Thursday, March 24, 2011

Weiner and Willets Point

With the report today in the NY Daily News that Congressman Anthony Weiner is all but announcing that he's running for mayor, let's take a peek at what Weiner has said and done in regards to Willets Point-which is, after all, in his backyard. For years Weiner has cultivated an outer borough toughness and a homegrown neighborhood protectiveness image. No Manhattan limousine liberal is he.

It was precisely for this reason that WPU went to meet with the congressman last year to brief him on EDC's deceptive practices, and to seek his support against the eminent domain railroading of the Iron Triangle property owners. And Weiner was receptive to the pitch-particularly when WPU's Brian Ketcham explained how EDC's deceitful practices over the Van Wyck ramp traffic would lead to gridlock permeating through all of the neighborhoods surrounding Willets Point. He was also swayed by the fact that the NRDC had endorsed an independent review-along with a growing number of local civic groups.

WPU's concern was that the regulatory process might be rigged-especially since we had seen how the Bloomberg administration had used extra legal methods to gain approval for the project at the city council. Clearly, we felt that the billionaire mayor's influence might mean that state and federal regulators would bow-not to the facts-but to the pressure.

Weiner assured us that, if we could show that the process was not above board, he would look to intervene. That was then. Since that time we have bombarded his office with evidence that shows the the regulatory review process has been tainted-even pointing to the fact that the NYC DOT commissioner was cited for threatening a SDOT official for not expediting-rubber stamping in our view-the EDC application for the ramps.

This, as it turns out, was merely child's play. Now we can see how EDC is trying to totally avoid any regulatory review by embarking on a Phase I that is a product of a warped imagination. As Brian Ketcham has once again shown, this phase will generate tens of thousands of daily car trips that need mitigation or else they will inundate the local roads and highways. And minimally, ramps off of the highway are needed to lessen this expected gridlock.

As part of WPU's fight for fairness we have drafted a letter to the Washington office of the Federal Highway Administration that calls for that agency to take a hard look at the ramp proposal. In the letter we cite an email that heretofore we have kept under wraps. Here's the relevant section of the letter:

Via letter dated July 2, 2010, Phillip Eng, Director, NYSDOT Region 11, responded to the Natural Resources Defense Council, in relevant part: "We understand the request for an independent review but believe that working closely with NYCEDC, we can assure that the analysis will be based on sound data".

NYSDOT's refusal to solicit any independent review of proposed roadway project X770.44 is disappointing, especially considering that NYSDOT apparently routinely relies on the independent firm AKRF to perform reviews of environmental analyses on behalf of NYSDOT. Candid internal NYSDOT email communications obtained by our community organization reveal NYSDOT's actual position, that independent review is a plague that could
afflict NYSDOT's future large projects:

"this [request for independent review] is dangerous ground and the Commissioner needs to be prepared to address. The use of a separate consultant, so-called independent, is a waste of the tax payer's money especially at a time when such expense cannot be afforded. We went through this on the Meeker project (to our detriment) and fought successfully against it with the K-bridge. To yield on this point now would reinforce this practice and possibly wind up plaging [sic] all of our subsequent larger projects. It is the responsibility of the Department to exercise this oversight and I think we have done it well. Lets [sic] not abrogate this point." – Peter King, Director, Planning/Program Management, NYSDOT

Region 11, email to Ian Francis, Senior Transportation Analyst, NYSDOT Region
11 and Phillip Eng, Director, NYSDOT Region 11; September 12, 2010, 9:09AM."

Now clearly SDOT was fighting the idea of any independent review for its own institutional reasons-and that it was trying mightily to expedite the Van Wyck ramp approvals in order to avoid the federal bogeyman. That it has yet to do this-and that EDC is now trying the old end around ploy-dramatically underscores just how deficient the EDC traffic data submitted to SDOT actually was. And this is further demonstrated by the way in which NYC DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan has tried to bogart the state agency into a rubber stamp approval of the ramps.

The Anthony Weiner from the neighborhood that we have always admired would never allow this kind of deceit and bullying to go unchallenged. In the past two years, however, Weiner has been polishing his progressive credentials by bashing national Republicans at every turn. In our view, that's fine, but it's time that he came back to his roots.

This entire Willets Point development process has been tainted by extra-legal methods, influence peddling, and outright strong arming of small business owners. According to Daily Politics, Weiner anticipates the support of the Clintons if he runs for mayor. If so, he should take a page from the old Bill Clinton playbook and triangulate back to the middle-back to his neighborhood roots. WPU needs a champion, and it is precisely the right role for mayoral candidate Weiner to play going into the next election cycle.