Saturday, September 7, 2013

Land Use Policy: Whither Bill de Blasio?

We have been trying to ascertain just where Bill de Blasio actually stands on land use policy questions, and the WSJ does a good job at laying out some of the issues:
Bill de Blasio has risen to the top of the polls assailing the Bloomberg administration, but if elected he could pursue even more aggressive policies than his predecessor on a crucial issue: creating densely packed new residential towers through land-use decisions.
Mr. de Blasio, the city's public advocate, would push for mandatory affordable housing and fewer tax breaks for developers. But he wouldn't differ from Mr. Bloomberg on a fundamental premise that building significant amounts of new housing is a top way to spur economic growth and control housing costs.
How to read these tea leaves? Well, at first blush, the affordable housing and fewer tax breaks aspects of his policy makes some sense to us-but de Blasio must be aware of the pitfalls of this given the manner in which the Atlantic Yards promises have gone unmet, and the fact that he based his support of AY on the housing pledge.

That brings us, of course, to Willets Point, where the developers and EDC have baited and switched on the crucial pledge to build affordable housing-with an original 2,00 unit promise now reduced to 825 units, assuming that it ever gets built at all (A reasonable assumption in this dodgy deal.)
De Blasio has also said the following:
Mr. de Blasio said Friday he would differ from Mr. Bloomberg in taking "a more rigorous approach that focuses on community benefits like creating infrastructure like affordable housing, like local jobs, hiring for local residents. And I think we just need to do a lot better job at driving a hard bargain with the real-estate industry."
EDC really drove a hard bargain with Related/Sterling over at the Iron Triangle. Didn’t they? Must have been tough negotiating with these hard bargain drivers if all you got out of the transfer of $200 million worth of property is a zero cash payment, a mall, and affordable housing to be built later-much later, and with an out clause that says for a paltry $35 million the developers can buy their way out of any housing.
Given the incredibly flim-flam nature of the Willets Point deal-a deal that bears no resemblance to the one that de Blasio signed off on in 2008-isn’t it the right time for the putative next mayor to weigh-in on this travesty? It offers de Blasio a great opportunity to differentiate his policies from those of Mike Bloomberg.
But the WSJ reports that de Blasio’s position on land use means that he is “pro-development.” This is an interesting take, and omits almost every possible nuance-since how development is done lies at the heart of the concept:
Mr. de Blasio's pro-development policies have helped allay fears in the real-estate industry that perhaps the most liberal Democrat in the race would, as mayor, be a fearsome opponent on big developments.”
There is, however, one area that is a major cause for concern-and that is e Blasio’s view that the ULURP process needs to be truncated:
In a July economic policy speech, Mr. de Blasio said promoting significant new development while demanding high-paying jobs and affordable housing would create a more equal city, even if it alienates community groups—often pejoratively dubbed NIMBYs.
"We can't afford a process rife with delays, subject to knee-jerk NIMBYism and tangled in bureaucracy," Mr. de Blasio said.
Mr. de Blasio has said he would shorten the timeline for debate on developments before they enter the formal approval process and promote more neighborhood-wide rezonings, as opposed to forcing developers to seek approval for large new projects individually.
Mr. de Blasio, along with others, also supports so-called mandatory inclusionary zoning, requiring affordable units when areas are rezoned.”
This would be a serious mistake since it is precisely the period before a pproject is certified that is crucial to the information gathering and dissemination about a development. What de Blasio is suggesting, is the further  centralization of land use policy and the weakening of any potential opposition-since opponents rely on the period before certification to gain more knowledge about a project and organize against it if deemed inimical to a community’s interest.

If he means this, then de Blasio appears ready to adopt the mantle of corporate liberalism-and a repetition of cronyism seems like a likely scenario under his ULURP formulation. More power would accrue to the mayor and the community-derided as NIMBYists-would be skunked . To a great extent, then, the WSJ is right to see this as “pro-development,” but it is a development of the worst kind and offers little difference with the disastrous nature of the Bloomberg approach.

Process is important, and the efforts by Comptroller Liu to advocate reform of the ULURP process are much more democratic and would prevent the abuse of mayoral power that the de Blasio approach portends-and this includes any concept of communitybenefits as well.

What we are left with, then, is a great deal of trepidation when it comes to the prospects of a Mayor de Blasio. We could have these fears greatly allayed if he would stand up and be fore square opposed to the Willets West deal. That would indicate that he would be a different kind of mayor, one that would be more attuned to the legitimate concerns of neighborhoods and small businesses.