Thursday, September 03, 2009

At the Comptroller debate, Yassky's contradiction on AY

The Comptroller debate sponsored by CNG and Brooklyn Independent Television is now online, and it's worth a look, especially Council Member David Yassky's critical-but-supportive answer to an Atlantic Yards question.

(Here's some more cursory print coverage, which said that City Council Members Yassky and John Liu "spoke out more adamantly against the project;" actually, while they were critical, they don't fundamentally oppose the project.)

At about 21:40, moderator Brian Vines raised a question about Atlantic Yards, noting that people worry that "we might end up with a giant hole in the middle of Brooklyn." He asked, "If Bruce Ratner were to ask you for more government assistance to jump-start this project, or for a loan that's government-guaranteed, would you consider it?"

"No way," responded Yassky. "Not only shouldn't that project get more taxpayer money, they should give back the taxpayer money they've got already. The developers of that project already got $40 million of your money, of taxpayer dollars, for a project that so far hasn't gone anywhere, and it shouldn't be built with taxpayer money at all."

(I believe the figure is much higher than $40 million.)

"It is outrageous, the MTA, I went and testified against the MTA doing this. One day they raise the fare, by 25 cents, and two weeks later, they give another $80 million in subsidy to the private developer of this project. They had agreed that the developer would pay $100 million for the right to build there. They said: don't worry, you can just give us $20 million, and you'll pay the other $80 million, maybe later, some time, who knows when. That is such an affront to the men and women of New York City who have to pay to get on the subway."

Actually, that's not a gift of $80 million, given that the $20 million covers less than one-third of the railyard, though it certainly offers Forest City Ratner a significant financial advantage. More importantly, the deal allows the developer to save at least $100 million on a replacement railyard.

Yassky's contradiction

"The project should not be built with taxpayer money," Yassky continued, as if ignoring the $305 million in direct subsidies already pledged and a series of tax breaks and other advantages. "I've been fighting to get a right-sized project that fits within the context of Central Brooklyn, the basically brownstone neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights. There is a good project in there, but it should be be right-sized. And it should not built with taxpayer money."

But the only way Forest City Ratner would build it is with taxpayer money, and a "right-sized project" might require more subsidies. Still, Yassky thinks it's a "good project," so he's been unwilling to challenge such things as the state's dubious finding of blight.

(Also, at about 12 minutes in, listen for Yassky's gratuitous reference to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's summer concert series. Markowitz has endorsed Yassky.)

Project supporters

City Council Member Melinda Katz said no to more subsidies, but quickly segued to talk about jobs and stalled projects but basically ignored Atlantic Yards.

City Council David Weprin seemed somewhat uninformed, suggesting, "if you're talking about tax-exempt bonds, it could be a win-win." While he said he wouldn't support subsidies other than a federal tax exemption," he seemed unaware of the existing subsidies.

Liu threads the needle

City Council Member Liu offered an "adamant no" to more subsidies, saying that the project "has promised the stars... and so far has delivered very, very little for the communities. Even though we have seen hundreds of people taken out of their homes. It is a shame."

Hold on. The hundreds of people were not "taken out" of their homes; some left somewhat reluctantly, others left more reluctantly. Many residential owners got a pretty good deal--if they accepted a gag order--while many residential renters did not.

Liu said he wanted to hold the administration and the developer--on AY and other projects--accountable to the promises of jobs and housing.

If so, maybe he should be looking more closely at the housing promises for AY. Like Yassky, Liu offered critical words but not a fundamental critique.

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