Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Noticing New York's Testimony at Tonight's Hearing on the Draft Scope of Work for the DSEIS for Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards Mega-monpoly

At this evening's hearing
This post may be updated with a few additional comments and certainly with a link to Atlantic Yards Report coverage of the hearing this evening (no doubt quite thorough) for the court-ordered redo of the environmental impact statement for Atlantic Yards which was necessitated because the original EIS did not take into account how much longer the meg-project would truly be likely to take.

The testimony of Noticing New York was actually delivered in two segments during the evening because of the three minute limit for oral comments.  In addition to the comments you see below, I extemporized a bit when I resumed to deliver the second half of my comments in order to refer to the comments of Deb Howard of the Pratt Area Community Council describing the kind of nearby development that has occurred in Brooklyn in a bad economy absent the kind of interference of Forest City Ratner that has more or less halted development nearer to the vicinity of Atlantic Yards.  While extemporizing, I also pointed out how many of the people testifying during the evening were there as a product of living with a Forest City Ratner together with their apparent inability to imagine alternatives to it.  That includes the few union laborers who showed up to speak on Ratner's behalf despite the his double cross (see footnote at end of testimony).

Another important note. There was some pretty devastating testimony from Michelle Del la Uz and the Fifth Avenue Committee.  It was something that had not previously occurred to me: That, because of gentrification, the delay and extended schedule Forest City Ratner has been able to command for itself (by virtue of being a monopoly) build will totally change the income levels (raise them) of those for whom apartments will be provided, disqualifying the lower income families who would have been eligible to qualify (albeit already dispiritedly small group given the tailoring of the CBA to benefit the developers courtesy of ACORN) and shutting out many black families because of the structuring of the lottery that will apply.

Coverage by Atlantic Yards Report, including a fuller description and video of the above is available here: Friday, March 01, 2013, Hearing on Atlantic Yards environmental review: critics suggest other developers be considered to achieve ten-year buildout; Forest City supporters urge removal of review roadblock (but avoid timetable).

The following is Noticing New York's testimony. 

* * * * 

February 27, 2013

Empire State Development Corporation
(Atlantic Yards)
633 Third Avenue, 37th Floor
New York, NY 10017

Re:    Draft scope of work for the DSEIS for Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards Mega-Monpoly

Dear ESDC:

This comment is being offered in the name of Noticing New York, dedicated to the insistence on good economic development policies in New York and the proposition that developing New York and appreciating New York must go hand in hand.  I offer this testimony as an attorney experienced in real estate, as an urban planner and as former senior government official who worked for more than a quarter of century in the areas of public finance and development for the state’s finance authorities.
    •    This hearing on the necessary dismantling of the Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly is long overdue.  As every economist knows, it is axiomatic that you can’t negotiate with and you can’t effectively regulate a monopoly.  You can’t even enforce legal documents, which explains why Empire State Development Corporation CEO Marisa Lago indicated in her public statements that she expected that Atlantic Yards will likely take on the order of four decades to complete even though the legal documents (then unreleased) call for its completion in twenty-five years or less. How much longer the community will be blighted beyond what was addressed in developer PR and in the complicity-flawed and manipulated EIS is a large part of what this hearing is about.

    •    This hearing and the revised scope of the EIS will be insufficient unless it considers the full scope of the Forest City Ratner mega-monopoly whereby governmental support and subsidy is suppressing economic activity and competition in Brooklyn.  Atlantic Yards is not truly a 22-acre project: Forest City Ratner has been governmentally assisted in acquiring more than 30 contiguous acres over which it is exercising exclusive rights, 19 towers, not 16. .  an arena plus two shopping malls.  When you also include other nearby property where  Forest City Ratner is getting government assistance to squat over the borough’s major subway lines, there are currently more than 50 acres of exclusive rights.

    •    The developer PR put out in preparation for this hearing pushes the importance of the tepidly-tempered notion that public reaction to the so-called “Barclays” arena (named after a disreputable bank) has not been quite as negative as predicted.   Gee, after inviting the world to gawk at the glitz of the Ratner/Prokhorov arena, that heaped pile of pirate plunder representing what has been stolen from the community and the deep subsidies diverting public resources from everywhere else, and the news pushed out is that the reaction to all that glittering treasure in one place hasn’t been that negative? Whoop-dee-do!  That’s damning by faint praise, not to mention that problems during construction were far worse than predicted.

    •    In fact, Atlantic Yards is a rolling disaster area.  In the mid-‘90s when I was at the New York State Housing Finance Agency, the Affordable Housing Corporation and the State of New York Mortgage Agency I worked with the New York Housing Partnership to provide subsidy to Forest City Ratner for Atlantic Commons immediately adjacent and to the north of the Atlantic Yards site.  As state agency officials we scrambled and strove to do everything we could to push the envelope, prioritize and ensure that Forest City Ratner got subsidy for that site and, at the time, it made sense to me because we were filling in a hole, blight going back to 1960 created by urban renewal clearances that, after decades, had been left gaping and unfilled.  I especially believed that we needed to do something because I had also been asked to help find solutions for the aftermath of that government bulldozing more than a decade before, in the early ‘80s when I was at the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC).  Little did I know that no sooner had we finally succeeded in this government effort to fill in the destruction, than Forest City Ratner would use that success we furnished as a launching pad to renew and extend the decimation of the urban renewal area, expelling competing owners and developers from the vicinity.

    •    This is a rolling disaster because, with the new decimation of the landscape, those who succeeded me at HDC faced a decision, ultimately debasing to the standards of government and ethics, about whether they would reward Forest City for such actions with additional subsidy, a decision they should not have made and which they should not have been forced to make.  Why did they have to make it?: Because the Atlantic Yards has been handed to Forest City Ratner as a presumed extension of its monopoly rather than divided up for bid amongst multiple developers like Battery Park City.  (See my HDC hearing testimony: Wednesday, July 18, 2012, Noticing New York's Hearing Testimony Re New York City Housing Development Corporation's Subsidization of Ratner's Atlantic Yards Mega-Monopoly.)         

    •    Important Footnote: When we financed Atlantic Commons we put back streets and sidewalks that urban renewal had removed, something that should now be done in dealing with the Atlantic Yards site. 

    •    This is a rolling disaster because it has created a self-feeding cycle of corruption.  Atlantic Yards Report articles have described in fastidious detail all the ways the Forest City Ratner environment harbors a culture of cheating besmirching the many government officials it draws in.  Worse than that, I have watched as what was once illegal has been treated as if it is now legal and acceptable, the abuse of government’s tool of eminent domain for private purposes being just one aspect of this.

    •    This is a rolling disaster because the unfair power advantage enjoyed by Forest City Ratner has been extended, the cocked playing field tilted even further, including through influence over BIDs, by having other neighboring landowners shoulder the taxes, special assessments and BID contributions from which Forest City Ratner gets exempted.

    •    It is a rolling disaster because the continued deep, exclusive and self-perpetuating cycle of subsidization of the Ratner mega-monopoly turns city, state and federal money* into a launching pad for, and lure to, other nefarious developers for similar land grabs and abuses of the public trust.  Would we have asset-stripping at Long Island College Hospital (LICH) or the underfunding and selling off of our libraries were it not for the way that the Atlantic Yards abuses have been tolerated?  Some are even glorifying the impunity of it all.  The impact of continuing to assist such social disequilibriums must be addressed in the environmental impact statement.

(*  The diversion of subsides and resources for Ratner’s benefit are everywhere.  The Brooklyn Navy Yards, intended to incubate new businesses to provide jobs, has turned space over to Ratner for modular operations allowing it to avoid paying construction workers on site.  Rather than use an empty, subsidized parking lot for black cars clogging streets around the arena, public street space is turned over to arena use.  This list goes on.)   


                                Michael D. D. White

One of the most disconcerting aspects of the evening was that BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music sent a representative to support the Ratner monopoly.  BAM refuses to provide a forum for any films that are critical of development practices in Brooklyn
(Updated 02/28/2013 to refer to the testimony by the Fifth Avenue Committee.  Updated 03/032013 to include link to Atlantic Yards Report  coverage.)

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