Saturday, November 20, 2010

City's broke but has money for a boondoggle

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

With the mayor proposing massive layoffs, isn't it time for all of those folks who are concerned about the loss of certain vital city services to join with the businesses of Willets Point United? But first, here's the bad news: "Mayor Bloomberg is outlining stark plans for thousands of city layoffs to close looming budget gaps, and unions are already pushing back. “We’ve kept the City’s financial house in order through these difficult times by planning ahead and never shying away from making the hard decisions, and our current budget remains balanced because of that sound approach,” said Bloomberg. In short, City Hall says, reducing the city’s budget deficit for next year means getting rid of 2,102 employees in the current fiscal year, 2011, and 8,264 in Fiscal Year 2012. That includes 889 layoffs in Fiscal Year 2011 and 5,312 layoffs in Fiscal Year 2012."

In other words, the city is not in good fiscal shape-and needs to drastically cut back: "But we face a significant challenge for next year, as Federal stimulus dollars run dry and the city still suffers from the impacts of the national economic downturn. We began working to attack next year’s deficit immediately after passing this year’s balanced budget, and there is still more work to do. More spending reductions are going to be necessary, and we have to continue to reduce the number of employees we have by not filling positions - we simply cannot afford the size of our current workforce.”

Municipal labor isn't happy with this: "And DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts said, "We have not yet had an opportunity to analyze the Mayor’s budget proposals in depth. However, I have written the Mayor and suggested he focus on enhancing the city’s revenue before slashing services, laying off workers and placing the burden of balancing the budget on public employees and millions of New Yorkers. Layoffs of any city worker will end up costing the city money. Layoffs in the city’s Department of Finance are particularly self-defeating. These are revenue-generating positions. The millions in tax revenue that goes uncollected because the Dept. of Finance is understaffed amount to tax breaks for the wealthy. Everyone should be asked to pay their fair share. The city’s workers should not be asked to bear the burden of this financial crisis."

Philosophical arguments aside, it's clear that the city's revenues are in the dumpster-and Bloomberg's response is to lay off workers; while Lillian Roberts proposes increasing taxes on an already overburdened citizenry. But there are other ways to skinning the budget cat-and pulling back on Bloomberg's massive boondoggle of a legacy project at Willets Point is as good a place as any-and there are billions in proposed infrastructure and buy-out funds that could be put to much better use.

EDC trying to have it both ways

Reblogged from Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

Crain's Insider-in response to our rebuttal of its original post on the long delayed Willets Point/Van Wyck ramp report-now comes forth, courtesy of the serial prevaricators at EDC, with the following explanation for the egregious failure of the agency to follow the Freedom of Information Law: "Willets Point opponents, whose repeated Freedom of Information Law requests for the city's assessment of traffic impacts have been denied and called premature, were shocked to read in the Insider that the assessment is under review by state and federal agencies. A city spokesman says it is just a draft and therefore not public yet."

Hold on for just one minute. The purpose of WPU filing a FOIL request for the revised AMR was precisely so it could review the document before it was publicly released-as it did with the original flawed, and possibly fraudulent, ramp report. It was as a result of that successful FOIL request that we were able to flag the phony data submissions from the EDC consultants that led to the report's rightful demise.

Having lost its appeal of the original AMR FOIL, EDC and NYSDOT simply have no legal right to withhold the revision-and they know it. So, we are left with the simple explanation that there are ample reasons-none that comport with good public policy or the public interest-for the stonewalling. Chief among them is the fear of premature exposure of the agency's continual malfeasance in regard to this matter. What EDC wants to do is to truncate the review process and bum rush another flawed AMR through the state and federal oversight authorities without giving critics-and the impacted communities-adequate time to evaluate the revised ramp report.

All of which dramatizes the need for NYS DOT to initiate an independent evaluation of the feasibility of building Willets Point ramps-as NRDC, the Sierra Club, and eight community groups have asked for. It is our view, bolstered by the work of ace traffic consultant Brian Ketcham, that there is simply no way for these two proposed ramps to accommodate the 80,000 daily car and truck trips that the Willets Point project will generate-not to mention the millions of more feet of development going on in and around the Willets Point area.

EDC's secrecy, delay, and conscious withholding of data in violation of the law, makes abundantly clear that our suspicions are correct-and that this review process needs to be forcefully wrested from EDC's cold dead hands.

Monday, November 15, 2010

EDC's year-long coverup continues

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

It is now approaching a year since Willets Point United and its traffic maven Brian Ketcham blew the whistle on a fraud that was about to be committed by EDC over the application to build ramps off of the Van Wyck Expressway to accommodate.

What has transpired since last February is nothing less than a vaudeville act. The DOT, after promising transparency and cooperation with whistle blower Ketcham, circled its wagons and has refused any direct information exchange with the expert who prevented the agency from looking like a compliant horse's ass. The actions of EDC, however, are even more egregious-it has refused to give up any information on the work product that has gone into the AMR's revision-and this is after DOT promised WPU that it would have a revised AMR by no later than October 1st.

Can any one concerned with accurate and open government defend the actions of these two agencies?

...WPU has got ungatz from either DOT or the NYC EDC-a stonewalling that further compels that this entire process should be opened up for an independent and public review process. But review aside, EDC is breaking the open government law-refusing to hand over documents that it is required to do under the Freedom of Information Act; a refusal that is instructive about the way this quasi-public agency goes about its business.

The Willets Point development is a massive use of tax payer funds that, while forcibly removing property owners, will have a huge impact on, not only the immediate Willets Point/Corona/Flushing neighborhoods, but the entire region. The proposed Van Wyck ramps are the linchpin of this development, and their ability to accommodate and mitigate thousands of daily car and truck trips is essential for the ability of this development to function smoothly-and NYC has admitted this in court papers.

Put simply, if the ramps either aren't built, or can't perform the tasks assigned to them, the entire Willets Point development becomes a collapsing house of cards. Therefore, the review of these ramps is a crucial variable in evaluating the feasibility of the entire Willets Point project.

If, however, the process is suborned by agency collusion-aided and abetted by an administration used to getting its way in spite of any perceived contradictory facts-a disaster awaits Queens County and its road and mass transit infrastructure. EDC is in dire need of an intervention-the people of Queens and the rest of NYC, including the embattled Willets Point property owners deserve no less.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

DDDB Wins Atlantic Yards Lawsuit

Court Rejects NY State's Misrepresentations About Completion Of Atlantic Yards, Sending Project Back To Empire State Development Corp For Reconsideration

New York, New York— State Supreme Court Justice Marcy S. Friedman issued a ruling today in favor of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and associated neighborhood groups, slamming the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) for "what appears to be yet another failure of transparency" in its approval of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project.

Justice Friedman granted the motion by DDDB and the other petitioners for reargument of her March 10, 2010. She held that the December 2009 Master Development Agreement should have been provided to the Court and having now reviewed that agreement, Justice Friedman found that the ESDC did not properly consider the full 25-year schedule. Justice Friedman has sent the case back to ESDC for reconsideration, requiring the ESDC to provide a "detailed, reasoned basis for [its] findings."

"We are thrilled with the Court's decision," said, Candace Carponter, Esq, chair of DDDB's Legal Committee. "It has laid bare the pattern of lies and deception by ESDC and Forest City Ratner that underlie this project. We have always contended that the project will take decades to complete, if ever and the supposed public benefits of affordable housing and open space would never happen. Instead we are faced with decades of developer created blight in an area that may never be redeveloped due to ESDC's and FCRC's malfeasance."

DDDB argued that ESDC had violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) when it considered a 10-year time frame for completion of the project, despite contract documents which demonstrated a 25-year schedule. ESDC had argued that it would require Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) to use "commercially reasonable efforts" to complete the project by 2019. DDDB argued that the only contractual agreements between ESDC and FCRC had penalties and some guarantees for some of Phase I of the project, but there were essentially no guarantees for Phase II and it might never be built. Since most of the purported public benefits (affordable housing, open space, new school space) were included in Phase II, it affected the SEQRA determination.

In today's decision, Justice Friedman chastised ESDC for not being forthright to the Court and not providing her with a copy of the Master Development Agreement and for arguing at the January 2010 hearing that there were meaningful obligations in the development agreement, when they knew that was not case. Given the fact that ESDC misrepresented the facts to the Court and that the ESDC Board did not ever consider the 25-year schedule when it issued its SEQRA decision in September 2009, the Court has sent the matter back to ESDC to reconsider its decision.

Ms. Carponter continued, "Justice Friedman's decision puts the entire project in doubt. ESDC approved the project as an integrated development with a variety of alleged benefits. ESDC cannot proceed with just an arena or only with Phase I without considering the lasting effects of the resulting blight caused by FCRC. Such a truncated project is not what was contemplated or approved by New York State. We call upon ESDC to suspend all construction on this project which is so wasteful of public resources and consider a feasible and comprehensive development that is consistent with the surrounding area."

DDDB co-founder Daniel Goldstein said, "With today's ruling it is more evident than ever that the new Governor has a job to do with the Atlantic Yards debacle. The blight Ratner has created in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn can be fixed if Governor Cuomo is willing to take the much needed fresh look at Atlantic Yards that today's Court ruling demands."

"The Court properly found that ESDC misrepresented the facts of the contracts and there were no requirements that FCRC complete the project" said DDDB lead counsel Jeffrey S. Baker of the Albany, New York law firm of Young, Sommer, Ward, Ritzenberg, Baker & Moore, LLC. "ESDC's lack of transparency was not just with respect to its own deliberations, but extended to trying to hide material facts from the Court. We are very pleased that Justice Friedman did not tolerate that behavior."

The Court's ruling can be found at:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

EDC doesn't think they have to abide by the same rules

The Daily News has an interesting article about the agency looking to take our properties:

Top officials at the city agency that doles out tax breaks to businesses have spent thousands of public dollars on perks - from booze and fancy chairs to gold-plated shovels.

An examination of Economic Development Corp. honchos' credit cards from July 2008 through March unearthed a stunning collection of unusual purchases on the taxpayer's dime. The bills generally have risen month by month during the past two fiscal years, growing from $5,870 in July 2008 to $18,226 in March. In December, they topped $20,000.

EDC executives have used their agency American Express cards:

* To buy four gold- and silver-plated shovels for grip-and-grin groundbreaking ceremonies. Total cost: $494.

* To fly participants in a "Next Idea" contest from India and Argentina and put them up for a week in the Manhattan Holiday Inn in January. The tab: $13,861. Winners and others that month got gold-engraved plaques valued at $370.

* For interoffice wining and dining.

Most city agencies follow rules that say payment for "modest meals and light refreshments" should be regarded as "an exceptional event." But officials at the EDC, a quasi-city agency that also collects rent on city properties, say they aren't subject to the same rules.