Friday, July 29, 2011

Flushing/Willets Point Overbite

The Flushing Times is reporting on the serious overdevelopment problems that are facing Flushing-and by extension the proposed Willets Point development as well: "And today a survey of the Flushing area reveals that a series of large-scale development projects totaling several billion dollars has been approved to be built over the next several years.But even the best-laid plans often end in the dustbin of history. Those high-profile projects are facing significant obstacles and may be scaled back significantly or never even break ground."

Is Flushing the canary in the mine shaft for development in NYC? There are some who think so: "That prospect does not portend well for the future of New York City’s real estate and construction industries, the magnates of which are waiting to see if the Flushing boom turns out to be a bust before throwing big money at development proposals across the five boroughs. That increased focus on the neighborhood has cast Flushing as something of a bellwether for the city’s residential housing industry."

The big Sky View project is a case in point. After an initial run of enthusiasm, the project has stalled:

"The project at the intersection of College Point Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue seemed poised to flourish. Over the next couple of years, more than 100 buyers closed contracts on condos at the development.

But that surge of interest turned out to be temporary and as of last week only 42 condominium units were under contract, according to Helen Lee, director at Onex Real Estate, the partner company that took the lead on Sky View Parc from Muss in early 2010.

Once-spoken-for condominiums remained empty as the financial downturn took its toll on buyers’ wallets, and 118 people backed out of their contracts, settling with Onex for 75 percent of the $5 million total deposit they made on the homes, according to court documents. A lawyer for the condo buyers said it was the largest such settlement in the history of New York City."

Then there is Flushing Commons, our favorite example of overreach: "Last July, the city approved TDC’s proposal to build Flushing Commons, a mixed-use project with a price tag of more than $800 million, in the space currently occupied by Municipal Lot 1 in downtown Flushing. But the company has yet to secure the funding it needs to move forward on the condominium-centric development. TDC has turned to Chinese investors and possibly breaking the project’s construction down into phases in hopes of getting a shovel into the ground soon."

The one ray of sunlight? Well, perhaps that would be the fact that if these massive developments are fully built out the city might be able to take a deep breathe and allow the mass transit infrastructure-badly overburdened-to catch up to all this.

Then there is Willets Point-where EDC is hell bent to proceed in the face of all the uncertainty: "With the economy still depressed, several other major projects, including the city’s $3 billion proposal to overhaul Willets Point, have yet to emerge from the planning stages. Several sources close to the Willets plan, which Bloomberg announced in May 2007, say the project faces massive uncertainty. At least one builder plans to ask the Bloomberg administration to push the deadline for development proposals back several months. And three sources said few companies plan to submit proposals because the project is too unwieldy, inflexible and expensive to justify the risk during this time of financial uncertainty."

Shades of New London! Remember how that city had used eminent domain to remove Suzette Kelo and her neighbors from their homes only to see their huge project fall apart when drug giant Pfizer went limp on them? The same field of bad dreams could be repeating itself on the Iron Triangle-and this time, just like in New London-it is the tax payers money that's at risk.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Unwillling to ImBiben?

Capitol News has a fascinating profile of the new state Inspector General Ellen Biben. The job certainly has its challenges; "It may be a higher-profile gig, but it’s not without its shortcomings. Biben is heading an office that has been bruised for years by allegations of bias and accusations of toothlessness. The inspector general has a $6.5 million budget and broad investigatory authority over 50 separate agencies with more than 190,000 employees—but the office has little enforcement power."

That being said, she is serving a governor who has made ethics a priority: "As Cuomo positions himself as the savior of Albany and restorer of ethics and good government, where does that leave Biben? “I’m still trying to wrap my arms around this,” Biben said. “When people ask me, ‘What do you do?’ I don’t even know what the answer is.”

Well, when it comes to Willets Point the answer is-nothing.WPU sent a letter to the IG on May the 18th concerning the questionable appointment of Joan McDonald, a former NYC EDC executive, as commissioner of SDOT and we have yet to hear from her. In that letter we had pointed out:

"We are now calling on the Office of the State Inspector General to institute a full review of the actions of NYS DOT and its new commissioner in order to determine whether Commissioner McDonald has treated this review process with the fairness and impartiality it deserves.

The governor has made governmental ethics a signature policy issue of his administration. In the same spirit, WPU requests that you institute such a review by first calling on Commissioner McDonald to recuse herself from the ramp review process; and by then calling on the agency to also launch an independent evaluation of all of the environmental data that has been submitted by NYC EDC.

The actions of the new commissioner since she took office need to be subject to close scrutiny. This needs to be done in order to determine whether her past association unfairly deprived WPU and the citizens of New York State of an impartial review of a transportation project that we believe will cause huge negative impacts on the residents of New York City."

Biben needs to take a stand on this McDonald issue because it is a window into what may be a larger scheme to insure that truth a bout corruption surrounding Willets Point never sees the light of day: "Biben should be able to combat this difficulty in part because of her closeness with some of the agency heads who moved with her from the prior Cuomo administration, like Commission on Public Integrity Chairwoman Mitra Hormozi and State Police Superintendent Joe D’Amico. Familiarity can make it easier to press her cause. Good-government groups say it is also her greatest liability. To be an effective IG, they say, Biben must show total independence from Cuomo."

Yes that's the test for Ellen Biben-and so far when it comes to Willets Point she remains hidden in her house. It's time for the IG to come out and play

Monday, July 18, 2011

This Land Is Your Land?

The NY Post has been right on top of the investigations into the sale of some state owned land to an Indian cultural center: "Two probes were launched yesterday into the controversial land deal that allowed a politically connected Indian cultural group to buy 4.5 acres of state land in Queens for a fraction of its value, The Post has learned. State Inspector General Ellen Biben and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have initiated separate investigations into the $1.8 million sale of land at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village to the Indian Cultural and Community Center, according to sources briefed on the matter."

Way to go AG and IG! This is clearly something that needs to be looked at closely, but while these offices are at it the question remains: Can they walk and chew gum at the same time? We ask this because it has now passed the two year mark when it was revealed that the AG was looking into the clear violations of the not for profit laws by Claire Shulman's EDC.

What could be more egregious than the mayor, EDC and Shulman's use of tax payer money to lobby for the elimination of the properties held by our members here at WPU? And the ballyhoo in regards to Creedmore stands in sharp contrast with the two year silence of the lambs at the AG's office over our complaint.

As far as IG Biben goes WPU wrote to her two months ago and requested that she examine the questionable behavior of NYSDOT and its new commissioner saying:

"We are now calling on the Office of the State Inspector General to institute a full review of the actions of NYS DOT and its new commissioner in order to determine whether Commissioner McDonald has treated this review process with the fairness and impartiality it deserves.

The governor has made governmental ethics a signature policy issue of his administration. In the same spirit, WPU requests that you institute such a review by first calling on Commissioner McDonald to recuse herself from the ramp review process; and by then calling on the agency to also launch an independent evaluation of all of the environmental data that has been submitted by NYC EDC."

The IG's response has been ear splitting silence on the matter so we are led to conclude that as far as Mike Bloomberg is concerned, he is too big to fail-and that equal protection under the law is a concept followed more in its absence by the agencies empowered to protect the folks from self serving deceit by the powerful.

As far as Creedmoor is concerned there has been a flurry of strong oversight-as the Post points out today: "Now state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Inspector General Ellen Biben separately have begun papering the borough with subpoenas as they look into whether anti-corruption laws were violated."

Now we have no problem with this investigation, and if it is proven that someone has violated the law than they should be punished. But it seems to us that the targets are low hanging fruit compared to Mike Bloomberg and his associates-remember it was the mayor who claimed that the EDC violation was something that was done "all of the time." If true-and considering that Coney Island was the scene of similar EDC illegality-that would make the mayor a serial violator.

Make no mistake about it the use of an illegal maneuver to pave the way for depriving of a basic American right to property is just as bad as the low balled sale of state property. It's about time that these agencies got some gumption and went after some of the Big Guys.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Stuff Hits the Fan

As we read in the NY Post this morning the you know what is hitting the fan over a Coney Island where the city is now so down and out it is rationing, of all things, toilet paper: "They were rationing toilet paper at the public restrooms along the Coney Is land boardwalk over the July 4th weekend -- just like they do on Rikers Island. What a humiliation. For the city. Seems like the city is short of cash -- what else is new? -- so the Parks Department decided to make it clear just where its priorities lie."

Is this an indictment of the profligate mayor, or what? This managerial genius keeps getting, pun intended, rolled by the municipal labor unions-at the expense of the tax payers, of course:

"For them, it's a lesson from Mayor Bloomberg, who had scant trouble finding the billions needed to keep the teachers union happy, but precious little for seemingly necessary civilities, like toilet paper in public restrooms.

Bloomberg just concluded another business-as-usual municipal budget: He got a fat spending hike; the City Council got its member-item swag; the unions got their usual cut -- and Coney Island boardwalk strollers got no toilet paper."

Remind us yet again why we needed this shlub for a third charmless time. Governor Cuomo sprints into office cutting and slashing while the mayor, like the grasshopper in the fable, keeps spending freely giving the way the store: "But the city will still be stuck with its same bloated workforce -- and the ever-increasing pension costs that will continue to gnaw away at city coffers and hamstring future budget options."

But Mike has his own paper crisis-the CitiTime invoices which, as it turns out, are so fraudulent and worthless that they could be used for emergency wiping over by the Steeplechase. Where's the mayor in all of this? Butt covering?

No, he's shilling for Wal-Mart and his usual suspects of billionaires: "Mayor Bloomberg is so bullish on Walmart coming to Brooklyn that he insisted yesterday on answering questions on behalf of the superstore." What a surprise!

One things for certain, Mike Bloomberg will never stand up for the little guys-whether they are our folks at Willets Point, or, remember, those poor workers over at Stell D'Oro who got their plant shuttered by one of Bloomberg's favorite entities, a hedge fund. The Labor Press has the story:

"The 11-month Stella D’oro strike – a heart breaker for the New York labor movement -- gets a sympathetic, union member-centered portrayal in the forthcoming HBO Documentary, “No Contract, No Cookies,” to air on the network later this month...

As would be expected, there was spirited discussion and rounds of applause for the plucky workers who struck after their new employer demanded hefty wage and benefit concessions, and stayed out on the lines hoping for a miracle – only to have their prayers answered and then dashed to the ground. Local 50 BCTGM Shop Steward Mike Filippou, a constant presence on the strike lines, and Sara Rodriguez, a former packaging manager at the plant – both of whom are interviewed extensively in the film – shared accounts of the year on the lines and the final showdown with Brynwood Partners, the private equity fund that bought the company from Kraft Foods and ultimately decided to shut it down."

While all this was happening, the mayor was probably in Bermuda because he didn't lift a finger for the workers and allowed the business to be shut down and taken lock stock and barrel over to Ohio. But, about the shortage of wiping material, shouldn't someone point out that this big spender is laying out billions for his monument at Willets Point?

When it comes to his big image of himself, money is no object for Mike Bloomberg. But everyone else should object-object to the poor decisions he keeps making and his disastrous stewardship over the city.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Citi Never Sleeps-But Apparently Mike Bloomberg Does

Mike Bloomberg's mayor culpa on the CitiTime scandal is a bit tardy, wouldn't you say? Bloomberg does have a problem with the consultants he hires and increasingly you have to wonder just why was it we re-elected the man for that added on third term. Was it economic expertise and managerial acumen? We forget.

But where would we be without the evenhandedness of the NY Daily News? The News won't let the scandal fade away and is urging swift compensatory action: "When the city embarked on a plan to computerize personnel records, the estimated cost was $63 million. That proved accurate; never mind the city eventually was billed $740 million on the CityTime contract. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara says $660 million of the money was shot through with fraud. Mayor Bloomberg is trying to recover it. Let's hope he gets it all."

Can someone give these editorialists a saliva test? Mayor Bloomberg is "trying to recover it? Perhaps, just perhaps, we can find someone else for this daunting task and not the man whose sleeping habits led to the theft in the first place?

And where is the News' vaunted outrage at stupidity and cluelessness-after all the paper gives out its fabled "Knucklehead Award" like sugarcane at Christmas. Nothing for little Mikey? This was a newspaper that gave Council member Joel Rivera the Knucklehead for suggesting that there might be a ban on fast food outlets in poorer neighborhoods.

All of which goes to show that the paper, whose publisher banded together with all of his fellow plutocrats to engineer Bloomberg's third term, is still playing on the mayor's team. In fact, while we're at it, Morticia Zuckerman should skip the middleman and retire the Knucklehead Award in his own name and honor.