Skip to main content

What happened to the Atlantic Yards "opposition"? Or, more importantly, what's happened to civic and press oversight?

I recently was queried by a New York Times reporter--who's barely covered Atlantic Yards and was credited with a dubious account of the arena opening--curious about what happened to long-time Atlantic Yards "opponents," and whether they've moved on or not.

The reporter wanted my take on "the state of the opposition," among other things. I'm responding publicly and at length in the hopes of influencing a more insightful article.

(I haven't had any previous dealings with this reporter, but the Times's senior editor in charge of corrections, who has a rather odd commitment to accuracy, in August told me, "You have lost all credibility with editors and reporters here." So I'm a bit wary.)

Asking about the "state of the opposition" is a narrow question and, while perhaps of some human interest, misses the point in several ways. First, there is no--and never was--a monolithic "opposition," as I describe below. Second, attention to the "opposition" when it mattered was highly sporadic.

The not-so-watchdog press

More importantly, focusing on "opponents" ignores a larger issue: what role should the press play in oversight of a controversial project like Atlantic Yards, passed without any vote from local elected officials? When the press feels it must point out promises unfulfilled or corners cut, it usually relies on the "opposition."

But reporters can and should ask those questions themselves, helping fill a gap in oversight, and serving as a counterweight to the huge effort by developer Forest City Ratner (lobbying and public relations) and its government allies (p.r.) to promote Atlantic Yards. It's never been a fair fight. (See what I call the Culture of Cheating.)

Why focus on "the opposition" when there's news for the taking, such as my report on Forest City Ratner's admission, to investment analysts, that it won't consider building towers over the railyard until after it builds seven towers. That undermines a key justification for Atlantic Yards: removal of blight.

The Times has not exactly distinguished itself covering Atlantic Yards. What about going down the EB-5 rabbit hole? What about the fate of BUILD (and the "modern blueprint")? Marty Markowitz's two-facedness?

Why'd the Times ignore the May 2009 state Senate oversight hearing, the state's only Atlantic Yards oversight hearing? Why did it devote just five print paragraphs to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's June 2009 revision of the railyard deal?

Diminished "opposition," but still need for oversight

I expect the upcoming article to declare that the "opposition" is diminished and "opponents" feel disempowered: after all, there was no "opposition" statement issued yesterday regarding the announcement that the New York Islanders would move to the Barclays Center. (In an effort to point to the larger questions, I did tweet that the announcement did nothing to deliver promised Atlantic Yards benefits.)

The Daily News, on the basis of one interview, reported:
But residents of nearby brownstone neighborhoods were unwelcoming and bracing for more traffic headaches.
“They are a Long Island team and there are more drivers,” said Peter Krashes of the Dean St. Block Association/Atlantic Yards Watch. “Things are likely to get worse, not better.”
Is that an unfounded worry? As I've reported and has been detailed on Atlantic Yards Watch, the city has allowed trucks and livery cabs to park and idle illegally (and honk), and for trucks to be loaded outside--all violations of the law or promised protocols. (Also, the much-touted success of arena operations has relied on an override of traffic lights and a shutdown of Atlantic Avenue.)

In comments to the Times, later scrubbed, Krashes made the larger point that there's no oversight of Atlantic Yards, as the city and state have kowtowed to the developer.

Is that simply a contention? Or is there evidence, such as thorough report (that the Times ignored) that indicated "continual violations and difficulty with enforcement" regarding construction mitigation measures.

What's "the opposition"?

I use quotes for the "opposition" because it's a simplistic catchall.
Those engaged with Atlantic Yards have included, over the years, "opponents," "critics," and just plain neighbors trying to cope with a huge change nearby, one enabled by a state override of zoning that allowed a sports facility to be put close to a residential district, as well as other overrides regarding the size of the towers, signage, and parking.

The Times has too often classified as "opponents" people simply living next to a project they never expected, and responding with understandable wariness. (The Times has, of late, gotten more skeptical about developer Bruce Ratner, however.)

There was never a monolithic opposition and, as evidenced in recent months, there are both commonalities and divergences among those engaged.

The main opposition group, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), was organized to stop Atlantic Yards, and it led several lawsuits. It's understandable that, given that the arena has been built, the effort to stop Atlantic Yards has wound down, though some people remain active in periodic protests, such as around the arena opening. (Such actions engaged a range of people, from longtime opponents to those who focus on ensuring project promises get fulfilled.)

Another group, Brooklyn Speaks, aimed to reform the project, and issued principles regarding such worthy issues as urban design and governance. A strategy of negotiation, however, ultimately got nowhere.

Both groups led coalitions in separate lawsuits, later combined, challenging New York State's failure to study the community impact of a 25-year project buildout, a buildout enabled by the state's stealth decision to give Forest City Ratner 25 years to build the project. (The Times ignored that news too, when it broke.) They won the case, a significant moral victory at least, given the courts' typical deference to government agencies.

In July 2011 and in April 2012, the Times treated those rulings as an afterthought, in round-up articles about Atlantic Yards. The latter article contained the following passage, ever more dubious given the news earlier this week:
For Forest City Ratner, the developer of the project, which was strongly backed by many city leaders, the changes are evidence that the arena has already met its goal of transforming a dreary section of Brooklyn — the Long Island Rail Road’s rail yards and surrounding industrial buildings, which the company’s spokesman described as “ a scar that divided the neighborhood.”
Several people involved in BrooklynSpeaks also are involved in Atlantic Yards Watch, an initiative for, among other things, reporting of community impacts that officials too easily ignore.

Also, it's understandable that those most concerned about the impact of arena and project/construction operations would remain concerned, and some people previously uninvolved would become engaged, such as at the recent meeting on arena quality-of-life impacts.

What about Atlantic Yards Report?

Clearly some people have moved on, and Eric McClure, the main contributor in recent years to NoLandGrab, wrote in a farewell post last month:
We thought the community (and media) would benefit from having a one-stop shop for what was being reported about the project, as well as a venue for the dissemination of information about the fight against what we believed was, and is, a corrupt abuse of eminent domain, a sinkhole for scarce public dollars, a subversion of democratic process, and an urban-planning disaster — among other abuses.
We also intended NoLandGrab as a means of fighting to stop Atlantic Yards, not watchdogging the project as it took shape.
He suggested that my Atlantic Yards Report had "expanded from original reportage to covering a good chunk of the news that we do." Not exactly: I've long had a mix of original reportage, commentary, media criticism, and aggregation. But I now try harder to aggregate coverage, aiming to track the zeitgeist.

I call Atlantic Yards Report a "watchdog blog," which implies a skepticism--based often on clearly sourced evidence--about the project. While such skepticism aligns me closer to project opponents and critics, I don’t necessarily share their views or analysis.

Why did I not shut the blog down, I've been asked, when the construction of the Barclays Center began in 2010? Because the blog was not about "stopping" the arena, it's about looking at a complicated, challenging, and ever-changing story, and trying to hold those in power accountable.

After all, there's a need for institutional memory about Atlantic Yards, given that at least one reporter uncritically reported Mayor Mike Bloomberg's Ratner-serving statement that Atlantic Yards opponents should be blamed for delays in housing.

The reporter querying me didn't ask about important stories I'd broken, but rather wanted to know how many posts I'd written and whether things are different for me now that the arena's open. (The answers should be obvious.)

How long, I was asked, do I imagine "actively producing" my blog, especially if the project takes 25 years? Well, I have no business model, but I don't have an expiration date, either.

The civic need for watchdog coverage and institutional memory persists, especially when the daily press can't (because it's spread thin) and won't (who knows, though stories are there for the taking) pay close enough attention to projects like Atlantic Yards. And yes, I'm still working on a book, though the Atlantic Yards saga is ever-evolving.

If included in the Times article, let's see if I'm classified as a "longtime opponent." In the Times, I was once called a "local blogger and critic of Atlantic Yards"--I had a contentious conversation with that reporter, who in an earlier version of the article described me as an "opponent."

I've also been described as "a journalist who has a blog devoted to the Atlantic Yards project." The use of the term "blogger," however technically accurate, diminishes my experience and credentials.

Let's also see if the Times maintains its sporadic pattern of disclosing that the New York Times Company partnered with Forest City Ratner on the Times Tower in midtown. As I've said, that doesn't mean the Times is in the developer's pocket--at least, not for news coverage. (The editorials regarding Atlantic Yards are generally gentle.) But I do think that business relationship obligates the Times to be exacting in its coverage, and the newspaper regularly falls short.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

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…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …