Friday, October 25, 2013

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.

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