which this hearing is taking place, it must look at the Atlantic Yards project in the vacuum of what it really is, it's putting Brooklyn first --

(Audience participation.)

-- and jobs and housing and communities and neighborhoods and children.

As new stadiums spring up, grumbling over ticket prices (but is that the real issue?)

There's been some vigorous discussion on the New York Times web site in response to yesterday's front page article, headlined New Stadiums: Prices, and Outrage Escalate, about how four new stadiums coming online in the next few years have raised ticket prices and also added revenue-raising elements like personal seat licenses--both of which are likely for the Atlantic Yards arena, which goes unmentioned in the article.

The article is sympathetic to the elite of sports fans who have season tickets, while some online commenters suggest that fans should be paying for new stadiums. Others point out that the stadiums receive public financing and tax breaks, and that "professional sports leagues are government sanctioned cartels" with competition limited. Moreover, season tickets are often a tax deduction.

And what about the Nets? As I wrote last year: "Thanks significantly to 170 new high-priced suites, the “blended average ticket price” for Nets games would go up dramatically, 73% for regular-season games and 64% for playoff games, upon the team's move." The number of suites has been reduced to 130, but you can bet the average ticket price would skyrocket.

Onward with Team Golden? AY supporter caught in self dealing

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

State Senator Marty Golden, who had his own heckler at the hearing, mainly stuck to Forest City Ratner talking points. His closing, however, showed a bit more rhetoric:
Onward with Team Nets; Onward with Team Ratner; Onward with the team of the City and this great Borough of Brooklyn for their future.

Team Golden

But the Senator seems most concerned with Team Golden, as Tom Robbins of the Village Voice explains in an article today headlined GOP Star Marty Golden Doles Out Big Bucks to his Family Catering Hall:
What makes it even more noteworthy is that every time Golden's campaign writes a check to the company [that owns Bay Ridge Manor], it goes into very friendly hands. Although he sold the establishment a couple of years after he entered the senate, Golden didn't have to hunt for a buyer: His brother bought it. Also, according to Golden's disclosure report with the state Legislative Ethics Commission, his wife Colleen serves as the catering hall's business administrator. And the Bay Ridge Manor's landlord? That would be Golden himself, who lists full ownership of the three-story red-brick building with the green-colored awnings on his filings.

That makes three separate income streams that the senator gets from the Manor, according to his filings: rent, his wife's salary, and continuing payments from the 2004 sale

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Three minutes? Transcript shows how DEIS hearing quickly went off track

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

More than 250 people signed up to speak at the hearing, which, if speakers had been kept to the three-minute limit, would've meant 750 minutes (12.5 hours) in speaking time alone. Needless to say, that didn't happen.

Hearing Officer Edward Kramer's unwillingness to keep some of the first 13 speakers, all elected officials, to three minutes, coupled with his incapacity to keep the crowd under control, made for a chaotic hearing. And while an ESDC spokeswoman insisted afterward that "ESDC followed our practices and policies regarding hearings. We intend to conduct the forums similarly," in the follow-up community forums, Kramer enforced the time limit by having the microphone turned off.

After the elected officials spoke, neither Debra Dawkins of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance (DBNA) nor Nets fan Tal Barzilai required Kramer to warn them to conclude on time.

Then things began to unravel, mainly due to the insistence by certain Atlantic Yards supporters that they had to be heard.

Nine requests to conclude

The first speaker who notably flummoxed Kramer was Karen Smith Daughtry, wife of the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, founder of the DBNA and signatory of the Community Benefits Agreement. (By the way, their daughter Leah Daughtry is CEO of the ongoing Democratic National Convention.)

The transcript of Karen Daughtry's remarks, reproduced in part, shows that, after warning Daughtry she had 20 seconds to conclude, Kramer asked nine times for her to finish. (Note that the term "Audience participation" encompasses a lot and that the transcription is inexact.)

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: My name is Dr. Karen Smith Daughtry. And I am a member of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance otherwise known as DBNA, and a proud member of the House of Lord Pentecostal Church.

... I am particularly excited about DBNA's part in the Atlantic Yards project as it relates to the community, amenities and facilities' portion of the CBA where there will be a health and wellness pavilion, and offers of arena-related affairs an initiatives; parks and open space, a museum and library.

The educator that I am and having more than 35 years of experience working with youth, children and seniors, the possibilities of what an intergenerational initiative will bring for our youth, our seniors and our young people, bringing them together in this dismal time in our history as a nation, is one of the lights of hope on the horizon. As we stand here today at the Klitgord Auditorium --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Twenty seconds.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- one of our alma maters of days of yours [probably 'yore'], the future of our youth is in jeopardy. On September the 8th, this year, 5,000 children will lose their after school care to a system which is not fully developed. The Day Care Direct Lease Program will be closed because the City is not renewing the direct leases which we've had the benefit for the past twenty years.

THE HEARING OFFICER: Please conclude --

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: Classes in already -- in already existing programs for young children are losing slots. The children now will get into trouble if they travel eighteen blocks unattended to go to an unsupervised program that has been set up to the demise of our community.

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Your time is up.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: The families that will lose their --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Ma'am, your time is up. You have several pages, if you could let the next speaker --

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: No, well, I just got one or two more things to say as others have spoken longer than me.

THE HEARING OFFICER: You have ten seconds, ma'am and your time is up.

(Audience participation.)

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: I choose -- I choose to be remembered with those who plan for tomorrow. And I therefore, support the concept of providing support for our children in the dawn of life, for our youth in the prime of summer of their lives and our seniors in the autumn and the winter of their lives. I believe that one of the ways this can be actualized is through --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Your time is up.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- is through DBNA --

THE HEARING OFFICER: The next speaker, please.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- community amenities and facilities --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Ma'am, your time is up.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- and the position in the CBA. I, again, repeat the words of Malcom X --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Ma'am, your time is up.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- so the power belong to those who plan for it today and I choose to plan for it tomorrow --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Ma'am, your time is up.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- by being in support of this project today.

(Audience participation.)

Nearly six minutes

Only a bit later in the hearing, her husband, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, spoke for 5:45, albeit with interruptions.

I can't do justice in describing Daughtry's passionate, combative, and triumphant sermon, in front of many cheering followers and some jeering project opponents.

However, the partial transcript suggests that Kramer just gave up trying to enforce the time limit, as he stopped requesting that the speaker to conclude.

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: ...Let me speak -- let me speak more specifically to the area that we are engaged. You heard my beautiful wife of 44 years. My children are here. They were born here in Brooklyn. I came to Brooklyn 65 years ago. I'm 75. Most of my years were spent in Brooklyn.

We support this project because --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Twenty seconds.

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- it will provide an intergenerational center. And guess what, guess what, we have participated in the design of the complex. It will provide a health facility in a community that is starved for health facilities. It will provide a place for our young, a place for the seniors, a place for the youth to come together in an atrium designed by us.

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: We support the project --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- and I ask the question --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- I ask the question, I ask the question, listen, I ask the question, why are we holding against Forest City Ratner when all around Brooklyn development is going on with non-union work --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: Build in Brooklyn first. On with development of this
project --

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Can everybody please sit down. Can everybody please sit down. Reverend, if [you] could conclude your remarks, please. Thank you.


THE HEARING OFFICER: If you can please conclude your remarks. Thank you.

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: And let me conclude -- I thank you for allowing me time. Thank you for your support. I'm only trying to say I appreciate even the opposition. Perhaps if I were you I'd argue the same way. I don't think so, but I'm concerned about the community and I've always been.

But listen, Forest City Ratner isn't even the largest development plan in Brooklyn. Downtown Brooklyn plan, why don't you protest against that?

[Well, some people did protest it, but the difference is that the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was approved by the City Council, while Atlantic Yards, given the state override of zoning, is essentially a private rezoning.]

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: That bank -- listen, listen. That bank that you hold sacred, the Williamsburg Bank, guess what, the developer said ain't going to be no affordable housing. That's what they said. Protest against that.

[Indeed, the condo conversion is as of right and need not include affordable housing--and there are tax breaks to boot, a sign that the city and state moved too slowly in reforming the 421-a tax break. But developer Forest City Ratner promised from the start that the bank's iconic clock would not be blocked.]

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: Why don't you cry over that?

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: And so I conclude. Thank you for the time. I conclude. Let me finish.

(Audience participation.)


(Audience participation.)


(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: Let me finish. The Chairman has been kind. Just let me finish. I'll conclude this way. I'm an old man now. I've walked these valleys all over the world, --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- from Belfast to Bangkok to Baton Rouge. I have fought for justice --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- and rights for everybody. And now finally in my neighborhood, a few blocks from my church is an urban development --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- is coming on and I don't even have to take a cab or a plane, I can walk there. I say forward with the Atlantic Yards project.

(Audience participation.)

Another example

Later in the hearing, a representative of BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development) was intent on describing the Community Benefits Agreement and went way over time.

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: ...There you will also find the School Based Workforce Development Program for youth in our school from grades five through 12; You also find the Church-based Employment Training & Educational Attainment Services Program for underemployed and unemployed adults out of school ages 16 to 25. You find for the highly educated brothers of which they doubt like myself, the Brooklyn Scholarship and Fellowship program for young black brothers and sisters between the ages --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Twenty seconds.

MR. DE SHAUN TAYLOR: -- of 18 and 23.

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: How much time I have left? Okay. And to wrap it up, let me give you my best twenty seconds on my final point. We have brought a $4.2 billion project to Brooklyn, New York. Let's understand that very clearly. What I am suggesting and my recommendation to the CBA and to the fine Speaker here, is that along with this $4.2 billion project we need to have a program called the Free Enterprise Institute of Education that focuses on entrepreneurial sciences and focuses on business development, okay --

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: No, no, hold on now. We need to teach our people, we need to teach our people collectively in Brooklyn, New York, what does is mean to create a $4.2 billion project. What does it mean to --


MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: -- have economic analysis -- Hold on one second.

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: What does it mean -- what does it mean to have economic analysis in our community to project the next profit gain. And for all the people who are against -- no.

THE HEARING OFFICER: Mr. Taylor, your time is up. Your time is up.

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: Well, Mr. Speaker --

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: -- I ask you for a little more time.

THE HEARING OFFICER: Thank you for your comment. You can submit your comments. Sir, your time is up.

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: All right. I can deal with that. But let me tell you --

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: -- on our time of political uncertainty --

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: In our time of political uncertainty we --

THE HEARING OFFICER: This gentleman, please come to the microphone. Thank you.

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: Okay. You want me to go public with that statement?

THE HEARING OFFICER: You can do whatever you want, sir.

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: Okay. In our time --


MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: -- of political uncertainty -- on our time --

THE HEARING OFFICER: The next speaker --

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: -- in our time of war, what we need is balanced -- balanced politics. We need --

A moment of levity

THE HEARING OFFICER: The next speaker is Eric McClure.

(Audience participation.)

MR. ERIC MCCLURE: Do I have three allotted minutes or three of his minutes?

THE HEARING OFFICER: Hopefully three of my minutes.

MR. ERIC MCCLURE: My name is Eric McClure and I am here this evening as Atlantic Yards Campaign Coordinator for Park Slope Neighbors....

I was going to start with a critique of the ESDC, but since its actions have shown that it obviously just doesn't give a damn, I won't waste my breath.

(Audience participation.)

MR. ERIC MCCLURE: Suffice it to say the ESDC is a walking advertisement for Public Authorities reform.

Later on

Apparently even more people signed up to speak, since at about 8 pm, Kramer made the following announcement.

THE HEARING OFFICER: We have been here a little over four hours straight now. We still have registered speakers. However, in view of full disclosure, we still have, on my estimate, it's about 250 to 300 more registered speakers.

The essential complaint

More people might have spoken had the time limits been adhered to. And the evidence generally supports the complaint made by JoAnne Simon, district leader for the 52nd Assembly District, who wrote to the ESDC:
While generally respectful of witnesses [hearing officer Edward] Kramer had a heavy hand on the time clock for those who were testifying about environmental impacts, allowing project supporters to preach and scold well beyond the 3-minute limit... Had such testimony been remotely on topic, I might be less offended, although it still would have been unfair.

He didn't have a hand on any time clock, as far as I can tell. While some project opponents offered their share of jeers and unseemly behavior, those who testified were more respectful of time limits.

Powell calls Towns "woefully" MIA on Atlantic Yards

The Brooklyn Paper has posted articles and podcasts of its separate interviews with veteran 10th Congressional District Rep. Edolphus Towns and challenger Kevin Powell.

At about 29:00 of the interview, Powell begins to criticize Towns on a number of issues, saying Towns hasn't addressed joblessness and the need to incubate small businesses, and has been "silent on police brutality" and unwilling to talk to peace activists.

"Missing in action"

Then, at about 30:30, Powell adds, "Where is he on Atlantic Yards? Woefully missing in action, because he's in the pocket of a number of developers."

Actually Towns is not so much missing in action but offering his endorsement to developer Forest City Ratner, although he's been far less vocal than most other elected endorsers.

Powell says he'd try to make sure small businesses get micro-loans and also said Towns hadn't tried to lure businesses like Best Buy to empty buildings along Atlantic Avenue in the district: "He's not using his position [to say] 'I'll fight to make sure you get the kind of tax breaks you need or the space you need'.... to create job opportunities for young people."

Tax breaks and government intervention on land? Sounds a bit like Atlantic Yards, but there is a difference: those spaces in Towns's district might need a boost to attract business, while the Atlantic Yards site is "a great piece of real estate," to quote Chuck Ratner.

Towns on housing

At about 4:00 of the Towns interview, Brooklyn Paper editor-in-chief Gersh Kuntzman asks a long question about affordable housing, mentioning Atlantic Yards and also Forest City Ratner's 80 DeKalb Avenue project, which he erroneously says has $1.5 million in subsidy per unit. (Actually, it's $1.5 million per unit in tax-exempt bonds, which offer interest rate savings compared to taxable bonds.)

Towns responds with his ideas about affordable housing, but isn't steered back to address Atlantic Yards.

USA Today loves Brett Yormak

Brett Yormark, CEO and president, Nets Sports and Entertainment (and CEO, Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment), is impressive on a lot of fronts, as USA Today's rapturous profile told us yesterday.

Unfortunately, the reporter swallowed the line that Yormark and the Nets "hope to be in [Brooklyn] by the start of the 2010 season." As I commented on the USA Today site, check out Bruce Ratner's 2011 statement to shareholders and Yormark's consistent fudging of the facts.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Overstatements from the DEIS hearing: land acquisition, legal challenge, new high schools, housing

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

There were several overstatements and deceptions during the DEIS hearing, notably claims that developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) would pay for the land, that the opponents' legal case was unstoppable, that FCR would build four new high schools, and that affordable housing would be "given" out and guaranteed.

(All emphases are added.)

FCR paying for the site?

Early on, ANN HULKA, Senior Vice President - Real Estate, Empire State Development Corporation, read some boilerplate that was true at the time:
The project developer, Forest City, owns or controls approximately 87 percent of the project site inclusive of land owned by the MTA and City property. It is expected that ESDC will acquire title to the project -- the entire project site exclusive of the parcels to be retained by the MTA -- by condemnation, excuse me. All costs of site acquisition will be born by Forest City.

As we know, the city's initial $100 million contribution goes exclusively for land acquisition. A hint of that emerged in January 2007, when the city added $105 million to its contribution, and it was confirmed in March 2007.

An unstoppable legal case?

Later in the evening came some hubris about the upcoming legal challenge to the project.

DANIEL GOLDSTEIN, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn: If ESDC and Forest City Enterprises insist on the use of eminent domain, owners and renters, including myself, will litigate to save our homes and businesses and no project will be built at this site for years, if ever. It is your choice. That is your decision.

And you --you have no defense against the case we intend to bring....

Well, the new state eminent domain case is still pending, but the federal case was dismissed before trial, at two levels of federal court, and then the U.S. Supreme Court was unwilling to hear it.

Four high schools?

Some project supporters were reading the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) very generously.

DESHAUN TAYLOR, a member of BUILD (Brooklyn United For Innovative Local Development): Now, as a youth activist, I engage in working with at-risk teenagers. I work with under-served teenagers. And I work with the teenage population of the New York City Foster Care System here in New York City.

And what I find is that it is appalling that 88 of 114 SURR
[Schools Under Registration Review] schools in New York City are in Brooklyn and that's something that we can do something about. Now, going into the community benefits agreement, it says that this community benefits agreement with Mr. Ratner has made a legally binding agreement to build four new high schools in Brooklyn, New York. That's what I'm talking about.

Later on, that issue was seconded.

DEBBIE TAMIFOOK, a member of ACORN: Reverend Daughtry, who at one time was against the project... came to the meetings. Everything that was asked for was granted. Everything that he was fighting for was granted. Now we're going to have a senior center included in the project. We're going to have four new schools, high schools.

School promises

The Community Benefits Agreement says nothing about Ratner committing to build four high schools. It states:
The Developers agree to work with BUILD, trade unions, local universities, local community groups and elected officials towards the creation of a High School for Construction Management and Trades to be located preferably within the Neighboring Community, and if not, then within the Surrounding Community and, if not, then elsewhere within the Community somewhere within Brooklyn. The creation of such a High School will be subject to public and/or private funding.

It also states:
SCHOOLS. The Project Developer will work with the DBEC in the creation of educational services, including the development of four (4) schools that will be located in the Surrounding Community, subject to the approval of appropriate governmental authorities. Such schools shall include:
* Cleveland Robinson Academy for Labor Studies, a charter school that will have as its focus construction technology, construction management, and entertainment technology.
* The Jackie Robinson Academy, a charter school that will have as its focus sports, science, and sports management.
* The Lewis Latimer Academy, a new vision school that will have as its focus information technology.
* The Wonder School, a charter school that will focus on music and film, including the study of the business side of the music and film industry.

What does "work with" mean?

Later in the hearing came a response concerning the legitimacy of those promises.

JEFF BAKER, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn attorney: The community benefits agreement has been touted as this wonderful, important agreement. Many people have pointed to the fact that it provides for health care facilities, community centers, day care facilities. Let me be clear, read the agreement - it specifically disavows any financial obligation by Forest City Ratner... to pay for any of those things. There is no money to do it.

Another school promise

Remember, in December 2006, after the project was approved by the Public Authorities Control Board, the Daily News massively overhyped--with the headline "Nets go High Tech: Ratner throws in new home for elite Brooklyn HS in arena deal"--a vague plan by Forest City Ratner to "work with the City, State and the United Federation of Teachers on the creation of a new 21st Century Brooklyn Tech High School, at a yet to be determined location in the borough."

No such plan is part of Atlantic Yards, though a much smaller K-8 school is planned for the project.

"Giving out" affordable housing

There were also some inflated promises about affordable housing.

STATE SENATOR MARTIN GOLDEN: Atlantic Yards will not only be one of the greatest job creators for our borough that it has witnessed in decades, it will also help to address one of the most troubling issues that face Brooklyn and that's affordable housing - giving out 2,200 units of affordable housing.

The project wouldn't "give out" affordable housing; the housing depends on scarce tax-exempt bonds.

PAT BOONE, president of NY ACORN: Therefore, I do believe this project will give me joy and piece of mind for myself, on a more personal note, because I have a son who is paraplegic. And I know now that when I retire should my son decide to stay on here in New York and live on his own, I know that there will be an affordable place that he may look forward to and he can call home in the same borough where he, like his mom, myself was born.

If it does get built, there'd be a lottery for places.

Is Kucinich looking at the issue of naming rights?

From a New York Times Magazine Q&A yesterday with Rep. Dennis Kucinich:
I see you are scheduled to speak at the convention on Tuesday, at the Pepsi Center, which sounds like the name of a soda plant. Why is it called that?

My guess is that Pepsi probably bought the naming rights. Naming rights are another thing my subcommittee — the Domestic Policy Subcommittee — is looking into.

We know that the subcommittee has been looking into the tax-exempt bond deals for Yankee Stadium and other sports facilities, as well as the rules behind tax-exempt bonds. But the naming rights inquiry is news to me.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Will new head of ESDC take a walk around the AY footprint?

In March, Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Downstate Chairman Pat Foye, an appointee (and friend) of departed Governor Eliot Spitzer, resigned, leaving his deputy, Avi Schick, as the ESDC's acting president.

Schick, who will leave his post in September, has publicly defended Atlantic Yards. Foye was supposed to visit the AY site, but never did.

Now Governor David Paterson has nominated Marisa Lago, a global head of compliance at Citi Markets and Banking, to be the ESDC's president and chief executive, supervising executives for both downstate and upstate. Reported the New York Times:
Mr. Paterson has made revamping the agency a top priority. As he has sounded the alarm in recent weeks about the increasingly bleak outlook for New York’s economy, a better functioning Empire State Development Corporation has become a key piece of the governor’s economic revitalization plan.

New scrutiny coming?

Given the many things on the ESDC's plate, as described by Crain's New York Business, it may be wishful thinking for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn to opine, New Leadership at ESDC Could Mean New Scrutiny of Atlantic Yards Project.

At the very least, however, Lago or her downstate deputy should take that walk that Foye never managed to do.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Two years after the DEIS hearing, one change is "just business"

Here's a flashback from the epic hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), held 8/23/06. And here's some video, from Freddy's Brooklyn Roundhouse.

Departed since then, along with Forest City Ratner point man Jim Stuckey, is point guard Jason Kidd, who gamely appeared with teammate Vince Carter to help provide sports flash for the cameras. (He's standing a bit stoically next to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz in this NY Sun photo.)

Kidd, whose trade for Devin Harris looks increasingly like a wise move for the Nets, told the Star-Ledger this week that he didn't have any regrets:
"It's just business," he said. "We had a great run. Sometimes, with moves, business gets in the way. The sad thing is, nobody there is left from when we started the whole thing. I guess you could say they're starting over.

Neil deMause interviews collected

On May 28, I conducted an interviewed, excerpted in eight parts, with Neil deMause, the Brooklyn-based co-author of the book Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit, and writer of the companion web site.

7/1/08: Author deMause on tax-exempt bonds, PILOTs, & TIFs

7/2/08: So, why aren't naming rights counted as sports facility subsidies?

7/16/08: Author deMause on Zimbalist: "a lot of people don't take him as seriously"

7/18/08: National ACORN's (episode of) scandal, and NY ACORN's dubious Brooklyn stadium deal (in 2000)

8/1/08: The Brooklyn Ratners or the Ratner Nets? What if team names in the U.S. were more like those in Japan?

8/7/08: "So many different angles": deMause puts the AY opposition in context

8/19/08: If Barclays Center gets built, how long before it's obsolete?

8/22/08: The lesson of Field of Schemes: political reform needed

Friday, August 22, 2008

The lesson of Field of Schemes: political reform needed

This is the eighth and final part of a multi-part interview (conducted May 28) with Neil deMause, the Brooklyn-based co-author of the book Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit, and writer of the companion web site. He testified at a 3/29/07 Congressional hearing that questioned taxpayer financing of stadiums, convention centers, and hotels.

Q. What’s the lesson of the book? Do you have general reform advice--what should cities, states, or the federal government do?

A. It’s easy if you’re the city or the state or the federal government: you stop giving money… It’s within federal government’s power to stop tax-exempt bonds from being used for stadiums right now. You just pass a law telling the IRS don’t do that anymore. The federal government could shut down subsidies for sports stadiums and for other ridiculous deals, luring companies from one state to another.

There’s this thing I mentioned in the book. [Rep.] David Minge’s proposal, why don’t you just pass an excise tax on corporate subsidies, so if Ratner gets, say, a billion in subsidies for this project, then he has to pay federal taxes on this project, that would suddenly make it a lot less lucrative. Congress could do that in a second. They are not.

Cities could say No, it’s not worth it to us, that it would be nice to have a basketball team in Brooklyn, but not that nice. All this is within the power--it’s not that hard to do. The problem is, what do we as private citizens do when the government is not making decisions based on the public interest but making decisions based on the private interest.

What's the book about?

A. I tell people Field of Schemes is not a book about sports, it’s not really a book about stadiums, it’s about the failure of democracy in this country, about how governments, at every level, are more there to serve the interests of people with money than their constituents.

For a while, when people would say, What should be done? my glib answer was: Campaign finance reform. I still think it’s a good answer.

Who's in charge?

A. If Bruce Ratner didn’t have the ear of all these people--again, if he can’t give them money, he can certainly hire their friends as lobbyists. You have to in some way find a way to shift power from people who can spend money to buy it to popular will, which is what it’s supposed to be about.

This writer for Crain’s Detroit, who wrote this piece about all the great things that Comerica Park has done for Detroit. I wrote him an email saying You’re accepting a lot of numbers at face value that are ridiculous.

At one point, he said, Well, people are voting for these deals, so if people think it’s a good thing, why are you complaining about it? and I said, Well, these are referendums where opposition is being outspent 100 to 1, if the opposition comes anywhere near having the same resources they always win.

His answer was, Isn’t that just the market at work? I said, Call me old-fashioned, I don’t think our democracy is about people being able to buy votes.

What does Brooklyn want?

A. That’s the problem. Right now our democracy is about people being able to buy votes. It is not a question about what does Brooklyn want, or what does New York City want, which would be interesting questions. There are people who don’t care about subsidies, the problems of the arena, they don’t care about eminent domain, they really care about getting more affordable housing.

That’s a legitimate reason to support the project. But you’ve never had a public forum debating what do people want. It’s about what does Ratner want.

And it’s a huge problem, that our media isn’t responsive to what the public wants, our elected officials aren’t responsive to what the public wants. I think there are a lot of little pieces that could be done, but I think political reform is as necessary as fighting project to project. You have to do both.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The reality behind FCR's 80 DeKalb deal (and the implication for AY)

Forest City Ratner's press release about getting a final $30 million (not that much) in financing for its residential project at 80 DeKalb Avenue is getting a lot of coverage (here and here), with one story line, according to the Brooklyn Paper, that "critics pointed out that the state subsidy means that the public will be spending $1.5 million for each affordable unit."

No actual critics were quoted in the article, though a couple appear in the comments section. While the state Housing Finance Agency's 80/20 financing plan is surely vulnerable to criticism, the 80 DeKalb project, as I wrote in April, may be a relative bargain for taxpayers.

$1.5 million per unit is low

The FCR project, along with three others, was selected among 14 projects for the state agency's bonds, because "we view [the 80 DeKalb project] as an efficient use of a scarce resource," said Priscilla Almodovar, President and Chief Executive Officer of HFA. "[T]he developer agreed to limit its allocation to $1.5 million per low-income unit--lower than our $1.7 million ceiling--and agreed to permanent affordability for its low-income units rather than for just 30 years.

(The subsidy does not mean $1.5 million per unit; rather, $1.5 million is the amount of tax-exempt bonds allowed. A fraction of that figure--a 25% difference in interest rate between taxable and tax-exempt bonds--represents the subsidy, with most of that absorbed by federal taxpayers. Hence the federal limit, aka "volume cap," on the capacity of states and cities to authorize tax-exempt bonds.)

The three other projects moving ahead, all in Manhattan, requested $1.65 million, $1.7 million, and $1.9 million per unit, though two will be permanently affordable to low-income tenants, while the Brooklyn project will offer a different version of permanent affordability, to somewhat higher-income tenants.

The real questions

As I wrote, Forest City Ratner, part of a publicly-traded company based in Cleveland, is likely not sacrificing profits on 80 DeKalb. Rather, its relatively low bonding request per unit likely reflects a smart decision acquiring the property inexpensively in 1989 and seeing (likely, helping) it get rezoned a dozen years later to accommodate residential development, thus boosting the value of the land.

So the first unanswered question is how the land was rezoned. [Update: While this was previous to the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, it was part of a Special Downtown District in 2001 and thus a fairly thorough rezoning.]

The larger question is whether a similar fate awaits Atlantic Yards. Though the financing of Atlantic Yards remains murky, it's reasonable to speculate that, given the significant amount of subsidies and tax breaks for Atlantic Yards, plus the advantage of eminent domain, Forest City Ratner may be able to successfully compete for the scarce pool of tax exempt bonds offered by the city Housing Development Corporation by asking for somewhat less per unit than other 50/30/20 projects that include 50% market-rate units, 30% middle-income units, and 20% low-income units.

And that's an argument for a full accounting of subsidies and public costs for AY, before such a decision is made.