Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How "6 Reasons to Be Wary of Public-Private Partnerships" applies to Atlantic Yards

Last April, Laura Barrett, the National Campaign Director for the grassroots network Gamaliel and Transportation Equity Network, wrote 6 Reasons to Be Wary of Public-Private Partnerships for Rooflines, the blog of the National Housing Institute, which also publishes Shelterforce.

The latter was the site for some fierce debate about the Atlantic Yards project, with Shelterforce's writer, John Atlas, defending the deal struck by ACORN, and later writing a book about ACORN with an Atlantic Yards chapter.

So it's interesting to note that public-private partnerships, praised by President Obama, have, according to Barrett, a mixed record, as "political cronyism and financial desperation have contributed to these six troubling trends."

Let's see how much the trends she identified apply to Atlantic Yards:
  • Little or no democratic oversight: Yes, Atlantic Yards is run by a state agency accountable only to the governor, and that agency currently has one employee solely dedicated to Atlantic Yards--and his salary is paid by developer Forest City Ratner.
  • Competition stifled: Yes, there was only one, belated bidder for the key piece of public property, the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard, because Forest City had the inside track. 
  • Public sectors are saddled with the risk: Well, Forest City put money up and obviously assumed some risk, but then attenuated that risk by extending the deadline to acquire the MTA land and to acquire property through eminent domain, and to build the project.
  • The voice of the community is missing: There's no formal process for community input, given that there's no governing entity.
  • Opportunities missed for community benefits: While community benefits were promised, few have been delivered, thanks to the delay in project buildout and Forest City Ratner's failure to hire a promised, and contractually required Independent Compliance Monitor..
  • Absence of strategic planning: This was an ad hoc effort not connected to any planning for the larger area. 
Wrote Barrett:
We desperately need the economic boost and jobs that infrastructure development can bring, but we need to make sure that taxpayers aren't left holding the bag. The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and any other mechanisms that rely on the private market need to be carefully constructed with community input to make them a boon and not a boondoggle.
Maybe we can start with some clarifying rhetoric and call Atlantic Yards a "private-public development."

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