Friday, April 29, 2011

AKRF Needs to Be Fired!

In our previous post we outlined why new State DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald should recuse herself from oversight over the review of the Van Wyck ramps. Once she does that, the department should proceed to fire AKRF-the engineering and consulting firm that has presided over this incredible attempt at fraud. We'll let Brian Ketcham make the case as succinctly as possible:

"The fact that AKRF was in charge of both the WP FGEIS and the Van Wyck ramps EA/AMR and approved reports on the same project that provided diametrically opposite results raises the question whether or not an engineering firm (not so independent) that also works on projects within New York State can be relied upon to produce honest results. In my opinion NYSDOT should fire AKRF and find an engineering firm that can provide the required review functions but that has no conflicts of interest—that is an engineering firm that does no work within 500 miles of New York State and that is unlikely to be influenced by either private sector or public sector clients."

If SDOT doesn't have the integrity to do this than the governor's office should step in and insure the integrity of this process-and institute the independent oversight that the Natural resources Defense Council has asked for.

From the moment when EDC hired Claire Shulman to illegally lobby for the Willets Point process ethical integrity, fairness, and basic legality were discarded-all at the expense of small property owners and the tax payers of New York who will eventually be stuck with the bill for this white elephant.

It's time for an intervention. Who will be the grownups to intervene before it is too late?

Ramp Fix?

The Flushing Times is reporting on our dismay over the apparent about face being done by MYS DOT over the long-and appropriately-delayed approval of the Van Wyck ramps: "A representative of a coalition of Willets Point business and property owners opposed to the city’s plan to undertake a $3 billion redevelopment of the neglected area says he is dismayed at indications that the state may be green-lighting the project"

If true, the agency is making a big mistake and is skating on thin ice. According to what we were told by State Senator Martin Dilan-who had a sit down with former commissioner Stanley Gee-the agency, at least at that time in late December, had strong misgivings about the viability of the ramps.

So what has changed since that time? Not the data that Brian Ketcham has told us has not been significantly been altered since February 2010. This would mean that the EDC consultants have not really found a way to square the huge traffic influx on the highway with the traffic impact requirements of the federal highway folks.

And given the skeptical emails we have recovered from the agency it is hard to see how such a dramatic change of direction can be justified-or defended in court.

But one major change has occurred-there is a new commissioner and her background may just be instructive. You see, until 2007, Joan McDonald was a vice president of the NYC EDC corporation. State Senator Avella met with her recently: "State Sen. Tony Avella said he met with state DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald recently and that she said the agency had yet to decide whether or not to give its approval. “I had a personal meeting with the state DOT commissioner looking at the issues of the ramps within the EIS that the city did and also other issues,” Avella said Tuesday. “They said basically they were still reviewing it.”

WPU attorney Mike Gerrard has a different take here: "According to Michael Gerrard, an environmental attorney working on behalf of Willets Point United, the “tone of the e-mails” suggested that the state DOT had completed its environmental review of the proposed development and that it planned to approve the city’s plan for building ramps onto the Van Wyck Expressway to deal with tens of thousands of new car trips the project is expected to create each day."

In our view the change of commissioners is the only new variable and the fact that she hasn't recused herself from this review procedure is a significant ethical lapse. There is no way that someone with her prejudicial background should be in charge of this major department decision and we're surprised that the Cuomo administration-with a huge new emphasis on ethics-hasn't seen the problem and sought to address it.

This is particularly true since it was Cuomo as AG who sat on the investigation of the illegal lobbying activity of Claire Shulman-effectively running out the clock on it before being elevated to governor. The fact that he accepted the endorsement of the mayor during this time frame further complicates the ethical issues.

The facts of this ramp review aren't changed. There is simply no way that the ramps and the Van Wyck can accommodate the huge traffic influx; and SDOT's acceptance-as a given-that the Willets Point project will be built is unacceptable under the basic principles of environmental law, creating a fatal flaw should it approve the ramps.

NYS DOT is planning for a public review of the ramps sometime very soon. Discretion would dictate that this review be postponed at least until the commissioner recuses herself and an independent arbiter is brought in to monitor the process. Otherwise, everyone is going to believe that the fix is in-and that once again ethics in government will be seen as nothing but an oxymoron.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Liu Challenge

Crain's is reporting on the serious challenge that Comptroller John Liu is making to the mayor's questionable stewardship of the city's economic development policies: "City Comptroller John Liu needed less than three months in office to accomplish something that took his predecessor eight years: He said “no” to Michael Bloomberg. By March 2010, Mr. Liu, as a board member of the city's Industrial Development Agency, had voted against the mayor's projects as many times as William Thompson did in his two terms as comptroller."

More reason to suspect the candidacy of Bill Thompson in 2013-and Speaker Quinn as well. But is the comptroller just being contrary, or is their a method to his being mad? Crain's answers: "Because nine of the 15 board members are appointed by the mayor, the comptroller's opposition to IDA projects did not affect the outcome of the votes. But Mr. Liu's intransigence had little to do with the projects themselves. He had decided at the outset of his administration to challenge the mayor's stewardship.“I see myself as the protector of the taxpayers' money and also the steward of the facts and figures,” Mr. Liu said last month."

Finally, someone who understands the important principle of checks and balances-and a person who sees through the mayor's claim to papal infallibility: "Mr. Liu has cast himself as the city's watchdog, reining in a profligate mayor. Given the mayor's low approval ratings, this anti-Bloomberg stance could serve Mr. Liu well should he decide to run for mayor in 2013. Already, his scrappy approach distinguishes him from both his predecessor, who lost his bid against Mr. Bloomberg, and another potential candidate, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has an amiable relationship with the mayor. Mr. Liu has focused the considerable powers of his office on two cornerstones of Mr. Bloomberg's administration: the agencies responsible for economic development and education."

It's economic development that concerns us most at the Iron Triangle, and while the comptroller has been receptive to our plight, he hasn't yet really mounted the kind of challenge to EDC-and its consultant contracts-that is well within the purview of his office. After all, illegally hiring Claire Shulman and also allowing environmental consultants to cook the traffic data books, is well worth his review.

Now, to be fair, he does have his sights on EDC and perhaps there is more in store that has not yet been revealed: "Mr. Liu has used nearly every vote on the IDA board, as well as a handful of audits, to protest the agency's parent organization, the city's Economic Development Corp., which he says lacks transparency. He calls the EDC “a black hole of an entity that is nearly impossible to get valuable information out of. That is consistently the feedback that I've heard from my colleagues in the City Council, both when I was in the City Council and now as comptroller,” he said."

What Liu hasn't figured out yet is how to really get the agency to be transparent; and to be very fair he doesn't have a partner in government with Speechless Quinn. His opposition to the IDA projects may offer a clue of what's to come, however: "Mr. Liu said his “no” votes on the IDA board were intended to protect “scarce public resources”—a phrase he has used repeatedly to explain his opposition to nearly every project that has come before the board during his 15 months in office. “I'm not here to make the mayor miserable,” he said. “But I was not elected to be a rubber stamp.”

If only he were the Speaker! But that job is occupied by someone with more important things to do than properly hold the mayor's feet to the fire-like sending food scraps all the way to Delaware to compost them in what has to be the most harebrained scheme we have ever seen.

But if Comptroller Liu is concerned about the misuse of scarce resources, he should now fully set his sights on all of the machinations surrounding the development at Willets Point. Mr, Comptroller, you will never find a more target rich environment.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Kelo Point

The machinations revolving around the Fort Trumbull area where Suzette Kelo used to own a home keep on reverberating even to this day. Now Newsbusters is reporting (citing a local press report) that the chosen developer for the New London site wants, get this, tax subsidies or he may pull out of the newly proposed development:

"After several false starts, the city is working with a new developer. As of February of last year, this developer wanted to put rental townhouses in an area where century-old, largely owner-occupied homes once stood.Early Friday, the New London Day's Kathleen Edgecomb reported a new twist. Wait until you see what the developer wants before going forward.

Yep, tax abatements."

Here's the local twist: "A developer hoping to build housing at Fort Trumbull said Thursday they will seek tax abatements from the city to move the project forward. Robert and Irwin Stillman, the father and son owners of Westport-based River Bank Construction, said the abatements were necessary to make the project financially feasible. "If abatements are not approved, we would have to reconsider,'' Robert Stillman said during a meeting Thursday afternoon with The Day's editorial board."

Isn't it heartwarming, though, that the local development corporation hasn't given up on the site? After all, it's only been 10 years and hundreds of millions of tax dollars lost: "Michael Joplin, president of the New London Development Corp., said the city should offer the abatements because it will help increase homeownership and eventually bring in more taxes. The NLDC does not look at short-term economic rewards, he said. Rather, it seeks to increase the tax base and create economic development that will be (sic) span the next 30 to 40 years."

Where would we all be without these local LDCs? And the establishment press is still struck dumb when it comes to analyzing the disastrous impacts of the astonishingly dumb Kelo decision by the Supreme Court: "In its opinion (scroll to Section IV), the Justices opined in 2005 that "The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including–but by no means limited to–new jobs and increased tax revenue." In 2011, a city which could have collected five more years of property taxes from established homeowners by now is instead contemplating and appears likely to approve tax breaks to a developer of rental units it hopes to convert to condos when the real estate market gets better."

Is this a cautionary tale for Willets Point and the city's own band of economic development geniuses? Well, if it isn't it should be. And Newsbusters makes the following point about Kelo and New London that is easily transposed to NYC: "This outcome makes a complete mockery of the Supreme Court majority's belief that a "carefully formulated ... economic development plan" was ever in place."

Now all we need is for some public spirited elected officials to say, hold up. We don't have the money now for this harebrained scheme, and certainly not when it involves taking people's property

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bloomberg Misses the Hunts Point

Talk about misplaced outrage! Now Mike Bloomberg is upset because New Jersey may be offering tax subsidies to lure the Hunts Point Market away from NYC. The NY Post has the story: "Food fight! Mayor Bloomberg accused New Jersey officials yesterday of engaging in bribery for trying to lure the sprawling Hunts Point produce market out of The Bronx with a $200 million offer to move. "I don't like the idea of one state bribing a business to come," the mayor said on his weekly radio show."

Here's a guy whose only insight into economic development is to subsidize billionaire real estate developers to build malls that: (1)Displace existing small business, and (2)Indirectly reduce the ability of existing neighborhood retailers to compete by siphoning off business from local shopping strips.

So now Mike is being hoisted on his own subsidy sword and doesn't like how it feels. If real estate folks want to build malls-or redevelop Willets Point-they shouldn't do it with tax subsidies that, in essence, use the money paid to the city by existing businesses to effectively put the same businesses out at the curb.

But now, faced with the loss of yet another food manufacturing and processing business, the mayor better pony up. Hunts Point is not Stella D'oro. but is a huge economic engine for the Bronx. If Bloomberg can spend billions to throw us out of our property, he can surely find the $200 million needed to keep Hunts Point here.

If he's short a few hundred million, we know where he can find it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Who's Nuts?

The NY Daily News, in another one bites the dust story, reported this week that the Bazzini nut company is leaving the Bronx, "A storied Bronx peanut plant that sells its snacks at Yankee Stadium threw the borough a curveball Wednesday when it announced it's leaving the state. A.L. Bazzini Co. said it is closing its Hunts Point manufacturing plant and moving to Allentown, Pa., in July."

This is a sadly familiar story: "Bazzini is the third Bronx snack manufacturer to pack up and leave the borough in two years, following cookie brand Stella D'oro and Old London, the maker of Melba toast." Another example of how well the Bloomberg five borough economic development policy is doing-jettisoning businesses from every one of them.

But what got is cracking up was the Daily News editorial on the subject, one that couldn't manage to mention the culpability of the city's chief executive, Bermuda Mike:

"...but the fact remains that the city has proven unable time and again to hold onto positions that deliver solid middle-class livings. In the last two years, the Bronx alone has lost more than 360 union jobs paying $18 to $20 an hour with good benefits after Stella D'Oro and Old London shut bakeries. They left town looking for cheaper, nonunion labor.

Wonder Bread decamped from Queens in January because the company found it impossible to compete with modern bakeries from its 1870s plant in Jamaica.

Sabra Dipping Co., the world's biggest hummus maker, stripped Queens of 200 jobs when it moved to a factory in Virginia last year."

Who is to blame here? The "political class." What a cop out! And then the paper brings out its favorite whipping boy to beat on: "New York's political class hasn't a clue how to stem the losses. The best that's been offered is the insane idea to have taxpayers subsidize wages in the private sector. That kind of thinking by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz killed the Kingsbridge Armory Mall and 2,200 jobs in 2009."

What the News remains silent about is how the Bloomberg administration has one economic development policy, and only one: make the city safe for Related and its malls. If EDC has a manufacturing retention policy its New York's best kept secret.

When we look at Willets Point we see more of the same. Another huge mall to replace thousands of immigrant workers and scores of small property owners. If they were going to use our property why didn't anyone think that maybe the Iron Triangle could become an industrial park for the Melbas, the Bazzinis and the Wonder Breads?

No, it's always take from the little guys. Couldn't anyone have conceived of a joint venture where the Willets Point owners could have partnered with the city? No, that would have left out Related and the rest of the band of real estate thieves.

So we ask you, as the city hemorrhages good paying union jobs, why did the mayor grab this third term? And the exit question is, Who's nuts, Bloomberg, the voters, or a combination of the two?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Haber's Wisdom

Once again Ben Haber exhibits more intelligence than the entire cohort of EDC masters of the universe. In a letter to the Queens Tribune he questions the wisdom of all the development in Flushing and Willets Point:

"Apart from the destruction of hundreds of small businesses and the loss of jobs by thousands of persons and their dependents, an article that appeared in The New York Times April 13 titled “For Flushing and Its Waterfront, Time to Think Big” makes it clear the folly of the proposed Willets Point project. The article makes reference to the following projects in downtown Flushing:

1. Flushing Commons – a 1.8 million square foot mixed-use development that will include office and retail space, 600 condos, a YMCA facility and a small park;

2. Another mixed-use development that will include a 168-room Hyatt Place Hotel with three levels of retail space and a separate tower for office space and apartments;

3. On the former RKO Keith’s Theatre site there is to be a mixed use development that will include 357 rental apartments, retail space and a senior center;

4. 1,800 to 2,800 residences near the waterfront;

5. The Sky View Center, an 800,000-square-foot mall; and

6. Sky View Parc, a condominium tower with 448 units and a planned addition of 600 units."

This is supposed to be sustainable planning? Not according to WPU and Haber: "In view of the forgoing, legitimate and serious questions exist with the Willets Point project. Do we need another hotel? Do we need more luxury apartments? Do we need more luxury retail space? Given the fact we already have the Javits Convention Center that does not make money and nationally there is a glut of convention space, do we need another convention center?"

But Ben who really knows what if anything will get built at Willets Point? All of this may be only pie in the sky. But we do know that this isn't any form of good planning, let alone sustainable: "Given all that has occurred and is planned for downtown Flushing, why would any sane person hazard crossing the congested Van Wyck Expressway and Grand Central Parkway for what already and will be available in Flushing? Should taxpayers subsidize real estate developers to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars for a project that does not make sense?"

That is why we have called the Willets Point development a real monument to the Bloomberg legacy: Exposing his carbon footprint hypocrisy while dramatically underscoring his rank obeisance to his rich real estate friends.

Shulman to the Rescue?

The NY Daily News is reporting that Claire Shulman's ambitious plan to remedy all that she has endeavored to mess up is being stalled by the city. Shulman's phony LDC has outlined a scheme to remedy Flushing traffic-something that will soon be a Herculean task if EDC actually finishes all of its development work.

As the News reports: "A proposal to tackle both transportation and housing issues in downtown Flushing with a single project is stuck in neutral. The Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corp. pitched a multifaceted plan in the fall of 2009 to upgrade the Long Island Rail Road station off Main St. and add housing units at the same time. The city Department of Transportation and local community board gave a thumbs up for the proposal, dubbed the Flushing Transit Oriented Development Plan. But the project is now on the back burner, city officials said, because of higher-priority developments in the area, such as Flushing Commons, the Macedonia Plaza and Willets Point."

As much as we abhor Claire's handiwork on Willets Point, we have to admit what she is proposing makes a lot of sense-a sensible form of crackpot realism. The Willets Point and Flushing Commons developments will cripple the transportation infrastructure in the community-the combined traffic generated will not be sustainable and Shulman's call for a train remedy is sensible if she hadn't been the main culprit in causing the main source of the impending doom.

Keep in mind that WPU's Brian Ketcham has evaluated the traffic and mass transit impacts of both of these mega projects, and the results are not pretty. There even uglier when we find that in both cases consultants to the devlopment have lowballed car usage and assigned massive numbers of trip generations to mass transit!

That EDC is not picking up on the Shulman suggestion, however, is plain irresponsible for an agency that is a featured player in the Sustainability Administration. And we read in the WSJ that these environmentally conscious folks are embarking in an energy saving plan for the city's businesses-to help making us more sustainable we guess:

"These energy improvements, officials said, will pay for themselves over time and help the city reach its goal of a "30% reduction in 2005 carbon emissions."

Mr. Bragdon said the city is also exploring public-private partnerships to create large-scale solar power plants on municipal landfills. Officials are looking at landfills in Brooklyn, as well as Fresh Kills on Staten Island, he said."

Oh boy! Solar power at Fresh Kills, and gridlock in Willets Point/Flushing. One hand doesn't know what the other is doing, we suppose. Shulman, for her part, knows the disaster she may have wrought, unlike the See No Evil EDC: "Transportation improvements are essential in downtown Flushing and so is affordable housing for all those folks who work in the restaurants and shops along the Main St. corridor," Shulman said, calling the project "essential for the future of Flushing."

Bloomberg plans, and God laughs.

Trump the Chump

Donald Trump is getting a lot of mileage out of his new found in your face conservatism-even getting credibility as a serious presidential candidate. Not so much, however, with all of us at the Iron Triangle. After all, Trump is one of the preeminent defenders of eminent domain.

The Club for Growth has outed the Donald and in this web report we get the stark view the billionaire has about other people's property rights: "The Club for Growth is out today with the answer … directly from Trump himself from 2005 on Fox News.

I happen to agree with it 100 percent, not that I would want to use it...But the fact is, if you have a person living in an area that’s not even necessarily a good area, and government, whether it’s local or whatever, government wants to build a tremendous economic development, where a lot of people are going to be put to work and make area that’s not good into a good area, and move the person that’s living there into a better place — now, I know it might not be their choice — but move the person to a better place and yet create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things, I think it happens to be good.”

But of course he actually did use it in Atlantic City and the details of that little adventure tells you all you need to know about His Arrogance: "But the reality is, Trump did try to use the power of eminent domain to seize private property. He did this in Atlantic City, and it wasn’t to build an elementary school or even a “tremendous economic development.” He wanted to knock down an old lady’s home so he could build a parking lot for limousines near his casino."

This is not anyone who should be anywhere near the Red Button-someone who lacks not only judgment, but also any deep seated affection for constitutional principles. He certainly isn't any conservative. Although he might play one on TV.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Warning Issued to NYSDOT

WPU has been contesting the EDC proposed ramps off of the Van Wyck for the better part of a year and a half-and in that time we have seen how the agency's consultants have consistently come up short in their efforts to explain of they are going to accommodate 80,000 car trips a day without totally messing up the highway system. And for the most part NYSDOT's own in-house analysts have agreed with us-with skepticism oozing out of all of the emails we have obtained through our Freedom of Information requests.

So it was with great dismay that we received a communication from the state informing us that the EDC Environmental Assessment for the ramps is about to be given a green light by the very skeptics who trashed EDC's submission a short while ago. Even greater was our dismay when WPU traffic engineer reviewed the accompanying data for the EA.

What has changed? Not too much-and the same impossible accommodation for the massive increase in cars has not been reconciled with the need to insure that the Van Wyck is not degraded by the auto efflux from Willets Point. The SDOT altered mindset then appears to have devolved not from the newly developed sophistication of EDC''s consultants, but from simply trying to get away from the political beating that it has been getting from a determined and bullying Bloomberg administration.

As a result, WPU's crack environmental attorney Mike Gerrard has penned a stern warning to SDOT-and the warning focuses, inter alia, on a grave mistake by the agency in its acceptance of a fatal flaw in the EA's analysis: its assumption of a baseline analysis that excludes the possibility that there would be no project built and no ramps constructed.

Simply put, SDOT accepts the city's argument that Willets Point will be built, and that therefore the ramps are needed to mitigate the massive traffic it will generate. But that assumption ignores the fact that the city has said that, without the ramps, no project can go forward at the Iron Triangle. This is the key baseline analysis that EDC has ignored and that SDOT ignores in apparent collusion.

So it is not proper for the baseline analysis to assume that the project is built and then compare the Van Wyck traffic with and without the ramps. It is a violation of basic environmental review principles and a apparent knuckling under by the state to political pressure. It opens SDOT up to a legal challenge that will severely embarrass it's alleged fairness and professionalism. When its internal criticism are aired in any legal proceeding it will not even be left with a fig leaf to cover its gross abdication of independent review and professional responsibility.

Here's Gerrard's letterl-with a copy sent to the Federal Highway Authority:

April 19, 2011

Phillip Eng, P.E.
Regional Director
New York State Department of Transportation
47-40 21st Street
Long Island City, New York 11101

Re: Van Wyck Expressway Ramps

Dear Mr. Eng:

We are in receipt of your April 12 letter concerning the environmental assessment and review process for proposed ramps connecting the proposed Willets Point project with the Van Wyck Expressway.

We have begun a preliminary analysis of the material in the January 2011 draft of the Environmental Assessment (EA). This examination leads us to conclude that NYS DOT’s approval of the ramps would violate its statutory obligation to ensure that new connections to interstate highways do not lead to significant degradation of traffic conditions on those highways.

The EA embodies a fundamental conceptual flaw. It assumes that the Willets Point project will be built, and it assesses whether the ramps will improve traffic conditions against that future baseline. But since the City of New York has consistently said that the construction of the full project is contingent on the approval and construction of the ramps, the baseline for analysis should be the future without the Willets Point project at all. A comparison of conditions with the Willets Point project, but with and without the ramps, is meaningless, because the City says that there will be no Willets Point project without the ramps. It is pointless to analyze an impossibility.

After looking at today’s conditions (which the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS), the Access Modification Report (AMR) and the EA have all done to various extents), the EA should analyze and compare 1) future conditions on the Van Wyck without the Willets Point project or the ramps, and 2) future conditions on the Van Wyck with the Willets Point Project and the ramps. (The EA looks at future conditions in both 2013 and 2035, which is sensible.)

The City, as applicant and project proponent, understandably does not wish to see such a comparison, but it is NYS DOT’s obligation under NEPA, SEQRA, the Federal-Aid Highway Act and the New York Highway Law to ensure that it is carried out.

It appears that NYS DOT has ignored its own justified skepticism, expressed eloquently by its own staff in voluminous internal exchanges and in communication with NYC EDC that have been obtained by FOIL and have been widely published in the NY Times. This sudden departure from proper due diligence is underscored when analyzing the substance of the data inherent in the EA.

Our traffic engineer Brian Ketcham has reviewed the January 2011 EA, Chapter 9 -- Transportation, and compared it with the October 2010 version. Except for a revised note on the table on page 9-2, the transportation text is identical. Moreover, no change has been made in Appendix D (more than 3,600 pages), the supporting documentation for the transportation analysis.

It is quite disturbing that in the 15 months since we met with both NYS DOT and the FHWA and provided a thorough review of the deficiencies of the original NYC EDC traffic submission for the AMR of August 2009, NYS DOT has not ensured that these deficiencies were corrected. The 2008 FGEIS for the Willets Point Project showed severe traffic impacts on the Van Wyck; the AMR did not. The large discrepancies between the AMR and the FGEIS remain unexplained, and now the revised EA appears to be agreeing with the AMR.

The numbers used in the FGEIS and the AMR are starkly different. For example, the FGEIS indicates that 46% of all the traffic from Willets Point will be diverted to the ramps, while the AMR puts that figure at 16%. The October 2010 EA adjusts this total upwards to about 32% of Willets Point traffic using the Van Wyck in order to lower local traffic impacts but still claims travel along the Van Wyck acceptable, contrary to the independent modeling by Mr. Ketcham that was submitted to you more than a year ago, and in continuing contradiction to what was reported in the FGEIS.

Mr. Ketcham’s work has also shown numerous other technical flaws in the analysis. His review of the new EA draft, which was provided to us last week, is ongoing. These inconsistencies highlight the importance of the request made by Willets Point United and endorsed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club for an independent review of the documents, especially since the principal traffic analysis was prepared by AKRF, a consulting firm that is simultaneously working for NYC EDC and NYS DOT.

As you know, NYS DOT is in the process of upgrading the Kew Gardens Interchange at an estimated cost of $140 million, and NYS DOT’s own analysts have pointed out that the Willets Point traffic will make this work meaningless because of all the excess traffic generated by that development. NYS DOT engineers were concerned about 16% of Willets Point traffic moving along the Van Wyck Expressway. Now that EDC has doubled this number, one would assume that these concerns are even greater.

As Mr. Ketcham made clear in a letter to NYS DOT last year, “Thirty-one million square feet of new development is scheduled for the area surrounding Willets Point (including the 11 million square feet of the Willets Point project itself). As the attached report shows, assuming more than half of all new trips are by mass transit, these new projects will generate about 172,000 new car and truck trips daily, more than double the 80,000 estimated for Willets Point itself. If mass transit in downtown Flushing cannot handle another 196,000 daily transit trips assumed for this 31 million square feet of new development, car and truck trips will be even greater. Some of this new traffic will use the Van Wyck and some will move through the Kew Gardens interchange. The question is, have you accounted for all this new development and can you accommodate as many as 2,000 new car and truck trips an hour moving though the Kew Gardens interchange?”

When and only when a proper traffic analysis is performed will NYS DOT be in a position to actually do its job: examine whether this project meets the eight criteria established by the FHWA for reviewing proposed access modifications.

Another point deserves mentioning. The City repeatedly promised, including in affidavits submitted to Justice Madden of the New York State Supreme Court, that it would not carry out the condemnation of properties at Willets Point until the ramps had been approved. In February 2011 the City announced that it was abrogating that pledge and was segmenting the project into at least two phases. Phase I would involve condemnation and construction without the ramps. When informed of this, Justice Madden issued an order to show cause directing the City to explain why her 2010 order dismissing the Article 78 proceeding should not be vacated due to the City's actions going forward with condemnation without having obtained approval for the ramps.

These actions demonstrate the City’s disregard of traffic impacts and of any pledges it makes to other units of government, or the public, with respect to Willets Point.

I will also take this opportunity to remind you of the pledge you made in your letter to me of December 6, 2010 that NYS DOT would comply with the newly enacted Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act in connection with this project. We have seen no evidence of such compliance, including the smart growth impact statement that is required by that statute.

We reserve all our legal rights in this matter.


Michael B. Gerrard

cc: Kenneth Dymond -- FHWA

Monday, April 18, 2011

Avella's letter to Pinsky

Avella letter to Pinsky

DOT's Statistical Slight of Hand

What's with the NYC DOT? Well, the answer is the same thing that's with all of the other city agencies that put out phony statistics to "prove" the validity of their policies. The best example of this is the DOH's calorie posting experiment that the city claimed was working to reduce fast food purchases. The facts,as revealed in independent reviews of the policy, were starkly different.

Which gets us to the absurd bike lanes, designed to foist a particular world view on New Yorkers; and doing so by ignoring the negative impact that the policy may have on, let's say, ecoonmic activity.

But, as the NY Post's Steve Cuozzo points out, ideology is bad enough without the resort to dishonest statistical analysis that covers up the fact that the policy is helping very few people. How many it might be hurting is not even a consideration of the DOT (just like the DOH couldn't give a tinker's damn about the calorie poating's impact on fast food outlets).

Here's Cuozzo's take: "The city Department of Transportation is lying through its teeth about an alleged biker boom. Last week, an NYU Furman Center study based on US Census data revealed that far fewer New Yorkers bicycle to work than the city's DOT claims. A flack for the agency "answered" by sneering at the survey's methodology: "We count cyclists, not questionnaires." Sorry: The Post has been counting cyclists too -- and they're far fewer on the ground than DOT pretends."

The DOT's counting acumen is on the level with the old state school tests: " The truth about how many people cycle to their jobs matters because Mayor Bloomberg and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan are using a supposed increase to justify their crazed campaign to install new bike lanes all over town -- at drivers' and pedestrians' expense. If bike-ridership to work is negligible, what possible rationale can exist for wasting precious city funds to reduce the number of vehicular lanes? And, in the process, hurting stores and restaurants that depend on curbside dropoffs? (And let's not even touch Sadik-Khan's bizarre initiative to stick parking places in the middle of streets.)"

The bike lanes are not only failing to encourage folks to bike to work, they are making traffic much worse: "Fun's fun -- but to recognize the lie of a bicycle "boom," check out Broadway between 47th and 59th Streets, where a virtually unused bike lane and pedestrian mall shrank four auto lanes to two. You've only to be stuck in traffic there -- or on Allen Street downtown heading north, where a similar lane was installed -- to appreciate the DOT's stupidity."

We appreciate DOT's stupidity, but what about the agency's mendacity? Progressives like Sadik-Khan like to make fun of neanderthal right wingers for being anti-science; yet they have no compunction about doing junk science themselves in order to promote their ideology.

And what about hypocrisy? As we have pointed out before, the bike fanatic commssioner is in the mayor's vanguard trying to foist a phony traffic study for Willets Point on the NYSDOT-a development that will choke local roads and highway with massive traffic increases.

What all this means is that we have a city government that believes the end justifies the means. And given the mendacious use of data-from education and health, to traffic and bikes-every city agency should go through its own "means" test.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Out of Comptroller

NY State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has issued a report criticizing the abuse of local development corporations, and in the words of Richard Nixon, it is a "limited, modified hangout." Here's the YNN report: "

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is introducing a package of measures designed to limit local governments’ use of local development corporations, which his office charged are “out of control” and have committed to an “ongoing pattern of abuse.”

DiNapoli’s measures include giving his office tighter control over LDCs, prevent LDCs or other non-profit organizations fund local governments, restricting compensation of some LDC employees in certain instances and requiring an LDC’s contract with a local government to be of fair value."

Sounds pretty powerful, doesn't it? Here's DiNapoli's quote: "Local governments are supposed to use LDCs for economic development purposes,” DiNapoli said. “But we found that isn’t always the case. Time after time, our auditors uncovered LDCs being used to skirt the laws governing local government operations. And that’s costing taxpayers money.”

So what's missing in the comptroller's critique? DiNapoli evidently is considering only those LDCs which are incorporated by state and local governments, and is disregarding all those other LDCs which are privately incorporated and which may be considered "local authorities". Kinda like the Claire Shulman subterfuge.

At the web site of the Office of the State Comptroller, there used to be a page which listed all of the "Class C" Public Authorities, and at one time included Claire Shulman's LDC in that list of local authorities. That entire page and its list of local authorities has been deleted from OSC's web site. So much for public accountability.

One one hand, DiNapoli announces tighter controls for a limited number of LDCs; on the other, he removes from public view the entire list of local authorities. A coverup disguised as an unmasking. Typical of the Machiavellian advice, it's better to appear good than to be good.

If DiNapoli had not eliminated the Shulman genre of LDCs, his call for comptroller auditing authority might have been courageous-especially when an LDC is violating state law and misrepresenting itself when applying for state funds. So pardon us for being overly cynical here. But the erasing of the Class C authorities from the comptroller's website speaks of a conscious coverup since his office has been made fully aware of the questionable Shulman activities.

Perhaps the press should ask him why he needed to scrub his website. After all, that is not the way to demonstrate greater transparency and cleaner government.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Port Authority's Compromised Mission

Crain's Insider is reporting on the letter that WPU sent to the Port Authority concerning its $6 million funding of the Willets Point EIS and the subsequent ramp report: "Opponents of the Willets Point redevelopment plan say the Port Authority may have funded a study of the area that will pave the way for increased travel delays to La Guardia and Kennedy airports, which the Port operates. Part of $100 million that the agency allocated for the city in 2004 may have been used to prepare an environmental impact statement “for a project that can only lead to the compromise of efficient airport access,” the letter said. The Port says it has not reviewed the letter."

The irony here is that the Port's money may have been part of a deal on the Airtrain, whereby the money was allocated in a quid pro quo for the city's support of the project-whose sole rationale was and is to ease airport access. The PA's Chris Ward signed off on the $100 million deal in 2009, a year after the Willets Point EIS had determined that 46% of the 80,000 car trips a day generated from the project would be diverted to the Van Wyck. Don't suppose the city alerted Ward to this.

But the WPU letter concludes with the following request, one that underscores the agency's mission: "The Port Authority should unambiguously re-assert its core interest in ensuring that airport access is not compromised, but protected; and, at the very least, should demand that the current ramp evaluation process be reconstituted as an independent review under the National Environmental Policy Act – something that the Natural Resources Defense Council, New York’s premier environmental group, has endorsed."

Let's see if Ward has the integrity to responds affirmatively to our request

Bloomberg's Flushing New York

The NY Times has an interesting article on the new development in downtown Flushing: "Flushing, Queens, home to one of the largest Asian populations in the United States, is one of the most crowded downtown areas in New York City. The Flushing Main Street stop on the No. 7 subway line was the busiest station outside of Manhattan in 2009, and 19 city bus lines stop downtown, where more than 40,000 people reside.Yet there has been relatively little large-scale development in the neighborhood. The glassy towers that dominate other parts of the city are conspicuously absent — and a municipal parking lot takes up five acres in the center of downtown."

That is until Flushing Commons: "People come from China, and when they look at Flushing, they say, ‘This is the way China was 15 years ago,’ ” said Michael Meyer, the president of TDC Development, a subsidiary of the F&T Group, which plans to turn that parking lot into Flushing Commons, an $820 million, 1.8 million-square-foot mixed-use development. Mr. Meyer said he hoped to break ground within a year, and he estimated that construction would take three and a half years.

It is one of several major developments that promise to refashion the neighborhood’s landscape." Flushing Commons is then described with a high degree of inaccuracy: "Flushing Commons is to include 235,000 square feet of small-scale retail, 185,000 square feet of office space, about 600 condos, a 62,000-square-foot Y.M.C.A., a one-and-a-half-acre park and, to make up for the lost parking lot, 1,600 underground parking spaces. The project is a joint venture with the Rockefeller Group Development Corporation, which built Rockefeller Center."

Hold on one second. When this project was debated there was a mix of large and small retail-with the traffic study indicating a higher amount of small retail (to minimize traffic impact, sound familiar?), while the socio-economic section of the EIS emphasized larger retail (to minimize displacement of Flushing vibrant small business community).

As was pointed out elsewhere, EDC went to great lengths to minimize economic impacts: "Although Chair Comrie may feel that there is nothing to fear from the competition, apparently EDC does-because it goes to such great lengths (or rather its tied at the hip consultants do) to minimize this very issue by arguing in the socio economic impact section of the EIS that, since there will be mostly , "national chain destination retailers," at the mall, local retailers have little to complain, or worry, about."

Now, however, the Times is reporting something else. What is the truth? No one can tell because all of these environmental documents are rife with dishonesty. All we can say for certain is that Flushing Commons, along with other Flushing area developments is going to severely compromise the road and rail infrastructure.

As the Times tells us: "Nearby, the F&T Group is also building a $125 million mixed-use development that will combine a 168-room Hyatt Place hotel with three levels of retail, underground parking and a separate tower for office space and serviced apartments. Groundbreaking is this week; construction should take three years."

And the RKO Keith theater will be adding more retail along with the development at Sky View Parc: "Already the waterfront has one major new tenant — perhaps the most salient evidence of Flushing’s transformation up to now — on a site that Muss Development Company has owned for more than two decades. Sky View Center, an 800,000-square-foot mall a few blocks west of the Main Street station, is now 75 percent leased, and has big-box stores like Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Best Buy."

How will Flushing handle all of this over development? One local has real worries: "Mr. Yu, of the Flushing Business Improvement District, said he was happy that so much development was on the horizon but nervous about the practical effects in a neighborhood already congested with traffic. Already, he said, “it can take you six to eight minutes for one block.” He added, “We’re going to miss the parking spaces.”

The irony here is that in the middle of all of this mess, and promising that she will have some remedies for the community, is our dear buddy Claire Shulman. Claire's LDC, which in a fair and equitable world would have been disbanded for illegal lobbying, is now looking for more things to do. But the real irony is that her signature effort in Willets Point will destroy any mitigation that Shulman finds public money to pay for.

The sad fact here is that Willets Point and Flushing are being developed without any commensurate master plan that deal honestly with the environmental and infrastructure issues. The fact that EDC is trying to create a partial Phase I on Willets Point only exacerbates the overall problem. At the end of the day, whenever that day comes, there will be too much traffic and too many people for the current road and rail network-and it will cost billions more to fix the problem.

Double Standards: Mayor Delays East Side Waste Transfer Station

As the WSJ is reporting, the city has postponed for five to eight years the construction of a waste transfer station at 91st Street on the Upper East Side. The decision to put the facility there in 2006 was considered a great achievement for environmental justice:

"In 2006, following intense negotiations, the council and the mayor's administration agreed on a comprehensive "Solid Waste Management Plan" that sought to distribute equitably the siting of undesirable sanitation facilities in the five boroughs.

But the mayor's current budget blueprint upends that objective, critics say, by delaying funding for all of the proposed solid-waste marine-transfer stations in upscale Manhattan—and one in Brooklyn—for five to eight years, well past the end of Mr. Bloomberg's tenure at City Hall. An aide to the mayor said the proposed delay was necessary because of the economy."

Here's the mayor's prudent rationale: "Jason Post, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, said the downturn in the economy has forced the administration to reduce all of its expenditures, including for sanitation facilities in the city's capital program."

Smart thinking in this fiscal climate, no? Which, as always brings us to Willets Point where, if you will remember, NYC EDC is plowing ahead with all kinds of expensive and possibly illegal actions in order to get the project jump started.

So we pose a question to all those council members who are complaining about this mayoral about face. How do you avoid tackling the wasteful speculative condemnation here at the Iron Triangle? It certainly appears that the downturn rationale only applies to communities of color, but not to mayoral legacy projects.

Supposedly, according to the NY Daily News, the mayor might be reconsidering: "Bloomberg said he had to cut the funds because of the city's cash crunch - but he is reconsidering. "The administration remains fully committed to [the 2006 plan's] principles of borough equity, using rail and barge to transfer solid waste, [and] relieving the burden of waste receiving from certain communities," said mayoral spokesman Jason Post. He said the city is looking for ways to restore some of the funding."

If so, we know just where he can get the money from. All it takes is a little push back from the advocates and their council allies.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

AG Schneiderman and Nonprofit Scrutiny

In today's The Capitol, the paper focuses in on the priorities of the state's new attorney general Eric Schneiderman-and one of his major priorities is public corruption: "Schneiderman’s third priority is to attack public corruption and prove wrong those critics who said that he, as a former member of the Legislature, would turn a blind eye to Albany wrongdoing. If anything, Schneiderman says, his time in Albany gave him a better understanding of the roots of public corruption. “It is a tremendous help to understand how the system works,” he said. “And I think it’s clear I have not hesitated to go after crime and corruption wherever it occurs.”

But it's not corruption in general that he's looking at, but the not for profit sector in particular: "Specifically, Schneiderman says he is directing the charities bureau of his office, which has jurisdiction over nonprofits and, some say, languished under Coumo, to be more aggressive in ferreting out abuses. To that end, his office was recently reported to be targeting several nonprofits that receive funding from Sen. Shirley Huntley, a Queens Democrat."

While Schneiderman is looking at Queens there are bigger fish to fry than Senator Huntley, as we have already pointed out before numerous times. There is an oppen investigation of the Claire Shulman LDC which most certainly "languished" under the former AG-how else to describe an investigation that began in the summer of 2009, one that was based on a pretty cut and dried violation of Section 1411 of the state's not for profit law?

And while he's looking at this matter and examining the role of relatives, the AG should take a look at the role being played by Parkside's Evan Stavisky, the head honcho for the illegal Shulman lobbying operation and the son of State Senator Toby Stavisky, a major proponent of the Willets Point development. To do so, however, would mean targeting not only the Queens power structure, but the role of the mayor as well.

Now that the budget fight is over, Schneiderman can step forward: "With budget season now over, expect Schneiderman to make a grab for the spotlight more often—on mortgage fraud, on investigations into his former colleagues and on other issues."

If the new attorney general is really going to exhibit true independence and courage, he needs do more than go after the low hanging fruit. His willingness to do so will determine his character and legacy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Third Times a Dud

Mike Lupica lays out our sentiments about the Bloomberg third term rather well today in the NY Daily News-and of course riffs from the Black disaster: "I was talking with somebody Sunday who knows both Bloomberg and Black, and the guy said this about the third-term mayor of New York: "It's easy to forget that before [Bloomberg] spent a fortune buying his job in City Hall, people thought of him as a kind of a jerk. Rich and successful, but a wise guy with a big ego who thought he was the smartest guy he ever met."

We at the Iron Triangle have pretty much felt this from the beginning of the city's effort to take away our land. But even before that we have watched how the mayor runs roughshod over any of the little people who stand in his way-whether they are wholesalers in the Bronx Terminal Market or bodega owners who had the Bloomberg cigarette tax take away $250 million a year from those small store cash registers.

This was a guy who, from the very beginning had no idea about how to ran a government-and he was laden with a sense of class entitlement that has characterized all of his economic development decisions. This is no Robin Hood for sure, but the Sheriff of Nottingham would be a good facsimile of the Bloomberg persona-stealing from the poor to give to the rich.

And the Black choice epitomized this arrogant elitist mindset: "So now Bloomberg, the only person in the whole city - besides Cathie Black - who thought Black should be schools chancellor despite her spectacular lack of qualifications, fires her because she isn't qualified for the job. It really is kind of wonderful. Bloomberg replaces Black with a different kind of crony, a City Hall insider named Dennis Walcott, apparently having just remembered that Walcott went to public school."

Lupica goes on to put his finger on the source of the real Bloomberg problem-a grandiosity around his supposed legacy: "Somewhere along the line, the legacy became the job for Bloomberg as much as the city. He becomes more distant from his own constituency by the day, wanders aimlessly through a third term the way other third-term mayors of New York have before him, from Fiorello LaGuardia to Edward I. Koch.

He admits he made a mistake with Cathie Black, and we're supposed to believe he reboots his own third term in that moment, as if the lousy snow removal didn't happen, or CityTime, or bad jokes about the Irish. No. The mistake was a third term for Bloomberg, the sense of entitlement he brought to the whole process. He is still running television commercials even though he is no longer running for anything. Commercials about Bloomberg, paid for by him. Perfect."

Which gets us around to our own immediate concerns over our property at Willets Point. This huge and massively expensive project, conceived in illegality and managed in deceit, is the perfect dramatization of Lupica's point about Bloomberg's obsession with legacy-it's all about him and damn not only the people who own the land, but the city's tax payers as well.

Lay off 4,000 teachers but don't take a penny away from the mayor's own Mount Rushmore at the Iron Triangle. Bloomberg needs to be stopped before a full scale calamity takes place here at Willets Point. Judge Madden has entered into this at just the right moment, it's a shame that area pols (except for Senator Avella and CM Halloran) remain asleep at the wheel.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rotten to the Core...Services

So the city council is unhappy with the mayor's budget priorities, and has written a letter to express its disappointment. The WSJ covers the issue: "

The New York City Council officially responded Friday to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s preliminary budget proposal, telling the mayor it would be imprudent to slash critical city services or short-circuit the city’s economic recovery. “Laying off teachers, closing fire companies and shredding the social safety net are not actions worthy of the progress we have made, do not reflect the values of New Yorkers and do not lay a stable foundation for our future,” the council wrote in its formal response to the mayor’s budget blueprint

The council goes on to point out rather cogently, "Rather, we must pare away unnecessary spending and use our limited resources to protect our capacity to deliver the critical services that constitute the building blocks of our future.”

We agree with the council's criticism but must point out that, just as it did with its failed oversight of the mayor's snowfu, the council shrinks away from going after Bloomberg directly, by questioning in this case the wasteful boondoggle of his signature project at Willets Point.

How does the mayor-and the council as well-justify spending billions on an environmentally disastrous development at the Iron Triangle, while proposals are on the table to shut fire companies and lay off teachers?

The council's letter suggests that more savings could be achieved in another area: "In the document, the council said it believes alternative savings can be achieved through “a more careful review of certain areas of spending, including most notably the contract budget.”

Gee, that sounds like it could apply to Willets Point where millions are being contracted for sewers and traffic studies. But that might entail an actual oversight hearing that did the fiscal due diligence-something that Quinn and company have refused to do.

The Journal concludes with this last laugh kind of line-and so will we: "The mayor and his aides have repeatedly said they are doing their best to protect core services while balancing the budget in tough fiscal times."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Speaker Quinn Plays a Tune: Three Blind Mice

After all of the furor over the mayor's snow removal debacle last winter-and all of the hue and cry posturing from the city council-the legislature has finally come up with its response, and to say it is underwhelming is being charitable. We'll let the NY Post tell it like it is:

"The City Council passed a flurry of bills last week to revamp emergency services and snow removal in the wake of the disastrous Dec. 26 blizzard. "We are taking these aggressive actions to make sure that something like this never happens again," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Well, maybe. One bill makes it easier for citizens to volunteer during a crisis. Another calls for 311 to be revamped. And city agencies must now update and publish their snow-removal plans.

But the legislation says nothing about missing mayors. Mayor Bloomberg was out of town when the snow began falling. Nobody had been left in charge. Agency chiefs were in disarray. The rest, as they say, is history."

Some great oversight, no? What could Quinn possibly be afraid of? The Post answers: "Serious legislation would have required the establishment of a clear chain of command when the mayor leaves town. But Bloomberg won't abide that -- and the council flinched. Well, the mayor has his right to privacy. But he left a leadership vacuum before the blizzard -- and the council, contrary to Quinn, refused to ensure that such a thing "never happens again." Failure piled upon failure. What a pity."

Not a pity in our view, but an outrage. This is what passes for oversight in Quinn's council-a whitewash of a winter white out masquerading as a serious response. Which, ironically, makes all of us at the Iron Triangle actually feel a little better.

After all, when we asked that the council conduct an oversight over the attempt by EDC to violate all previous development protocols at Willets Point, we were turned down flat by Quinn, et al. But if Quinn lacks the integrity to conduct a proper oversight of managerial malfeasance that led to people dying, who are we to complain about the council's unwillingness to oversee the EDC scam at Willets Point?.

And the phrase, "Quinn lacks the integrity," has a nice ring to us. That's because the word lack has the same root as lackey-an epithet that surely fits a council speaker that gives the mayor's ultimate no show a legislative free pass.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Black Eye an Anomoly?

The mayor has been roundly criticized by all media for his disastrous appointment of Cathie Black. But one editorial over at the Daily News sees the Black debacle as an aberration from the high quality appointments Bloomberg has made: "It's time for the accountability that goes with mayoral control, even if it means stating the obvious. Which is that Bloomberg's selection of Black was the single largest and most consequential error of his mayoralty...Based on Bloomberg's record in choosing top-notch aides, this page called his move "high-risk" and said Black should get a fair opportunity to prove her mettle. Unfortunately, she proved to be a poor fit."

Well, let's see here. We at WPU beg to differ with the News on this score. Let's take the entire cohort of deputy mayors for economic development-all taken from some or another Wall Street gig. First there was Dan Doctoroff who booted the Olympic bid and mishandled the West Side Stadium.

also was the fine fella who handed over, in a truly sweetheart deal, the Bronx Terminal Market to his good friend and former business partner Steve Ross of Related. In the process, twenty minority wholesalers were booted out of the market site-a sign of things to come over at Willets Point.

was followed by Robert Leiber who always gave the impression he was suffering fools and slumming when he had to meet anyone whose net worth was less than $10 million. Leiber promoted the disastrous Kingsbridge Armory plan-the worst defeat in the mayor's second and last (oops) term. Under inattentive Leiber's watch three bakeries with good union jobs left town.

was replaced by the comic genius Seth Pinsky who is trying by hook and by crook to jump start the Willets Point plan-doing anything within his power to avoid proper regulatory review and spitting in the face of SC Judge Joan Madden. While promoting the Willets Point traffic nightmare, Pinsky has had the time to also promote Flushing Commons, a giant mall in that downtown that will compound the error over at the Iron Triangle.

So, while Cathie Black is the most visible mayoral appointment to crash and burn, she is not the most egregious of his appointees, That honor goes to the troika of Doctoroff, Leiber and Pinsky: Bloomberg's three stooges.

Will WPU Get a Mulligan?

Last year as many of you know, WPU had filed an environmental lawsuit against the city for, among other things, its failure to consider the impact of ramps off of the Van Wyck-and the fact that the entire ULURP process should have followed and not preceded the land use review, SC Judge Joan Madden had ruled for the city because Deputy Mayor Leiber had sworn that no condemnation would commence until after the ramps were approved.

Well we all know what has happened since. But let's take a moment to consider why the city felt compelled to proceed with a newly created Phase I-along with a condemnation process-before the ramps were approved. The only explanation we can fathom is that it grew tired-tired and apprehensive-about waiting for regulators to act on the ramps.

Queens' last honest man Ben Haber raises this in his letter to the local papers:

"There seems to be no limit to the deviousness in the manner in which the city Economic Development Corp. is proceeding with regard to the proposed Willets Point project. A current case in point is the initiation of eminent domain proceedings which will justifiably result in a lawsuit (“Willets backers want to sue city over plans,” Flushing Times, March 24-30).

In previous court proceedings, the EDC advised the court that it will not pursue eminent domain until it receives approval for plans to construct ramps onto the Van Wyck Expressway. Notwithstanding that representation, the EDC is proceeding with eminent domain on what it now describes as Phase 1 of the development and claims that portion does not require ramps. There is no such thing as separate phases on what has been billed as a total project."

Haber points to the EDC use of the Robert Moses ruse of trying to create facts on the ground to end run or muscle legislative or regulatory action: "That totality cannot occur without resolution of the ramp issue unless the EDC at a later date seeks to make the ramp issue irrelevant for fear it will derail the project.

Attempting to create separate phases is what the EDC has in mind for the future. The scenario is evident: “Hey, we already have a portion taken through eminent domain. We can’t be stopped at this stage because of some traffic issue. So waive it.” This kind of flimflam does not comport with good government because there is no reason why the EDC could not wait until the ramp issue was resolved — particularly since in the previous court proceedings the EDC made no mention of separate phases."

So, what should be done to EDC Ben? "Hopefully, a court will see through the EDC’s deception, let right be done and block the current eminent domain charade until the ramp issue has been resolved. Furthermore, since the current attempt at eminent domain through a spurious creation of separate phases is contrary to what was previously represented to the court, the EDC should be required to show cause on why it should not be held in contempt of court."

The ball is now literally in Judge Madden's court, and the judge should not only hold EDC in contempt, an easy thing to believe, but force the agency to conduct a separate environmental review for its segmented Phase I-giving WPU the mulligan it deserves.

The Flushing Times discusses these issues: "A judge has ruled that she will review a closed suit that a cadre of Willets Point business owners filed in hopes of blocking the planned $3 billion redevelopment of the derelict 62-acre area if the city cannot prove to her why she should not reopen it.

State Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden told the city last week in a court document that it must prove to her by July 20 “why an order should not be entered vacating the August 24, 2010 order dismissing [the property owners’] Article 78 petition and permitting supplemental briefing and reargument in light of recent developments and newly discovered evidence.”

The issue of EDC''s contempt-and the city's as well-is central to this re-review: "One of the conditions Madden put on the city when the case was originally tried was that it could not seize land through the use of eminent domain until it received state and federal approval for the ramps. The city has not received those approvals and it has already initiated eminent domain proceedings against nine property owners in the Iron Triangle, under the pretext that the first phase of the project will not create enough new traffic for the ramps to be necessary."

Of course, this is an assertion that EDC has no credibility to make-as WPU's attorney makes very clear: "Madden effectively rejected that argument by issuing the document March 28, in the opinion of John Houghton, a lawyer for Willets Point United. “She seems to understand that it’s an important issue and the city is going to have to address why it’s going back on the statements it made to the judge,” he said. “I think our chances are outstanding. It’s very clear from the city’s environmental reports that because of the increased traffic that would result from the project they can’t move forward with the project if they don’t get approval for the ramps.”

EDC's spokeswoman, working on her Improv routine, tries to make a convincing case that Judge Madden's OSC rebuke was actually a boon to the city: "City Economic Development Corp. spokeswoman Julie Wood said the EDC is confident that the court case will not slow down the city’s progress toward making the redevelopment a reality. “The judge has given us another chance to show that our actions complied with the law, and we look forward to doing that in court,” she said in a statement. “In the meantime, we are moving forward with the project and don’t believe this will have any impact on our timeline.”

Moving forward in spite of the fact that the judge is saying that she isn't pleased with the city's about face? This, it seems to us, is adding insult to injury, to insult-underscoring Haber's observation about contempt.

The city should be more cautious in its approach, before it finds that it has used up all of its good will with the court. But we guess that they won't be taking our advice anytime soon. EDC is playing a game of chicken with Judge Madden, and we'll see how their chickens come home to roost.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Black is Black, I Want My Baby Back

Mike Bloomberg's disastrous choice for school chancellor has been shown the door-by the man who just a few short month ago had called her the "best" person for the job. The WSJ has the story: "New York schools Chancellor Cathleen Black, a former magazine executive appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lead the nation's largest school system, stepped down Thursday after just three months on the job. At a City Hall press conference, Mr. Bloomberg said he met with Ms. Black Thursday morning and "we have mutually agreed that it is in the city's best interest if she steps down as chancellor." Her brief tenure was marked by a series of gaffes, departures of high-level deputies and a low public-approval rating."

What exited along with the late chancellor was the last vestige of any possible belief in the mayor's competency. His judgment is now fully compromised, and he needs to be challenged forcefully on all that he decides to do going forward from today.

As for Willets Point it would be an unmitigated disaster for the city. What Cathie Black has been for the city's one million children, Willets Point would be for the city's tax payers. The entire venture needs to be set aside and re-reviewed under the current economic circumstances-and probably by the next mayor. The time for simply taking the mayor's word, is a boat that has long ago left port.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cathie Black and Bloomberg's Judgment

Cathie Black is rapidly becoming the symbol of the mayor's lack of good judgment-and why the third term was such a bad idea. The chancellor, who has no educational background and no other rationale for her elevation that we can see, now has poll numbers rapidly approaching negative integers:

"Cathie Black's rough start as schools chancellor is not getting any better. In fact, her approval rating is even worse than it was earlier this year, just a few weeks after she started her new job. An exclusive NY1-Marist Poll finds that just 17 percent of voters think Black is doing an excellent or a good job. That's down from January, when 21 percent of voters said they approved of the job she was doing.The number of respondents who think she is doing a fair or poor job has also increased to 63 percent, compared to 54 percent in January. The former Hearst Magazines chairwoman took heat from the beginning of her tenure over her lack of education credentials. Gaffes, like in February when she mocked an angry crowd at a schools meeting, have also not helped her win over the public."Not a good picture in terms of trying to get the kind of passing grades she would want to get from New York voters," says NY1/Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff. "So this has not been a success to this point."

How bad is she? Well, according to the NY Times, she has to have her public appearances carefully controlled lest she stick her foot in her mouth as she has done in the past: "Ms. Black has remained largely sequestered from the public since taking over in January from Joel I. Klein, and at public functions she commonly hews to scripted remarks or takes limited questions. She made a couple of gaffes in her first weeks in office, including one in which she jokingly recommended birth control as a solution to school overcrowding in Lower Manhattan."

It's almost as if she is in the witness protection program: "On policy matters like high school admissions and graduation rates, deputy chancellors — particularly Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer — often speak for the Education Department. State officials made Mr. Polakow-Suransky’s appointment to that role a condition for permitting Ms. Black to take the chancellorship, because of concerns about her lack of experience in education."

Which gets us to the mayor's lack of good judgment, something we commented on over the weekend. Mike Bloomberg used muscle and guile to steal a third term that he didn't deserve-everything has gone down hill ever since.

Which brings us to our own Iron Triangle struggle. It is now two and a half years since the City Council passed the Willets Point land use application-and the city remains stuck in the mud because of the actions of the intrepid band of Willets Point United who simply would not quit even when EDC made sweetheart deals with their former allies in the original coalition. EDC thought that by taking out the bigger property owners, the others would fold up like cheap suits. That didn't happen, and in the process WPU has demonstrated-even while the city council has remained frozen in amber-that this project cannot work, and will destroy local road infrastructure and jam mass transit beyond its current capacity to handle the overflow.

What WPU has also done, utilizing its other team of lawyers from Mike Rikon's firm. is to dramatize the extent to which the mayor's minions have flouted the law-once again-in the abuse of the eminent domain procedures. It wasn't bad enough that EDC used extra-legal lobbying methods to gain city council approval. Buoyed by the abuse of power, EDC went ahead and spit in the face of the EDPL by offering lucrative deals to some and bupkis to others who were lacking in means. We will talk about this outrage in more detail at a later time, but suffice it to say that this was an outrageous example of the illegal abuse of power-and we think that the courts will eventually agree with us.

But this all goes back to the mayor, someone who is used to bogarting the little guys. This is the same man who, when confronted with the illegal Claire Shulman lobbying told the local press that it might not be legal, but its done all the time. All the time by him, perhaps-as was the case with the Coney Island Development Corporation as well.

As the Times has reported, "

In a recent example, the Coney Island Development Corporation, essentially a subsidiary of the Economic Development Corporation, hired three buses to carry people to a hearing last month on the mayor’s proposal to revitalize 19 blocks of the Coney Island amusement district. Officials say the buses were open to those who favored or opposed the plan, but council members say it was clear that most riders were supporters.

“I don’t ever remember L.D.C.’s lobbying council members or elected officials the way they have been to promote Bloomberg projects,” said Councilman Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat who is chairman of the Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises and who is a candidate for mayor.

The Coney Island group also paid more than $182,000 to Yoswein New York, another of the city’s major lobbying firms, to help promote its efforts to help the mayor gain public approval for his redevelopment plan, records show. “We do public relations as well, and for this client we were hired to do marketing and public relations,” said Jamie Van Bramer, who handled the account for Yoswein. “We did no lobbying on this one at all.”

Fast forward to today.Unable to get the state to approve the ramps because his pet consultants fudged the traffic data, the mayor's crew is once again skirting the law by creating a phony Phase I development plan-and thankfully, Judge Madden has intervened and called the city on this maneuver.

So the mayor who believes like Louis the IV, that "l'etat c'est moi," isn't constrained from resorting to illegal bullying methods; forcing Cathie Black down our throats, and trying to do the same with Willets Point. The major point here is that the mayor, with few peers to counsel him wisely, believes that he is infallible and it is all the rest of us who are in need of his guidance.

The snowstorm, CityTime scandal and Cathie Black provide empirical evidence that infallibility is not, by a long shot, a Bloomberg personality trait. The decision to plow forward on Willets Point only confirms this evident lack of judgment. It will, given the catatonic state of legislative oversight, probably be left to the courts to disabuse the mayor of his grandiose vision. It's only a matter of time before Willets Point joins the other debacles as a testament to the value of term limits.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Incredible Shrinking Mayor

In today's NY Daily News, an op-ed contributor hones in on the collapse of the Mike Bloomberg edifice: "The blizzard was the least of it. It's been downhill for Mike Bloomberg since he not only failed to pick up the snow but seemed to not quite understand why it needed picking up. Never has he been less the master of his own destiny - let alone the city's. Yes, it's official. Mayor Mike's political stock has been downgraded, in no small part because his new competitor in the political marketplace, Gov. Cuomo, just handed him his hat."

We have already commented on the mayor's decline, but today's Daily News piece highlights something else. When someone with strength, like our new governor, calls the mayor's bluff, he is transformed back into that little man behind the curtain who he always has really been.

The author then examines what defined the myth of Mike in the first place: "To find out where it went, we have to understand what defined it in the first place. Bloomberg's charisma, such as it was, was the charisma of competence. After Rudy Giuliani slayed dragons like welfare and crime, Michael Bloomberg promised an era of omnicompetent, innovative, business-style management."

As it turns out, however, Bloomberg's competency and innovative ability never really was a characteristic of his rule-only the semblance of these traits. CityTime and Hapless Cathie Black exposed the underlying reality: "Mr. Bottom Line was caught sleeping as consultants from CityTime were indicted for allegedly bilking the city of $80 million. He left New Yorkers scratching their heads after a secretive process resulted in the appointment of former Hearst executive Cathie Black as schools chancellor, even though she has zero background in educational administration."

What Black contributed inadvertently was to help the folks see through the entire Potemkin Village nature of the mayor's school reform platform. Her fraudulent elevation and the mayor's defense of her qualifications, exposed the dishonest underbelly of the entire reform edifice.

Governor Cuomo, however, exposed the extent to which Bloomberg lacks real political skills, especially when confronted by an equal: "How did he fall so far, so fast? ...But it turns out, being a billionaire named Bloomberg, running a firm called Bloomberg, 88% owned by a guy named Bloomberg, may not be great training for the ego-massaging, deal-making and horse-swapping required in real-world politics."

The mayor is effective only when he can deal with unequals, and the NYC Council is, in this sense, his perfect foil. When unchallenged Bloomberg can use money and power to bully his way-understated and misleadingly soft spoken, lacking the bombastics of Giuliani.

The News contributor concludes by musing about the Bloomberg legacy: "Meanwhile, his days are taken up trying to defend bike-lane lawsuits and a grandiose, now-revised scheme to plop a pedestrian plaza down in the middle of 34th Street. If it feels like he's reaching for a legacy, well, that's because he is."

Perhaps not. You see, the mayor's real legacy lies not over at 34th Street, but farther east in our own Iron Triangle. The development at Willets Point would be, in the mayor's own view, his crowning achievement-a monument to his vision. In reality, if this project were ever to get built it would be a monument to all that has been wrong about the Bloomberg misrule-over development and the destruction of small businesses.

It is a legacy of an entirely different character than the one that Mike Bloomberg envisions. In this sense, WPU is acting in the mayor's best interest. By thwarting his misguided effort to strangle the city and Queens County with an unaffordable and unmanageable monstrosity, we will be saving Bloomberg from himself.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Square One in New London

According to Gideon's Trumpet, the City of New London is now trying to reinvent the 91 acres that it had usurped from Suzette Kelo and her neighbors for a development that never happened: "The subject land, all 91 acres of it, is now an empty, weed-overgrown swath of land, of interest only to birds and feral cats. On that, the city and the State of Connecticut blew at least $80,000,000 — probably a lot more."

But as the website points out, the SCOTUS had based its Kelo decision on the shrewd planning done by the city: "You may also recall that the pillar on which the court’s decision rested was planning. The city, said the court, did such a swell job on planning the redevelopment of the Fort Trumbull area of New London that the court simply had to defer to it. In fact, that turned out to be a crock. The plan was worthless; the city’s chosen developer could not even get financing (and that was before the real estate bubble burst in 2008)." Ah yes, planning.

Brings to mind the gems of wisdom spoken by one Seth Pinsky. As we cited last week: "This is a project that is overwhelmingly supported by the City's elected officials, arose out of a community planning process, with a first phase that is funded and ready to go, despite today's challenging fiscal environment," Pinsky wrote."

That great community planning process? Of course the process did not include the community that is having its property taken, did it? But really, who is Pinsky trying to kid? This was not a community planning process but a stacked deck that emerged whole from the geniuses down on William Street. As for the funding, where is the money actually coming from, and why is it even being allocated in this, "challenging fiscal environment?"

Meanwhile those crack planners from New London are going back to the drawing board-but this time the community is being solicited for ideas: "Now The Day, the local New London newspaper brings the news that the city is going to hold a charette, whatever that is, in which the local folks are invited by a team of city and Yale Urban Design Workshop planners to partake of coffee and cookies, and discuss various possible development schemes for that land that was taken by eminent domain by the city in 2000, and has been sitting empty and unproductive for some five years (which, by an odd coincidence, is longer than it took to fight and win Word War II)."

Gideon's Trumpet is upset with the court for its undeserved deference to the locality: "The reason for our acerbic approach to this event is that, as noted above, New London’s planning, its supposed thoroughness and quality, formed the linchpin of the Supreme Court’s decision. The court deferred to the city because of all that quality planning that was supposed to do wonders for the community. Now, six years after the event, the city is going back to the drawing board and starting all over again, this time by basing its decision-making on what the untutored local folks have to say. What happened to all that fancy “planning”?

If you think that the EDC wise guys are any better than their New London counterparts, well, think again. Willets Point is an even bigger development challenge than Fort Trumbull ever was-and the attendant costs dwarf the New London site. On top of that, no matter how the ramp situation is resolved, the project will create infrastructure, financial and logistical nightmares for decades to come.

So much for the great community planning process, one that was built on fraudulent traffic data and a road and mass transit network unequal to the massive size of the Plan. In fact, if WPU can stymie this development because of the inadequacy of the ramps, it will be doing the citizens of NYC-but particularly those of Queens in the vicinity of this gargantuan boondoggle-a giant favor.

Hopefully, then, this whole scheme will fall apart and we won't end up like New London six years after the last homeowner was evicted from her house-with an empty field of bad dreams.