Friday, June 28, 2013

Notice of City Planning Commission hearing on Willets Point project

Notice of DSEIS Hearing Final

Willets Point: Who Says Crime Doesn’t Pay?

The first phase of the Willets Point redevelopment is going to the City Planning Commission next month-the body that has less independent authority than the Board of Health (and that’s a low bar!) This is a development that has been built on the illegal actions of the city and the collusion in these actions by Claire Shulman and her LDC of developers-one of which, Sterling Equities, is poised to be rewarded for engaging in the illegal lobbying that has brought the Willets Point project to this juncture.

As the WSJ reported last year:

"New York City's economic-development agency and two related organizations admitted in a settlement Monday that they illegally lobbied the City Council on behalf of projects at the heart of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's redevelopment agenda.

The concessions came after a three-year probe by the state attorney general's office. Investigators found that the Economic Development Corp. worked behind the scenes with the groups—called local development corporations—to nudge lawmakers to support projects in Willets Point in Queens and Coney Island in Brooklyn."

What this means is that the entire development project was advanced fraudulently by an illegal scheme. As Schneiderman told the Journal: "These local development corporations flouted the law and lobbied elected officials, both directly and through third parties," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.”

It is, however, not only the illegal activities that make this development a toxic brew. The fact remains that the current proposal bears little or no resemblance to the original plan first proposed by EDC to the City Council five years ago. The linchpin of that plan-what sold it to the council members-was the grandiose affordable housing plan put forward by the city.

That plan-to use a baseball analogy in honor of the Mets and Sterling Equities-is little more than a player to be named later. As the Queens Chronicle reports:

The city’s announcement that the burgeoning and long-contested development project at Willets Point would not be proceeding as originally outlined and the lack of sufficient affordable housing for the middle- and lower-income families living in the borough led about 100 distraught residents to pack a Queens Housing Coalition meeting on Nov. 20 in Jackson Heights.
The Willets Point Redevelopment Plan was approved by the City Council in 2008 and included the construction of 5,500 mixed-income residential units, 2,000 of which were to be affordable housing.”
This past June, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the affordable housing plan would be delayed until 2025.

This betrayal-because that’s what it is-was not taken well by State Senator Jose Peralta who wrote a scathing letter to the mayor that demands that housing be guaranteed and prioritized in the Willets Point redevelopment. It has been put off indefinitely, when it was originally supposed to be the first part of the project to get done after remediation. 

Making a bad situation worse is the fact that the city-after pledging that the land it bought for $200 million from Willets Point property owners would be fully repaid by the eventual developers-decided to turn it over to the developers for a $1!

The Times Ledger exposed the smelly nature of this kind of crony capitalism last year:

"Unless one believes in the benevolence, integrity and generosity of the Wilpons and Sterling Equities of the New York Mets, the city’s plan for the redevelopment of the area around Citi Field does not appear to be a good deal for the city."

The Ledger isn't sanguine about the postponing of the housing deal-rightly assuming the Wimpy nature of the postponement of the only real public benefit; and the paper gives thumbs down to the crony capitalism that animates this smelly scheme:

"But now we are told the construction of the housing and a school won’t begin until 2025 at the earliest. Worse, we learned last week this piece of land was given to the Wilpons and their partner, Sterling Equities, which formed the Queens Development Group, for free. To thank them for accepting this gift, the city is committed to spending $500 million building sewers, creating better access to the Long Island Expressway and repairing roads."

The Ledger also understands just how much EDC snookered the city council back in 2008: "When the City Council approved the deal, it reportedly knew nothing of the land giveaway and trusted in the mayor’s promise to get back the money spent on buying out the businesses pressed into relocating." 

Finally, there is the issue of the parkland-something that the city is trying to avoid by saying that a Robert Moses-era deal means that the parkland being taken does not have to go through the normal alienation process. This is pure bunk-and a slew of parks advocates have been screaming bloody murder-rightfully so.

As Patrick Arden wrote in City Limits last year:

The proposed shopping mall west of the stadium may face a larger hurdle: The parking lot is part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. State law requires the alienation of parkland before it can be used for non-park purposes.To meet that requirement, Bloomberg has reached back to a law passed 51 years ago, summoning an uncertain ally in the ghost of Robert Moses. But questions surround this curious piece of legislation, setting up the latest in a string of disputes over city-sponsored developments on public parkland."

The city explains its tenuous position: "Yes, this area is parkland," says Benjamin Branham, a spokesman for the city's Economic Development Corporation, "but development is permitted under the 1961 law that authorized the construction of Shea Stadium—known as Administrative Code 18-118—which also allowed for additional uses to be built on the parking lot. It's important to be clear the authorization comes from this law as opposed to a contract or other agreement of some kind."

But going back to the future may not be so easy it seems: "Yet, as recently as 2001, New York's highest court ruled parkland can't be taken, even for temporary use, without an explicit act of alienation passed by the state Legislature and approved by the Governor: "[O]ur courts have time and again reaffirmed the principle that parkland is impressed with a public trust, requiring legislative approval before it can be alienated or used for an extended period for non-park purposes."

City Limits goes on to delve into the 1961 legislative process and sees the devious hand of Robert Moses at work-a deviousness that may not be as effective today:

"The state Legislature approved his building of Shea Stadium in the park, but its 1961 legislation was primarily aimed at granting the city authority to issue bonds to finance construction. It loosely laid out the permitted uses for the stadium and grounds, listing "recreation, entertainment, amusement, education, enlightenment, cultural development or betterment, and improvement of trade and commerce." The law even allowed the city to use the site for "any business or commercial purpose," so long as this activity "aids in the financing of the construction and operation of [the] stadium, grounds, parking areas and facilities" and "does not interfere with the accomplishment of the purposes referred to" above."

Parks' advocate Geoffrey Croft isn't buying this-and is contemplating a lawsuit in response:

"The bill reads like a Robert Moses special," says Geoffrey Croft of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates. The broad powers it conferred were a hallmark of the Power Broker, who was so well-practiced in the black art of political legislating that Al Smith once called him "the best bill-drafter I know." The Parks Commissioner could enter into agreements to use part or all of the stadium grounds, but any agreements lasting for more than a year had to be approved by the Board of Estimate, which included the mayor, the comptroller, the City Council president, and all of the borough presidents." 

In a brilliant letter, lawyers for the Urban Justice Center make the same points. This ULURP application-because of the Public Trust Doctrine-cannot withstand judicial scrutiny and should be withdrawn. 

In sum, this newly created Willets Point development is bad for property owners, housing advocates, friends of the parks, and the NYC tax payers being fleeced by the land giveaway-and we haven’t even touched the traffic issues which we will get to in an upcoming post. All this being said, there is no chance that any of these things will have any impact on the brain dead members of the planning commission. As far as the mayor is concerned, when he wants their opinion he’ll give it to them.

As we approach the July 10th meeting of the CPC get prepared by a major grass roots coalition ready to protest this putrid example of poorly conceived planning and corporate welfare. This is a development that should be shelved for the next mayor and city council. If that doesn’t happen, the courts will be given the opportunity to restore the rule of law in NYC.

The Great Preet-ender?

The NY Times is reporting on the concerns among many minority legislators that the federal prosecutors are spending a great deal of time and energy going after mostly minority politicians:

“For nearly three months, New York’s political world has been consumed by a procession of scandals, and minority communities have felt the bulk of the pain. Black legislators have been indicted in three new, unrelated corruption cases, and every lawmaker secretly recorded at the behest of prosecutors by the legislator, Shirley L. Huntley, now a former senator, was black or Hispanic.

“It’s demoralizing,” Mr. Díaz said. “It’s like, ‘When is this going to end?’ ” The accusations of corruption have been particularly stinging for minority communities in part because they have already been upset over a loss of clout in the state capital.” (NY Times)

This spate of prosecutions has given rise to accusations of a conspiracy-an almost racial profiling-like unfairness from both the Southern and Eastern Districts:

“The frustration has boiled over in the aftermath of the corruption arrests, which have ensnared two of New York City’s most prominent black politicians — Malcolm A. Smith of Queens and John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, who are former leaders of the Senate Democrats — as well as a black assemblyman, Eric A. Stevenson, a Bronx Democrat.

In an interview, Assemblyman Stevenson, who was accused of taking cash in return for writing legislation, denied any wrongdoing and said he suspected he was being singled out by the government. He said the series of allegations against elected officials made it seem as if “only black and Latino people are criminals.”

He compared the situation to Cointelpro, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counterintelligence program under J. Edgar Hoover that sought to discredit civil rights leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Now it is just a little bit droll to see someone accused of taking an envelope full of cash compare himself to MLK, but does the assemblyman have a point? Is justice being even handily rendered by the Feds?

We at WPU would argue in the negative-but we are not at all certain that this lack of fairness is racial in motivation. Maybe it’s just about power-who has it, and who doesn’t. We are keenly aware of the enormous discretion afforded our US Attorneys and the fact that there are no guidelines that structure their decisions to prosecute. Given this free hand, and the lack of any checks and balances, unfairness would seem to be a built-in feature of the system.

What people tend to forget in their rush to turn federal prosecutors into heroes, is that they are nothing more than government bureaucrats-functionaries placed in their positions but elected officials with their own political agendas. In the case of Preet Bharara, his former role was chief of staff to Senator Chuck Schumer. In other words, here’s a man steeped in politics and most likely mindful of certain parameters.

The question here is, where do those parameters lie for Mr. Bharara? Recently, he gave an interview:

“In the interview, Mr. Bharara also shot down criticism, advanced by some pols, that federal prosecutors are unfairly targeting racial minorities in their probes.

“I think I saw that in a blog post somewhere,” he replied. “Anybody who knows me or knows this office, knows that’s a ludicrous accusation to make. If you look at our body of work in this area, or in any other area, it is clear that we go where the law and the facts take us.” (

Perhaps so, but we at WPU remain unsure and skeptical about this. We have witnessed firsthand how the Attorney General of the State of New York has whitewashed the illegal activities of Claire Shulman, her LDC and the Wilpons. Interestingly, this is an AG who rode to power on his robust effort to toss Hiram Monserrate out of the State senate, and then went after Senator Huntley as well-both minority legislators.

The AG had ample rationale for a bringing a strong criminal conspiracy case against Claire’s gang-and even the Economic Development Corporation from whence the conspiracy sprang. Instead he blinked and gave them-kind of like when Spiro Agnew was tossed out of the Vice presidency-a nolo contender. (WPU)

But even Agnew had to at least pay a fine!-Claire’s gang got a buss on the cheek and not even a slap on the wrist-leading us to suspect that there was a certain degree of, let’s say, caution involved in not ruffling certain powerful feathers. (The Morning Call)

Which brings us back to Preet. The US Attorney-and the IRS-is well aware of all the litany of possible federal crimes committed by Claire’s gang. So far, he has chosen to do nothing-and in all likelihood the IRS has been too busy harassing the Tea Party groups. (WPU; WPU)

So the fairness of the justice system is, in our view, rightly a focus of those concerned with the idea of equal protection. But before we come off as too harsh on Mr. Bharara, he does tell the Politicker that, “We investigate cases very aggressively, and we are going to continue to do that, whether the legislature is in session or not,” he said, alluding to the upcoming end of the legislative session. “You can expect more cases to come, because there is a lot more corruption that has not yet been brought to light.”

So, we here at WPU are taking a wait and see attitude since the US Attorney is still slogging away at corruption. But here’s an interesting tidbit, Bharara’s full first name is “Preetinder.” If he decides not to pursue a prima facie case of corruption against Claire’s gang he will be hence known as “The Great Preet-ender.”

Monday, June 3, 2013

Borough President's ULURP hearing about Willets West/Willets Point development this Thursday

Helen Marshall's public hearing concerning the proposed Willets West mall on parkland and the Willets Point development is set for Thursday, June 6 at 10:30AM at Queens Borough Hall, second floor conference room.

This matter is item 2 on the agenda.

Testifiers are encouraged to tell Helen Marshall how they feel about a 1.4 million square foot mall being constructed on parkland; ruination of Corona/Jackson Heights businesses as a result of such a mall, a concern stated by Queens Community Board 3; unavoidable nightmare traffic and gridlock conditions on local streets and the affected highways; housing delayed until at least 2025, and perhaps permanently because it can't be built unless new Van Wyck ramps are built first (and the project contract specifies that the city is NOT obligated to build any ramps); eminent domain to be used for a non-essential purpose: to give property to Mets' owners; and so on.

Hearing notice:

They came, they saw, they shut them down

WPIX's Greg Mocker visited the Iron Triangle last week during the Subway Series.