Saturday, April 24, 2010

Daily News editorial slams Goldstein for "personal jackpot," lauds "generous" Ratner; will he contribute some of his settlement to the ongoing fight?

The New York Daily News, which has supported Atlantic Yards to the hilt (remember A super design for a great project, touting the now-phantom "green roof,") today slams former Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) spokesman Daniel Goldstein in an editorial headlined A great big sellout: Atlantic Yards opponent made out like a bandit:
The community activist who led the long, doomed and destructive fight against Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards project has made out like a bandit. Daniel Goldstein settled with the project's developer for a whopping $3 million.

After all of Goldstein's costly obstructionism, it is a wonder builder Bruce Ratner agreed to give him a penny more than Goldstein would be legally due on eviction from the condo he bought in 2003 for $595,000.

Instead, Goldstein walked away with five times his purchase price while portraying himself as a noble victim of evil forces who would never be silenced and blah, blah, blah. "Thank you, kind sir" did not enter the picture.
Behind the deal

It's a wonder? The Empire State Development Corporation, which already owned Goldstein's condo, gave him a low-ball offer of $510,000 in a condemnation funded by Forest City Ratner.

The judge in the case, according to Goldstein, said he wanted the parties to reach a settlement rather than to litigate just compensation.

It's no wonder Forest City Ratner, which claimed it was losing $6.7 million a month from delays, would be willing to pay more than the fair market value--perhaps double what Goldstein had paid--in order to get Goldstein out (and, we now see, to win some public relations points).

The editorial ignores the cost of a replacement apartment as well as Goldstein's legal fees. He more likely got a check for double the value of his apartment--money that might be seen, in part, as compensation for unpaid activism, the difficulty in living in a construction zone and a "cage," and the agreement to pack up and move in a little more than two weeks.

The "generous" Ratner


The editorial continues:
Ratner's payoff to Goldstein illustrates one of the little-told stories about the Atlantic Yards project. While some residents and owners, such as Goldstein, were railing that they were losing homes and businesses to eminent domain, Ratner was quietly reaching very generous accommodations with hundreds of others.
Even less-told, especially by the Daily News (which in 2004 published a cover story about Ratner's payouts that it never followed up), is that New York City taxpayers, thanks to decisions made quietly by Mayor Mike Bloomberg's administration, contributed $131 million toward $280 million (as of earlier this week) in land purchases on the arena block.

In other words, Ratner has been playing with public money, including hundreds of millions of dollars more in direct subsidies, tax breaks, and increased land value thanks to eminent domain and an override of zoning.

"Junk lawsuits" and the truth of AY

The editorial continues:
And now Ratner has done so with Goldstein - the lead plaintiff on a blizzard of junk lawsuits, all of which failed.

Goldstein and his band did not change New York's eminent domain laws or substantiate lurid claims of corruption in state government.

All he managed to do was to slow Ratner from bringing the basketball Nets to Brooklyn in a new arena, stave off groundbreaking for thousands of units of affordable housing and kill thousands of construction jobs.
They weren't "junk lawsuits;" as I wrote in February 2008 in response to a similar Daily News editorial, a federal magistrate observed that the first Atlantic Yards eminent domain case raised "serious and difficult questions regarding the exercise of eminent domain under emerging Supreme Court jurisprudence."

As for "lurid claims of corruption," no, there's no secret video of payoffs. What there is--and what the press hasn't covered--is a glaring contradiction between a developer and a state agency that say the project will be built in a decade and a Development Agreement, kept under wraps until after a crucial court argument, that provides 25 years.

"Personal jackpot" and the larger cause

The editorial concludes:
And, oh, yeah, self-righteous to the end, Goldstein also hit a personal jackpot that should give pause to all his followers.
As I've written, the "personal jackpot" is much less than this editorial and tabloid coverage suggests.

Many supporters of DDDB, including the organization's board, back his decision completely. After all, they weren't in his shoes; nor did they work as hard as he did.

But it has given pause to some followers; one commenter on Brownstoner wrote:
My issue...if he was really fighting this for the neighborhood, the community, why not get the most possible for himself and the most possible for the neighborhood? At least something for the *cause,* some sort of money for those not in the foot print but adjacent to it who will have to suffer through the next however many years
Another wrote:
What about the thousands of dollars of donations given to DDDB to help fund the fight? I know I gave my share. Were we just paying Goldstein's mortgage and living expenses all of these years so he could fold at the last minute and still win his final hand of poker?
He didn't fold at the last moment--he had little choice, given that the state owned his condo and the judge wanted a resolution.

Goldstein's choice


As I wrote, while Goldstein may have made an understandable and defensible decision, Forest City Ratner will have gotten a bargain if it has not only removed a physical and vocal obstacle but left DDDB and the Atlantic Yards opposition severely hamstrung.

Goldstein might well have been ready to step back from activism whatever the resolution of the court case; he's had a punishing schedule.

As I wrote, while Goldstein has the right to make a decision that's best for his family, his decision also impacts a larger struggle. By agreeing to step down from his role as DDDB spokesman, Goldstein leaves a void. Can he, through personal effort or financial donations, help ensure that the void is filled?

Goldstein, I've since learned, is not contractually precluded from financial support of DDDB or similar endeavors. He hasn't made a statement of his intentions; presumably he's busy trying to figure out where to live--not to mention that the role of DDDB and other opposition groups remains unclear.

Goldstein explained:
I have always promised that once the legal options to save my home and the homes and businesses of my neighbors were extinguished, I would have to turn my attention to what was best for my family, after years of neglecting our interests. That is what I did on Wednesday.
The Atlantic Yards controversy, however, goes beyond opposition to condemnation. Goldstein said:
I am free to criticize and speak about the project, the developer and the ESDC as much as I want. I intend to do that whenever the need arises.
So stay tuned.

From the comments

On the Daily News site, Eric McClure (of No Land Grab) wrote:
Of all the vile garbage this newspaper has printed regarding the opposition to Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project during the past six years, this one tops them all in its ugly biliousness. Daniel Goldstein never asked for this fight. He just wanted to keep his home. And thousands and thousands of Brooklynites supported him in that fight -- and still do. The settlement had much more to do with how much Goldstein's home was worth to Bruce Ratner, and with the state having already seized title to his home, he had no choice but to settle. The idea that he should somehow be thankful for Bruce Ratner's faux largesse -- subsidized with hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds -- would be laughable if it wasn't so sick. Yes, it looks likely that Bruce Ratner will get to build his arena, and the Daily News is free to celebrate that misguided, ill-gotten, money-losing waste of taxpayer money. But you've embarrassed yourselves with this sneering, taunting display

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