Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wage Slavemaster

As expected Mayor Bloomberg vetoed legislation that would provide a decent wage for certain workers in projects that were subsidized by the city. Also as expected he resorted to hypocritical reasoning for explaining his action:

"But Mr. Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire, proceeded to lecture the council and the bill's backers about "the way the free market works." He warned that the prevailing-wage bill could thwart positive trends in the city economy that have helped it rebound from the 2008 recession and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He called the measure "a throwback to the era when government viewed the private sector as a cash cow to be milked, rather than a garden to be cultivated."

Let's get this straight. Mike Bloomberg, the Great Condemner of Private Property, is lecturing others about the free market system? Ho, ho  ho! What the mayor forgets is that the foundation for the free market system is the sanctity of private property rights-and there can be no greater violation of, "the free market," than the use of government to take away property from the little guys and hand it over to friends of the mayor.

Ask Nick Sprayregen about the so-called free market and how Bloomberg colluded with Columbia University to take away his property rights. Or how the mayor abrogated the leases at the old Bronx Terminal Market so he could deed the property over to his BFF Steve Ross-a fellow billionaire. And we haven't even talked about the land grab at Willets Point.
But that wouldn't be all the mayor is hypocritical about. As Speaker Quinn has pointed out,

"...the administration has doled out nearly $250 million in incentives to lure or keep businesses here, and that Bloomberg had no problem supporting prevailing- and living-wage requirements for home health aides, day-care workers and even some building- service workers in 2002. “This law covered 60,000 workers, making it the largest living-wage law in the nation,” she said of the earlier law Bloomberg approved. “Not only did it fail to undermine the free market, it helped tens of thousands of New Yorkers raise their families out of poverty to join the middle class.”

And when it came to the mayor's own pet projects: "Quinn further reminded the mayor that his aides negotiated wage agreements at city-subsidized Citi Field, Yankee Stadium and Atlantic Yards without any problems." So what Bloomberg wants is to be able to wheel and deal-but only on his own terms; legislating these rights usurps the ability of Mighty Mike to hand out the goodies at his behest alone.

The mayor talks about how these kinds of bills are job killers: "I share the desire to see people earn higher wages and salaries, but there are no short cuts. Government can’t bend the laws of the labor market without breaking the bank — and destroying job prospects for people who most need work."

Another knee slapper. The mayor is displacing 2500 immigrant workers at Willets Point with no regard for those workers, their families, and the city's tax base-all for a pie in the sky development that will be done by a company like Related with those close ties to their crony mayor. But the biggest joke-one that's on all of us-is the mayor prattling on about over-regulation:

"My business turned out to be successful, due to a lot of reasons — including a lot of luck. But the most fundamental is very simple: After a terrible decade in the 1970s, New York City was succeeding in getting people and businesses to come and stay, and invest in their futures. That is still true today — thanks to an awful lot of hard work. But we can’t take our economic growth for granted. As soon as we begin imposing costly conditions on companies to do business here, the smallest entrepreneurs and the biggest companies will decide to build their future elsewhere." (emphasis added)

This is from the master over-regulator of all of the city's 250,000 small businesses-burying them in fines and taxes while he screams if anyone dares to regulate his buddies in financial services.  The basic fact is that the mayor has squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on his real estate cronies while looking to squeeze immigrant small business for every penny they have. We applaud the speaker's actions here; it is time this hypocrite was shown the door.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

The IRS Needs to Take Action Against the FWPC LDC

With more and more so-called Tea Party groups being targeted by the IRS-questioning their not for profit status-it becomes even more incumbent on the agency to move swiftly against the FWPC LDC for its attempt to deceive the federal tax officials about its lobbying activities. Professor Jacobson has the story on the Tea Parties plight:

"Tea Parties across the country, the recipients of letters from the IRS demanding they produce reams of documents detailing every email, blog post, tweet, radio transcript, Facebook entry, and on, have banded together to share resources in defending their 501c4 applications.The Liberty Defense Foundation is allowing the disparate groups to share recommendations for accountants and other services the groups will be requiring in order to comply with the demands of the IRS."

Let's put this as clearly as possible. Shulman's group is as far from a charitable organization as possible-and it operates as a beard for the developers that founded it and helped to fund it in conjunction with their co-conspirators at NYC EDC. In our view the entire lobbying operation has been a fraudulent cover for private self interest and the political ambitions of the billionaire mayor.

But the job of the IRS in all of this is fairly simple. It needs to remove the not for profit status of the LDC and sanction Shulman and her developer cohorts to the fullest extent of the law-and the US Attorney should follow up on the conspiracy to deprive Willets Point business owners of their property rights,

Friday, April 20, 2012

Property Rights and NY's Senators

WPU is still waiting for the chameleon Kirstin Gillibrand to answer our letter on eminent domain abuse-her silence speaks volumes. NY State currently has two senators that are hostile to private property rights-Gillibrand, and the Wall Street toady Chuck Schumer. Schumer has long since abandoned any pretense of representing average folks.

That being said, the current aspirants for the Gillibrand seat have failed to step up on the issue of eminent domain-all three had other things to do when we held our press conference last week. It's a shame that they punted because we got some decent coverage that would have given Turner, Long and Maragos a nice platform with which to reach voters all across the state on this important issue.

The Queens Tribune highlighted the presser-with State Senator Avella as one of the keynoters: "It’s always been my understanding that eminent domain should only be used in those isolated cases when we are talking about a public highway, a hospital, a school, something that has a real public purpose,” Avella said. “With this, we’re going to take somebody’s private business to give it to a big developer, who’s another private business, who’s going to make millions of dollars. To me, that’s the opposite of the American dream.”

And the inimitable Ben Haber, still going strong in his eighties captures the outrage of this legalized theft: "I am upset at people who believe a Gucci store and luxury apartment buildings serve a greater public interest than repair and body fender shops,” said Benjamin Haber, president of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association."

All of which leaves us at the mercy of Sillent Schumer, a man for whom the next defense of the little guy against what LaGuardia called, "The Interests," will be his first. Gillibrand for her part, well her part is playing Charlie McCarthy to Schumer's Edgar Bergen. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifuFQQtwPD8) So in a Democratic state will are left with two senators who believe that property is owned only at the whim of the state-and in NYC Bloomberg who believes, "l'├ętat, c'est moi."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bloomberg for President?

Every once in a while someone comes along to demonstrate a level of comic incompetency that is truly hilarious. Today it's Tom Friedman of the NY Times who drafts a poorly written plea for Mike Bloomberg to throw his hat in the ring and run for the presidency as an independent:

"But, today, neither party is generating that mandate — talking seriously enough about the taxes that will have to be raised or the entitlement spending that will have to be cut to put us on sustainable footing, let alone offering an inspired vision of American renewal that might motivate such sacrifice. That’s why I still believe that the national debate would benefit from the entrance of a substantial independent candidate — like the straight-talking, socially moderate and fiscally conservative Bloomberg — who could challenge, and maybe even improve, both major-party presidential candidates by speaking honestly about what is needed to restore the foundations of America’s global leadership before we implode."

This guy must be referring to some other Mike Bloomberg-fiscally conservative? This is only true if we place the mayor along side all of the far left loons that come straight out of the Working Families Party. Bloomberg the conservative is the same guy who raised taxes on homeowners, increased the size and scope of government, and has introduced onerous and expensive regulations to cripple small business in the name of health. And we haven't even gotten to his use of eminent domain to take away people's property. Some social conservative!

Still, we're not sure why Friedman feels there is a need for Bloomberg to get into this-after all, he has high praise for Obama: "President Obama has significant achievements to his record. He has done a solid job stemming the economic crisis he inherited and a good job managing national security and initiating important reforms — from health care to auto mileage standards."

Our view is that his real rationale is to split the anti-Obama vote and help the president-because no one really can believe this: "That’s why I still believe that the national debate would benefit from the entrance of a substantial independent candidate — like the straight-talking, socially moderate and fiscally conservative Bloomberg — who could challenge, and maybe even improve, both major-party presidential candidates by speaking honestly about what is needed to restore the foundations of America’s global leadership before we implode."

But finally Friedman lets the cat out of the bag: "Bloomberg doesn’t have to win to succeed — or even stay in the race to the very end. Simply by running, participating in the debates and doing respectably in the polls — 15 to 20 percent — he could change the dynamic of the election and, most importantly, the course of the next administration, no matter who heads it."

Sure he would. Maybe the Mike Bloomberg of Friedman's dreams would do this, but not the man we have come to know so well over the past ten years. That's another cat entirely.

Eminent domain law press conference

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bloomberg's Disdain for Property Rights

Last week WPU held is press conference in support of the Private Property Protection Act, a bill that passed the House and has been sent to the Senate for disposition. The NY Daily News covered the event:

"A proposed federal law could hinder the city’s bid to revamp Willets Point, business owners there are hoping... Willets Point United, a vocal group of stakeholders there, has long contended the city’s use of eminent domain to take their land for a mixed-use development is unfair and unethical.“Does this sound like it should be happening in America?” attorney Michael Rikon said to an applauding crowd gathered around him at a Sunoco gas station in Willets Point on Thursday."

On cue the city cried foul: "But a city official said the bill, which would discourage municipalities from taking private property for economic development, could also squash future unrelated revitalization projects....'If this bill were to become law, important revitalization projects, such as the ones that gave new life to Times Square, MetroTech and Lincoln Center, wouldn’t be possible and it would also jeopardize the long-sought redevelopment of Willets Point,” said Lisa Bova-Hiatt, an attorney with the city Law Department."

It's always nice to know that young city officials remain ignorant of NY's history-and citing the Robert Moses removal of a large Puerto Rican population from the West Sixties to build Lincoln Center for the glitterati as an example of a shining city on a hill confirms young Ms. Bova-Hiatt's ignorance. But wait, that's not all.

The redevelopment of Times Square, when Bova-Hiatt was probably in diapers, started with a push from the threat of eminent domain but as crime dropped and property valuers rose the area developed naturally and organically without the heavy hand of condemnation. But the young woman's comments expose the basic philosophy of the plutocrat mayor: use the power of the state to abscond with the hard earned property of the little guys in order to turn it over to someone richer and more connected. As if nothing would ever get redeveloped in this town without this kind of usurpation of property that is familiar for citizens of the former Soviet Union.

The city also ignores the fact that 44 other states have moved forward with property rights protection-not fearing the potential loss of development, or perhaps being more concerned with property rights protection, a right that is the foundation for all other rights in this country. And the city has a right to be concerned: "The act would also prohibit the federal government from using eminent domain for economic development. City attorneys said the city is not seeking federal money for the Willets Point plan, but the law could discourage it from moving forward because the city could lose out on future money."

Mike Bloomberg is a believer in the power of government to tell you how to run your life, and when it suits him, to use the state to take away all that you have struggled to build in a lifetime-all for the greater good as he sees it. One thing we can all be sure of, however, no one will ever take the property of the very rich to build, let's say, affordable housing or a rec center for the poor. The transfers are always the other way around.

So we urge the senate to take up this measure and do what the besotted citizens of NYC have failed to do: Remove this awful power from the hands of a mayor who has been a scourge of all small business and property owners in this city. If we only had had the foresight to build a mosque on the Iron Triangle we would have been safe from Bloomberg's graspy, greedy hands.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Post's Goodwin Flatters WPU on Living Wage But Misses Larger Point

We have described the so-called mayoral living wage exemption-now deceased-as an example of crony capitalism; something the Mike Bloomberg thrives on. Now Michael Goodwin of the NY Post follows our lead:

"To get a ground-level view of how government distorts the economy, look at the twists and turns in the city’s “living wage” bill. It begins with the massive subsidies City Hall hands out to businesses to get them to come to Gotham, or keep them from leaving. Unions and liberal pols object, saying many of the jobs created pay too little. So the City Council wants to force any company getting $1 million in subsidies to pay its workers at least $10 an hour, or $11.50 without benefits.

Secret talks over final language are focusing on exemptions. First, one provided that tenants of developers who get the subsidies don’t have to pay more than the minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour. That was a good idea that improved a bad bill and a business group signed on. Second, the business group insists the mayor be able to exempt any deal from the wage rules. That was a bad idea and an invitation to crony capitalism.

Each deal would turn into a lobbying frenzy, complete with campaign contributions and, possibly, bribery.When the council sensibly dropped that provision, the business group withdrew its support. Notice that none of this has anything to do with free markets and free enterprise. It’s all about politicians picking winners and losers — with taxpayer money."

Of course the entire Bloomberg economic development opus has been-not about capitalism-but "politicians picking winners and losers"-with the mayor as holding the tout sheet for his rich friends. And Willets Point is next on the menu-with Related salivating for another Bloomberg prepared meal.

All of this makes the controversy over the living wage bill a classic case of misdirection-taking our attention away from Bloomberg's crony capitalism and his egregious use of eminent domain in a reverse Robin Hood manner. That's where Goodwin should focus his attention-and if he does he will find large numbers of small businesses stacked up right under the Bloomberg bus.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bloomberg Fights Against Communism

Just how out of touch is Mike Bloomberg? We know that he doesn't like the living wage bill-now watered down into insignificance, but to compare it to communism? Here's the mayor's genius in action:

"The last time we really had a big managed economy was the USSR and that didn't work out so well," Bloomberg said. "You cannot stop the tides from coming in." Really getting into his nostalgia for the Red Scare of his youth, Bloomberg also promised to file a lawsuit against the living-wage bill, which would require that certain recipients of large city-sponsored economic-development subsidies set wages at a minimum of $10 an hour."

The incredible cluelessness of the mayor is seen in the comments of REBNY, the city's large real estate group: "The contentious living wage bill, which the Hudson Yards is exempt from, will likely not affect more than 500 workers total in its current form, the New York Times reported...“Its impact, I believe, will be minimal,” Steven Spinola, the president of the Real Estate Board of New York, told the Times."

For 500 workers max Bloomberg is losing his cool? What kind of silly game is this?

So what's up Mike Bloomberg? Is he-just like his union adversaries over at RWDSU-waging a largely symbolic war on an issue that has lost any substantive significance? Sure looks like it. And this is from a guy whose economic development policies look more like those of corporate fascism-using the power of the state to take away people's property and transfer it to favored corporate cronies-just like with Willets Point.

We at WPU feel that the mayor should stay away from the philosophical arguments-he's out of his depth and his assertions are as inane as they are hypocritical.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Eminent domain press conference today

Willets Point Property owners, workers, community leaders, and elected officials come together to support H.R. 1433, The Private Property Protection Act that has been sent to the Senate after passing the House in February.

When: April, 12, 2012

Time: Noon

Where: 127-48 Northern Boulevard; Flushing, New York 11368 (The Sunoco gas station is located on the perimeter of Willets Point on Northern Boulevard, accessed by traveling eastbound on Northern Boulevard).

On February, 28, 2012, in a voice vote the House passed H.R. 1433, a bill that would prohibit the use of federal funds for any local economic development project that uses condemnation of private property for anything aside from a public use-such as a bridge, a school or a road. The bi-partisan bill was co-sponsored by Republican James Sensenbrenner and Democrat Maxine Waters and has been conveyed to the senate for consideration.

Willets Point is the front line, in the entire United States, of the important battle between private property rights and the controversial abuse of eminent domain for economic development purposes. Accordingly, Willets Point property and business owners are taking the lead to support and publicize the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2012 (H.R. 1433) – a proposed fed33eral law that strongly discourages eminent domain abuse by withholding, from any state where eminent domain is used for economic development purposes, all federal economic development funds for a period of two years. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on February 28, 2012 by an overwhelming bipartisan voice vote, and is now at the Senate Judiciary Committee. A similar bill reached the Committee during 2006 but did not progress. New York especially needs this federal legislation, as the Institute for Justice has identified New York State as possibly the worst abuser of eminent domain in the nation.

The congressional legislation recognizes the justice of the WPU fight and, if the bill is passed into law, it would mean not only that the city would not be able to access any federal money for the project; but the State of New York would lose ALL federal economic development funding for a period of two years-a severe punishment, for what the House has determined is a most inappropriate and egregious use of eminent domain.

It has been reported that EDC is looking to obtain federal money to defray the cost of controversial ramps slated to be built to accommodate the estimated 80,000 car and truck trips a day generated by the 62 acre development. If the bill passes, however, NYC tax payers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure costs.

The bill now is at the Senate Judiciary Committee and at the press conference WPU, local Queens civic leaders, and an assortment of elected officials will be calling on the US Senate to hold immediate hearings on the bill and move swiftly to vote it into law. All congressional and senate candidates have been invited to the event and Councilman Halloran have tentatively agreed to attend. Also scheduled to attend are State Senators Bill Perkins and Tony Avella. Perkins is the state senate sponsor of an eminent domain reform bill that would restrict the use of condemnation for anything other than a public use.

As Senator Perkins says, “It is time that the rights of small property owners, racial minorities and immigrant workers were legally protected from the land grabs orchestrated by rich developers and their political friends."

Senator Avella agrees: “Too often development schemes use eminent domain to harm small property owners for the benefit of a rich cohort of real estate developers. Willets Point is the front line in the fight to stop harmful eminent domain seizures. Here, the City is trying to uproot small businesses that have been in the area for decades in order to sell out to real estate moguls. It is an absolute disgrace that these businesses need to defend themselves from the City they chose to do business in.”

The proposed federal law, passed by the House via an overwhelming voice vote, confirms what Willets Point United Inc. has been saying since 2008: That eminent domain is NOT properly used for economic development purposes. Now the U.S. House of Representatives, along with 44 states -- other than New York -- that have already passed their own local legislation to limit eminent domain for economic development purposes, are all now on record opposing precisely the use of eminent domain that the Bloomberg administration is attempting at Willets Point. The press conference will demonstrate that the people of Queens want the federal law passed so that New Yorkers will finally have the benefit of some property rights protection-something which does not currently exist in New York today.

Councilman Dan Halloran, running for the congressional seat in the 6th CD, agrees; “Willets Point could have been the site of a responsible development that reinvigorates our borough," said Council Member Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone). "Instead, it has witnessed the worst in eminent domain abuse and government overreach. The small businesses here deserve better."

The press conference will also be attended by long time civic leader Ben Haber who will be speaking on behalf of the Bay Terrace Civic, Juniper Civic, College Point Taxpayers and Homeowners, John Bowne Civic, and Comet. These groups collectively represent over 10,000 Queens’ households.

Aside from the issue of eminent domain WPU has been fighting the city’s misguided effort to build ramps off of the Van Wyck because it believes that the traffic that will be generated by the project will overwhelm Queens’ highways and local roads. There is simply no way to accommodate the huge amount of traffic that this project will generate. Eight local civic groups have endorsed the WPU position on eminent domain and the ramps.

A Living (Wage) Lie

The attempt by Speaker Quinn to have her cake and eat in on the living wage bill is apparently falling apart. According to the NY Times: "The long battle over a measure that would raise the wages of workers whose companies receive subsidies from New York City took a surprising turn on Wednesday, when a previously undisclosed loophole was scrapped, prompting a major business group to withdraw its support for the measure."

Loophole, what loophole? It appears that the cagey Quinn was looking to give the mayor a right to exempt any project from the provisions of the law-a great idea for crony capitalists: "The business group, the Partnership for New York City, had agreed to support the bill, which would require companies receiving city subsidies to pay their workers more than the minimum wage, on the condition that it include a provision allowing the mayor’s office to waive the requirements in certain cases."

So, you'd have a law that the mayor (whoever she is) could abrogate for her friends. What happens to those who are big political contributors? Well, they would have sucked wind, as the saying goes. But there is something fishy going on with all this because as soon as the Speaker dropped the provision we found out the following: "But on Wednesday evening, the office of Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, revealed that the waiver provision, a sticking point in talks with a critical labor union, was being dropped. Minutes later, the president of the partnership, Kathryn S. Wylde, released a statement saying that the group was withdrawing its support."

Sounds like a coordinated action with the speaker looking as if she's at odds with the business group that she has been courting. But there's one problem with this, it still leaves the Hudson Yards development outside the law's reach-and the two developers, Related and Vornado, will be very appreciative of the speaker's dispensation:

"Although the mayoral waiver has now been dropped, an exemption for companies involved in part of the Hudson Yards project, a 26-acre mixed-use development along the city’s Far West Side, appeared likely to stay in the bill. In a radio interview on Wednesday, Ms. Quinn said that the final version of the bill would “more than likely” include an exemption for Hudson Yards."

What this all comes down to is that Quinn, the former community organizer, has become the heir apparent to Bloomberg's crony capitalist economic development policies-after all, Willets Point was supposed to include a living wage requirement but that has disappeared along with all of the other broken promises. (http://www.willetspoint.org/2011/12/living-wage-and-bloomberg-hypocrisy.html)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Claire Shulman's LDC and the IRS

We have been tracking the lackluster efforts of law enforcement in bringing the illegal lobbying work of Claire Shulman's Flushing/Willets Point/Corona Local Development Corporation to some sort of just enforcement conclusion. We have harped on the fact the NYS Attorney General's Office has completely tanked its original investigation of the illegal lobbying (under Section 1411 of the not for profit laws of NY), but haven't dwelled too much on our complaint to the IRS-something that we had written to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about.

Now, however, a disturbing story prompts us to re-visit the federal aspects of Shulman's illegal lobbying scheming-the fact that the IRS is hounding Tea Party groups, forcing them through hoops to qualify for their not for profit status. The Daily Caller has the story-via Instapundit:

"During a 2009 commencement address at Arizona State University, President Obama joked that he’d send the IRS after those who didn’t see eye-to-eye with him. For over 100 tea party groups, his comments are not amusing; they are a reality. The tea party has had a profound impact on the national political debate, bringing the size and scope of the federal government to the forefront of the American dialogue. As voters increasingly connect with the tea party’s values, President Obama and Democrats have grown concerned about the movement’s grassroots energy. In a “Chicago style” attempt to smother the movement before the 2012 election, the Obama administration is using the IRS to attack tea party groups."

Check out what one Tea party group is being forced to do:

"The Waco Tea Party submitted an application for tax-exempt status in 2010. Nearly two years after the IRS’s 90-day response window elapsed, the group finally received a reply — a list of over 50 demands. The three-year-old organization was asked to compile every Facebook post and tweet it had ever produced. It was told to submit transcriptions of its weekly radio show — a request that would cost $25,000 to comply with, more than twice the group’s annual budget. It was ordered to explain any “close relationships” with candidates. And when the Waco Tea Party asked the IRS to clarify “close relationship” and “candidate,” the IRS replied, “Send us everything.”

Well, well, compare that with the Shulman application. As we said to Senator McConnell:

"The reason for this letter, however, is your publicly expressed concerns about the politicization of the IRS
concerning the not for profit status of various tea party groups. (http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/domestic-taxes/216049-gop-presses-irs-on-treatment-of-tea-party-groups) We at WPU share your concerns because
we have seen firsthand how the IRS has ignored our own complaints about the FWPCLDC-a group made up of real estate developers with no charitable objective.

As the group’s director Claire Shulman told the NY Times in 2009 lobbying was the "primary purpose" of FWPCLDC and "the whole idea." However, when filling out the IRS forms under lobbying the group wrote, “No.” This was in spite of the fact that the Shulman-led lobbying effort in favor of the Willets Point development was extremely successful-leading to the passage of this eminent domain inspired project that has put our properties at extreme risk." (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/21/nyregion/21lobby.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=claire%20shulman%20and%20willets%20point&st=cse)

WPU made a formal complaint to the IRS about Shulman's group and have yet to hear from these politicized bureaucrats-even when they are handed a prima facie case of illegality right in their lap. So it's pretty clear that when it comes to the equal enforcement of the law the Obama administration believes that some groups are more equal than others-and property rights be damned!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Willets Point is a Woman's Issue

The NY Times has a wonderful feature story on Pasiana Rodriguez the sole female auto mechanic working at Willets Point:

"IT is a men-only club, these auto-repair hawkers who battle for your business as you bump your way down the pothole-pocked streets of Willets Point in Corona, Queens. At least until you get to Dacar Auto Radiator, a wedge-shaped repair shop located where — this is so Queens! — Willets Point Boulevard, 127th Street and 37th Avenue converge. Suddenly there is Pasiana Rodriguez, 43, a woman in a form-fitting jumpsuit. She waves you over and begins bargaining for the repair job before you even stop."

Pasiana and her husband Dario Carro are partners in their auto repair business and both will be ousted from their livelihood if the city exercises its eminent domain strategy at the Iron Triangle-something that Pasiana thinks is a disgrace:

"Ms. Rodriguez is like a big sister to the only other women who can be seen regularly working in this neighborhood: Latinas selling food and ices from pushcarts, and Chinese immigrants selling bootlegged DVDs from shopping bags. She is also an outspoken critic of the city’s use of eminent domain to clear out the auto businesses here, to make way for a mammoth development project. “They’re taking away our business — I may be driving one of those things soon,” she said, pointing to a man selling meat on a stick from a mobile lunch counter that he pedaled like a bicycle."

Pasiana and Dario represent hundreds of immigrant entrepreneurs that the city wants to evict from this hotbed of entrepreneurial activity-a place where hundreds of immigrant workers make a living at a useful trade. The disgrace is compounded by the fact that Mayor Bloomberg claims to be a big supporter of immigrant rights. Try telling that to the Dominican born Pasiana and her Colombian husband Dario. In every single economic development project of the mayor's-Gateway Mall in the Bronx, Flushing Commons and now Willets Point-the city is targeting immigrant businesses for extinction on behalf of rich real estate interests.

This coming Thursday Willets Point United will be having a press conference on the federal legislation that would restrict the use of eminent domain. Our own Irene Presti who owns property at the Point will be there and we are hoping that Pasiana Rodriguez will be able to join with us-because property rights is a woman's issue!

Friday, April 6, 2012

WPU's Letter to Borough Board: Deny Willets Point Approval

In this week's Whitestone Times WPU's letter to the Queens Borough Board forcefully states that the Board should turn down the approval for Willets Point because of all of the decepotive practices and drastic changes made to the development by EDC. The Board's role is crucial because the City Council had abdicated its oversight role:
"Your role in this process is important, because during 2008 the City Council, which ordinarily would have vetted the qualifications of the proposed developer firm and its proposal, ceded its authority to do so with the understanding that the QBB would have the final say in this matter."
Here are some of the key issues we raised:

(1) Ability of the developer to actually fincnace and complete the project; With New London and Kelo fresh in our minds this is not an insignificant issue. We don't think it is wise to take away people's property only to end up with a vacant lot-as what happened to SSuzette Kelo and her neighbors;'
(2) City's use of an illegal lobbying effort that deprived property owners of their political rights to fair representation by funding real estate companies with a vested interest in taking away their properties;
(3) The removal by EDC of the promise of a living wage;
(4) The reneging by EDC of its promise to develop the entire 62 acres without segmentation. The creation of a "Phase I" that was never envisioned when EDC submitted the original plan for approval. As the letter states: "But the proposed Phase 1 would remediate only 12.5 acres of the entire site, leaving nearly 50 unremediated acres purportedly with the potential to recontaminate the remediated property. Phase 1 also has no provision for new Van Wyck Expressway access ramps and the city admits that the adverse traffic impacts of Phase 1 without the ramps may be as severe as those of the entire development with ramps;"
(5) The fact the Barry Grodenchik is currently deputy borough president and was a principal lobbyist for the plan; "To the best of our knowledge, Grodenchik has neither recused himself from involvement with the board’s evaluation of prospective Phase 1 developers and Willets Point property disposition, nor sought any conflict-of-interest ruling — although we believe Grodenchik should have done so."
(6) The use of eminent domain for something other than a public use: "Finally, the city is attempting to exercise eminent domain to forcibly acquire privately owned property to facilitate the proposed Phase 1. Forty-four states other than New York have enacted their own legislation to prohibit or curtail the use of eminent domain for such purposes."
As our letter concludes-urging that the borough board disapprove the project: "Thus, the proposed Phase 1 project that requires the approval of the board not only fails to realize benefits that were intended by the Council, but relies upon eminent domain abuse that violates basic constitutional rights and is contrary to public sentiment throughout this country."

Baseless Baseline

We have been trying to figure out how and why the FHWA went so thoroughly in ther tank for NYC EDC in its unprofessional approval of ramps off of the Van Wyck-and the only thing we can figure out to explain it is political interference-something we have been witnessing ever since AG Cuomo tanked the Claire Shulman investigation after Mike Bloomberg's gracious endorsement of his candidacy for governor.

Previous to that endorsement the two had been engaged in an often bitter battle over material that Cuomo's office had subpoenaed pursuant to the Shulman probe:

"Instead of complying with the records request, the city’s chief lawyer, Michael A. Cardozo, demanded a meeting with the attorney general’s office. Mr. Cuomo said that his investigators wanted to review the records before meeting with city officials. Mr. Cardozo balked. Mr. Cuomo said that if necessary, he would issue a subpoena. In one of the many exchanges between the city Law Department and the Attorney General’s office, a Bloomberg administration official said that a subpoena from the state would be seen as a hostile act, and would be remembered next year, when Mr. Cuomo is expected to run for governor."

Ah, but what a difference an endorsement makes! Not only did the Cuomo relegate the Shulman investigation to the ash heap, he went one better by appointing an old EDC hand to head the State DOT-triggering a political sea change in the agency that ran roughshod over all of the technical objections to the ramps that we had uncovered in our FOIA requests.

So we are fully aware of the mayor's boarding house reach-and how the mayor's billions impact all of this. Just last month he had a private little chat with the president:

"They traded thoughts about education, ruminated on the state of immigration and discussed the federal deficit. But most intriguingly, they talked about the future. Over a long private lunch at the White House, President Obama posed a question to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg: what are you interested in doing next? Mr. Bloomberg’s precise response is unknown. But their meeting a few weeks ago, confirmed by aides to both leaders and previously undisclosed, was potentially significant for both men, as Mr. Obama seeks support for his presidential campaign and Mr. Bloomberg ponders his post-mayoral career." (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/12/nyregion/at-a-private-lunch-bloomberg-and-obama-discuss-the-future.html)

"Oh, and Mr. President, there is that small matter of some ramps off of a highway in Queens. Do you think you could expedite that for me?" That couldn't have happened. Of course not. And the overturning of term limits came about because of the outpouring of popular support-right?

Which gets us to the issue of that baseline analysis. In EDC's Environmental Assessment (EA) the agency analyzes the Willets Point project with and without the ramps-even though the project cannot be built if the ramps are not approved. They never analyze the comparative impacts of the development with ramps-and no project with no ramps at all!

This is what's known in popular jargon as, "The fix is in." Is there nothing that Mike's millions can't corrupt?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Virginia Joe Screws Queens



In this morning's Crain's we get a further report on the FHWA's boneheaded and indefensible decision to approve the Van Wyck ramps-against the wishes of every single Queens civic group that we have spoken to. What struck us the most was just how clueless Congressman Virginia Joe Crowley is about all this:

"The state Department of Transportation will need to approve design and construction of the ramps, but the federal approval was seen as the much bigger hurdle. Rep. Joseph Crowley played a key role in keeping the ramp issue high on the agenda of the Highway Administration and state Department of Transportation, a spokeswoman for the congressman said. Mr. Crowley stressed to them the job creating impact the project would have for Queens."

We understand why someone who lives in Virginia but who gorges at New York City feasts would be interested in all of those jobs-ca ching! We can hear all of the change being counted down at the headquarters of the Queens Democratic Party. Contractors, real estate developers, construction unions-everyone but the residents of the borough who will suffer through the gridlock that this project will create if it ever goes through. But Virginia roads will still be quite passable, thank you Joe.

But what the Crowley comment underscores is how ass backwards the regulators are. The Congressman understands that the development is contingent on the ramp approval-and by doing so dramatizes just how badly wrong the FHWA is when it accepts as its baseline the building of the development and its ridiculous assertion that the 62 acre project won't have any significant impact "on the human environment." Maybe not in Virginia.

Civic groups representing 10,000 households have resolved that the FHWA sghould hire an independent consultant to review the ramp impacts-a belief shared by the NRDC. NY's leading environmental group. But clearly, as the Crowley crowing points out, the federal agency put politics above people and it will be up to the court to put the feds in their place.

There is, however, an election in November, and it will be an opportunity for Queens' residents to put Joe Crowley in his place-right back in Virginia where he lives and belongs.










Bay Terrace, Independent Review Signed Resolution

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ramp Tramps

City Room is reporting on the FHWA's ramp approval:

"The Federal Highway Administration has removed a major obstacle to the Bloomberg administration’s plan to turn a waterlogged enclave of crumbling shops and sheds near Citi Field into a major development site. In a decision long awaited by both supporters and opponents of the project, which is to cost about $3 billion, federal officials found that it would have “no significant effect on the human environment.”

Can you imagine a decision any more clueless? 80,000 daily car and truck trips will have "no significant effect on the human environment.” If you read that and can't understand that this was a politically engineered hijacking of the regulatory process than your comprehension has been retarded by brain damage. As WPU's Mike Gerrard says:

“This decision flies in the face of the city’s own traffic studies showing that the ramps would allow intolerable traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway,” said Michael B. Gerrard, a Columbia University law professor who is also representing property owners. “We will examine the documentation underlying this action and consider our legal options.”

Indeed we will. After Kelo 44 states-but not New York-changed their eminent domain laws because they knew that the court's wrongheaded decision paved the way for crony capitalists to hot wire the local development process across the land. Now we have a stark example of that in NYC-along with a federal agency beclowning itself on behalf of a rich parvenu like Bloomberg. The stunning incompetency of the state and federal regulators is about to be exposed. Stay tuned because the fat lady has yet to even clear her throat.

Federal Crimes and Misdemeanors

We have been informed that the FHWA has approved the proposed ramps off of the Van Wyck-in a letter sent by the local FHWA office to NYS DOT (of which we have gotten a copy of). Apparently the basis of the agency's decision is that the ramps will mitigate traffic on the highway but, in making that assertion the Feds are using the Willets Point development as a given. Without getting too technical the FHWA is using the built project as its baseline for making the judgment that the ramps will mitigate rather than exacerbate highway traffic.

Lost in this spectacularly inane judgment is that the ramp approval is itself the linchpin of the ability of the city to go forward with the Willets Point project-and the FHWA needed to use the "no build" scenario as its baseline. if it did there is simply no way that the ramps can pass the federal agency's own rigorous criteria.

Think of it. If you assume that the project is built-putting the ramp approval cart before the project being built horse-than anything that the city does-including building a stairway to heaven-can be seen as mitigating of the 80,000 daily car and truck trips. With this logic you don't need any stinkin' traffic studies-and the back and forth between the DOT and the FHWA for the past three years has been a pathetic sideshow.

Make no mistake the FHWA's decision is an example of agency incontinence and the result is that the regulators have befouled themselves and open themselves up to a massive lawsuit that will expose their incompetence as regulators as well as the way in which this process has been politically hijacked by the mayor and the governor acting in collusion.

Ever since the mayor endorsed AG Cuomo on September, 6, 2010-and the governor elect went on to appoint Joan McDonald (a former VP for transportation at EDC)-we knew that the fix was in. This in spite of the fact that five local civic associations representing 10,000 households have called on the FHWA to conduct an independent study of these traffic clogging ramps.

So we will do what we must and the NYSDOT-now a wholly owned subsidiary of Mike Bloomberg-and the Feds can expect a federal lawsuit that will expose the way in which the regulatory process has been hijacked by behind the scenes skulduggery. In New York the crony capitalist rule but their day may be waning as the Congress looks to pass the Private Property Protection Act. Until it does no one's property in NY is safe from Blomberg, Cuomo and their rich cohort of friends.

The Quintessential Hypocrite

We did a commentary last week on the hypocrisy of Speaker Christine Quinn, the newly minted crony capitalist of NYC-and her outrageous exemption of living wage from the Hudson Yards project: "A large portion of the Hudson Yards project, a 26-acre mixed-use development along the city’s Far West Side, is specifically excluded from the proposed so-called living wage legislation in a draft that was written by Ms. Quinn’s office and is now circulating among supporters of the bill."

We also pointed out that the exclusion of retail tenants from the bill was another bennie to Related and its trade association best bud, the NYC Partnership. Well, it's nice to see that the NY Post has noticed this as well-first in yesterday's column by Michael Goodwin:

"Quinn ducked the bill for nearly two years, but now endorses a compromise measure that would not cover the workers of tenants in the developments, including retail workers. That was the first straddle.The second is the plan to exempt part of Hudson Yards being developed by Related Companies. The New York Times reports that Related employees contributed $34,200 to Quinn’s campaign. Probably just a coincidence, right?"

Now the Post editorial board jumps in and points a finger at the mayoral wannabee's hypocrisy:

"To the surprise — and consternation — of some, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has moved to exempt part of a major Manhattan development project from her economically corrosive “living wage” bill.The Related Cos. won a carve-out from the bill for a significant chunk of Hudson Yards, the 26-acre mixed-use development along the West Side.The bill would require developers like Related and other companies that receive city subsidies to pay their workers at least $10 — and as much as $11.50 — an hour, far above the state’s minimum wage.Why the special treatment for Related in this instance?"

It's pretty simple: "Well, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the firm has taken quite a liking to mayoral wannabe Quinn, with its employees thus far donating $34,200 to her campaign." And the crony capitalism stinks to high hell:

"Her proposal plays both sides of the issue — scoring points with the unions, who desperately want the bill, while covering the back of a key developer and campaign supporter.But, not to coin a phrase, her approach protects the 1 percent of developers — big players like Related — while forcing the 99 percent to carry the burden of the bill’s business-stifling effect."

But this is exactly what the mayor and the speaker did when they colluded on eliminating the living wage provision from the Willets Point development-after all the council negotiated this benefit as part of its approval for the massive project. But when EDC took it out of phony Phase I Speaker Quinn was in her room recovering from lockjaw. (http://www.willetspoint.org/search?q=living+wage)

All of this explains why it is so important for the US Senate to pass H.R. 1433, the Private Property Protection Act-a bill that would prevent the use of eminent domain for economic development projects like Willets Point. If the city did use condemnation for this it would face the loss of all federal economic development funds-and so would NY State, if the bill becomes law.

With crony capitalists like Bloomberg and Quinn, small property owners and all homeowners are unsafe-and their possessions are fair game for the condemners. We will soon see who will stand up for property rights. Senator Gillibrand has yet to answer our letter but a reckoning will soon be coming.