Thursday, June 04, 2009

On Brian Lehrer Live, video from Friday's state Senate oversight hearing

If you want to see my appearance yesterday on Brian Lehrer Live, it's now available online. The Atlantic Yards segment starts at about 8:00.

Perhaps the most important element of the show is video shot by Steve de Sève for Freddy's Brooklyn Roundhouse, showing the disruption in the room, with state Sen. Bill Perkins trying to maintain order, and Sen. Velmanette Montgomery reminding the crowd that it was not up to Sen. Marty Golden, a Republican, to move legislation forward, but Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.

Bogus numbers

Then Lehrer showed Seth Pinsky of the New York City Economic Development Corporation claiming Atlantic Yards will achieve half a billion dollars in net incremental revenue.

Norman Oder on Atlantic Yards Oversight from Brian Lehrer Live on Vimeo.

I said the numbers were bogus, because it wasn't a cost-benefit analysis, and it was based on an old configuration of the project, with four office towers.

Lehrer asked what government officials are obligated to do.

"They're obligated to tell the truth at an oversight hearing," I said, offering a version of that quote from Three Days of the Condor: "Not getting caught in a lie is not the same as telling the truth."

I pointed out that, while the General Project Plan, approved in December 2006, laid out the project, in September 2007, State and City Funding Agreements give developer Forest City Ratner much more time: instead of building 2250 units of affordable housing in a decade, they can, without penalty, build only 300 units of affordable housing in 12 years.

Monetary motivations

Would they make enough money, Lehrer wondered, suggesting they'd be "stuck" with all this real estate.

I said I didn't know, but it's clear that FCR's priority is to move the Nets from New Jersey, where they're losing tens of millions of dollars, to a new arena where they can stop the losses and make profits--and then sell the team at a profit.

I also pointed out that paying $100 million to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build on an 8.5-acre railyard was a pretty good deal, and we're learning--though it's secondhand--that FCR plans to offer only $20 million, and pay the rest sometime later.

I also pointed out that the value of the bid increased because of a pledge for a new railyard, and the MTA has agreed that FCR could downsize the railyard from nine tracks to seven.

Given that there are holes in the ground all over New York, why is Atlantic Yards even able to go forward, Lehrer wondered.

I said that Forest City Ratner obviously has some numbers: they want to spend less, stop losses, and hold on for a while until things get better. I should've mentioned that the city and state also want to see the arena.

Golden's questions

Lehrer also showed State Sen. Marty Golden ritually questioning Marisa Lago, CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation, if all the elements of the project were the same.

Lago's response: "The General Project Plan [GPP] has not changed."

Lehrer said it sounded like he was trying to hold Lago's feet to the fire.

I said no, that it sounded like he was trying to reiterate, for the public, that the project is still what they say it is.

The GPP, I noted, has been approved and not yet amended, but it's not credible. The project, in the GPP, was supposed to take ten years. Two months ago, Lago said publicly it would take "decades."

What's oversight?

Lehrer wanted to know what role the public has. I said some in the public wanted to have an oversight hearing and, based on what was accomplished, they need another oversight hearing on AY.

Is the government doing its job?

I said some news came out, from the IBO and MTA.

I added a comment: "I can't believe that Marisa Lago and Seth Pinsky, the state and the city officials, actually enjoyed being there and listening to this disruption." This, I said was a political rally, not an oversight hearing that is supposed to elicit information.

Is there anybody in the government doing an independent job? Well, the IBO is closest, I said, looked at only the arena and has not yet looked at the project as a whole.

I pointed out that the ESDC's slogan is "New York Loves Business." Their job, I said, "is not to perform oversight. Their job is to get projects done."

What about blight?

Lehrer noted that the project was approved because the area was "blighted."

Blight, in the words of urban planners, means a neighborhood is "shot to hell," I said. There are million-dollar condos next door. This is Forest City's effort to control what Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner calls a "great piece of real estate," thanks to vague state laws about blight.

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