Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gerrard Lays Down the Law

In his testimony today Michael Gerrard, arguably the most respected environmental attorney in New York, will lay down the following markers for not only the city but the FHWA that has failed in its proper oversight authority over proposed Van Wyck ramps. Here is is testimony:

Draft Scope of Work for a Supplemental EIS

Willets Point Development


Statement of Michael B. Gerrard

September 27, 2012


My name is Michael Gerrard. I am an attorney with Arnold & Porter.  I represent Willets Point United and several of the small businesses that are members of WPU and that would be displaced by the Willets Point project.

I want to start by saying that the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the Van Wyck ramps was explicitly based on an Environmental Assessment for the prior project.  That approval is no longer applicable because it was for a different project than is now being planned. The FHWA will need to do a new environmental review for the same reasons that the City is now doing a supplemental EIS. The supplemental EIS should reflect these additional steps.

The FHWA violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not doing a full EIS for the ramp approval for the old project. That violation would be made worse by not doing a supplemental review.  The federal statute of limitations for challenging such violations is six years, so we have plenty of time.

We will submit detailed written comments, but for now I would like to make these eight specific suggestions concerning the scope of the supplemental EIS.

1.  An additional alternative should be studied: A no-condemnation alternative that would  involve building the project without taking any properties via eminent domain. 

2.  The original EIS assumed that all the businesses could be readily relocated.  Four years later, relocation sites have not yet been found for my clients and others. The supplemental EIS must acknowledge this reality.

3. Since the original EIS was written four years ago, new projections have appeared for future sea level rise in the New York region. The supplemental EIS should include a new analysis of the effect of sea level rise and storm surge on the needed elevations for the site and the fill that will be required.

4. The City has a history of releasing wildly contradictory reports about the traffic impacts of this project, without ever clearly explaining the reasons for these discrepancies.  The supplemental EIS should include a table comparing the assumptions, methodologies and other inputs of the traffic study used there and all the prior traffic studies for this project, so that readers can understand the differences and draw their own conclusions as to which, if any, is valid.

5. The traffic analysis should include point-to-point travel time projections  under the various alternatives, including the no action alternative. Only this way will it be possible to understand the effect on emergency services, on airport access, and on other essential trips. Merely presenting speeds and volume-to-capacity ratios does not suffice to reveal true operational impacts.

6. As we have pointed out many times before, the assumptions underlying the original EIS’s traffic studies are deeply flawed. These are discussed in detail in Brian Ketcham’s testimony.

7. We assume the project’s traffic projections will be based on the reasonable worst case development scenario, but that should be made explicit.

8. Finally, the brief description of the project’s approval process is opaque in giving statutory citations without describing the actual steps involved in the new ULURP process. That should be corrected.


Willets Point West Scoping Session Today: City Doubles Down on Deception

There will be a scoping session today on the city's attempt to allow the grifting Wilpons to benefit for the establishment of an illegal lobbying entity to promote development around their CitiField. The Wilpons-barely slapped on the wrist by the NYS AG for snatching $450,000 from the city to lobby for their own benefit-have been gifted $200 million worth of property and are now poised to blow smoke around what will be the biggest environmental disaster Queens has ever seen.

Consider the fact that the city is trying to do a short down and dirty "study" of the Wilpons' mall-and basing this cursory analysis on the city's already demonstrated fraudulent data submitted to the city council, State DOT, and the federal highway folks. As WPU's traffic engineer Brian Ketcham will testify today:

"What is particularly disturbing about this proposed scoping document occurs on page 3 (and is repeated on page 10):  “The SEIS will analyze the extent to which the development and discretionary actions as proposed could potentially result in any significant adverse environmental impacts not previously identified in the FGEIS.”  Emphasis added.  This suggests that NYCEDC will attempt to bury the real impacts and bury the many flaws and errors disclosed by Willets Point United in a confusing and disorienting comparison of numbers that, in other attempts (for example, Fresh Direct in the Bronx) has made full disclosure of real project impacts an illusion.  Considering the huge number of “errors” and miss-statements (286 pages worth) compiled for NYCEDC’s earlier work a concocted comparison intended to minimize project impacts cannot be permitted for the proposed expanded project (another 1.4 million square feet and 2,900 parking spaces) demands a full environmental impact statement based on new information and clearly stated assumptions that are vetted by Willets Point United’s engineer."
This is one of the most egregious examples of deception we've ever seen-and this from an administration-and a bicycle riding DOT commissioner-that claims it is trying to reduce carbon emissions and limit automobile travel. Sure, in Manhattan where their limos need unfettered access to all the 1% clubs frequented by the 1% that the mayor caters to. As for Queens, hear what Ketcham will say about this massive attack on neighborhood quality of life:

"Just take a look at this latest project, Willets Point “West”.  NYCEDC is adding 1.4 million square feet of new retail/entertainment space creating the largest retail mall complex in New York City.  When added to the 1.7 million square feet included in the original Willets Point proposal, retail/entertainment space will total nearly 3 million square feet.  Total project space including parking will be nearly 13 million square feet including 9,200 parking spaces.  The 2008 Willets Point plan was estimated to generate more than 80,000 car and truck trips a day—and considering their very conservative (under reported) trip generation assumptions probably closer to 100,000 trips a day.  Half of their trips would have been generated by the 1.7 million square foot retail mall.
"Now, NYCEDC is proposing to add another 1.4 million square feet for an entertainment and retail center with approximately 200 new stores in what they call Willets Point “West”.  Considering NYCEDC is proposing nearly 3 million square feet of retail space there is every likelihood they will include one or more big-box retail stores like Wal-Mart.  The resulting number of car and truck trips that would be generated by Willets Point “West” without a Wal-Mart would total approximately 35,000 daily car and truck trips over 24-hours and about 2,600 pm peak hour trips.  These totals would increase to about 45,000 a day with a Wal-Mart SuperCenter with 3,600 trips during the pm peak hour for Willets Point “West” alone. 
The combined total of the original Willets Point’s 11 million square feet plus the approx. 2 million square feet of Willets Point “West” (both including parking) including a Wal-Mart Supercenter would therefore be about 125,000 daily vehicular trips with pm peak hour trips totaling about 11,000 auto and truck trips.  NYCEDC is assuming that about a third of this total would be diverted to the Van Wyck Expressway.  Can anyone imagine what the Van Wyck would look like with nearly 4,000 more cars and trucks during the evening peak hours?  Or what local access roads will look like once it became clear that the Van Wyck cannot accommodate so much more traffic?"
What this means is that the city-after submitting a series of conflicting and likley fraudulent traffic reports geared to different audiences-is now trying to paper over the discrepancies and submit a new traffic study that simply takes off from the original series of deceptions. And the traffic fudging doesn't encompass all of the dishonesty-impacts on over-uitilized mass transit are also fudged:

"The SEIS plans on relying on the flawed transit analysis included in the FGEIS.  As has been demonstrated by independent review by Willets Point United, the FGEIS analysis – for whatever reason – cut the number of trips actually entering the Number 7 subway line during peak hours by 2/3rds.  In other words, the FGEIS under estimated subway impacts by three times.  Moreover, the FGEIS failed to consider the line haul impacts along the No. 7 line.  And no analysis was done for LIRR capacity constraints."
What the city has done in this entire review process that began in 2008 is to cook the books with a consultant whose expertise is too good to lead anyone to believe that the errors were not purposeful. Now it must cpome clean. We'll give Ketcham, who outlined all that the city must do to modify this environmental review, the last word:

 "Should EDC fail to incorporate these concerns into the scope for the SEIS for Willets Point “West” neither Willets Point United, nor the citizens of Queens nor any of New York’s elected leadership will be able to fully comprehend what EDC is again trying to pull off in proposing a 13 million square foot major mixed-use development in terms of traffic and transit impacts let alone the related socio-economic impacts on nearby residential and commercial communities and the millions of daily commuters who pass by and suffer the already “worst congested” expressways in the United States."
Scoping Session is today at 4:30 at PS 19 Marino Jeantet, 98-02 Roosevelt Avenue.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pinsky Prevaricates

EDC head Seth Pinsky went before a City & State Newsmakers breakfast on Tuesday to tell some tall tales about the fact that the NY Stae AG had slapped down the agency for illegal activity:
" Seth Pinsky discussed Attorney General Eric Schneiderman‘s finding that EDC had overstepped its particular nonprofit status as a Local Development Corporation (LDC) by engaging in lobbying. Pinsky explained that city attorneys argued the land use and review process did not count as legislation. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman disagreed, but did not assess any penalties.

There were no allegations of corruption or industrial enrichment,” said Pinsky, adding, “We did not argue with the AG.”

Pinsky's correct but only because the AG shied away from simply doing his damn job-because the entire scheme involved a massive amount of evidence that corruption was rife in this land use deal-an observation given  greater credence when the city gifted Sterling Equities, one of the co-conspirators, $200 million of land and the development rights to the never envisioned new phase of the Willets Point project.

Pinsky went on to discuss EDC's proposed reorganization-and without any knowledgeable reporters present was able to lie through his teeth:

"Pinsky’s solution to the problem? The Economic Development Corporation is exploring its options to restructure so it will no longer be categorized as an LDC but remain a nonprofit with a status that would allow them to promote certain projects. “This will allow us not only to develop land use plans but say why it’s important,” he said."

Exploring options? There's a court hearing Friday on the EDC proposal to restructure so this has gone way past the exploration phase. So, why lie about it? Maybe because it has become a habit with Pinsky and the rest of the tawdry cast of characters that have populated this project from jump street. And when the press allows you to continue with impunity, why stop?

Peralta El Muñeco

The puppets are being lined up to front for the 1% on the Willets Point development plan-the latest being Jose Peralta who believes he can parlay obsequiousness straight into the borough president's office. Here he is waxing eloquent with talking point supplied to him by his masters:

"Finally, there is a plan moving forward to bring this kind of investment and economic opportunity to Willets Point, an area that, despite its unique location as a transportation hub in the heart of Queens, has remained a contaminated and underutilized eyesore.

Under a multi-phase plan, the city and Queens Development Group, a joint venture of The Related Companies and Sterling Equities, will transform the area into a thriving and modern mixed-use neighborhood and commercial destination, linked to essential infrastructure and services. Neighborhood redevelopment will start with environmental clean-up and commercial development, followed by construction of 2,500 units of housing, at least 35 percent of which will be designated as affordable
Don't you love the phrase, "...followed by..." What the good senator doesn't say is that the follow up is over a decade away and the likelihood of it ever happening is about as predictable as snow in July. What intrigues us is Peralta's repetition of the employment meme:

"More than $3 billion in private investment will be committed to the project in the coming years, helping to stimulate the economy and create badly needed jobs. Construction alone will generate 12,000 union jobs. When the new buildings and businesses open, the city estimates that more than 7,000 positions will need to be filled. These positions—in the retail, office, entertainment, restaurant, education and hospitality sectors—are the kinds of jobs that lift people out of poverty and provide long-term employment stability."
Just as BP Marshall, Peralta makes no mention of those who are currently working and owning businesses at Willets Point - Hispanic immigrant entrepreneurs and their workers getting the shaft from the ambitious pol. Nor does he mention, perhaps because he hasn't been paying much attention, the fact that the city has reneged on the living wage pledge for the retail workers who will be boot strapped out of poverty by their minimum wage jobs - replacing scores of business owners so that two billion dollar real estate firms can make a score.
Peralta, for his part, also has a comedic streak in him: "Even in today’s economically distressed environment, city and business leaders continue to believe in the promise of Queens and a renewed Willets Point, developing a plan that is even broader, yet nonetheless in keeping with what was approved by the City Council in 2008."
Let's cut the crap, Jose. This is a mall with all the other stuff as pie in the sky - a player to be named later once the mayor's real estate cronies amass their millions from this corrupt deal. No mention either by Perlata of the fact that the city is using condemnation to take away peoples' property, or that the mall is to be built on parkland that has never been alienated.
All of these inconvenient truths need to be ignored when you have been saddled up  and are riding on the 1% horse-all the way to higher offices on the support of the crony capitalists. Quite a statement from the supposed progressive.

Monday, September 24, 2012

BP Oil Spill

Just when you think that the comedy surrounding the Willets Point development couldn't reach new levels of hilarity, along comes BP Helen Marshall to write a ghosted editorial in support of the new plan in the Queens Courier:

"This June, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an ambitious proposal that aimed at facilitating a complete transformation of Willets Point into a thriving and dynamic mixed-use neighborhood and destination for visitors. While the historic realization of this community-driven vision was approved by the New York City Council in 2008, the promise of its fruition has not been realistic. Until now."

Shouldn't Jeff Wilpon's name be given pride of authorship here - along with the invaluable contributions of Related's Steve Ross? What is crystal clear is that Marshall simply signed a draft sent to her by the developers - and she omits entirely her previous contention that a convention center needs to be the linchpin of any new Willets Point development.

In June, when the governor nixed Willets Point for a convention center, Marshall lamented:

“The need for a convention center in Queens has not diminished,” she said in a statement. “I remain hopeful and optimistic that something will get built. We have the labor force to build it, and we need the thousands of jobs that would be generated.”

We guess she has new marching orders. And one thing she neglects to point out is that this new plan is nothing like the one approved four years ago - and the mixed-use new neighborhood BS is designed to throw oil on the fact that this is one gigantic mall and land giveaway to the Related/Sterling partnership that she's shilling for. (Certainly not for Queens residents!)

But having spilled the toxic oil so as to obfuscate, the BP can't help but continue:

"The Willets Point Development Plan is at a critical nexus – the stage of the review process that will put into action a comprehensive construction plan that facilitates development pursuant to the originally envisioned Special Willets Point Zoning District and Urban Renewal Plan along with additional development beyond the Special Willets Point District."

This pursuant stuff is pure baloney - and what brings this all out clearly is Marshall's regurgitation of EDC/developer boilerplate blarney:

"The project will not only link Willets Point to basic infrastructure, but also establish a major new mixed-income neighborhood with commercial destination facilities creating jobs and recapturing billions in spending that is now lost to the suburbs."

Just as they always say when they want to build a mall - and they hire the same usual suspect consultants to, don't you know, claim that the business will not be drawn from the scores of contiguous local shopping centers. By this time the "billions" being captured from all the malling that Bloomberg has done should mean that there is no NYC shopper left who's going out of the city to shop - or, since all of this has no collateral damage, that there are no store vacancies on local shopping strips when we know for certain that vacancies and retail bankruptcies are at record high levels.

But the propaganda never stops with Helen of Queens: "The first phase of the project will include the acquisition of 23 acres of land to the east of Citi Field by the Queens Development Group." If true, why are the city folks contacting the 9 property owners that have not sold their land and not the developers themselves? Is there another sweetheart deal in place to use more tax payer funds to buy those folks out?

Helen can't help herself when it's her lips moving but the developer ventriloquists are actually pulling the strings. Therefore, we get this:

"Ultimately, the new plan will develop into a thriving residential community of 2,500 units, 35 percent of which will be designated affordable housing, as well as additional hotels, offices, commercial space, a school and open space, with the eventual plan to develop over 5 million-square-feet in a unified neighborhood, transforming a contaminated wasteland into a model community for the future, with up to 5,850 units of housing, a convention center and a central eight-acre park."

Ultimately we are all dead, and Marshall fails to mention that this ultimate reward we're all going to get is 2025 at the earliest, if ever - and that we have to put the mall in first to, for the first time in memory, act as a catalyst for all of the affordable housing that can't be built as promised in 2008.

Marshall finishes all of this palaver with a disgraceful flourish when she says:

"But after years of deliberation and delay, we now have a plan for Willets Point that can truly transform the area into an economic epicenter for Queens. Not just remove an eye-sore, but create something that has positive impacts for the community and throughout the entire borough."

She doesn't even have the decency to mention all of the land owners, renter business owners and thousands of workers who will be sent packing. They're collateral damage for the 1% who will be making billions over their dead bodies. No matter how you look at this it is a toxic witch's brew-and that makes Helen Marshall the most appropriate designated cheerleader we could envision.

Friday, September 21, 2012

EDC: Can You Hear Us Now?

As the Queens Tribune is reporting the courts have ruled that a mandated hearing on the agency's reorganization effort, the one sought by WPU over the agency's strong objections, can't be skipped-even though EDC was doing a lot of skipping trying to avoid explaining why it needs to create two separate organizations (Hint: it broke the law):

"Willets Point United will be heard in court, after all. The City Economic Development Corp. attempted to keep the collective of Willets Point property owners out of a State Supreme Court hearing on NYCEDC’s restructuring, but the court this week announced a hearing and is permitting WPU to attend."

WPU told the following to the Tribune:

"We are gratified that the court has recognized the obligation under the law that the EDC [sic] re-organization must be subject to a public hearing,” WPU said in a statement. “At the same time, we are saddened by the way in which a quasi-public agency has tried to stifle this mandated hearing and, even worse, try to prevent Willets Point property owners from participating. Clearly, EDC [sic] has a lot to hide and its behavior leaves a lot to be desired.”

As we mentioned, this all was necessitated by the illegal and collusive behavior between EDC and Claire Shulman's LDC band of self servers:

"In July, the attorney general’s office found that NYCEDC and its local development arms had been lobbying the City Council illegally. The quasi-public entity, which serves as an economic development tool for Mayor Mike Bloomberg, is barred by law from lobbying. Former Borough President Claire Shulman, the president of one of NYCEDC’s localized entities, the Flushing Corona Willets Point Local Development Corp., was found by the AG to be illegally lobbying.  
"To comply with the law, NYCEDC said it would restructure itself and shed its status as a local development corporation. NYCEDC will merge with the New York City Economic Growth Corp. and keep the NYCEDC name. WPU argued this was simply a way to circumvent the law."

The funniest aspect of all this was EDC's claim-one that the court didn't buy-that WPU was not an "interested party." Sure, just like the guy who's being chased by a lynch mob isn't an interested part in the motivations of the mob.

The hearing will be held next week (Sept. 28 at 9:30 a.m. at 60 Centre Street in Manhattan.) the day after the scoping session for the Willets Point project. Any one who has an interest in insuring that government doesn't have powers not granted under state law should feel free to come down and join us next Friday-if nothing else, just to hear the song and dance from the EDC lawyers.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Park and Deride the Community

As the Queens Tribune is reporting the Corona community is up in arms about all three of the city's proposals for their neighborhood:

"With several development proposals pending, Flushing Meadows Corona Park could soon undergo a drastic face lift – and many local residents are not happy about it. On Sept. 17, local elected officials, including State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Elmhurst), Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), and Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) joined hundreds of residents for a town hall meeting held at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Corona." 

It's good to see all of the electeds come out-and especially because of the message delivered by Monsignor Healy:
"We are the closest community to Willets Point. That’s why we are here tonight,” Healy said. “Families in Corona need living wage jobs, not massive stadiums or shopping malls that will create poverty-wage jobs and only serve the interests of wealthy developers.” 

Powerful stuff that should be headed. What struck us the most was the power point presentation made by Professor Donavon Finn-a planner with a good eye for what's wrong with these development concepts: 
"In my professional opinion, I think all of these plans are deeply flawed,” Finn said. “The biggest problem is that all of these developers are acting as if the other plans do not exist.” 
He went on to deride the idea that, once removed, the parkland would be replaced, stating that: 
 "...if each of the proposals are approved, Flushing Meadows’ public park space would be reduced from 1,255 acres to a mere couple hundred acres."
The Queens Chronicle also weighs in on this community protest:

"On Monday at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Corona hundreds of Flushing Meadows Park neighbors voiced concerns about development proposals that would subtract open space without adding any affordable housing to the neighborhoods surrounding the park.

“I learned to ride my bike here and my kids might not have that chance,” Queens resident Steven Moyano said. Although nothing is set in stone, three developments could take away significant green space in the 1,255-acre park. Because the sites are on public parkland, any development would need approval from both the City Council and state legislature and would have to mitigate the used land with an equal amount of new parkland in another location within New York City, not necessarily in Queens."

What a royal hose job for Corona-something that CM Ferreras recognizes:
"Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) said she will be meeting with all the developers and they will “have to sell” the proposals to the community “Every inch of developed parkland is park space we won’t get back,” Ferreras said."
But if that's the case why sit down with the developers? Isn't the scarce parkland sacred? Apparently in Corona it is negotiable. This is all a disgrace and if left alone will overrun and destroy the Corona and East Elmhurst communities. In our view the only response should be: Just say no!