Skip to main content

On Brian Lehrer: had "deeply flawed" Atlantic Yards procedure instead gone through ULURP, a greater discussion about directing subsidies (and maybe overall scope)

Yesterday's Brian Lehrer Show's election series "30 issues in 30 Days" addressed the question of to what extent should the city leverage private development to build affordable housing, parks, and open space:
Vicki Been, director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at NYU, and Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, discuss to what extent the city government should rely on private money for public amenities like affordable housing, more parks, and open space.
Lehrer started with Atlantic Yards, pointing out that Democratic mayoral nominee (and overwhelming favorite) Bill de Blasio supported the project because it promised good jobs and affordable housing. He asked de Blasio the day before if the failure to deliver housing by now meant that promise was meaningless. (I thought it was a weak question, and an obfuscatory answer.)

A larger cautionary tale?

"Do you agree it had the right goals or wrong implementation and oversight," as de Blasio indicated, "or is there some larger cautionary tale about how the public sector shouldn't rely on the private sector?" Lehrer asked.

Been said she agreed the procedure was "deeply flawed" because it used a Community Benefits Agreement that's not enforceable by the city, and enforcement takes a lot of time energy and money. (I'd add that there's an inherent conflict, because the signatories are also financially dependent on Forest City Ratner.)

She agreed the goals of the project, in the abstract, were absolutely appropriate, but had the process gone through the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, "we would have much more discussion about how much subsidy should go into those affordable units."

In other words, once the project was approved, it essentially (though, actually, not completely) locked in support for subsidies, even though they might go farther elsewhere.

Been left out the issue of whether the ULURP process might have delivered a project with a different scope, density, and urban design.

What's industry's take?

Lehrer asked Spinola if the real estate industry even wanted "to be leveraged by politics to provide public goods"?

Spinola said "the private sector has greater ability to build things less expensively, and more quickly." However, "you can't ask for things economically that are not doable."

He moved on to some talking points, saying, "we are seeing the dramatic change as a result of the arena" and Forest City Ratner "is committed to doing everything they can," including developing modular housing and finding a new financial partner to meet its commitment.

But developers can say financial conditions have changed and can back off.

So too can the government, said Spinola, who added, "I'm not a big believer in Community Benefit Agreements.. I think they are not enforceable...I think that anything required has to be directly tied to the impact of the project. you cannot expect developers to do things unrelated to what they're building."

The profit motive and the quid pro quo

Lehrer pointed out that, at least with the public sector, the profit motive is not there/.

Been agreed that the public sector also faces risks, but with project like Atlantic Yards, "if the stadium gets built, but quid pro quo doesn't get delivered, it' a different breach of a bargain than when government has to cut back on plans for infrastructure."

She said she didn't disagree that Forest City isn't making efforts to build, and is innovating, but the "central issue is how do you make sure that benefits that developer sought and benefits that community sought both get done in a timely fashion."

And they left it like that.

Community comments

If you read the comments, there's a lot more skepticism. Peter Krashes from Prospect Heights
In 2006 and again in 2009 when the project agreements were modified, FCRC promised an arena, a specific number of new jobs, affordable housing, a new rail yard, and open space in exchange for roughly $300,000,000 in public subsidies, property control of 22 acres of land in the center of a revitalizing area, and even several public streets at a bargain rate. All of the subsidies and property control were based on the promise they would deliver the project in full in ten years.
FCRC made these promises knowing affordable housing subsidies weren't sufficient given construction costs, and they didn't explain how they were going to build the platform over a rail yard that is key to the project. It has been everyone's assumption FCRC was going to pursue additional subsidies or reduce costs, and if neither of those things happens, delay. But the promise that the project would be complete in ten years with the provided subsidies has been useful for the developer because it skewed government decision-making: How does government evaluate options if the information it is relying on is insufficient or incorrect?
So on what terms is FCRC going to deliver the project now? They have already said they are going to build using modular construction to lower construction costs, but modular construction delivers lower paying construction jobs (and potentially few construction jobs). They have effectively shifted the risk of lower construction costs to the public.
FCRC has also delayed constructing the promised permanent rail yard and changed the project's construction sequence to enable delaying or not building the platform over the rail yard -- therefore also delaying the removal of the blighting influence on the project site the project is ostensibly designed to eliminate. They apparently hope moving forward they can reduce costs of constructing a new rail yard and a platform. Who benefits if they succeed? Does the savings go to the project's investors, or to the public through more open space, improved affordable housing, or less density. Who makes that decision? And if the delay in building over the rail yard continues, then the de Blasio's family's back yard will be larger than the permanent open space the project provides its first several thousand families and pedestrians will be walking in circles.
Atlantic Yards oversight is recklessly thin. There is little government staff dedicated to the project exclusively, there is no independent board, and almost all information the public relies on about the project comes from FCRC about jobs, the delivery of benefits, and the extent environmental commitments have been met. FCRC has refused to hire the independent compliance monitor they promised for the project to verify their claims. Future Mayor de Blasio, please stop using FCRC's talking points and get us an effective independent compliance monitor and governance reform for the project now!
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights:
One of the most overlooked problems with so-called “public-private” partnerships (which those in the know frequently refer to more often as “private-public” partnerships because of the way the private sector tends to take over making government participants subservient) is beautifully addressed by one of Jane Jacobs most overlooked, least read books: “Systems of Survival.”
In that book Jacobs points out that attempts to mix business enterprises with government and politics are inherently flawed, because the moral systems that apply to each (each working well when confined to their own respective contexts) must necessarily remain different and incompatible. Jacobs’ book is full of examples of what happens when realms that should remain distinct (together with their associated moralities) improperly intermix, so that one gets what she calls “monstrous hybrids.” That includes, the Soviet Union running businesses, police departments for sale (“Robocop”?- How about prisons?), the Mafia, etc.
For more see: Wednesday, February 13, 2013One-Stop Petition Shopping: Report On The Brooklyn Heights Association Annual Meeting, LICH and Libraries.


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…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming + FAQ (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in February 2018, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed--but not yet approved--shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).


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…