Thursday, August 30, 2012

Haber Calls Out Gillibrand

The inimitable Ben Haber calls out Senator Gillibrand in a letter to the Queens Chronicle-and hits her on her phony small business stance:

"If U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is serious about helping small businesses (“Small business bill pushed,” Aug. 23, multiple editions) she could hit a home run, and help herself in her re-election bid, by:

• opposing the destruction of hundreds of small businesses in Willets Point for the benefit of fat cat real estate moguls;

• opposing the use of eminent domain to take private property for the benefit of private for profit real estate developments; and

• not only supporting but pushing the U.S. Senate to enact HR1433, The Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2012, passed twice by the U.S. House of Representatives, which would make a serious preventive inroad in government’s attempts to use eminent domain for private commercial development.

Failure to pursue the above would suggest the good senator does not really consider the poor, middle class and small businesses her true constituents. I hope I am wrong, since the senator does have time to make clear where she stands on this important issue.

We think that the senator's small business sympathies are purely theoretical-and in the months since we wrote her office suggesting that she support HR 1433 we have yet to hear any positive response.

This is all too typical of some liberals who love humanity in the abstract but don't really like people. Her actions at Willets Point would upset some powerful Democrats and what we have learned in her two years in the senate is that is a bridge too far for the all too politically cautious Gillibrand.

Sexual Harassment is Serious-But So Are Property Rights

We will now undergo a typical NY Times experience with the treatment afforded to the controversy surrounding Vito Lopez and his alleged sexual harassment of his staff. The experience will be a tsunami of articles and commentary surrounding the horror that numerous women experienced-and today's coverage is the perfect example:

"Five women who worked for Vito J. Lopez, the assemblyman at the center of a broadening sexual harassment scandal, described in interviews an atmosphere of sexual pressure and crude language in his office, with frequent unwanted advances by him and others, requests for provocative dress, personal questions about their boyfriends and fears of reprisals if they complained."

Don't get us wrong, the behavior described, if true-and we have no reason to believe that it isn't-is disgraceful and Lopez should resign from office. That being said, this is what the NY Times does with subjects that are at the core of its worldview-and men behaving badly resonates with the feminist sensibilities of the paper. As outgoing Times ombudsman puts it:

"In Sunday's paper, he accused The Times of having a liberal bias saying across its departments "so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times."

When an issue like the Lopez matter surfaces the Times mobilizes its resources and covers all aspects of the controversy. This all can be better understood by the political science concept of, "decisions and non-decisions." Put simply,we get a better understanding of a leader's or institution's mindset by examining not only the decisions they make but the ones they don't. In the case of the Times it's what they cover-and how intensely-and what they don't really find very compelling.

Sexual harassment-very compelling. Property rights, not so much. Think about it. Property rights form the foundation of American Constitutional principles-and arguably property is the necessary condition for all democracy: without property rights, there would be no liberty. This is not something, however, that gets the blood flowing fast at the Times-whose writers and editors were weaned on the class, race and gender grievance subjects that animate the elite Ivy league educational institutions.

So while the Times interviews Lopez's former chief of staff and four other anonymous women it has little interest in Irene Prestigiacomo and her daughter whose property the city has put into its eminent domain cross hairs. Nor is there concern for the scores of others whose land will be taken if the city has its way with condemnation. The only time we can remember the Times worrying about property rights was when the mosque was being planned for ground zero-and the narrative fit nicely into a grievance category that the paper is comfortable with.

We have no real beef with the sensationalized Lopez coverage-and the aging lawmaker is apparently reaping what he has sowed. At the same time, we mourn the disregard that the elite media shows to an issue that should have an equal billing: the threatened taking of property from families who have in some cases owned it for forty and fifty years.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Crain's Oversight

In the Crain's Insider this morning the newsletter comments on WPU's efforts to get the city council to do an oversight hearing on the illegalities that have buttressed the Willets Point development ever since the land use applications were approved in 2008:

"Opponents of the Willets Point redevelopment—property owners and tenants who stand to be displaced from the Queens site—are requesting an oversight hearing on the project's recent headaches. It's the latest in a long series of actions in which every aspect of the process has been challenged. While the hearing would provide a soapbox for them to blast the Bloomberg administration and cite illegal lobbying for the project by a city-funded corporation, the opponents don't expect it to stop the project. However, they eventually expect to argue in court that they pursued every potential remedy afforded by the political process."

Let's be clear here. Our goal is to try to insure that the city doesn't have the authority to adopt illegal methods in its zeal to deprive us of our property rights-and if the city council were to intervene and aid us in this effort we would be more than happy to avoid the legal system altogether. But what are the chances that Chris Quinn will do the right thing and exercise her oversight authority? That's as close to a rhetorical question as one can get.

Quinn is joined at the hip with the Queens Dems and owes her political ascension to those power brokers-folks who are tied into the illegal shenanigans surrounding Willets Point. On good authority, Quinn is also a close friend of Claire Shulman, one of the ringmasters of this unethical and illegal scheme. Our goal then is to demonstrate just how much the political elites have aided and abetted the illegalities committed by EDC and Shulman's LDC-and how their nonfeasance has allowed this scheme to get to this point-the free transfer of $200 million worth of city property to one of the co-conspirators.

We have witnessed all along the reluctance of important political actors to intervene to prevent the scheme from continuing-and in the case of the previous attorney general (and current governor) we have witnessed how he rope a doped the investigation into illegal lobbying and parlayed the controversy into an endorsement from the mayor who he initially feuded with over the very investigation that WPU had initiated.

At the end of this process-one that his father should be ashamed of given his own righteous behavior over the plight of Willets Point-the new governor appointed a woman to run NYS DOT (a crucial interlocutor over the Van Wyck ramps) who had been a "transportation executive" for non other than NYC EDC. When we sent a written complaint to the NYS Inspector General-a woman named Biden who now incongruously runs the new state ethics board-we were never even given the courtesy of a reply.

So we are mindful of all the difficulties involved in getting politicians to do the right thing when that right thing runs against the powerful political grain. In spite of this we have succeeded, and the Insider should have recognized this, against all expectations to get a Supreme Court judge to issue an Order to Show Cause to have the city explain why it lied to the court; we have forced the city to withdraw its eminent domain application out of a fear of having all of its illegalities exposed; and we have managed to get the NYS AG to conclude the investigation into illegal lobbying with all parties involved admitting their guilt.

It is our belief that were WPU a protected class-one that the politically correct feels is sacrosanct-the question of what to do about the city's illegal lobbying scheme who be making headlines in the local papers; and a huge cohort of elected officials who be holding daily press conferences on the steps of city hall. Think sexual harassment or racial discrimination.

But property rights violations don't rise to that level-and that doesn't take away from the seriousness of the other issues but underscores how certain Constitutional rights have become like second class citizens. There's something wrong when putting a hand on an employees thigh becomes much more serious than taking away Jake Bono's property, land that has been in the family for four generations.

So Crain's is right about one thing. We don't expect elected officials to do the right thing-and believe that we will be able to show how their nonfeasance and active collusion allowed certain people to get away with their lawlessness. We wish it didn't have to come to this, but wishing won't change the absence of character in the political class of NYC.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Doubling Down on Fraud and Illegality

The city's notice of a scoping session for a supplemental EIS for the Willets Point development tells us a number of things. In the first place it affirms what WPU has said all along about the need for a SEIS-and that the city's bogus Technical Memo 4 was inadequate. More importantly, however, this scoping session demonstrates the brazenness of the Bloomberg administration-seeking to build this new edifice on the foundation of fraudulent and illegal conduct.

As we have already pointed out, the city is claiming that this new phase is being advanced on the environmental assumptions laid out in 2008-and that the new aspect of the plan incorporates all that was envisioned back then. Put as simply as possible, the city is saying that all of the successful illegal lobbying done by EDC and Claire Sulman's LDC should be allowed to stand. That it's okay to engage in illegal conduct and not have to re-visit that results of that conduct with a new and untainted process. In essence, rewarding the wrongdoing.

In addition, what this means is that Sterling Equities-one of the key illegal players-is being rewarded for its complicity in the illegal lobbying scheme-with the added bonus baby of $200 million of free property donated to them by their partners in crime at EDC.

But even as significant is the fact that the city is claiming that all of the original plans are still operational-albeit for many years down the road. What this means is that 1 million square feet of retail shopping mall has been added to the already immense traffic impacts that the original plan envisioned-an estimate of 80,000 car and truck trips a day. The city's notice also says that the ramps are slated to be built by 2024, raising the question of how all of the mall traffic will be mitigated prior to their construction.

In our view the mall traffic will generate a similar or even greater traffic flow than that forecast for the original plan. This means an absolute case of unmitigated gridlock for Corona and Flushing-not to mention all of the other surrounding communities. In addition, the city knew that this mall was in the works before the ramps were approved but withheld the new information from the regulators. This means to us that an entirely new ramp application needs to be forwarded to the FHWA after a comprehensive traffic report is issued-and not by the clowns at AKRF who deceptively doctored the ramp report in the first place.

If our assumptions are correct that nothing should be done until the ramps are fully operational-this is the only way to avoid traffic chaos. But at the very least the city cannot be allowed to utilize the fraudsters at AKRF to do any traffic analysis-and the entire work should be put out for bid from an unbiased firm.

The city also needs to be heavily pressured about the use of the adjacent parkland for this gigantic retail use. No ULURP process-full or truncated-should precede an alienation bill in the state legislature. But what is really needed now is for the parks' advocates to be joined by the labor supporters of living wage and the affordable housing advocates as well. The word should be no mall until after the housing is built and until the city agrees with the living wage memorandum it signed in 2008.

That brings us to the mall itself and the possibility that Wal-Mart and other noxious retail uses could be located at this Willets West site. This should be a deal breaker-and the supplemental EIS needs to include a socio-economic impact analysis of the impact of box stores on nearby Corona and Flushing. This impact analysis needs to encompass the projected impacts from Flushing Commons and the Muss mall as well. For once we need a comprehensive review that takes into consideration all of the new and projected retail activity.

Related should be considerd as a person non grata unless it enters into an agreement to not include any Wal-Mart on the site. This is a precondition and not a quid pro quo for any approvals.

In our view the entire development needs to start from scratch-with Sterling Equities barred from any involvement whatsoever. Housing and living wage must be included upfront-and not in some distant future when many of us are using walkers and wheelchairs.

Willets West is a brazen fraud that needs to be aborted before it cripples the surrounding communities and before the Wilpons are allowed to reap any reward for their lawlessness.

Public Scoping Session for Willets Point "West"

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development-and not ECDC-has issued a public notice for a scoping session for the supplemental environmental impact statement for the latest iteration of the Willets Point development. The session will be held late on Thursday afternoon on September 27, 2012 at at PS 19 Marino Jeantet, 98-02 Roosevelt Avenue. The notice The notice says the city posted the EAS on the OEC website.

This gives concerned stakeholders very little time before having to comment on the city's plans-and given the city's slipperiness with the facts we're going to need every minute to delve into the assumptions that are put forward in the EAS. One thing is very clear, however. This is a massively new undertaking-with so-called Willets West having one million square feet of "leasable" space. Hello box stores.

The most risible statement in the public notice is the assertion that the project would, "...incorporate a development substantially similar to that anticipated and analyzed in...," the 2008 original FGEIS. Pure poppycock! This is only true if everyone undergoes a pathological suspension of disbelief.

This is a mall, pure and simple-and everything else, to borrow a baseball phrase, is a player to be named later. That is why we have called this a wimpy deal-because the upfront deal is for the Mets Mall and everything else will come later, much later if at all. So what the city is asking is that people simple trust its good intentions over a development that has been lied about more than a teenage boy's sex escapades.

Everyone who is concerned about the bait and switch tactics of EDC and the rest of the characters involved in this deal-we're talking about you Claire-need to come out in force for the public hearing. WPU will be there but this time all interested parties need to join with us so that EDC doesn't get away with this charade.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Just an Oversight

In today's NY Post, Michael Goodwin comments on the mayor's failed taxi medallion plan-and the consequence that it has for the city's budget shortfall. Goodwin lays the partial blame for this on Speaker Quinn-who turned down the mayor's concept forcing him to go to Albany for approval. This was ruled illegal-as the WSJ reports:

"New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday the city may be forced to lay off workers after a judge ruled that a plan to expand taxi service outside Manhattan is unconstitutional, a decision that could leave the city with a $1.46 billion hole in its budget.

Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron ruled Friday that the plan violates the state constitution's "home rule" provisions, which protect cities from undue interference by state legislators. The taxi plan was enacted by the state Legislature after a failed attempt to get it through the City Council

The Mighty Quinn, however, included the revenue from the Bloomberg plan in her approval of the last city budget-and sat by quietly while the mayor made his Albany end run. The lawyer who succeeded in quashing this effort was Randy Mastro-and Mastro had plenty to say about the Quinn double dealing. As he told Goodwin:

"Randy Mastro, a lead lawyer in the case that upended the plan to sell more taxi medallions, says city officials have only themselves to blame for the budget hole that’s spurring talk of layoffs. Mayor Bloomberg went to Albany for approval after the City Council turned down the plan because that’s “where his campaign-contribution dollars have bought him many friends,” Mastro charges.

The lawyer also faults City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for adopting a budget that included nearly $1 billion in revenue from the medallion sale, even as the council doomed the money with its rejection of the plan. “And where is Chris Quinn on this assault on her chamber’s authority? She’s once again hiding in silence in Bloomberg’s shadow,” Mastro says

Here at WPU we certainly aren't shocked by the Quinn shucking and ducking. When the mayor started to do his extreme makeover at Willets Point we asked the council to re-visit the development as it began to resemble the Bride of Frankenstein after EDC had finished gutting all of the provisions that had sold the original deal. Her silence was-and continues to be-deafening.

Christine Quinn's principles no loner are recognizable from when she began her political career as an activist and organizer. Frankly she looked a lot better back than when she actually stood for something. She still has a chance to do this here at the Iron Triangle. The city has lied and altered-gotten rid of the affordable housing and the living wage pledges to come up with a mall for the Mets-with Related as a coincidental partner in the fiasco. Come on Chris, go back to the future and stand up for what's right-send this proposal packing and force EDC to re-start the land use process.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Crony Capitalism and Land Giveaways

It was certainly bad enough when EDC gave away $200 million worth of land at Willets Point to Sterling Equities-a charter member of the Claire Shulman Local Development Cabal. Now we're finding out that this kind of land grab may actually be part of a trend. In the Bronx, according to the Mott Haven Herald, a similar scheme has unfolded-and wouldn't you know that the developer in question is also linked to Claire's Cabal:

"When contractors employed by the housing department tore up the garden, city officials argued that the community would be better served by the construction of Crossroads Plaza, a three-building complex of affordable housing, a daycare center and commercial space that would rise there. They named veteran developer Jeffrey Levine, chairman of the Queens-based Douglaston Development, as the builder."

And the deal is:

"Officials also acknowledged that the housing department never opened the site to competitive bidding, such as a request for proposals from interested developers. Officials from the agency indicated that awarding land to developers without competition was common at the time the Bronx partners gained control of the Crossroads site. The agency did not respond to requests for written policies regarding how such decisions are made.In contrast, two other major sites in Brooklyn—Livonia Avenue and Prospect Plaza—are currently the source of competition among affordable housing developers. Both sites are similar in size to the future Crossroads Plaza, which when completed will boast over 400 housing units."

No competitive bidding and the price is right: "The land where the Crossroads project is due to rise will be transferred to the developers for a symbolic $2 dollars, documents show."

It turns out that the shady deal is even more suspect because the notorious Stanley Schlein is one of the insiders who made this scheme happen:

"Yet documents obtained by the Herald show that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development regularly extended exclusive negotiating rights to the partnership after the initial proposal, even as Schlein was twice disciplined by public agencies for improper behavior.

In March of 2006, the attorney was removed from a list of qualified court-appointed fiduciaries—lawyers designated to oversee others’ estates and finances—for mishandling cases assigned to him.

Schlein was also fined $15,000 by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board in 2008 for his actions while chairman of the Civil Service Commission. The penalty was the result of an inquiry conducted by the Department of Investigation, which discovered that Schlein had made over 2,000 phone calls from a city office and used city employees to conduct his private law practice from the Commission’s office

Schlein for all his "heavy lifting" has the second highest equity position-18% of the Levine controlled corporation.This from an administration that prides itself on having high ethical standards because the mayor's wealth supposedly insulates him from the tawdriness of corrupt insider land deals. Give us a break.

This deal-much like the one crafted by EDC over at Willets Point-should be put to an immediate stop and the land in question put out to competitive bid. The Bronx has already seen one outrageous non-competitive bid over at the defunct Bronx Terminal Market where Deputy Mayor Doctoroff deeded the property over to his old friend Steve Ross at Related.

This is the kind of crony capitalism that has characterized the Bloomberg administration. The mayor talks piously but acts no better than a Tammany ward healer.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wal-Mart at Willets Point?

In an Op-ed in the Greenpoint News CM Julissa Ferreras comes out strongly against Wal-Mart in any development at Willets Point:

"It was recently reported that Walmart, the low-wage retailer, is trying to sneak into New York City at the Willets Point development. Walmart has a history of discrimination, poor pay, anti-union behavior and abuse that is not welcome in my community, or any part of our city. Walmart’s lobbyists are sneaking around looking for possible locations across the five boroughs. Instead of being honest about its intentions, the retailer is pushing a PR campaign to try and clean-up its contaminated image in order to win approval. We can’t allow this to work."

But isn't this a red herring? Does anyone seriously think that Wal-Mart would be given an approval for such a controversial location? More interesting is Ferreras' observations about what should be done at the site:

"We have a real opportunity at Willets Point. We can make it an incredible site that all New Yorkers can enjoy. It can enhance living standards for our community, and with the right businesses, create hundreds of new jobs with wages that will allow families to support themselves."

Alright but what does that mean for a project that has already gotten rid of the living wage and affordable housing component that made the original idea attractive in the first place? The project is for a box store anchored mall but Ferreras tells us:

"Our community does not need a big-box, low-road employer that puts profits before people. We should strive to make Willets Point an example for other development sites throughout the city by taking into account what local residents want and ensuring their best interests our first priority."

Willets Point is already home to hundreds of businesses and thousands of mostly immigrant/Hispanic workers. What kind of example is set by throwing these folks off of their land so that the Mets and Related can build their mall? The council member goes on to tell us:

"The plan for Willets Point moving forward must be sustainable, fair, and provide long-term economic growth for our community."

How does this sentiment jibe with what EDC has now come up with? Will Ferreras support an unsustainable traffic nightmare mall that doesn't insure a living wage for its retail workers-or housing for those in dire need of it? Time will tell, but if we follow the sentiments that Ferreras has laid out, the current plan should definitely be discarded and a new set of ideas entertained that reflect the concept of fairness, equity and sustainability.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

EDC Gasses Up

Giving further indication that the Attorney General-instead of forcing a restructuring of EDC-should have simply disbanded this group of brigands is the following from the NY Post:

"A longtime Harlem entrepreneur has a message for the city: Hands off my business! Carmie Elmore, 67, and a partner took over the gas station at the corner of 110th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in 1981, when shootings, robberies and drugs ruled the neighborhood. Now that Harlem is blooming, the city has put developers on notice, asking for ideas to build on the property — even though the city hasn’t owned it for years. The city’s power play would put more than 20 people out of work."

Of course, this isn't really the city itself, it is the quasi-governmental agency known as EDC-folks who believe that your land is my land:

"The city’s Economic Development Corporation began seeking ideas for the property in June, looking for a mix of retail and residential development. “They just pretended it was still in effect,” Elmore said of the repurchase agreement. “I’ll fight them to the end.”

Someone really needs to step in and support this property owner-and end the "culture of lawlessness" down at this rogue agency:

"A Law Department spokeswoman said the city “strongly disputes” Elmore’s claims, and that the city is reviewing the court papers.The gas station is one of the few left in Manhattan.The business includes a car repair shop, a convenience store, and employs 21 people. Elmore and his co-owner operated on a month-to-month lease for 15 years before buying the property and spending more than $1 million on improvements."

All Mr. Elmore did was to resurrect property in Harlem that had become a hazard and an eyesore:

"When they started, “the amount of robberies and terrible things — shootings on the corner, and drugs galore on 111th Street — was just horrific, and today it’s just a normal atmosphere,” Elmore said. “There are no major problems, a lot of new neighbors have moved in, a lot of new buildings have sprung up. “It’s night-and-day. It is absolutely night-and-day . . . We made the decision to come here when no one else wanted it, and we’ve been there for a little over 30 years, and we want to stay.”

This is all par for the course for EDC's mind over matter philosophy-they don't mind and you don't matter. We'll give Elmore the last word-from an interview with NBC:

"In 1995, Elmore purchased the property as part of an urban renewal plan with a clause the city could buy it back. He said the clause expired in 2008. "They didn't want it when it was a cesspool here," he said. "They didn't want it. Now that things have turned around and it's good, they want it."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Losing Bet

When the trial balloon was floated about the possibility of a casino being placed over at Willets Point we pointed out-citing the work of Steve Malanga-all of the drawbacks; and one we highlighted was how gambling attracts, not only those addicted to it, but to those folks who can least afford to engage in the activity:

"The Tax Foundation argues that state lotteries represent one of the steepest of all taxes, since the government keeps an average of 42 percent of betting proceeds—far higher than the sales-tax rate that states would charge if the wagered money were spent on something else. The lottery tax is also hidden, since few people recognize it as a government levy. And the burden of this hidden tax is not equally distributed. Numerous studies have shown that lotteries tend to attract lower-income, less educated players, cutting significantly into personal income and private-sector spending in poorer neighborhoods. One recent study found that households with less than $12,000 per year in annual income spend 5 percent of it on the lottery. In part, lower-income households spend so much because they buy the aggressive advertising of state lotteries, which claims that participating in them will bring you riches."

Today in the NY Daily News the editors agree with this perspective:

"Pretty much every dollar that New York gained — thanks to upstate Indian-run casinos and state-sponsored video lottery racinos at horse tracks — was a dollar lost by neighboring states. Then came the opening of Resorts World at Aqueduct Race rack, the first casino-style gambling venue in the city. Its 2,500 video slots soon raked in $14 million a week — a spike that helped pushed the region’s gambling revenue beyond its previous high, in 2008.

Suddenly, quick, easy availability by subway, bus or car opened the way for nongambling New Yorkers to open their wallets and kiss their money goodbye

The News feels that this is not good public policy-and we agree. Whether in Willets Point, Coney Island or across the street from Speaker Silver's house, more gambling is a regressive tax on poor New Yorkers:

"So let’s be honest about what happens if the Legislature approves the casino amendment for a second time and voters ratify it in November 2013. New Yorkers would stay in New York to gamble and the number of gambling New Yorkers would rise sharply. And that’s not a good thing."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Gambling on Soccer over Parks

The Queens Chronicle editorializes this week about the proposal to put a soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows-and at the same time advises that a casino at Willets Point is a non-starter:

"This week two separate proposals to make northern Queens a bigger entertainment destination than it already is with Citi Field and the U.S. Tennis Center made news. We think one would be a great addition to the area, and the other, not so much. The first is a plan to build a Major League Soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Park where the Fountain of the Planets, a remnant of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, is now. It’ll be tough to see yet another relic of Queens’ past disappear, but the stadium would draw thousands of people to games, providing more wholesome family entertainment here in the borough and boosting the economy."

As far as the casino is concerned:

"Not worth pursuing is another possible plan for northern Queens that made the news this week, a casino at Willets Point. There’s enough planned for Willets Point already, and there’s no need for a second gambling mecca in Queens. If the state legalizes Vegas-style gaming, as it seems inclined to do, Resorts World Casino New York, the popular new racino at Aqueduct Race Track, is the right location for it. Luckily, the Willets Point casino is not a serious plan that’s moving forward, like the soccer stadium, but simply a trial balloon that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver floated. We say stick a pin in it. Mayor Bloomberg and Seth Pinsky, president of the city’s Economic Development Corp., seem to agree. In this instance, we’ll place our bets with them."

Keep in mind also that the soccer stadium is on parkland and if it is alienated for that use other space must replace it: "That said, the stadium cannot be built overnight. Since it would be erected in a park, an equal amount of land elsewhere, nine acres, would have to be set aside as parkland. It also would require approvals from a number of city and state agencies."

What about parking? "And the plan, at least what’s known of it at this point, could use some tweaking. It calls, for example, for patrons to park at Citi Field, but that’s quite a distance away from where the stadium would be built. Still, it’s a plan worth pursuing, with benefits that outweigh the costs."

How does the Chronicle know that benefits outweigh costs? What about the traffic and how will all of this mesh with the city's ludicrous idea to put a mall on the current Citifield parking lot-moving parking over to the area in Willets Point on the east side of the stadium?

In our view this is the kind of ad hoc planning that smacks of desperation. Having their original ideal for Willets Point relegated to the scrap heap, city planners are now flailing around like the proverbial headless chickens.

It's time to send Mr. Pinsky over the Burger King where the limits of his economic expertise can be honed at the cash register-and a new administration should be tasked with planning for Willets Point and the surrounding areas. Someone needs to examine the current infrastructure and determine whether all of this grandiosity can be supported by the existing roads and mass transit.

One last piece of advice. The city needs to find an independent environmental consulting firm. The last thing it needs is for the fraudulent folks at AKRF to dummy up another set of traffic studies-and park resources need to be enhanced and not diminished, they are a community treasure in this part of Queens.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

In Liu of Oversight

When the AG concluded that EDC and its ancillary LDC puppet broke the law in engaging in illegal lobbying NYC Comptroller John Liu righteously concluded that there was a, "...'law breaking' culture at the Economic Development Corporation." That was over a month ago and we haven't heard a peep out of the comptroller since.

But what Liu knows is that the illegal lobbying was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unethical, illegal and dishonest activities over at the NYC EDC. He knows because we laid this out to Liu in two separate meeting with him and his staff-and some of this is alluded to in the WPU letter to the Times Ledger this week.

So while EDC plans its elaborate restructuring charade why is John Liu not jumping right into the fray? All of these shenanigans happened on John Liu's oversight watch-and he can't get away from his own responsibility to take action. Arguably, if he had taken the WPU complaints as as seriously as he should have-given the AG's findings and the fact that EDC violated its master agreement with the city-this "culture of corruption" would have been exposed way before the AG's delayed action-and the slap on the wrist that EDC received would have been more difficult for the AG to deliver.

If John Liu is serious about running for mayor-or simply running for re-election-than he needs to begin to take action and clean up this mess. His current silence is deafening.

WPU Letter Exposes EDC's Charming Coverup

In this week's Times Ledger, WPU lays out the case why the NYS Attorney General's slap on the wrist against NYC EDC-after finding that the corporation broke the law, along with its lackey Claire Shulman-is insufficient. In laying out the case, WPU underscores why the current new development-looking little like the one that passed the city council in 2008-needs to be shelved and a new, untainted approval process must take its place. (

"Willets Point property and business owners are not surprised that Seth Pinsky, president of the city Economic Development Corp., is attempting to do damage control, now that the state attorney general has determined that EDC and Claire Shulman’s local development corporation acted illegally in pursuing the Willets Point development project (“EDC cites ’08 global crisis,” Aug. 2-8).

But we will not allow Pinsky to misinform the public by downplaying EDC’s admitted illegal acts that threaten our property ownership, thus distracting attention from the glaring need for accountability.

Here are the facts you did not hear from Pinsky: During his tenure as EDC president, EDC engaged in activity so contrary to law that the attorney general is now exercising his statutory power to dissolve EDC and require it to cease its operations and the city to establish a new corporation to handle economic development. Far from safeguarding the corporate existence of EDC, Pinsky saw it driven into the ground on his watch.

Acting on a formal complaint made by Willets Point United Inc., the attorney general has determined that Pinsky’s EDC violated the state Not-For Profit Corporation Law as well as EDC’s certificate of incorporation. Unlike garden-variety nonprofits that are permitted to lobby, EDC was a specific type of nonprofit, dedicated to development, that is prohibited from attempting to influence legislation.

But EDC did so anyway in its zeal to obtain City Council approval of the proposed Willets Point development, including authorization to forcibly acquire our Willets Point properties and businesses via eminent domain.

To those ends, Pinsky’s EDC disbursed city funds to another local development corporation set up by Shulman, which was likewise prohibited from lobbying for legislation. EDC deliberately assigned specific tasks to Shulman’s LDC. For its part, Shulman’s LDC lobbied but filed none of the required registrations or disclosure reports for 18 months — until the city clerk finally interceded, holding Shulman’s LDC liable to pay a record $59,090 penalty.

But EDC continued to disburse city funds to Shulman’s LDC, even after the LDC registered its staff members/employees as lobbyists while their salaries remained payable using city funds disbursed by EDC. Moreover, EDC disbursed city funds to Shulman’s LDC without requiring Shulman to produce evidence of actual eligibility for those funds or entering into funding agreements that contain all of the provisions required by EDC’s master contract with the city.

All of that and more was done to push the proposed Willets Point development, an EDC project that would later be open to bidding by developer firms that are financiers of Shulman’s LDC.

Is it any wonder that city Comptroller John Liu has since called this “EDC’s culture of lawlessness” or that Pinsky now wants to start a friendly dialogue with a newspaper on other topics? If any other company well-known to the public had shown the same disregard for law and contracts as has EDC, the shareholders would demand the immediate resignations of its president and board of directors.

But in the case of EDC, no one has been held to account. The attorney general’s recent action merely prevents EDC from lobbying illegally in the future.

Lobbying is not even the half of it: Pinsky’s EDC has also inexplicably omitted the required “living wage” provision from the Willets Point Phase 1 request for proposals, violating a written promise to labor unions that was relied upon by the Council and eliminating any chance that retail workers at a future Willets Point development will be paid a living wage.

And, although affordable housing was the linchpin of the proposed development when it was evaluated by the Council in 2008, the city is now reportedly entering into a contract with Phase 1 developers that will provide them the option to not construct any housing whatsoever.

Finally, although the Council was told that the city would recoup the taxpayer dollars spent to acquire Willets Point property to the greatest extent possible via the sale of the land to the project’s developers, the city intends to give the Phase 1 property to the developers at no cost.

New Yorkers must demand much better of EDC and its stewards — no disregard of the law and no abrogation of commitments to elected officials and the public, all of which has been the disturbing hallmark of EDC under Pinsky. For him and others, their charade must end and they must be held accountable."

Gerald Antonacci


Willets Point United Inc.

Willets Point

Jake Bono


Willets Point United Inc.

Willets Point

Irene Prestigiacomo


Willets Point United Inc.

Willets Point

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Related's Charm Offensive Simply a Con

Continuing the charm offensive that was begun by EDC's Seth Pinsky-all to counteract the incredible effort mounted by WPU against the Willets Point development-the lawyers and principals of Related met with the good folks down at the Times Ledger in order to explain why Willets West a necessary first step in the overall development of the area:

"The group selected by the city to build a $3 billion, mixed-use neighborhood at Willets Point has revealed ambitious plans for the new neighborhood, but their vision would not have been possible without a separate proposed retail center on a parking lot to the west of Citi Field."

Of course, all of the difficulties of developing the area should have been a caution sign the city heeded before introducing its grandiose plan for Willets Point five years ago. Instead it promised all kinds of wonders that we now find out can't be accomplished before the developers make a killing on their retail center-a shopping mall that will include at least two big box stores.

This will all be done in 3 stages:

"In order to build on the 23 acres, the toxic soil beneath needs to be removed and properly disposed of. And when that happens, an underground barrier will be put in place, like a subterranean wall running around the perimeter of the site, in order to prevent any toxins from migrating from the surrounding contaminated soil into the clean soil.

Replacing the soil, slated to be completed in 2015, is the first in what the team referred to as a five-step transformation. By 2016, the developers hope to have completed a series of low-scale retail and restaurant locations along 126th Street across from Citi Field, along with a 200-room hotel, which comprises the second step.

The third step is building Willets West. It will be composed of about 200 smaller stores along with one or two large anchor tenants, according to Goodman."

You'll notice that the first phase rehabs the area right in front of CitiField-the objective of the Wilpons for two decades and the reason why it put the stadium right across the street from Willets Point. Can anyone say quid pro quo? Does any reasonable person believe that the Mets sited the stadium there-and spent $600 million-without any sort of guarantee from the city? Yet EDC would want us to believe that this was a competitive bid.

And while we're mentioning this elephant in the room where were the Wilpons during the charm offensive? Something above their pay grade? And then there is the nettlesome issue of the fact that Willets West sits on parkland:

"A law stipulates that anything built on the property is legal as long as it benefits the Mets, meaning no other development firm could have proposed to build on the land aside from Sterling. The partnership contends the law allows the movie theaters, restaurants and other entertainment venues they would like to build.

But opponents say the development is not only an egregious misuse of parkland but also illegal. The law would only permit something like a souvenir shop, for

What this comes down to is that this development remains a Wimpy deal-with all of the negotiated goodies from 2008 simply a player to be named later-much later:

"Either way, Jesse Masyr, an attorney also from Wachtel, Masyr & Missry, said including a retail engine like Willets West was the only way to make the entire project economically feasible, a way of hedging the partners’ bets when they have to also put in housing, a much more risky investment that is required as part of the bidding process. “It was fundamental to our thinking,” he said. “We need to create a critical mass, an economic development engine

So you need a massive shopping center and box store haven first in order to create critical mass for a nieghborhood to be built later? Makes any sense to you? Of course not, it's all part of the bait and switch because the last thing in the world Related or Sterling Equities wants to build is housing--it's not what they do:

"Amid grousing from city lawmakers about the delay of the housing, Masyr contended delaying the housing is essential to responsibly developing the area.

“To put some amount of housing in Willets now we think would be inappropriate,” he said. “There is no community there, there is no service there, we think development needs to occur organically and doesn’t get dropped from a helicopter

Didn't the city realize this in 2008? The cherry on this rancid cake is the question of those pesky Willets Point ramps-construction to start in 2021!

"The fourth step in the plan calls for the construction of additional exit ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway, built on the city’s dime, in 2021, which will pave the way for the final portion of the project, the construction of market-rate and affordable housing set to begin in 2024 and end in approximately 2028."

This is all laughably fraudulent, and if the city council falls for this deceptive three card monte game it ought to be ashamed of itself. At the end of all of the illegalities and all the lies that have gone into the development of Willets Point we are still left with a giant con game-with Related and Sterling believing, like W. C. Fields, that a sucker is born every minute.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Public Advocate Steps Up-But is it Far Enough?

The Politicker has an interesting story about how Bill de Blasio is criticizing the mayor's small business policies:

"I don’t want to say that Mike Bloomberg is anti-business,” Mr. de Blasio clarified later. “I want to say that the businessman mayor is not what he is cracked up to be. He is focused on helping the business community, but it does not extend to all types of business, it does not extend to all five boroughs. His polices have had the effect of hindering development and hindering the small business community, so how’s about we break out of the mythology and actually have a debate about what is working and what is not working.”

An excellent point by de Blasio-but one that doesn't go far enough in our view. He is trying to position himself as both pro-development and pro-small business but this puts him in a bit of a bind since so much of the mayor's development policies have been anti-small business.

The Public Advocate needs to recognize this and craft a development policy that is designed to recognize the collateral damage that Bloomberg's malling of NYC has done-and he should begin by taking a look at what has transpired since he voted for the Willets Point development in 2008. This project is a classic test case on how not to do development-with the city breaking every single promise it made on the road to the city council approvals.

At the same time, de Blasio can become a forthright defender of property rights after he fully examines how all of the city's grandiose promises for affordable housing and, "the next green neighborhood," were trashed on the way to the eventual awarding of development rights to one of the co-conspirators in the illegal lobbying scheme-all for another retail mall that will siphon off business from nearby commercial shopping strips.

What a great political position awaits the Public Advocate. He can stand up for small business, property rights, and transparency while taking a strong stand against the city's use of illegal methods to accomplish its development goals. If he takes this step-and calls for the annulment of the 2008 agreements-he will stand in sharp contrast to the speaker who will never risk angering the mayor she has served so slavishly for the past seven years.

City Stonewalls WPU

As Crain's Insider is reporting:

Illegal Willets Point Lobbying Ignored

"Willets Point property owners are urging the city’s Department of Investigations to look into a report by the state attorney general that the Economic Development Corp. illegally funneled $450,000 in taxpayer money to the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corp. for lobbying. “We believe it is incumbent on you to commence an action to recover these funds,” wrote Jerry Antonacci, president of Willets Point United. Four weeks later, DOI has yet to respond. The group has also failed to persuade a daily paper to editorialize. “No one thought this was remarkable at all,” a source complained. DOI did not comment."

What is remarkable is that in the face of the illegality the city proceeds as if it were business as usual-with one of the chief culprits in the illegal lobbying scheme, EDC's Seth Pinsky, blatantly making the rounds of local media and acting as if all of this was much ado about nothing.

Maybe our mistake in all of this was not to plan for the building of a mosque on the Willets Point property-perhaps then the mayor would have intervened on our behalf. After all, it sure does seem than the religious rights of Muslims-rights to be respected for sure-trump the property rights of the less affluent in this town.

What does jam us, however, is the blithe refusal of local editorialists to recognize the seriousness of the city employing illegal methods in an effort to remove some little guys and gals from their land-but then again, at least one media outlet partnered with a developer whose goals were just that(and a second publisher apparently doesn't poop without the mayor's permission). Where that leaves the "conservative" alternative is anyone's guess.

This fight is long from being over, however, and we will see just how much these folks will be able to ignore as more dreck hits the fan.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Minority Business Set Asides are a Poor Policy Choice

The NY Times is reporting that Speaker Quinn is looking to expand contract set asides for minority businesses:

"Responding to longstanding appeals from civil rights groups, the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, plans to introduce a bill that would significantly expand New York City’s efforts to direct contracts to companies owned by women and minorities."

Typical response from the clueless about how business grows-it's not from government handouts but from removing the yoke of government from the necks of entrepreneurs. What this approach signifies is a crony capitalist mentality whereby those politically connected minority firms use their access to feed at the government trough-or even worse, glom on to non-minority firms to get public funds through a charade.

What the city should be doing if it were really interested in helping minority entrepreneurs, is to reduce fines and taxes so that these burdens don't impeded economic growth. To her credit, Quinn is looking to do this with restaurant fines-but she would be better served if she dismantled the entire regulatory structure as an unnecessary burden.
Which gets us to the city's economic development policy-from the Bronx Terminal Market and the Kingsbridge Armory, to Flushing Commons and Willets Point-where each initiative has been at the expense of immigrant entrepreneurs. In these cases, the city has used tax subsidies for retail shoppping malls that have either directly or indirectly replaced existing minority businesses.
What the city needs is a policy that enhances economic opportunities for immigrant and minority businesses-and set asides is a poor alternative to an approach that reduces the regulatory state and lets these business owners prosper.

Monday, August 13, 2012

New York's Bad Bet: At Willets Point or Anywhere

In the City Journal Steve Malanga takes a hard look at the impact of legalized gambling-and what he sees doesn't bode well for its expansion in NYC, at Willets Point or anywhere:

"New York is one of several states that don’t want to be left behind as their neighbors institute more and more varieties of gambling. At least 12 states, facing downturn-depleted coffers, have already expanded gambling efforts over the last three years—including Massachusetts, which became the 16th state to sanction casinos. But this approach is utterly misguided, since gambling has often disappointed as a fiscal tool and as an economic-development strategy. As legal gambling has spread, competition for limited dollars has intensified, and the new gambling enterprises seem merely to be siphoning money from elsewhere in the economy instead of generating new economic activity."

Gambling also comes with huge social costs: “This is not an industry that creates wealth,” says Les Bernal, head of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation. “It’s an industry that transfers wealth.” And that’s before taking into account the documented social costs, including the disturbing fact that a significant part of gambling revenues comes from problem gamblers."

On the fiscal side of the ledger, gambling has never lived up to the promises of its supporters who claimed that the new revenues would help to close budget gaps:

"Over the long term, gambling revenue has failed to hold down taxes, despite supporters’ predictions. New Jersey was the first state to legalize both casinos and the lottery. When its first casino opened in 1978, the state was the fifth most heavily taxed in America, according to the Tax Foundation. Now, despite garnering more revenue from gambling than all but four states, its tax burden is the nation’s second heaviest. New York, which brings in the most money from gambling, is also the nation’s most heavily taxed state."

In fact, we would argue that these gambling monies only feed Leviathan and help to forestall meaningful budget reductions that would alleviate the beleaguered tax payers. And the new funds are never allocated where they are initially pledged for:

"Why haven’t gambling revenues provided budget relief? One reason is that they sometimes get captured by the same special interests that co-opt tax dollars. California instituted a lottery in 1985 to boost education funding, promising to use the revenue for classroom supplies and programs. But as the Orange County Register reported in 1988, nearly $6 out of every $10 in lottery revenue sent to the schools was used to boost teacher salaries instead."

The argument over Willets Point has been about economic development, but like the aborted convention center concept, gambling is a very poor economic development tool:

"Gambling’s record as an economic-development tool is no better. Supporters often point to the number of people that local casinos or betting parlors employ. But they don’t take into account the employment lost in other industries because of the introduction of gambling. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, created by Congress, noted in a 1999 report that hundreds of restaurants and bars closed in the greater Atlantic City area after casinos began opening, offsetting some of the employment gains. The commission added that when it visited the city in 1998, it found unemployment substantially above the average for the nation and for much of New Jersey."

We're sure that the neighboring communities of Flushing, East Elmhurst and Corona would be happy to learn about the social costs of a casino as a next door neighbor:

"Another social cost is crime, which appears to rise after casinos open. The most comprehensive study of crime and legal gambling, conducted by economists Earl Grinols and David Mustard and published in The Review of Economic Statistics in 2006, examined 167 counties where casinos had opened over the 20-year period ending in 1996. In those counties, the authors estimated, 5.5 percent to 30 percent of serious crimes in six categories were attributable to gambling. The casino counties suffered 157 more aggravated assaults per 100,000 residents than non-casino counties did, for example."

It also goes without saying that gambling redistributes income-from those who can least afford it over to the government that will, whenever it gets the chance, waste it:

"The Tax Foundation argues that state lotteries represent one of the steepest of all taxes, since the government keeps an average of 42 percent of betting proceeds—far higher than the sales-tax rate that states would charge if the wagered money were spent on something else. The lottery tax is also hidden, since few people recognize it as a government levy. And the burden of this hidden tax is not equally distributed. Numerous studies have shown that lotteries tend to attract lower-income, less educated players, cutting significantly into personal income and private-sector spending in poorer neighborhoods. One recent study found that households with less than $12,000 per year in annual income spend 5 percent of it on the lottery. In part, lower-income households spend so much because they buy the aggressive advertising of state lotteries, which claims that participating in them will bring you riches."

So what we see with the latest trial balloon for Willets Point is more of the same inanity-promoting anything but the indigenous businesses that actual employ the most needy while advancing immigrant entrepreneurship. Malanaga deserves the last word: "So politicians, too, are addicted to gambling. Their addiction will damage many lives—and fail to help state finances."

Gambling on Willets Point

The NY Daily News is reporting that one of the sites that Speaker Silver is considering for a casino is at Willets Point:

"Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver hasn’t played his hand on where he’d like to see a casino in the city, but he is open to Coney Island or Willets Point, the Daily News has learned. While talks won’t heat up for several months, Silver favors a location that is either already a “destination resort area” in the city, or could become one, a source close to the speaker said. Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens is also a place he would consider, the source said."

How very nice of the Speaker to consider the possibility that Willets Point could become a, "destination resort area." After all of the not so nice things that have been said about the Iron Triangle this salutation is a breathe of fresh air. Just kidding. What the Speaker's looking to do here is to locate a casino-with all of its attendant traffic and law enforcement problems-as far away from his East Side neighborhood as possible:

"Some insiders want a casino to be part of a redevelopment of the Jacob Javits Convention Center on the West Side. But Silver remains adamant about keeping gambling dens out of Manhattan and other densely populated parts of the city, the source said."

That makes sense-and we're sure that the folks over at the East Elmhurst Civic, College Point Tax Payers, and John Bowne Civic-just to name a few local groups in and around Willets Point-will be thrilled to be inundated by all of the glitter. And could the mayor be behind the Willets Point location?

"And some have floated the idea of a casino as part of the planned megadevelopment of the gritty Willets Point site near Citi Field. Silver hasn’t axed that concept, either. The source close to Silver said the Bloomberg administration is privately backing Willets Point as a suitable spot, although a spokesman for the mayor denied that was the case."

So we go from the next great green neighborhood to a casino-how appropriate since not a single promise that this administration has made to the city council-or to the NYS Supreme Court for that matter-has been kept. And we would be curious to see how all of the planned housing-for 2025!-will mesh with the busloads from Gamblers Anonymous.

All of this is, of course, pure speculation at this point since there is a long legislative process that must enfold-and there's no guarantee that NYC will even be designated for one of the seven casinos that have been authorized:

"The Legislature took the first step this year toward passing a constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling and authorize up to seven casinos in the state. New York City is in line for one, but Gov. Cuomo and lawmakers are not expected to press for a deal on casino locations before next year. Silver, the source said, expects that “one or two other sites (in the city) could pop up as we move forward.”

Before final decisions are made, Silver — who last week received a prestigious Excellence in State Leadership Award from the National Conference of State Legislatures — will hold talks with his Democratic conference, particularly members whose districts could host potential locations. There is no guarantee, the source added, that Silver’s conference will back the idea of a casino in the city, regardless of where it’s located

Silver should think more than twice about the suitability for using our property for a glitzy gambling den-and we're not impressed with his so-called award for legislative excellence. The News failed to point out that the honor is named after William M. Bulger-the gangster Whitey Bulger's brother and the corrupt Massachusetts speaker. As the NY Post reports:

"Then Congress started investigating the Bulgers’ sinister control of the Boston FBI office. The House Committee on Government Reform subpoenaed Billy to testify in 2002. Asked if he knew where his brother was hiding out, he took the Fifth. Gov.-elect Mitt Romney ordered Billy to testify if he wanted to keep his $359,000-a-year state job. A few months later (after being immunized), Billy reappeared before the committee. The first question was: Did you know what Whitey was doing for a living all those years?

“I had the feeling that he was, uh, in the business of gaming and, and, uh,” he stammered

Isn't this perfect synergy? Given all of the crimes and misdemeanors that have gone into the approval process for Willets Point maybe we need to re-think the suitability of the site-and we can name the new facility the Shelly Silver/Whitey Bulger Casino and Detention Center. This way all of the history of this project could be fairly encompassed in the naming.