Goldstein testified later and was given only a brief amount of time; he departed from his prepared remarks to respond to the crowd and the testimony of the government officials in the preceding panel.
From the testimony
Many argue that the Atlantic Yards project should be scrapped. But it already has been scrapped by Forest City Ratner. But the ESDC won’t take the next step and make it official. That is what they must do, so that we can sooner, rather than later see the healthy development of the Vanderbilt Rail Yards, with competitive bidding, truly affordable housing, open space the public can use, with a scope and scale that respects the surrounding community while still meeting a desirable and reasonable density.
Ratner claims that they “control the pace” of the project. This is wrong. If they were building on their own land with their own money, then they’d be accurate, but speculating on real estate gained by public subsidies, eminent domain, sweetheart land deals and undemocratic behavior is not acceptable and not in the public interest.
Indeed, it's a legitimate oversight question as to how and why a private developer can claim such control over what's been described as a public-private partnership.
Indeed, I raised several questions about who's really in charge.
I believe that the New York Urban Development Corporation Act…is ultimately being used as a tool of the developer to displace and destroy neighborhoods that are "underutilized,"Judge Catterson said it well: The ESDC doesn’t just cooperate, it allows itself to be abused, willingly allows itself to be “used as a tool.” It is the way they have done business with the Atlantic Yards project. And the results impact the public in the extreme.
What is even more disturbing is that Judge Catterson was writing in concurrence, which seems to mean that it is okay and expected for the UDC/ESDC to be used as a developer’s tool to destroy neighborhoods. It is not okay, and surely that is not what the UDC-Act envisioned.
That goes to the question of whether there should be reform of the ESDC.
A questionable sequence
- no involvement by the community in project conception
- a decision by state and city officials to bypass the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP; which even Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, in hindsight, regrets)
- an eminent domain map drawn not by the government but by the developer
- gag orders required of property sellers, which should have been disallowed because the city funded $100 million of Ratner's purchases (Goldstein submitted a copy of the gag order as an attachment)
- a blight study that defined blight as cracked sidewalks and 'some buildings that weren’t built out past an arbitrary zoning density
If the public interest were the issue, the city’s public agencies and officials would have rezoned the site to attract more development and density. It would be as simple as that. But the problem is: a rezoning would benefit the public and multiple developers, and would prohibit the land monopoly Ratner seeks and the massive profits the developer will see even if he never builds his project but gains the 22 acres of land.
But the MTA was never seeking a new state-of-the-art rail yard, and Extell would have built one as well but they didn’t inflate the price in order to inflate the overall value of its bid
Now, press reports for months have been saying that Ratner, who hasn’t paid anything, yet for the yards, is negotiating a lesser payment, and/or payments in installments, and/or constructing a much less expensive rail yard.
Where, Goldstein asked, is the public interest?
But on December 8, 2006 when only 4 of the 7 unelected, unaccountable ESDC board members even bothered to show up to give their rubberstamp vote of approval to Atlantic Yards, they took literally 15 minutes to make their decision. None of the questions asked were informed or substantive. One board member, when looking at the project site maps, actually had to ask the ESDC staffer making the presentation, what the name of a street was. It was Pacific Street. The street I live on, the one that would be removed by eminent domain and utilized to construct an outmoded superblock to make room for the Barclays Center Arena.
Goldstein raised a question that even I'd neglected beforehand:
Indeed, while city and state officials claimed benefits from the project, their conclusions were based on outmoded data, and did not include costs.
- The ESDC is an unaccountable, out of control public agency. If it cannot be reformed and made accountable and transparent, it needs to be dismantled.
- SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act)
needs to be changed so that it is more than an exercise in papering over environmental disclosure and impacts. SEQRA should never be allowed to supplant ULURP in New York City as SEQRA is not a planning process.
- Local legislatures must make local eminent domain decisions by votes, so elected officials will have to be directly accountable for their decisions.
- The Eminent Domain Procedure Law (EDPL) needs to be reformed. At minimum condemnees must have the right to discovery and depositions when challenging an article 207 and must have the right to bring their challenge to Supreme Court rather than start in the Appellate Division.
- Fndings for eminent domain must include an independent cost-benefit analysis of the proposed project as well as an independent analysis of the developer’s financial (and other) benefits.
- “Blight” needs to be removed entirely as a justification for eminent domain. If that is too radical a step for the legislature, then “blight” must be precisely defined, rather than the open-door ambiguity it currently allows. Private developers cannot be allowed to handpick areas for study of “blight.”
- If, under these stricter rules, a “blight” determination is made, the inhabitants of the “blighted” area should be given the opportunity to work with government to remedy the “blight” in their neighborhood, rather than kick them out and pave over their homes.