Monday, September 23, 2013

What’s a New Mayor to Do? Bill de Blasio and Willets Point

We have been speculating about what a Mayor de Blasio might do with the development of Willets Point when/if he gets into office in January-arguing that he is under no obligation to rubber stamp a skewed Mike Bloomberg vision.

We have been buoyed by his statements concerning thecorporate welfare give away to Fresh Direct: “Fresh Direct would never have gotten more than $100 million in government subsidies to stay in New York City if he ran City Hall, Bill de Blasio said Thursday. The Democratic mayoral nominee said his administration would remove subsidies from large companies such as Fresh Direct and “give them to smaller companies.” This is a sign that de Blasio sees economic development in a radically different light. 

But if a Mayor de Blasio would balk at throwing $100 million tax payer dollars at a crony of his predecessor, than how about $400 million for two cronies? That’s the subject of our Op-ed in yesterday’s NY Daily News:
In the first place, the development at Willets Point was intended to be one of Mayor Bloomberg’s signature legacy projects – the “first green neighborhood,” and all that palaver. Instead, owing to the good work of the team assembled by Willets Point United, the original mega-deal was derailed and the current Rosemary’s Baby was given birth. Instead, of all the essential public benefits that were originally negotiated — affordable housing, a living wage and traffic relieving ramps — we have been given the city’s largest retail mall built on parkland. The property taken under the threat of eminent domain is now earmarked for a parking lot.” 
Any original whiff of public good has been aerosoled out by this stinky new sweetheart deal
Make no mistake about it. When the original Willets Point deal was proposed by the city, there were over 30 council members who had signed a letter opposing the project — and one of the strongest bases for that opposition was the city’s threat to use condemnation to take away property that had, in many cases, been in families for decades.
This opposition was only overridden when the Central Labor Council negotiated a “historic” living wage provision — and the council negotiated a deal for 2000 units of affordable housing. This was the linchpin of the compromise that enabled the council to overcome their strong objection to the use of eminent domain.
And then there’s the corporate welfare to dramatize just how far from the public interest this gift to the Wilpons and Steve Ross really is:
All of these promises have been tossed aside in the city’s current Willets Point proposal — along with the sworn assurances from Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber that the city would be compensated for the $200 million it paid for the property purchased under the threat of condemnation. Instead, the city is gifting the property to the developers for $1!
Only in Mike Bloomberg’s NYC, could gifting be so easily turned into grifting-and as far as gifts are concerned, this is one that keeps on giving for all of the critics of the mayor’s penchant to bend the rules when it concerns him and his friends:
Making a bad deal that much worse is the fact that it has now been revealed by the Attorney General of the State of New York that the original compromise that led to the city council’s approval of the development in 2008 was advanced by an illegal lobbying scheme devised by the Economic Development Corp. and a local development group made up of real estate interests. The entire land use process was tainted by illegality.”
Bill de Blasio has made a purposeful effort to let the city know that he will not be doing any gratuitous giveaways to the 1%; and Willets Point affords him the opportunity to make a real forceful demonstration of how different he will be:
So, Mayor de Blasio, send a signal to the city that there is a new sheriff in town and things are going to be done differently. We are not going to unceremoniously shunt aside hardworking small businesses to aggrandize the interests of the 1%. Say No to Willets West and set the tone for a different kind of politics.”
But Willets Point United has not been alone in this fight-and the NYC Parks Advocates and the Queens Civic Congress have been outraged by yet another aspect of the bad deal at Willets Point-the use and abuse of parkland. Bob Harris makes this point in the Times Ledger:
The Council is holding hearings on the proposed Willets Point West Mall, which would use the parking lot adjacent to Citi Field. This land was originally parkland, but was leased to the New York Mets’ owners to be used as a parking lot for baseball fans. Now the Mets owners want to build this large mall for private economic development. If this parkland was not needed by the baseball team, then it should have been repurposed and used by the community people who come here to play and relax.
Fighting this “giveaway” was the Queens Civic Congress, the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy, the Fairness Coalition of Queens, Save Flushing Meadows Corona Park, New York City Parks Advocates and other groups.”
Harris also points out that the mall will have a great deal of collateral damage for small business in Queens-something that the merchants of Jackson Heights and Corona are very much aware of: “The Queens Civic Council, an umbrella organization of about 100 civic associations in Queens, testified that if this mall is built, it will harm many small mom-and-pop stores in surrounding communities as well as struggling malls in other parts of Queens.”

So we urge the next mayor of the great City of New York to send the right signal to all of the beleaguered small businesses, parks advocates, and threatened property owners-and to the real estate barons who have been feasting in Mike Bloomberg’s New York. As another Brooklynite might put it: Do the Right Thing!