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Green, de Blasio support AY without considering balance between costs and benefits

I wrote earlier about the divide on Atlantic Yards in the Public Advocate race, as shown in a recent WABC debate, but a previous debate, sponsored by the Community Newspaper Group, and Brooklyn Community Access Television, also is instructive.

Not only does it show candidate Bill de Blasio supporting affordable housing and jobs without any reflection on the cost of those benefits, it shows former Public Advocate (and frontrunner) Mark Green deferring to the mayor and economic development agencies to determine the benefits, without any acknowledgment that such analyses are absent or deeply flawed.

The issue of AY came up at about 13:03. (Previous coverage in the Courier-Life described the AY issue, but not in as much detail as below.)

More subsidies?

Moderator Gersh Kuntzman asked if the Public Advocate would listen to a request for more subsidies from developer Forest City Ratner.

"There's been enough subsidies," said de Blasio. "I have, as you know, been a supporter of the project, because we need the affordable housing and we need the jobs for our community, more than ever... I think there's an urgency in our communities to find more mobs for people... and affordable housing. But we need a new environmental impact statement. We need a much clearer explanation from Forest City Ratner of where they're going with their plan. I think there should be a full disclosure of their plans. I think they've held back a lot of information. I don't think the Empire State Development Corporation should vote until all information is put forward."

Kuntzman asked if he still supported the project despite his criticisms.

De Blasio responded, "I still support the goals of the project... But I'm dissatisfied fundamentally with how the process has been undertaken. I think the Empire State Development Corporation should be much more aggressive. And again, I think we need a new environmental impact statement and no more subsidies."

Note that the ESDC and Forest City Ratner oppose such a new environmental impact statement because it would delay their plans.

Other candidates

Eric Gioia said "I think the people in Brookyn have been sold a bill of goods." He said he was against more subsidies. "Of course we need affordable housing, of course we need economic development, but we are consistently sold a false choice."

He cited a development in his district--Queens West--that did not require eminent domain.

Norman Siegel said, "Seeing that the Public Advocate has an obligation to listen to everyone. I would listen, then I would respectfully disagree. No more subsidies... A lot of these projects, including Atlantic Yards, there's alternative plans. You could have the affordable housing without the eminent domain. I think the Nets arena was a ruse... to get the other 19 buildings... You know where they should put the Nets? Out in Coney Island."

At one point, it seemed that Forest City Ratner--or at least architect Frank Gehry--was talking about 20 buildings, including three towers over the Atlantic Center Mall, but the project includes 17 buildings now.

Green's take

Green said,"I agree with Bill. No more subsidies. There have been sufficient subsidies for Ratner to build... Of course you don't use eminent domain so take one person's house for another person's house. You only do it so there's a sufficient public benefit as decided by the mayor and the economic development agencies, but if there's provable bad faith, of course you don't go forward with it. That's clear from the Supreme Court decision [in the Kelo case]...."

(Emphasis added)

Public benefit

Kuntzman followed up: "Is there substantial public benefit to Atlantic Yards?"

Yes, said Green.

No, said Siegel, adding that the game is rigged, because challenges in court begin in the Appellate Division, with only get 15 minutes to argue and no opportunity to call witnesses.

In response to Kuntzman's follow-up question of what he'd do, Siegel said, "You try to get Albany to change the legislation. If not, you go to court and you raise that as a constitutional issue."

That's what he's done in representing property owners challenging the state's pursuit of eminent domain for Columbia University's expansion project.

Gioia said that the arena could go in Sunnyside Yards, as part of an intermodal train facility and massive affordable housing project. (That may be the last great piece of open land in the city, but the cost of a deck would be substantial, and the market right now for development is down.)

Back to de Blasio

Kuntzman turned back to de Blasio: "Do you think there's still a substantial public benefit to Atlantic Yards?"

"I think people cannot afford to live in New York City any more," de Blasio responded. "We need affordable housing, period. That neighborhood--and you know it well--has been rapidly gentrifying. if there is not new affordable housing created, it will only be a neighborhood for those well off enough to live there."

That doesn't necessarily mean a substantial public benefit. It does mean that de Blasio doesn't bother to look any further than the "affordable housing" mantra.


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