Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg In the Regalia of Queen Elizabeth I? Noticing New York’s Testimony at the DOT Hearing on Atlantic Yards Bollard Plan

Why is the face of Mayor Michael Bloomberg superimposed (above) on the body of Queen Elizabeth I, who reigned as Monarch of England from November 17, 1558 to March 24, 1603?

It is perhaps a trifle reminiscent of the famous portrait (below- from Wikipedia, te New York Historical Society portrait) of an earlier local government official, Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon, Governor of New York and New Jersey between 1701 and 1708, who was renowned for cross-dressing while in office (before Giuliani). The explanation for the above image of Bloomberg is embedded in the Noticing New York testimony today provided to the New York City Department of Transportation at its hearing today about the plans for bollards around the Ratner/Prokhorov (“Barclays”) basketball arena being built for the New Jersey Nets where the brownstone neighborhoods of Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Fort Greene meet.
You can read up on all the details of it if you want in Atlantic Yards Report but the gist of the matter is that the Ratner/Prokhorov arena, even in its diminished non-hockey-accommodating size, is not fitting very comfortably into the neighborhood space that’s already been seized for it. Among other things, security is an issue since these days arenas have to be presumed to be attractive targets for terrorists (even if they hide out in or take brownstone neighborhoods hostage as human shields). That means that bollards are necessary.

Bottom line, because of the poor fit that has been managed the public, as a solution, is expected to surrender its expectation of adequate sidewalk space. The arena doesn’t have the dainty Cinderella glass-slipper-scale footprint that was once promised to slide easily into the neighborhood and instead its extra step-sisterish size mass is being squeezed and forced in. The original Cinderella folk tale involved the ugly step-sisters hacking off their toes as they pretended they could fit into the glass slipper. That’s what we’ve got going on here, some hacking off of toes- The public is losing its sidewalk.

Noticing New York’s Testimony

Here is Noticing New York’s testimony form this afternoon:
• The bollard plan for Atlantic Yards results in sidewalk bordering Ratner/Prokhorov arena with an effective width of 5.2 feet. 5.2 feet is less than my height. Add a whole foot to that planned width and the width would be only a scant couple of inches over my height. If I spread my arms their span covers more than half the 5.2 feet width we are talking about.

• It is clear that we are debating, and any excitement can only be about slivers of inches, how many additional slivers of inches are to be added to Forest City Ratner’s 50+ acre government assisted mega-monopoly.

• After all that has already been taken from the public by government for Forest City Ratner, do these additional slivers matter? They do if we recognize that we are in that straw-that-breaks-the-camel’s-back territory and that each additional sliver for Ratner must be considered insult added to previous significant injuries.

• Here is a picture: It is Mayor Bloomberg’s face superimposed on the body of Queen Elizabeth I of England. What does that represent? Queen Elizabeth angered the populace of the England over which she reigned when she abused her monarchical prerogatives to hand out lucrative monopolies to those in her political favor. Bloomberg and Cuomo’s ESDC have done the same thing, abusing eminent domain to hand out an enormous and dense monopoly over central subway Brooklyn to the Ratner organization.

• The question is where and when it stops. Does Ratner now get to crush Brooklyn’s pedestrians’ by scalpeling from them yet more slivers of what remains for them to add to his empire? In much the same way we are asking why Ratner gets to jackhammer away throughout the night (and on weekends) at incredible hearing-destroying decibels for months when, in theory, his arena is on schedule and there is no need to rush its building with extraordinary measures.

• What is being left to the public? Remember that the vast Ratner monopoly has already been engorged by the Bloomberg contribution of the public streets, avenues and sidewalks that should have inalienably belonged forever to the public.

• The insult of seizure by successive slivers can be a practiced subterfuge. Yesterday the New York Times carried a story about U.S. State Department e-mails showing collusion by government officials and the proposed builder of an oil pipeline from Canada to Mexico to win political support for the pipeline by applying to build it at low pressure but then apply afterwards for an exception to build it at high pressure once the project had cleared approvals. Isn’t this after-the-fact (and after-approval) pressured cramming of the arena into this neighborhood much the same thing?
City Receptivity to the Testimony?

Just as I got to the last paragraph of my testimony I was told flatly that my three minutes were up and that I had to stop. I didn’t get the impression the woman directing me to stop had enjoyed my comments. Often at hearings you are asked to conclude when you are informed that you have reached end of your allotted time. I didn’t want this additional nip-and-tuck cut on behalf of Ratner so I said I would continue and did. I did not time the statement of the Ratner spokesperson (who, by virtue of the way they were proceeding preceded me because she was speaking in favor of the project) so I don’t know if she ran over her allotted time.

The New York Times story with which I concluded my testimony involves the building of a “1,700-mile pipeline, which could carry 700,000 barrels a day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas” where it could then be easily shipped out of the country. (See: TransCanada Pipeline Foes See U.S. Bias in E-Mails, by Elisabeth Rosenthal, October 3, 2011.) The extraction of the oil proposed to be piped involves the massive excavation of tar sands in Canada, digging up and removing forest in an area of Canada the size of Rhode Island, which takes an immense amount of energy to extract and refine.

The environmental prices to be paid for this low grade resource raises issues very similar to the brand new (2007) technology of hydrofacking now being proposed for the State of New York. That is one reason Josh Fox, responsible for the documentary about hydrofacking “Gasland” with the famous flaming kitchen faucets, is also opposing the proposed “development” of the tar sands. Climatologist James Hansen has said that if the tar sands mining is allowed to proceed it will be essentially “game over” for efforts to slow climate change. For more on this you may want to listen to this Leonard Lopate program discussion: Backstory: Canadian Tar Sands & the Keystone XL Pipeline, Thursday, September 15, 2011.

The pipeline would also go through and endanger the huge Ogallala Aquifer, which is still heavily relied upon even if it is being dangerously depleted.

Noticing New York has raised the issue of regulatory capture in separate stories about Atlantic Yards and about hydrofacking. Here is what the Time story has to say about this in terms of the oil pipeline e-mails:
“You see officials who see it as their business not to be an oversight agency but as a facilitator of TransCanada’s plans,” said Damon Moglen, the director of the climate and energy project for Friends of the Earth. While the e-mails refer to multiple meetings between TransCanada officials and assistant secretaries of state, he said, such access was denied to environmentalists seeking input, who had only one group meeting at that level.
Upon completion of the testimony it was suggested that I hand in a written statement. (I had clearly been reading my testimony.) I demurred handing anything in except for my picture of Mr. Bloomberg in Queen Elizabeth’s regalia, explaining that my written statement would be the same as the hearing's transcription of my oral statement. It was then I was told that there would be no transcription of my testimony.

I asked how anyone would know what my testimony was if it wasn’t transcribed and how it could then be part of the record. I was told that the people in the room had heard it and that if anyone wanted to hear it they could ask for the recording.

This was confusing to me. I asked who the decision makers were and how they would receive the input of my testimony. I don’t believe I got a satisfactory answer or any answer at all.

When I used to personally conduct public hearings or supervise them when I worked at the state finance authorities those testifying were told what would be done with their testimony and how it would be used. I am not saying that it is necessary to provide this information at a public hearing but I think it should be provided if it is asked for. Perhaps no one there knew the answer to my questions. No one had testified with respect to the three prior agenda items that had come before Atlantic Yards so testimony may be unusual. But the refusal or inability to answer these queries should raise questions about the legal sufficiency of the process and it certainly says something about whether the process is regarded as being a meaningful process of actually listening to those providing testimony.

Mayor in Inappropriate Garb?

As you will now understand, it was not meant to be implied that Mayor Bloomberg cross-dresses like Governor Hyde. But the mayor is a cross-dresser in another respect. He presents himself as a symbol of capitalism, presumably the kind of virtuously productive capitalism that Adam Smith touted. But as the recent recent NNY story about the government-assisted Forest City Ratner mega-monopoly made clear, Adam Smith strenuously objected to and did not espouse monopoly as one of the parts of capitalism that works. Atlantic Yards is closer to . . .

Feudal Ownership of Land

In law school you learn that in England and America the legal history of land ownership goes back to William the Conqueror, who invaded England in 1066. To the victors go the spoils and so William handed out the conquered lands to those who fought with him. In other words you owned what you owned by the gift and grace of, and because you were allied with, those who victoriously took power.

William created a feudal state based on allegiances to those in power. Eventually with successive generations ownership of land became something more formal that included a recognition of the ability to pass land along to one’s heirs. This is oversimplifying law school lectures that were themselves somewhat simplistic about history, but by the time that the United State was formed the Bill of Right recognized that the early feudalistic practice of ownership of large tracts of lands based on political allegiance was long since past and that there should be protection against seizures of land by eminent domain.

Bloomberg with his award of a mega-monopoly of land to Forest City Ratner via the abuse of eminent domain rewinds the clock back many eras to an earlier millennium when you came into ownership of land by allying yourself with the victors who became head of state.

The image presented at the hearing was that of Bloomberg as Queen Elizabeth because the hearing was before the New York City Department of Transportation that Bloomberg oversees.

Governor Cuomo’s Empire State Development (recently “Corp.”) agency is also responsible for this new retro-feudalism but this hearing was not before that agency. Had it been, we probably should have produced the image below.
PS: (added October 9, 2011) Here is video of the above testimony courtesy of Atlantic Yards Report and is full report of the hearing (See: Thursday, October 06, 2011, At DOT hearing on bollard plan, a challenge to claim that an effective width of 5'2" would not create sidewalk bottleneck outside arena.)

The Atlantic Yards Report post reports on and contains video of additional community testimony that, unfortunately, i was unable to stay for.

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