Monday, January 11, 2010

Does ESDC board determine blight? On video, Dorkey can't find Pacific, Gargano evades Lehrer; both avoid Pinamonti's invitation to "come down and see"

It was probably the most astounding statement during the January 5 oversight hearing on eminent domain held by state Senator Bill Perkins: the General Counsel for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), Anita Laremont, asserted that consultant "AKRF does not find blight; our board finds blight."

Now Laremont was speaking technically; legally, the board is charged with determining blight. But how does it work in practice? AKRF works for the project applicant either simultaneously (in the case of Columbia University's expansion) or consecutively (in the case of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project) with the ESDC.

AKRF gets contracts worth several million dollars to produce reports (paid for by the project applicant) on blight and environmental impact. (As of May 2007, the Atlantic Yard tab approached $5 million.) Board members, as far as I know, get no compensation. They have no special training. They're not even listed on the ESDC web site.



And what happened with Atlantic Yards?

As the video shows, ESDC chairman Charles Gargano, in a 12/7/06 appearance on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, stuttered, claiming improbably that the board did not plan to vote on eminent domain, a statement belied by footage (via the Battle of Brooklyn documentary-in-progress) of the 12/8/06 board meeting and deemed by Lehrer, in his 12/11/06 follow-up show, an episode of "classic political evasiveness."

ESDC board member Charles (Trip) Dorkey, one of those charged with finding blight, showed his unfamiliarity with the project by querying ESDC about the boundaries of the project. "Is that Pacific [Street]?" he asked.

Interspersed with the statement by government officials and Lehrer are excerpts from roots musician John Pinamonti's anthem/elegy, "The Burrow," filmed in May 2007 at Freddy's Bar and Backroom, slated to be condemned via eminent domain.

"Come on down and see, how it is," Pinamonti invites his listeners. Gargano, Dorkey, and the rest of the board never bothered, so they couldn't explore whether the neighborhood was "shot to hell," whether the site bordered a historic district. or even whether the ESDC's decision could pass the "cappuccino test."

But they still found blight.

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