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Showing posts from February, 2010

Public Advocate de Blasio pushes (voluntary) transparency for Council earmarks, discretionary funds from mayor and borough presidents

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio announced on February 24 a new government web site that will detail how elected officials--City Council members, the mayor, and borough presidents--spend discretionary funds.

It's a good idea, but, as the Daily News noted in an editorial today, a web site based on voluntary compliance isn't enough.

Moreover, as the Daily News pointed out, City Council President Christine Quinn "should have instituted this type of disclosure long ago" regarding "the Council's $50-million-a-year slush fund... a font for thievery." (Indeed, former Council Member Miguel Martinez is n prison and Council Member Larry Seabrook has been indicted.)

Public Advocate or Comptroller

I'll add that it's not necessarily something the Public Advocate must do, since Comptroller candidate David Yassky had the same idea during his campaign, and even set up a web site, It's Your Money NYC, featuring 2009 budget data (but not 2010 budget data), albeit…

A week later, the Times corrects two Atlantic Yards errors

A correction in today's New York Times: An article last Sunday about Sharon Zukin, a Brooklyn College sociology professor and critic of gentrification who argues for stronger government regulation of rents and zoning, referred incorrectly to the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, which Ms. Zukin cited as an example of inexorable gentrification. It is a project, not a place, and city officials did not in fact rezone the property to allow the development. While the Times has acted responsibly in correcting the record, I don't see why it should have taken a week. I posted a critique on Saturday, February 20, and sent in a request for a correction that morning.

In other words, even if the Metropolitan section went to press early Saturday, a correction could have appeared in the main section Sunday.

"Pathological liar" Paterson, a compromised governor, and Atlantic Yards

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, in a post-mortem on Governor David Paterson, who has suspended his campaign but resisted calls to resign:Paterson, however, was criticized by opponents of the Atlantic Yards/Barclays Arena project, who had hoped that he would come out strongly against the plan.

“We met with the governor and he had promised an independent review of Atlantic Yards in December, but he never followed through,” said Dan Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. Goldstein concurred with Village Voice writer Wayne Barrett’s depiction of Paterson as a “pathological liar.”Well, I don't think a single episode makes Paterson a "pathological liar," but, like too many politicians, he made a promise and didn't follow through. (See more below on this.)

Updated: The Times reports today: More than one legislator has left him assuming they have cemented a deal of some sort. But Mr. Paterson can forget these conversations ever happened.Barrett's take

Then again, Barre…

Sid's Hardware is leaving MetroTech; last June, a representative told the MTA board that Atlantic Yards would benefit it and other local retailers

The Brooklyn Paper reports that family-owned Sid's Hardware, the first local retailer to transfer to MetroTech after the project changed Downtown Brooklyn, is moving to Hamilton Avenue at the southern end of the Gowanus Canal and near Park Slope.

In what in retrospect seems like an act of duty to the AY-supporting Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (on whose board Sid's has a seat), a representative of the story testified last June before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that the arena project would bring new customers and other benefits to Sid's and its neighbors.

Instead, Sid's isn't waiting around. According to the Paper:
“Look, the rents are too high, there’s no parking, and this dead scene isn’t a place to run a business,” said Rich Popper, a store manager. “The other day, I had one guy go around the block for 20 minutes so he could pick up a couple cans of paint.”

...The location change will complete a business model revamp for the 78-year-old shop — moving a…

Pinsky hopes for AY groundbreaking in weeks, says projects should emerge via RFPs; Gilmartin says FCR's frustrated with absent government coordination

At an interview and panel discussion sponsored by BISNOW on Wednesday February 24, Atlantic Yards was mentioned as an example several times by Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC), and MaryAnne Gilmartin, the Forest City Ratner executive in charge of Atlantic Yards.

While Pinsky said "we hope to break ground in just a matter of weeks" on Atlantic Yards, perhaps the most interesting statements concerned the unsaid: while he asserted that the city's projects emerge from community consultation and that the best way to proceed was via RFPs (Requests for Proposals), Atlantic Yards proceeded differently.

Gilmartin expressed frustration at the lack of coordination among government agencies working on Atlantic Yards, without acknowledging that, while that certainly may slow things down, it also can give the developer the upper hand.

She also asserted that, in contrast to the example of Stuyvesant Town, Forest City has avoided the &q…

Paying for Atlantic Yards support, fungible money, and Liu's CBA criticisms

Did Forest City Ratner pay people to attend the meeting Wednesday night on street closings. An audience member told me yes; the developer said no.

Whether you believe one or the other, the developer is still paying in part for community support. And, if you believe money's fungible, some of the subsidies and tax breaks the developer has received have gone to the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) signatories, all of whom have received funds from the developer.

All this means that Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), more than established job-training groups with broader funding, has an interest in the success of the project.

And when FCR executive Jane Marshall thanked BUILD President James Caldwell at the end of the evening, it was--I suspect--for helping make the room seem friendlier to a developer that was not welcoming tough questions.

Liu and the CBA

City Comptroller John Liu has made reform of CBAs a bit of a crusade in his first year, though he hasn't be…

At meeting on street closings, information (Forest City's planned major ramp-up) and evasions; tension but little conflict; questions left unanswered

Some significant information--and evasion--emerged during last night's meeting on street closings and transportation changes for Atlantic Yards, sponsored by three City Council Members and held at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene.

It drew more than 120 people, well more than half project supporters, as well as opponents, local elected officials (and their staff members), and representatives and officials of the three local community boards. (Planned for closing are Fifth Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, and Pacific Street between Flatbush and Sixth avenues and Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues.)

For example, officials announced tweaks in the traffic plan and claimed political resistance has caused a delay in formation of a Transportation Working Group, which was first announced in May 2007.

Forest City Ratner (FCR) executive Jane Marshall (pictured, with three City Council Members at right) gave evasive answers about the delays in the reconstruction of th…

Brooklyn Paper FOIL request on arena security generates one (redacted) email exchange from ESDC; that day, the setbacks issue was in the news

In an article headlined Deadly silence? Officials have had one e-mail exchange over Yards security, the Brooklyn Paper looked into the Empire State Development Corporation's unlikely claim that "its officials have had just one e-mail exchange over security outside the proposed 18,000-seat arena."

And the one document the newspaper did receive was an 11/13/07 exchange of two email messages, with all text redacted.

Now it's plausible that the ESDC hasn't made security a priority, since it's the job of the New York Police Department (NYPD), which has been meeting with the developer. But it's hard to believe that there was only one email exchange.

And that exchange captured in the FOIL request was not a communication with the NYPD. Rather, it was an internal communication.

What was on their mind?

Could they have been discussing my post that day, headlined State secret? ESDC stonewalls on arena setbacks, but graphics hint building's near street?

I noted that the…

Luxury suites at the Atlantic Yards arena: from 170 (2006) to 130 (2008) to 100 (2009) to 104 (2010)

On Tuesday the Nets announced yet another effort to sell luxury suites at the Atlantic Yards arena/Barclays Center, and earlier today I pointed out a slight uptick since September in the number of suites, from 100 to 104.

However, we should remember how the number has decreased, overall. In the KPMG report prepared in 2006 for the Empire State Development Corporation, the Nets were estimating 170 suites, though analysts were skeptical.

KPMG stated (as previously noted in February 2007):
[Forest City Ratner] assumes that approximately 162 of 170 suites will be sold annually through a combination of first ring suites, second ring suites, courtside suites, and loge boxes. The suite price includes the price of tickets to NBA games and approximately 25 percent of other events held at the arena. In addition, it is assumed that three of the four party suites, each with sixty suites, will be sold for all NBA games on an annual basis.

Given the competitiveness of the market, both the total num…

Brooklyn authenticity, Atlantic Yards, and those "Brownstone" and "Loft" suites now being marketed for the Barclays Center

The term "authenticity" is being bandied about a lot these days, thanks to sociologist Sharon Zukin's new book Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, subject of a major article in Sunday's New York Times and a forum at CUNY's Gotham Center for New York History. (Also see this interview with Zukin.)

And the concept has been used, rather aggressively, both to justify a new basketball arena in Brooklyn and to market arena suites named Loft and Brownstone, both references to Brooklyn features erased for the project.

What's authenticity?

But what exactly is authenticity? Zukin writes: Claiming authenticity becomes prevalent at a time when identities are unstable and people are judged by their performance rather than by their history or innate character. Under these conditions authenticity differentiates a person, a product, or a group from its competitors; it confers an aura of moral superiority, a strategic advantage that each can use to its own b…

Efforts to use Columbia decision to reopen Atlantic Yards eminent domain, EIS cases rejected by Court of Appeals

They were both long-shot efforts, but attempts by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and plaintiffs organized by DDDB to reopen two key Atlantic Yards cases have been rejected by the state Court of Appeals.

Thus the eminent domain case--but not the pending challenge to the actual condemnation--is over, as is the case challenging the environmental review.

This narrows the remaining court cases related to the project to three, though two are essentially versions of the same case.

Columbia parallel?

In both unsuccessful efforts, the appellants invoked a similar case in which the Appellate Division blocked the Empire State Development Corporation's use of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion, citing, among other things, the use of "underutilization" to determine blight.

The decisions by the Court of Appeals imply that they will either overturn the lower court's decision in the Columbia case or they will overturn it on other grounds, such as the court&…

Catching up on the ACORN story: Brian Lehrer, Politico, City Room

The ACORN story and Atlantic Yards, including my role, got three mentions today in the media, and all needed some corrections.

Brian Lehrer Show

First there was the Brian Lehrer Show, on WNYC, ACORN by Any Other Name.

To quote the summary from No Land Grab:

City Hall editor Edward-Isaac Dovere, and Politico.com senior political writer Ben Smith join Brian Lehrer to discuss the reorganization of New York ACORN, which is now calling itself New York Communities for Change. The inevitable Atlantic Yards question comes up around the 9:40 mark.

Brian Lehrer: And recently, in New York, it wasn't only the right that hated ACORN, it was opponents of the Atlantic Yards project.

Ben Smith: They were among the first yesterday to sort of notice this transformation.

BL: And does this affect their deal with the Atlantic Yards developer to take a lot of money from them to administer community benefits agreements?

BS: Now that is a great question. I have not seen anywhere that Ratner has renegotiate…