Skip to main content

Featured Post

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + project FAQ (pinned post)

Looking back to 2010, when Gov. Paterson passed the buck: "Ten years from now, either they will be right, or you will be right"

It's a ten-year anniversary, more or less, of three events, one of which gained far more attention than the others. Ten years ago tomorrow, on 3/11/10, those building the Barclays Center held a triumphant groundbreaking--here's my coverage of what I dubbed "Team Hype."

A day before the groundbreaking, on 3/10/10, state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman dismissed challenges to the project's 2009 re-approval by Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC, now ESD), which estimated a ten-year buildout despite evidence, notably in the renegotiation of the deal to buy development rights the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard over 21 years, that it would take much longer.

Friedman was scathing: the ESDC's ten-year time frame was supported "only minimally," she wrote, but "the court cannot ignore the [ESDC's] deplorable lack of transparency." Staff memoranda, she noted, didn't detail the MTA deal.

Though one could "disagree strongly with ESDC's decision, as a quasi-public agency, to permit construction" with the uncertainty of delay, Friedman wrote, the project "was already well underway... At this late juncture, petitioners' redress is a matter for the political will, and not for this court."

A Möbius strip of official deference

That affirmed a Möbius strip of official deference: Friedman had passed the buck to the political system headed by Gov. David Paterson, but he'd already sent it back.

Queried at a forum in Brooklyn 3/8/10 by Michael D.D. White about the "Atlantic Yards boondoggle," Paterson said, "Since the project was already in implementation when I came into office"--in March 2008--"I waited for the Court of Appeals to make a decision, and they ruled the way they did." It had ruled 11/24/09, by a 6-1 margin, upholding eminent domain for Atlantic Yards

That ignored how agencies he controlled, ESDC and MTA, had already revised deals months earlier, while ESDC affirmed that ten-year buildout. It hardly surprising, as we've learned, that governors would want to keep a once-approved development plan going.

Opponents threw up their hands. "It is a very sad day," lamented Candace Carponter of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, for Friedman to claim powerlessness while essentially damning the agency decision. "That is the legacy and hallmark of Atlantic Yards—a total failure of democracy."

Not long after, in November 2010, Friedman did issue a ruling that resulted in requiring a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to study project delays, saying that ESDC had failed to address the impact of the Development Agreement, which it had kept under wraps and which allows 25 years before penalties kick in for the project as a whole.

"The process did not work out"

Let's look more closely at Paterson. "Now, the merits of your argument are certainly--this has been a debate on both sides--there are people who live in this area who are on both sides of this issue," the governor said. "So what I'm just trying to tell you is: there was a process, the process did not work out."

I didn't Paterson's statement that "the process did not work out" as an admission of governmental inadequacy but rather as a suggestion that "the process did not work out" as his questioner would like.

"Ten years from now, either they will be right, or you will be right," Paterson concluded, "and what I didn't want to do is impose my own judgment when there has already been a court decision on the issue."

Ten years later, who's right?

"Ten years from now, either they will be right, or you will be right," Paterson said.

Was "they" the people supporting the project, or the Supreme Court? Let's assume the former. The arena's been built, and helped redefine Brooklyn. The big winner, though, is the former team owner, Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov.

Property owners, both commercial and residential, in the orbit of the project, have done pretty well, though residents who live close to the arena and project are subject to sometimes severe disruption--though such disruptions do not extend as far as was once feared.

As for those hoping for jobs, affordable housing, and contracts, well, there's some. But I think it's safe to say that the projected bounties of Atlantic Yards, and the promises/hype to transform suffering parts of Brooklyn, have delivered far less than expected. That suggests a failure of government oversight, both executive and judicial.

Some irony

As I noted, some of Paterson's closing remarks, seen through an Atlantic Yards lens, contained no small measure of irony.

"I want to think all of you for bringing these questions here," the governor said. "There is a lot of anger, as the public is waking up to the fact that that government either misled the public or otherwise did not give a fair accounting... What we're trying to do... is to be blunt about the situation as it stands and be forthright with information that hopefully will give you the resources to help guide us."

"We want you to try to restore your trust in government," he said. "We want you to believe that when the government tells you something it's true. And we also want you to believe that when you address government that there will be a response."