Friday, July 31, 2009

Ratner: The Little Boy Trying To Get Too Many Cookies Out of The Cookie Jar and Getting None

(Above, Bruce Ratner looking all too cute- We have to talk to our artist- as the little boy trying to get too many cookies out of the cookie jar and thereby getting none.)

(Updated as of August 31, 2009.)

Yesterday (July 30, 2009) we testified again at ESDC Atlantic Yards hearings where we spoke in terms of the greedy little boy who can get no cookies out of the cookie jar because he wants to get too many. Video of our testimony is available at: Friday, July 31, 2009,
Sparse turnout on Day 2 of hearing on “Ghost Project Plan”; Jeffries, Kruger testify; open mike night for BUILD, unions.
We have frequently utilized this metaphor before and will have more on it later with a fuller account of our testimony. Meanwhile, please refer also to our testimony from the previous day which, though we were cut off at the end, is available in full and with links in our prior post of that day’s hearing. (See: Wednesday, July 29, 2009, First Day of ESDC Hearings on New Sight-Unseen Version of Atlantic Yards: Some Noticing New York’s Testimony and Questions Asked.)

Please note that we have been substantially updating that July 29, 2009 post’s account of the first day of the hearing and will be doing so further. So if you if you haven’t yet read the latest additions about Kathy Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, and our conversation with Bertha Lewis about the affordable housing units that ACORN did NOT negotiate for, you may want to read through to the latest additions at the end of that July 29 post to find the updates.

Here is a list (from which we read) of the very sweet “cookies” Mr. Ratner has been trying to get out of the public cookie jar when we delivered our testimony. As you can see from the video posted in the Atlantic Yards Report account, with only three minutes to testify we were only able to get to number 11 on the list.- The list goes to 24 but can easily be added to (contribute more in the comments section if you wish).
1. The right to 22 acres without a competitive bid.

2. An exclusive monopoly by a single developer over the ownership and development of more than 30 contiguous acres of central Brooklyn.

3. Eminent domain abuse and windfall profit from that abuse.

4. Extreme unprecedented density.

5. A lower capacity railyard for the MTA and Long Island Rail Road that will not allow for needed flexibility or provide future expansion and growth.

6. Seizure of public streets, sidewalks and avenues.

7. Sidestepping proper process and ULURP.

8. Override of local zoning.

9. Bait-and-switch promotion with value engineering to save the developer money without benefitting the public.

10. Outrageously bad design and superblocking.

11. No real commitment to provide affordable housing. As we discussed with Betha Lewis of ACORN the first day of the ESDC hearings at which we were giving our testimony, anyone who earns an annual income from $38,407 to $46,086 (HUD family of four standard) is not going to be provided with affordable housing. Coming into the hearing we asked some of the demonstrators demonstrating in favor of the project whether they had incomes in that range. They said their incomes were lower, in which case ACORN did not negotiate to have any affordable units included in the project for them because the lower income units would be provided by the federal tax code in any event. Then skipping over the units ($38,407 to $46,086) that are not being provided, one finds that one is dealing with units that are renting for $3,000 a month, $2,300 a month, $1,500 a month: Units that the market would be providing anyway. In other words, ACORN basically negotiated that Forest City Ratner would provide absolutely nothing in terms of affordable housing.

(Above chart shows the minor portion of units in Atlantic Yards referred to as "affordable." Click to enlarge.)

12. A special exemption from the Section 421-a Real Property tax law so that the developer can escape paying real estate taxes without providing to the public the same level of affordable housing that other developers would have to provide to get benefits under that law.

13. $2-$3 Billion in no-bid taxpayer subsidies.

14. A special tax loophole to finance private arena which loophole was unconscionably shilled for in Washington by the city and state officials.

15. Preferential treatment for a developer despite risk to the public associated with the developer’s extreme financial weakness.

16. Sight-unseen approval of the project by the ESDC board without first letting the public know what the project will be.

17. The developer has been allowed to have a five year period go by during which it has not had to produce a design for an arena it actually intends to build. And all that time the project is allowed to continue despite there being no approval in place for an arena actually intended to be built. This entire five year period has gone by without the public agencies actually having any concrete or written deal with the developer.

18. City manipulation of real property tax assessments creating the risk and substantial likelihood that tax ex-exempt bonds issued to fund the arena could be declared taxable.

19. Three decades for the developer to complete the project (while creating blight and parking lots in the meantime).

20. Proceeding without a real, true and accurate cost benefit analysis or even a reasonable pretense of one.

21. Proceeding only with a portion of the project which the city Independent Budget Office projects will be a net loss for the city when the are no plans with respect to proceeding with the rest of the project.

22. Destruction of historic and worthwhile buildings in order to twist the public’s arm for support for “something” to be built and in order for the developer to amass extra windfalls of density.

23. Garishly oppressive design in the middle of brownstone neighborhoods as epitomized by giving the developer permission to have a fifteen-story illuminated and animated billboard towering over neighboring streets and buildings.

24. Giving the developer the right to privately collect all the proceeds from the right to name public places: The developer will receive $20 million a year for 20 years ($400 million in all) for the right to name what is supposedly a publicly owned arena after Britain’s Barclays bank. In addition, piling it on, the news recently came out that the developer will now also be given another asset that ought to be similarly valued, the right to name two city subway stations (and to have the NYC subway map redesigned) to feature name of that British bank in the station names, yet the developer will only have to pay 1% to the public/MTA of the annual $20 million amount it is getting from the bank for naming rights.

The fable about the little boy and the cookie jar is premised on the idea that it would be acceptable if the little boy got one or two cookies out of the cookie jar and that it is really only the inordinate quantity that the greedy little boy wants to get that is the problem. In our retelling of this story as a fable about Ratner’s outsized greed it should be noted that it would be inappropriate for Ratner to get even one of the above listed “sweet deals” out of the public cookie jar. Not even one of them taken singly is fair to the public or the kind of thing that ought to be allowed. Even so, our politicians do not protect us adequately and are often apt to let all sorts of favoritism pass. We have too often seen that kind of indefensible tolerance of things adverse to the public interest before.

If Ratner had pursued only a few of his outrageous requests he would probably have a project unstoppably in hand by now and likely underway a while ago. Instead, he has thwarted himself and this is as it ought to be. This mega-project should be allowed to die and it should be remembered that it died because of Ratner’s outsized little-boy greed.

(This post was updated as of August 31, 2009.)

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