Sunday, November 10, 2013

On Brian Lehrer, Atlantic Yards gets muddled: de Blasio said to have used bully pulpit (nah), criticism of failed promises said to be absent (nah)

On 11/6/13 WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show offered  Transition Day One:
What now for Bill de Blasio? Ester Fuchs, professor of international and public affairs and political science at Columbia University and former adviser to Mayor Bloomberg, and Andrea Bernstein, metro editor at WNYC News, discuss what comes next for New York City's newest mayor.


At 36:46, "Peter in Park Slope called to say, "de Blasio's ardor for Bruce Ratner is no less slavish than Bloomberg's. So when I heard him keeping developers in check, demanding affordable housing, I had my head spinning."

"Because he supported Atlantic Yards," Lehrer offered.

"Yeah."

"Andrea," Lehrer followed up, "what do members of the permanent government have to fear from de Blasio different from... Mike Bloomberg. I'm talking about Wall Street, the real estate industry, and the public sector unions."

After noting that de Blasio's first meeting was with Bloomberg, after positioning himself as "the not-Bloomberg," Bernstein pointed out that de Blasio got many contributions at the end of his campaign--when his election seemed inevitable--from lobbyists and Wall Street.

Drilling down on AY

 "On Atlantic Yards," Bernstein continued, "Bill de Blasio's argument has been consistent that he got behind it because it was going to build affordable housing. He says as Public Advocate he used his bully pulpit to press for that. Now the rubber hits the road. What are the sanctions going to be against Bruce Ratner, who is a de Blasio friend, who funded his 50th birthday party, as a political fundraiser, if that housing doesn't get built?"

Actually, de Blasio has *not* used his bully pulpit, and it's disappointing that such a statement could be repeated without skepticism. WNYC's Matthew Schuerman has reported on this issue, so it's not an esoteric contention.

Given that Atlantic Yards is a state project, the city does not really have sanctions. What it does have is bonding capacity and subsidies, which it can devote to make the Atlantic Yards towers an easier or tougher deal for the developer. Consider that the city Housing Development Corporation pressured Ratner into adding more two-bedroom units to the first tower than initially announced but still let Ratner get away with far fewer family sized units than promised.

As mayor, de Blasio will have more carrots than sticks. I wouldn't be surprised if he "gets the housing done" by devoting more subsidies to the project.

The ACORN deal and CBA

Ester Fuchs said: "The issue to me around Ratner was not that [de Blasio] supported that, because Bertha Lewis supported that, she was at ACORN then. They did a really good deal on affordable housing. The problem is, he built the stadium first, and no one said, Hey build this affordable housing while you're building the stadium. That's the problem.

Lehrer said, "A good deal, except it turned out to be unenforceable."

Actually, there were two deals. The Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which incorporates the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding, is essentially unenforceable because no public party is a signatory. All the signatories--including ACORN and its successors--have some financial relationship with Forest City Ratner.

As a sign of their unwillingness to enforce that agreement, consider that none of them has publicly pressed that Forest City hire the Independent Compliance Monitor required by the Community Benefits Agreement. (Also, de Blasio, a big booster of the CBA, has been tellingly silent on that issue.)

The guiding document for Atlantic Yards is a Development Agreement Forest City Ratner signed with the Empire State Development Corporation.

That *is* enforceable. It just gives Ratner a long leash. Ratner's not in violation. Atlantic Yards critics and opponents, who *do* know Ratner's less than trustworthy record, did call him out for not building the housing.

The interesting question is why allies like Lewis and de Blasio kept quiet. Their uncritical support helped Ratner get hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies. Ratner supported de Blasio's campaign. His company *bailed out* ACORN after the organization lost funding in the wake of an internal scandal (before the "pimp" sting).

de Blasio and Lewis may well believe the goals of Atlantic Yards are worth it. However, they've proceeded uncritically, while Ratner's record should have inspired skepticism.

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