Skip to main content

On the radio, de Blasio repeats Ratner talking points on jobs, forgets promised compliance monitor (new video), promises push for affordable housing (subsidies?)

Appearing yesterday on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee and overwhelming favorite for mayor, displayed his true colors on Atlantic Yards: obfuscate, repeat Forest City Ratner talking points, and, more ominously, leave hints he'd up subsidies to get the project done.

What's absent from de Blasio's public presentation is any distrust of the developer, despite ample reason for such distrust. For example, Forest City Ratner has long promised an Independent Compliance Monitor for the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) de Blasio has championed.

No such monitor has been hired. de Blasio--who's supported by Forest City's housing partner and who's gotten campaign contributions thanks to Forest City--hasn't said a peep. Below I publish new video of Forest City's explicit promise.

On the radio

On Brian Lehrer, de Blasio was asked about about housing and transportation issues. His housing policies, de Blasio said, include mandatory inclusionary zoning, changes in the tax codes to open up vacant land, investing at least $1 billion in city pension funds.

Note that Atlantic Yards might be considered an example of a negotiated inclusionary private rezoning: in exchange for getting permission to build the project at the density it sought profitable, Forest City Ratner agreed to include 2250 subsidized housing units, among 6430 apartments.

At about 1:55 in the interview, Lehrer brought up AY: "You supported the Atlantic Yards project for its affordable housing promises, but now we have the gleaming Barclays Center, but no housing. Is the agreement with developer Bruce Ratner meaningless?"

That was kind of a dumb question. It's not meaningless, it's generous, as the state agency overseeing the project, gave Ratner a very long leash--and de Blasio did not use his bully pulpit to criticize that.



"No, it's not meaningless at all," de Blasio replied, then pivoted. "But I want to caution that... the goals were the right goals, the procedure was not the right procedure, it was not done with city of New York [oversight], because that was state land."

Actually, less than 40% of the project was state land, and city officials could have pushed for the project to go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

And while de Blasio may think the goals of a large amount of housing were good, he should recognize that, in the "right procedure," one involving input from a City Council Member who reflected the concerns of her constituents, the plan might have been modified.

(Remember, people were not concerned merely about the arena, but the entire huge project, and none of those 16 towers have been built. We really can't grasp how it will look and what it's impact will be.)

Binding requirements

"The administrations governing at the time--the Bloomberg administration here, the Pataki administration in Albany, did not put the kind of binding requirements on the process that they could have, and this is the kind of tradition in the city I want to break," de Blasio said, unmindful of his silence on the agreement--binding but generous--already signed.

"We've had too many times where developers were offered very favorable, very lenient terms, a lot of affordable housing promises were not kept," he continued. "I intend a much more aggressive approach, with real consequences, if developers do not keep their commitments to the public. In the case of Atlantic Yards, I want to go back very aggressively and get that affordable housing built."

The thing is, de Blasio has zero power to open up the agreement with the state. He could use his buly pulpit to criticize--as he has failed to do--but more likely he will use the carrot, not the stick, and offer Forest City more subsidies to get the project done.

That would lead to results, but it would privilege this project over others. "As a physical location, it is a fantastic location for the creation of thousands of affordable units," de Blasio said, somehow ignoring that the project is also a "fantastic location" for thousands of market-rate units. "We have to take advantage of that and the city needs to play an active role to make that happen."

Lehrer did not ask how that might happen.

What Lehrer could have asked

As I wrote earlier this week, next time, rival candidate Joe Lhota or the moderator need to ask: How exactly have you pressured Ratner? What public statements or public criticisms have you issued? Did you say anything about the failure to provide the promised amount of family-sized apartments in the first tower? Did you say anything about the failure to hire an Independent Compliance Monitor for the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement?

Union-scale jobs

Lehrer related how he heard a Nets executive say he expects "every Nets game to sell out, maybe that's something you can use as leverage to get housing built, money is flowing in."

"Certainly, they're doing well," de Blasio said, and pivoted: "and by the way, there's another piece of this that's very important, they're employing a lot of Brooklyn residents, a lot of folks from areas of Brooklyn where there's fewer employment opportunities, and they're doing so at union scale. So, that is a crucial benefit, and another thing I care about a lot."

At union scale? There is a union at the arena, but Forest City won't say what the part-time workers are paid. Forest City claims a living wage, but won't say how many hours. It's a living wage only if they work a 40-hour week, and they don't.

No one can live on those "union scale" jobs. If de Blasio truly cared, he'd drill down, or he'd make sure Forest City hired that promised Independent Compliance Monitor to report honestly on the pay scale and hours of the workers, rather than repeat the developer's talking points.

Forest City's promises

I've written about this issue several times, but here's the best evidence: Former Forest City point man Jim Stuckey at a public meeting in November 2004.

"Let’s talk about Community Benefits Agreements," Stuckey said. "We doing something here that is historic. Never been done in New York City before. What we’re doing is we’ve agreed to enter into a legally-binding Community Benefits Agreement that will be monitored by an independent monitoring group not associated with anybody who actually negotiates that agreement."

Note the enthusiastic claps by supporters who thought that a validation of the company's plan.


Video by producers of Battle for Brooklyn.

"And we’re doing that because not only because we believe we should do the things that we say we will do, just as we have in the past"--not Stuckey's somewhat defensive tone--"and we also believe that should set the bar. We also believe that, what we do should be done by others.”

Ok, here's what happened. Forest City didn't hire that monitor, and when asked at public meetings has simply stonewalled, sometimes a bit nervously. Check out the response by executive Jane Marshall in the video below, at a November 2010 public meeting.


Video shot by Jonathan Barkey
Or the follow-up in November 2011 or February 2013.

"Are there plans or is is there a date on which you will hire an Independent Compliance Monitor?” Prospect Heights resident Gib Veconi asked last February.

" I don't have a date,” responded executive Ashley Cotton.

Not only has Forest City fallen down, so too have its Community Benefits Agreement partners, including those tied to de Blasio.

Remember how ACORN's Bertha Lewis in May 2006 defended the CBA by noting that it calls for an independent monitoring body that “does not have a dog in this fight” to oversee implementation.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.