Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Crony Capitalism as Economic Development

Ben Haber, the Socrates of Queens County, has penned a prescient letter to the Ledger calling on the City Council to vote the current Willets Point project down. As Haber points out, the bait and switch has yielded a huge mall that will feather the nest of the mayor’s rich friends while causing heartache to the residents of Corona, Jackson Heights and Flushing:
“The amendment that seeks to build a parking lot at Willets Point is a ploy to sneak through the back door a transfer of the Citi Field parking lots to allow construction on the vacated lots a 1.4-million-square-foot shopping mall. This is without a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and replacing parkland, since Citi Field is on land that is part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Affordable housing will not be built until 2015, if ever.” 
Now we think that Ben means 2025, because there will be no housing without the Van Wyck ramps that will be built on the 12th of Never. But Haber gets to the root of the sham when he ridicules the idea that the billionaire owners, and mayoral BFFs, of Related and Sterling Equities couldn’t afford to develop the rest of Willets Point with the affordable housing and the other goodies unless they got to build their mall:
“At the top of the list of deceptions that have accompanied the application is the claim for requiring a prioritized Citi Field shopping mall as a financial engine to generate enough funds with which to construct the original Willets Point plan, suggesting that without it the original plan cannot be accomplished.  
Ignoring its speculation, it is untrue and a ploy to have the mall, which is what the application is all about. Related Cos. are the developers of the $20 billion development underway over the Hudson Yards in Manhattan. The claim that these multibillion-dollar companies — which are being given the Willets Point land the city has acquired for hundreds of millions of dollars and more in the future for $1 and a subsidy of $99 million — do not have the financial wherewithal to build Willets Point without a huge shopping mall is an in insult unworthy of belief and a reason to reject the application.”
Haber goes on to question whether the city council represents the people-a rather droll inquiry that has an unfortunate answer:
“The original Willets Point plan approved by the Council in 2008 is one thing. A deceptive huge shopping mall is something different and unacceptable. It remains to be seen if the word from the Council is that its constituents are not just billionaire real estate moguls but the little people, the poor, the middle class and small businesses, which are the backbone of an urban society and reject the application.”
We know where the formerly Mighty Quinn stands, but what about the supposed progressives on the city council? And what about the Public Advocate? When it comes to real estate it seems that the pols represent the 1%-unless we see a radical departure from the Permanent Government script.