Friday, April 1, 2022

New Demonstration Program Now Approved By NYC Landmarks Commission: Related Companies and Vornado Will Use Public’s Love of Historic Districts To Spur Development Working With Disney

 

It’s history in the making!  Not since New York City’s Landmarks laws and programs and Landmarks Commission were ushered in back in the early 1960s has anything new and exciting been done in this area.  Looking back, it’s always be more of the same old, same old, or, put another way, more of the same old, save old.


But that is not to say that the public doesn’t love its landmarks and historic districts; it absolutely does!  And that love of the quaint, the old and the curious that acquaints us with our past and where we came from is about to be harnessed by two giant developers of real estate, Related and Vornado, who have gotten the go ahead from the city’s Landmarks Commission (LPC- Landmarks Preservation Commission) to show what they can do working with another company that is expert about what the public loves and should love about its history and its past.  That company they will be working with is Disney.

The intention of the new demonstration program will be more and better development in the city while the public will, at the same time, be more deeply, efficiently and broadly connected with its sense of history and with the continuity that informs our city populace of where it came from as reflected by the ever evolving range of architecture that has resplendently bedecked NYC over past decades and centuries.

The public loves its landmarks and its historic districts; it’s one of the city’s most terrifically popular programs.  And the way that New York is imbued with a rich history that can still be observed and absorbed by viewing many parts of the city is one thing that attracts tourists. The attraction of tourists drives an important city industry.  However, the real estate professionals appointed by the mayor who serve on New York City’s Landmarks Commission have noted that landmarks and historic districts pose problems for the public.  They, therefore, invited some of New York’s premiere developers to consult and see what could be suggested using some of the industry’s infamously creative cleverness.

One problem with historic districts is who gets to enjoy them. Partly because they are so desired and sought after as places to live, they have a notorious proclivity to become enclaves for the wealthy.  Because they freeze and preclude further development and density, they also preclude expansions to invite additional populations in to enjoy residing there.  Another problem the professionals on the Landmarks Commission were eager to solve is that this locked-in low density is often, due to history, in central areas of the city from out of which other areas of the city grew.  Those central areas are often, in the professionals opinions, exactly the wrong areas to have low density.  Moreover, historic districts such as Brooklyn Heights and Greenwich Village often sit atop transportation hubs and the confluence of subway and bus lines around which it is important to gather greater density and development.

The Related Companies/Vornado demonstration program will address these issues by working with Disney plus, introduce into historic districts and landmarks benefits not possible when creaky old structures cannot be retrofitted with new technology.  The program will involve relocating a number of landmarks and historic districts to more optimal areas.  Actually, a better word for what these relocations will involve is `re-creations’ of what gets moved to new areas.  The programmatic term that Vornado and Related have decided to use to describe the transfers to new locations is “reestablishments.”  The reestablishments will allow leeway for there to be significant improvements integrated into them at the new locations.

“None of what we are talking about is without precedent,” said Landmarks Commission Chair Sarah Carroll, “for instance, in Staten Island, we have the Historic Richmond tourist and visitors museum site.  This involves historic structures brought to that location from all over the island to form the full collection of its 40 structures.”  And she noted that, in practice, with the passage of time, most buildings in historic districts transition from being what was once actually at a site to being de facto recreations of what was previously there: Facades have to be redone (brownstone, while soft and easy to quarry and carve, is an exceptionally short-lived material that is never actually replaced with the same dark sedimentary, often riverbed, sandstone), cornices need to be replaced and such ornamental replacements are most typically done more safely with fiberglass design duplications.  In Brooklyn Heights, 123 Joralemon Street, one of the historic district’s most conspicuous historic buildings, a carriage house, is not historic at all; looking circa 1880, it’s a 1993 replacement (designed as if servicing an adjacent mansion) for a 1952 ranch house that looked like it belonged in Queens.  So, in this case, what’s really historic?  

123 Joralemon Street- The historic 1952 house is on the left

 123 Joralemon is an example and lesson in how tastes change and how the flexibility of new construction can accommodate this.  The exterior of the building fits in exactly the way people currently think it should to comport nicely with the rest of the historic district.  When built it was built in 1993, the interior of the structure felt like it fit in with the district that way too, but since then the entire interior has been extensively renovated by a new owner to be the most modern thing imaginable, lots of glitz and glass that’s straight out of the Jetsons. . . But stick a gaslight outside and who would suspect!

Side by side- Will the real Joralemon Street imposter please stand up?

The demonstration program may start small while thinking big, hoping to get its legs under it and to give the developers a chance to prove to the real estate professionals at Landmarks that they are entertaining the right notions in green lighting this program: The candidate historic real estate location that is up for selection for the first relocation is just one single block length’s worth of buildings, 19th Street’s Block Beautiful in the Gramercy Park neighborhood, between Third Avenue and Irving Place.  Where will it be moved to?– That’s where they are thinking big!: Sunnyside Yards in Queens.  In Sunnyside Yards there will be room for many future additional relocations.

The "Block  Beautiful"

The “Block Beautiful” relocation gives Disney the opportunity to show off a transformational talent for which it thinks it is especially suited in a way that will superbly advantage the new program.  The “Block Beautiful” is cited as one particular example of changing fashions: “destoopification.”    No, that is not a typo for “de-stupefaction,” that is, instead, a name for a phenomena where buildings in New York City with the traditional style of front building stoop, inherited from the old Dutch designs, became déclassé and townhouse owners all over the city modernized by removing the stoops and creating new entrances on the lowest floor.  That also allowed extra flexibility creating more rooms if separate apartments were created in the building.  But with stunning architectural whiplash, things have changed again in areas like Brooklyn Heights were once-removed stoops are being put back again as hedge-funders gussy up purchased buildings that are again owned and occupied by one wealthy family.

In the dusk of architectural history, stoops can sometime be a `sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't' proposition.

What Disney with its technology will be able to do is teach the history of architectural fashion change by having the same established historic section display different era facades on different days of the week. To an extent this can be accomplished by projections overlaying different lighting changes, but it will also require storing things like stoops that will have to be rolled out and locked into place certain days.  In this regard the reestablished areas will have the advantage of large areas that will be in taller back structures that, with clever design, will not be readily observable.  Says Ms. Ona Lott, a Disney executive and representative about its design capabilities, “at our Florida Epcot center, the new modern, futuristic and big, may be cheek by jowl with our ancient Moroccan Casbah, but you don’t notice the former when you are enveloped in and looking at the latter.”

Putting stoops back in place when they are no longer grandfathered normally can raise all sorts of property line issues, but this won’t be an issue in the reestablished areas as the Vornado, Related, Disney joint venture will privately own the entirety of all the land, including all streets, sidewalks, park and green areas.

Another advantage the reestablished areas will have is there will be well thought out technology using the same sort of tunnels and unnoticed passageways that Disney uses at its theme parks for its Disney characters to appear where and only where they are supposed to.  This will make sanitation and garbage removal a far more aesthetic proposition.  Think of the way things are now says Ms. Lott, the Disney exec: “You have a row of buildings all from the 1800s and outside people are throwing away their 50' flat screen TVs as they graduate to bigger 4K, 8K (or soon 16K) models.  That plus a tangle of discarded routers and USB wires and flavored vodka seltzers is just not very historic.”  Now, in reestablished areas, such trash will head out to the landfills via hidden tunnels that nobody thinks about.  In place of the missing trash, Disney will periodically manifest historically appropriate trash depicted on its own ultra-realistic large flat screens.  And there will be no garbage smell to go with it unless you press the accompanying scent button.

Back at 19th Street, between Third and Irving, it will now be possible to put up a series of new towers like those that have been going up on Third Avenue for some time now.  Proving that a good job can be done reestablishing the “Block Beautiful” at its new Sunnyside Yards location will make it possible to move on to the next goal of reestablishing Gramercy Park at Sunnyside.  “The reestablished Gramercy Park will be quite an attraction, so much so that we are thinking we might actually make it just a fraction larger,” say Ms. Lott, “We will surround it, as before, with a hotel and most certainly the Players Club and the National Arts Club (formerly the mansion with enormous library of Samuel Tilden).” Meanwhile, Vornado and Related will have a whole city block to build on where Gramercy Park formerly stood.


Gramercy Park as seen from above at its current location- one whole city block!

Things will lead one to another.  A reverter clause affecting Gramercy Park’s chain of title and deed means that when that park property is built on, Union Square will again be privately owned. “It’s complicated real estate stuff,” Related VP David Chablis explained.  So Union Square will also be reestablished as one of the linked greenways of the Sunnyside Yards history learning center.  Visitors to the reestablished Union Square will again get to visit the old S. Klein’s department store on its border, because, with the restablishments, it will be possible to rewind the historical clock to any time that’s desired. . .

. . .  But, wait, Union Square, wedged between the Greenwich Village and Gramercy Park historic districts is not a historic district, right?  That’s another advantage to the program; how with more flexible modification, historic destructs can be more easily created and expanded, even retroactively.

Nobody living in what are currently historic districts will be required to sell what they now own, but they will be entitled to first dibs discount acquisitions on properties in the reestablishments.  If they do sell, they may make hefty profits.  Moreover, if they exercise their first dibs options, they and the heirs taking reestablishments property from them will all have continual access to the reestablishment areas without ever having to pay a perimeter fee.  For its maintenance and upkeep and the teaching and education that will be provided in the reestablishments Disney will be paid a fee financed with perimeter fees paid using people’s phones much the way that new York metropolitan area drivers have been using E-ZPass® to pay for bridge and highway tolls.  The areas will be designated with barely noticeable circumference wires rather like certain Jewish neighborhoods have set out the eruv perimeters for Jews observant of the Sabbath in this way.

Vornado, Related and Disney will be working with New York’s three public library systems to research historical accuracy.  This can be useful, because, in Brooklyn, for instance, the Brooklyn Library has taken over the Brooklyn Historical Society, and, now having subsumed it, has renamed it the Center for Brooklyn History* (there is thought of adjusting the name further to “The Center of Brooklyn History”).  Vornado and Related said the fact that the boards of the city’s library systems have been filled with people from the real estate industry and people who work for content control companies like Disney will help ensure the needed corporation in adhering to the desired historical narratives to be communicated.

(* The Center for Brooklyn History is currently closed, physically closed, to the public, but is providing virtual access to some history, plus is providing a “grab-and-go” history supply service in its lobby.)

Mixed in with the reestablishments of New York’s well known historic districts, the Disney company will be integrating duplicates of some of its Disney theme park history re-creations like its Disney Main Street (some building may be done by Alexandria, Virginia and Potomac, Maryland Builder/Developer EAY).  The city is expected to benefit terrifically in that the new historical areas that can be visited and the much more efficient way that they can be taken in are expected to be a huge draw from tourists in the future.

Work by Alexandria, Virginia and Potomac, Maryland Builder/Developer EAY
 

Because the reestablishment areas will be evolved with the special Disney touch, thinking and creativity, the areas can be copyrighted.  Said Dr. Kols, Disney’s Director of Historical Affairs, “The old adage that `history is written by the winners’ has the corollary that `those who get to write our history, get to own it, . . ahem, . .  copyright it.’”  “Of course, any such copyright ownership is subject to ‘fair use’ commentary” said Dr. Kols. . . , “as determined by the courts reading our lawyers’ briefs.”

Mayor Eric Adams is exceptionally happy with the proposed demonstration program.  In fact, without Adams the program would not be happening. The program’s legalities would be exceptionally tricky, even likely tripping up on various Constitutional prohibition entanglements, except for the New York State provisions (Executive Law Chapter 18, Article 2-B) that allow Adams, as mayor, to suspend laws and do what he wants pursuant to his declaration of the Covid emergency.  Adams says that if the New York City Public Advocate wants to use his standing to challenge any of his actions, the Advocate will have the opportunity to do so with the statute of limitation for a mandamus challenge commencing with the actions that Adams is taking as of this April 1st.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year From Our Departing Mayor: NYC Residents Must Check Vax Status Of Babysitters, Housekeepers, Plumbers Under New Mandate

Your home is a workplace! Post this there visibly to attest that you are requiring your nanny and any plumber, or private tutors entering the premises to prove they have been vaccinated.

Jezzum!!!

Talk about scary!!

I am even asking myself of this is true.  If it’s true, why isn’t it a major story in the New York Times? . . . But it does seem to be true!  The Gothamist is reporting it solemnly in a way that doesn’t look like a spoof that would have gotten through holiday-distracted editors.  WNYC is sending the story along in emails, maybe on the air as well.

Here is the headline in the Gothamist:

NYC Residents Must Check Vax Status Of Babysitters, Housekeepers Under New Mandate,  by Jake Offenhartz, December 28, 2021.
Gothamist article on de Blasio's Nanny Mandate

This requirement comes from our departing mayor Bill de Blasio days before his administration ends. In a probably obligatory way the NYC Health Commissioner is mentioned as being involved.  The City Council wasn't involved.

Really awful things often get shoved through on the cusp where one administration is exiting and another coming in. That’s true often at the local government level or at top national levels.  It dilutes accountability and blame.  One day, you may not even be able to remember who did it, and where will Mr. De Blasio soon have moved onto by then?

I’ve tried to keep Noticing New York out of the Covidian debate issues, but this is such an authoritarian shift in city governance it can hardly go unnoticed.  You have to ask: What this kind of high-handed intrusion into people’s lives might herald for the future in many areas aside from Covid?

Here is some of the text of the Gothamist article telling the story- escalating fines and penalties starting at $1,000?:
    The mandate, which took effect on Monday, means that city residents who may not think of themselves as traditional employers are now legally required to check the vaccination status of those paid to work in their homes, according to Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesperson for the city Law Department.

    * * * *

    Paying a handyman on TaskRabbit to mount a new flatscreen TV on your wall? Under the city’s latest executive order, the person doing the hiring is technically required to verify the handyman’s proof of vaccination. The same goes for nannies, plumbers, movers, private tutors and just about any other professional not directly employed by an outside entity.
    Those that don’t abide by the rules could face a fine of $1,000 – with escalating penalties on subsequent violations, according to the city’s guidelines.

    * * * *

    . .  Over the weekend, AKAM, a property manager with roughly 50,000 units across the city, informed residents that they would have to obtain vaccine compliance forms from any worker entering their building.

    “Each resident should be able to provide that proof of vaccination to the Management team if requested,” an email sent by AKAM read. “The property reserves the right to revert any fines or other penalties for non-compliance back to the resident if they are determined to be the cause for non-compliance.
All of this with zero reference to the context of the comparable or superior immunity that it is believed unvaccinated people may have from having had Covid already.  At this point, numbers indicate that probably half of New Yorkers or more have already had Covid.  It also seems to have zero acknowledgment of the ineffectiveness and short-term protection of the vaccines, especially when it comes to the newer variants.  The vaccines don’t provide protection immediately (even you can then carry around a card) and a few short months after a “booster” (three?) the protection may have ebbed to as low as 30%. . .

The New York Times has even published on its front page the thinking that: “too many shots may eventually lead to a sort of immune system fatigue, compromising the body’s ability to respond to the virus.”

. . . Meanwhile, a major New York City medical center is sending me repeated emails telling me that children over five should all get the still experimental vaccines.  Is that truly good, reliable advice for a major medical center to be sending out?  What if your doctor has different opinions about all of this?

Do I now have to be fined $1,000+ or fire my parent’s trusted long-term caretaker because her doctor has advised against her getting a “booster,” including because she had bad side effects from previous shots?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from our departing Mayor de Blasio.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Noticing New York 2021 Seasonal Reflection


Julian Assange at Christmas- The center image from the WeeklyLeaks site and magazine- Julian, in his prison cell, chained cannot reach the keyboard to give us truth.

Today is Christmas Eve.

I have a long-standing tradition of, every year, on Christmas Eve, publishing a Noticing New York seasonal reflection for the holidays.  They can be bittersweet, because, well. . . we have a ways of not living up to the holidays.

This year? 

I went to an event today.  What better way to spend Christmas Eve in a way that could be true to the  spirit of this holiday?

I had to sort of promise to my daughter that it would be sparsely attended, only maybe 18 people, I said.  But it was an important group of people.  And our number, while perhaps too small, turned out to be larger than that (photos at the end of this post).

My daughter has in mind to travel in the next few days.  It has to do with love and affection.  She wants to go see her boyfriend.  As you know, we have all of these lockdowns affecting us, so she is worried about travel restrictions.  She was understandably worried that possible Covid exposures could affect her plans.  As it is, we are getting word of airlines cancelling or contemplating cancelling their flights. 

The lock downs on travel are, in an of themselves, a sort of restriction on communication because there is nothing like traveling to visit somewhere to communicate what that place is really like or what is going on in other places in the world.  But my daughter's worry about my `assembling' with others at a demonstration, along with the sparse turnout we now might routinely get for such things, and the general hesitancy for so many of us to be with people people, is another shutting down of communication and of the communal actions that may flow that.

The demonstration I went to today was a vigil for Julian Assange outside the offices of NBC/MSNBC here in New York City.  Why?  Because MSNBC (Joe Scarborough and Clair McCaskil) has been lying about Julian Assange basically looking falsifying the record to stoke anger to facilitate his continued persecution.  And persecuting Julian Assange is about about shutting down our communications, shutting down free speech and shutting down the the kind of journalism that holds the powerful accountable.

Most conspicuously, it is about shutting down those that would shine the kind of journalistic light on and truth telling about the actions of the powerful that might end our endless wars.  But Julian Assange has also worked to shed light on so much else of importance, never publishing anything incorrect (something the New York Time sand Washington Post could never claim).  For instance, Assange published at least sixteen revelations highly relevant to deceptions by the powerful about climate change, important background for the recent Glasgow conference.

And Assange isn't the only one doing work to hold the powerful accountable about climate change that is being persecuted.  Environmental justice attorney Steve Donziger is also being persecuted and being held unjustly incarcerated right now.

This Christmas we are entering our third year of Covid lock downs and restrictions.  And since my doctor and a number of other people tell me, including friends that were sick, it is apparently our third Christmas and Christmas Eve with Covid.  We think Covid has been in New York City since September or October of 2019.  It is also the third Christmas Steve  Donziger is spending incarcerated because he won an environmental lawsuit against Chevron/Texaco and  somehow our federal judiciary system was privatized in a way that allowed Chevron's law firms to prosecute him for that effrontery, see: What Library Defenders Need To Know About The Imprisonment of Environmental Attorney Steve Donziger Because He Obtained a Judgment Against Chevron For Its Pollution of The Amazon, Monday, November 1, 2021.

Like the shutdown and imprisonment of Julian Assange, the incarceration of Donziger and the way it hasn't been covered by the silent corporate media is a shutdown of information about the control the powerful are exercising over the flow of information. 

Former U.S. Attorney General and antiwar and social justice advocate, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark- died April 9, 2021– Whenever he went to a new country the first thing he wanted was to be taken to see that country’s prisons to understand the country better.

Who we in the United States imprison, or sometimes encourage our other colony countries like Britain to imprison tells a story about us.

I am a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of  Brooklyn.  Every week we are asked who we are praying for.  I list Julian Assange with others every week that we imprison. I don't know if I am being heard, but my list every week (you could so something like this too) goes something like this:

•        We give our love and support to journalist and peace advocate Julian Assange, ordered by a British court a week ago to be put into the hands of those who secretly plotted to assassinate and silence him.  The US has promised the Brits not to treat Assange cruelly unless the US decides to. Love to Julian’s family, including his brother Gabriel, who we met here in New York where, with their father John, they pleaded for our support as American people to free Julian from his more than now 11 years of incarceration and torture, his now being held incommunicado (currently in Belmash, “Britains’ Guantanamo Bay”), and to remind us about standing for the idea of First Amendment freedom to speak truth to power and to speak against war and war crimes and speak the truth about governments conniving not to handle climate change.

    •    Our heart is with Steven Donziger- Environmental attorney serving a six-month prison sentence on top of more than two years previous home incarceration BECAUSE he helped indigenous people in Ecuador's Amazon legally win substantial damages for the Chevron/Texaco oil company’s pollution and poisoning of their land and people.  -(In a mockery of justice, Donziger’s prosecution was handed over to Chevron, privatizing the judicial system as the NY Times sits passive and silent on the sidelines, one of its lawyer working for Chevron)- Oil Companies like Chevron also take us to war.  Donziger returned to house arrest the week before last from Danbury federal prison since there were Covid challenges at the federal prison.

    •    Payers for whistleblower Daniel Hale, sent away and incarcerated for one of the longest sentences ever because he revealed information contradicting the New York Times false stories about how our predator drone killings are “antiseptic, precise and accurate”; instead Hale revealed that 90% of the people we kill with drones are NOT those targeted and that 50% of the people we target have NO known relation to any so-called “terrorist” organizations. . . .

         . . .  Hale is being held in a CMU, a Communication Management Unit (“de facto solitary confinement.”- and more restrictive than a Supermax) to keep him and his peace message incommunicado.

    •    Our utmost spiritual energy and support to Journalist and former UK ambassador Craig Murray released just recently after going to prison for an eight months prison sentence on pretextual grounds.  Murray says he will not consider himself free until Assange is released.  Murray was imprisoned as vengeance for his (suppressed) whistleblower reporting and close coverage of the Julian Assange trial in Britain and as a means to prevent Murray from testifying in Spain abut the CIA’s illegal spying on Assange (and plans to kidnap and /or assassinate Assange, possibly similarly neutralize other journalists like Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitros) while Assange lived at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

    •    We light our candles and ache for the prisoners in Guantanamo, incarcerated 20 years, held incommunicado (CIA memo saying some will NEVER be released or allowed to tell their story), violating the Geneva Convention, many of them tortured (even to death) as we tried to get them to falsely “confess” to things they never did.-

    •    Love and support to Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab, whom the U.S. caused to kidnaped, imprisoned, held incommunicado reportedly tortured, without needed doctors and lawyers (even deploying a U.S. warship for this purpose), for Saab’s so-called “crime” of doing work for a Venezuelan state charity program to feed and provide basic goods to Venezuela’s poor who are being starved by our sanctions.  Saab was recently made the subject of extraordinary rendition (‘extradition”) to the United States for further what. .. . .? And for what crime?: Because his country doesn’t have a corporate capitalist system of government?

    •    We light our candles for the black and brown people who we incarcerate at a far higher rate and for far longer times than those of privilege and convict (often falsely) for crimes that we don’t prosecute white people for– Making us the world’s largest penal colony nation with an incarceration rate more than double any other country, more than six times that of Canada– With about 4.4% and, according to the ACLU, nearly 25% of the world’s prison population.

    •    Those we incarcerate (Kamala Harris’ “DO NOT COME” people) when they come to our country seeking the political asylum we are legally obligated to give them.  There are given no idea of when they might ever be released.—

The seasonal tradition is to revere peace at this time.  And we still have lots of war, what Julian Assange shed a light on and what Julian Assange is in prison for shedding a light on.

December 2019 Christmas Eve I wrote and posted a letter to our Unitarian Universalist congregation minister asking for a sermon about peace.  We have not since gotten one.  My letter mentioned Julian Assange and his contributions and importance in breaking the silence that needs to be broken.  I republished my letter last Christmas Eve. 

My letter of is absolutely still as relevant as it was the last two Christmas Eves.  That's because this seasonal tradition of waging war and never saying anything about it never get old.

Here is my 2019 December letter praying for a sermon on peace, praying, if you will, for peace.

Best and blessings to you all this season.


December 19, 2019

Re:  An Open Letter Requesting A Sermon About Peace

Dear Reverend Ana,

Last spring my wife Carolyn and I invested heavily in our congregation’s fund raising lottery trying to win the prize of choosing a topic for a sermon you would give.  We didn’t win.  Had we won, we would have challenged you with what you might not have found an easy subject, speaking about Julian Assange, American war crimes, and the U.S. pursuit of empire.  Our choice of subject would not have been be to vex you with its difficulty, but to ask you to speak to what could be such a simple concept: Peace.  If, these days, conversations about peace are avoided as difficult, what better than address that difficulty in a sermon?

Giving it some consideration, I think that making a worthy case for a sermon topic is a good a way to gain the prize of having you speak on a topic we care about, as good a way as investing in fund raising lottery tickets.  Therefore I will try.

Is peace a spiritual thing?  Is talk about our common humanity, our common bonds, and about surmounting the blindness that fractures our relationships a proper thing to address in religious terms?  I acknowledge I’m being obvious here.  What I just referred to is supposed to be basic and elemental to the great faiths.

I grew up in the Vietnam War era and I remember churches and church people taking the lead in saying that the wars we waged in Indochina were wrong.  These days we, as country, are more military extended than ever.  My oldest daughter is now about to be twenty-nine years old.  We had already started bombing Iraq when she was born in January.  The war in Iraq is just one of the perpetual wars that has continued essentially for the entirety of her life.  All of our wars are long now.  As formally measured by some, the War in Afghanistan, with its later beginning, has surpassed the Vietnam War as our country’s longest war.

These days the United States has been bombing nine countries, ten if you include, as we should, all of the U.S. participation in the bombing of Yemen, the other nine countries being: Mali, Niger, Somalia, Libya, and then, in the Middle East, it’s Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. We have 800 military bases in other countries.  With practically no comment or attention from us, President Obama opened new military bases across Africa.

A peace symbol hangs prominently in our Unitarian Universalist congregation’s sanctuary where our sermons are given.  We begin every Sunday service singing the words: “let peace, good will on earth be sung through every land, by every tongue.”  Christmas comes every year, and every year we evoke and extol, as is customary in the Christian tradition, the image of Jesus as the “Prince of Peace.”  In our congregation’s Weaving Social Justice Committee we have discussed the prospect of rededicating the side chapel within the sanctuary that is known as the “Peace Chapel” to that cause.  In our list of candidate films for the social justice film series we are working on we have films about the injustice of war. . .

 . . . But, by and large, we hardly ever actually say anything about peace or the need to end the  perpetual wars for which our country is now responsible.  Has there been any sermon in our sanctuary on the subject of peace?  I can’t recall one.

I was not at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in June this summer, but I talked with people who went, and I looked over the multi-day program.  I was told and I saw that there were no sessions on the subject of peace.  Nor was anything said about the antithesis thereof, war, although we are deeply embroiled in wars to the point that they are inescapably always in the background our daily American lives.
 
Our congregation through its leaders including members of the social justice committee is now reaching out to other congregations in our city and to their social justice actors to coordinate collective activism on the issues important to all of us.  The importance of peace activism has not been mentioned in those discussions no matter that it is integrally related to virtually every other issue that is being discussed of common interest.  Has the subject of peace somehow been tagged as off-limits?  Is peace now too controversial to be discussed by and among religious communities?

Other social issues have attracted the attention of organizing Unitarians and have been the subject of multiple sermons. I understand and support that and among them are issues like the climate change chaos catastrophe emergency.  The climate emergency is an existential threat to all of humanity.  When the Democratic National Committee ordered that there be no debate focused on the single issue of climate change– the DNC actually forbade Democrats from participating in any such debate organized by anyone else– the case was made that the existential issue of climate is so fundamental that it is intertwines with and underlies virtually every other issue that’s important.  There are other issues like that; issues that are inextricably related to society’s other major issues.       

Our American wars together with the rest of our military interventions that stoke conflict in other countries are far too often wars which are very much about the extraction of oil and fossil fuels.  Moreover, overall our wars help keep in place the systems that continue to vandalize our planet, exterminating its ecosystems.  Further, the US military is one of the largest polluters in history, “the single-largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world,” and that the Pentagon is responsible for between “77% and 80% of all US government energy consumption” since 2001.  The US military is consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries, polluting more than 140 countries. Obscuring the reporting on this, the United States, which exempts its military from environmental laws, insisted on exemptions from reporting of the military emissions of all countries from climate agreements. The U.S., has itself escaped such reporting by exiting the Paris Climate Accord.

It is not clear, but these staggering figures about fossil fuel use probably don’t include the fossil fuel consumption related to the initial manufacture of weapons.  Consider also that replacement, or nonreplacement, of what is bombed, burned and incinerated also must entail substantial additional environmental costs.
                                     
It is not just greenhouse gas emission pollution that the military produces: In 2010, a major story that went largely unreported was that the U.S. Department of Defense, as the largest polluter in the world, was producing more hazardous waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined, and that just some of the pollutants with which it was contaminating the environment were depleted uranium, petroleum, oil, pesticides, defoliant agents such as Agent Orange, and lead, along with vast amounts of radiation. Following our bombings, birth defects reported in Iraq are soaring. A World Health Organization survey tells us that in Fallujah half of all babies were born with a birth defect between 2007 and 2010 with 45 per cent of all pregnancies ending in miscarriage in the two years after 2004.

Another thing we face that has been deadening to the human spirit has been the increasing “othering” of people who we are made to think are different from us.  Frequently now that’s immigrants from other countries who are black or brown.  Often that “othering,” as with Muslims, is stoked in ways that may cause us to support or tolerate wars in which those others suffer most and towards whom hostilities are often officially directed.  We may also forget how our wars and military activity push the flow of populations forcing people to migrate across boarders, as, for instance, with those leaving Honduras after our country helped bring about the military coup that replaced the government there.

Also basic and underlying so many of our problems are racial, income and wealth inequality with concomitant inequality in power and influence. These are things that Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who practiced ministry through activism and activism through ministry, labored to eliminate.  Not long before he was assassinated, King also began to speak out against the Vietnam war saying the great challenge facing mankind is to get rid of war.  Before he did so, he carefully weighed cautions urged on him that as a civil rights leader he shouldn’t do so, that it would undermine support for his civil rights work, split his coalition, and that these issues should not be joined together.  But King concluded that the issues were tied together and decided that he would address them on that basis.

When King expressed his opposition to the war in his very famous “Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence,” delivered in this city’s Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967, one year to the day before his assassination, he said he was “increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”  He spoke of the disproportionate toll that waging war exacted on the poor and spoke of the poisoning of America’s soul. . . So it is today.

War is profitable business.  It busies packs of lobbyists who know a great deal more about often secret budgets than we, as the public, will ever learn.  But that profit drains the resources of our society enfeebling our ability to accomplish so much else.  The Pentagon and military budget is about 57% of the nation’s discretionary budget.  If all of the unknowable black box spending that goes into the Military-Industrial-Surveillance Complex were included, that percentage could well bump up higher.  We spend more on military spending than the next ten countries combined (or seven, depending on the year and who calculates), and we spend much more than all the rest of the countries in the world left over after that.  Of course, much of that spending by other countries is on arms we supply making the world dangerous.

We may not fully know about or have a complete accounting of all the dollars we spend in these areas, but, in May of 2011 after the U.S. announced that it had killed Osama Bin Laden, the National Priorities Project calculated that, as of that time, “in all, the U.S. government has spent more than $7.6 trillion on defense and homeland security since the 9/11 attacks.”  Point of reference: a “trillion” is one million millions.

Just the increase in the military spending in the last two years since Trump came in is as much as Russia spends on its entire military budget ($66 billion).  Similarly just that increase is greater than the entire military budgets of Britain ($55 billion) or France ($51 billion). 

Our fixated disposition to keep spending more is entrenched: Even Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts who promotes herself as a left wing progressive, voted in 2017 to increase the defense budget by $80 billion, surpassing the $54 billion increase requested by President Trump.  60% Of House Democrats voted for a defense budget far bigger than Trump requested.

Perhaps most disquieting and insidiously corrupting to our morality and our souls are the pretexts we adopt to justify going to war and to abide its horrors, particularly when we leave those pretexts dishonestly unexamined.  The public flailed and many among us continue in their confusion, unable to sort out that Iraq did not attack the United States or have weapons of mass destruction before the second war that we unilaterally and "preemptively" launched to invade that country.  Before our first Gulf War attack on that country there were no slaughtered `incubator babies’: That was just a brazen, cynically staged public relations scam.  Similarly, how few of us know and recognize that Afghanistan did not attack the United States on 9/11– We precipitously invaded that country because the government there was at that time asking that procedures be followed and proof furnished before it would assist in finding and turning Osama Bin Laden over to the United States.

The foreign country that was most involved in 9/11, and from where almost all of the men identified as the alleged 9/11 hijackers came, is Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia is the country to which we are selling massive amounts of weapons (making it that world’s third biggest military spender) and it is the country with which we are deeply involved perpetrating war crimes against Yemen.

In the Vietnam War, our second longest war, it was the Gulf of Tonkin incident that, not being what it seemed nor reported to be, was the pretext for war.

Perhaps hardest and most challenging to our susceptibilities as caring people striving to be spiritual and attentive to justice are the pretextual manipulations to which we are subject in regard to what Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman spotlighted as the selective distinguishing between “worthy” versus “unworthy” victims.  “Worthy” victims are those who, whatever their number, deserve our outrage and are a basis for calls for the international community to mobilize toward war.  “Unworthy victims” are those who can die en mass without attention or recognition like the tens of thousands of Yemeni children who have died for lack of food, water and medicine because of Saudi Arabia’s blockade assisted by the U.S..  Often, as with Palestinians removed from their homelands, these victims are blamed for their own victimhood.

Additional layers of pretext pile up when we encounter journalists and whistleblowers willing to be the messengers of war crimes.  We punish those messengers while, concurrently, there is no consequence for those who perpetrate the war crimes.  Often the perpetrators are promoted to higher office. That includes those who illegally torture others to coerce useless, undependable, and likely false “confessions.”  Thus we punish and torture Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning for exemplifying what Daniel Ellsberg called “civil courage.” Thus we vindictively send CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou to prison for disclosing his agency’s torture program.

Wikileaks, Julian Assange’s organization has published much that is embarrassing to the United States and those in power, much of it is particularly embarrassing to the U.S. military.  Wikileaks has never published anything that was untrue, but the truth of what it has published is disruptive to the official narratives of the war establishment. That establishment has been seeking vengeance against and to neutralize Assange since events in 2010 when in April Wikileaks published documenting gunsight video footage, under the title of “Collateral Murder,” of a US drone strike on civilians in Bagdad provided by Chelsea Manning.  The New York Times and Washington Post did not respond to Manning’s attempts to publish that same footage through them or other evidence of U.S. war crime in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Anyone who wants proof of the pretextual nature of the United States’ persecution of Julian Assange and of the ghastly and sometimes illegal, abuse of inordinate power against Assange should watch or listen to Chris Hedges June 8, 1019 “On Contact” interview with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer (“On Contact: Julian Assange w/UN Special Rapporteur on Torture”- Chris Hedges is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church).  The attacks against Assange began with a highly orchestrated campaign of character assassination.  They have progressed to things far worse.  Both Assange and Manning (who was pardoned from a 35-year sentence after seven years of confinement that included the torture of Manning) are now being held in prison, no end in sight, for no crimes of which they have been convicted.  I think we have to agree with the criticism of this as psychological torture.  The continued torture of Manning is an effort to get at Assange even if that were to involve forcing Manning to lie.

The United States wants Assange extradited to the Unites States to be tried for the crime of practicing journalism that was unflattering to the United States government. Somehow we have the highhandedness to conceptualize this journalism to be treason although Assange is a foreign national. Assange faces no other charges. Under the laws pursuant to which the U.S. would try him, Assange, like the exiled Edward Snowden, would not be permitted to introduce any evidence or argument that disclosing illegal U.S. activity or war crimes benefits the public.  It’s said that the United States wants nothing more than a show trial and I think that must be considered obvious.

When Assange sensed in 2012 that trumped up charges in Sweden would be used as a subterfuge to transfer him to United States custody for such a show trial he obtained political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. For this, a British judge sentenced Assange and had him serve 50 weeks in a high security prison for “bail jumping”; that’s just fourteen days short of the maximum possible sentence, although the obviously trumped up charges for which Assange had posted bail were withdrawn, negating the original bail terms as a result.  A normal, typical sentence for bail jumping would have entailed only a fine, in a grave case, a much shorter prison sentence.

Britain was able to send police officers into enter the Ecuadoran Embassy to arrest Assange for “bail jumping” and then later hold him, without other charge for pending extradition to the United States, because of a change in the Ecuadoran government that was evidently CIA assisted, and as the United States was dangling financial aid for that country.  Assange’s eviction from the embassy, along with his being simultaneously stripped of Ecuadoran citizenship, was done without due process.
 
The persecution of Assange casts a long shadow to intimidate other journalists, whistleblowers and activists as they themselves are being intimidated about disrupting the preferred narrative concerning America’s militarily asserted empire.  Other providers of news simply lay low not reporting things.  As neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post reported it, you may not have heard about the recent scary SWAT style arrest of journalist Max Blumenthal by Washington D. C. police hours after he reported about the United States government funding of the Venezuela Juan Guaidó coup team.  Blumenthal was shackled and held incommunicado for an extended period. Not long after that the D.C. police went out to similarly arrest activist and journalist Medea Benjamin when she publicized the U.S. backing of coups in Venezuela and Bolivia.

With silenced journalists, will we, based on unchallenged pretexts, send our military into to change the government of Venezuela as there is talk of doing?  In Bolivia the coup we sponsored has been successful without that.  Meanwhile, there is talk of pretexts for military actions against Iran, Russia, North Korea.

Journalists who still show courage, are subject to exile, sometimes self exile, from their journalistic homes, to alternative media outlets, where, like Assange, they are likely to be less heard and will be more vulnerable. Journalist Tareq Haddad just announced that he resigned from Newsweek because that publication has been suppressing a story of his.  His story was about the whistleblower revelations of buried evidence that the supposed 2018 Duoma chemical attacks by Syrian president Assad on his own people was fairly obviously a concocted fabrication when it was used as a justification for the U.S. to bomb Syria.  Remember our bombings of Syria?  The was another in 2017. It was for such bombings of Syria the press declared that Trump was finally `presidential,' and, as the cruise Tomahawk missiles launched, MSNBC’s Brian Williams spoke of being “guided by the beauty of our weapons” using the word “beautiful” three times in 30 seconds.

The strenuous suppression of these voices like Assange's that would disrupt official narratives shows how the conduct of war has a tight moral link to the choices we make to speak out against war and against the suppression of the voices that oppose war.  In his sermon against war at Riverside Church that day one year to the day before he was killed, Reverend Martin Luther Kings Jr. said that, “men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war.”

King also said that, when assuming the task of such opposition, it was difficult to break free of the “conformist thought” of the surrounding world.  Indeed, with the complicity of a much more conglomerately owned corporate media than in King’s time, it seems as if there is a secularly consecrated catechism of what we know we as Americans are not supposed to say, what we must veer away from and avoid.  We subscribe with almost religious ferocity to the belief that American exceptionalism justifies all our actions in the world.  It feels, as if in our bones, that we know that to violate this proposition and say something else would create a rumbling disturbance in the force (you know, “Star Wars”).  Or is our silence, merely something less profound than that, just the equivalent of what we think would be an exceptionally super-rude topic to bring up at a family Thanksgiving or holiday diner?
                               
Dr. King correctly foresaw that there would be significant prices he would have to pay for speaking out against our country’s war.  He concluded that he had to do so, that he had to `break the silence,’ despite the prices he knew he would have to pay. He felt that doing so was the only thing he could do and remain true to himself and his causes.

Ana, I have no doubt that there would be prices you would have to pay if you spoke out for peace; if you spoke out against war.  I also acknowledge that there are prices our congregation could face.  Relatively recently the FBI has raided the homes of public nonviolent peace activists who have long, distinguished careers in public service.  (And the FBI has also been investigating nonviolent climate activists and Black Lives Matters activists.)  But I urge you to deliver a sermon about peace because it would be the right thing to do.  Perhaps it could go along with a rededication of our sanctuary’s Peace Chapel. And, perhaps,  if you would give a sermon like Dr. King gave against our wars, it might do more than just be a good thing in its own right: It might serve as a model for the ministers of other congregations who would follow suit.

Maybe, as in Martin Luther King Jr.’s day, there can again be a time when people see the call for peace as a spiritual issue and our church’s, temples and congregations again take a lead role in calling for peace and an end to our wars.

Have I made the subject of peace sound as if it is complicated?  If so, I am sorry.  That can be a problem in itself.  At bottom, shouldn’t this all be so simple?  Peace, supporting peace, speaking out for peace. .  Something very simple.
 
            Last night I had the strangest dream
            I never dreamed before.
            I dreamed the world had all agreed
            To put an end to war.*

* From “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream,” by Ed McCurdy- 1950,
 a precursor of sorts to “Imagine” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono- 1971

 Sincerely,

Michael D. D. White

* * *


Here are links to the prior Noticing New York ventures into seasonal reflection:

•    Thursday, December 24, 2009, A Christmas Eve Story of Alternative Realities: The Fight Not To Go To Pottersville (Or Ratnerville),

•    Friday, December 24, 2010, Revisiting a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville,

•    Saturday, December 24, 2011, Traditional Christmas Eve Revisit of a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville, the Real Life Incarnation of the Abhorred Pottersville,

•    Monday, December 24, 2012, While I Tell of Yuletide Treasure,

•    Tuesday, December 24, 2013, A Seasonal Reflection: Assessing Aspirations Toward Alternate Realities- 'Tis A Tale of Two Alternate Cities?.,

Wednesday, December 24, 2014, Seasonal Reflections: No Matter How Fortunate or Not, We Are All Equal, Sharing a Common Journey

•    Thursday, December 24, 2015, Seasonal Reflection: Mayor de Blasio, His Heart Squeezed Grinch-Small, Starts Gifting Stolen Libraries To Developers For The Holidays
•    Saturday, December 24, 2016, Noticing New York's Annual Seasonal Reflection
•    Sunday, December 24, 2017, This Year’s Seasonal Reflection: Yes We Are Now Living In Ratnerville, Locally and Nationally, And Yet We Hope And Work Towards Something Different
 •    Monday, December 24, 2018, This Year’s Annual Seasonal Reflection: It Rhymes (But Not With "Reason" or "Season")

 •    Tuesday, December 24, 2019 An Open Letter To Reverend Ana Levy-Lyons of The First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Brooklyn Requesting A Sermon About Peace

 •    Thursday, December 24, 2020 Noticing New York 2020 Seasonal Reflection 
Here are pictures of today's Christmas Eve vigil for Julian Assange.








 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Legal Eagle Arthur Schwartz, Attorney Skilled In Opposing Privatization, Says He’ll Stop Mayor de Blasio’s Even Worse Scheme To Leverage“Covid Emergency Streeteries* Declaration” Into More Real Estate Development

Double height streetery - Fifth Avenue in Park Slope- last spring it was single height.

(* Also spelled 'streateries')

Mayor Bill de Blasio, (“Build de Blasio” as he is affectionately known by some in the real estate development community) has an even worse plan with respect to his use of “Covid emergency” declarations for a privatizing takeover of public space to enhance private real estate ownership in New York.  It’s an even worse plan and attorney Arthur Schwartz of Advocates for Justice says that he’s going to fight and defeat it.  Mayor de Blasio's plan is that he wants to turn property owners’ street occupation rights into even more development rights than previously imagined.

Schwartz noted how he had already sued when the City Council unilaterally decreed the Open Restaurants Program permanent and he confidently predicted that he would not let this new, expanded and even worse version of that “Covid emergency” based declaration get one wit further.   Respecting Schwartz’s earlier legal action see: The Village Sun (Real News For The Community)- Locals to sue city over ‘illegal’ Open Restaurants program, by Lincoln Anderson, March 9, 2021

Schwartz previously attacked the de Blasio and the City Council for using the “Covid emergency” as an excuse to make `Open Restaurants Program’ permanent by passing a law (Intro 2127-A), November 15th of last year, that gave the mayor’s Department of Transportation and whatever any other agency the mayor designated unfettered power to create a permanent program to give the streets away for ‘restaurants.’  In the lawsuit Schwartz brought pro bono (representing an ad hoc coalition of community groups under the umbrella name “New Yorkers for Safe Open Streets” a.k.a. S.O.S.) Schwarz pointed out that this extensive delegation of power to the mayor and his agencies  amounted to “unconstitutional” changes to the city’s zoning laws bypassing community input and  “totally ignoring” the City Charter’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a process that specifically requires zoning change review by community boards, the borough presidents, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

Schwartz said that the permanent long-term giveaway of streets to neighboring properties was a privatizing handout to landlords, and that:    

basically, property owners would be able to charge higher rents due to the permanent availability of the parking lane for use for additional seating.
In other words, with higher rents being charged, there would be no benefit to restaurants or restaurant owners.

Ultimately, the community activist attorney* said, the Open Restaurants program post-COVID would not benefit restaurants, only landlord property owners who would be able to charge higher rents due to the permanent availability of the parking lane for use for additional seating.  “You can’t be doing this without any parameters at all,” says Schwartz adding to his objections, “there isn’t even the slightest framework to hem in the mayor and his agencies from doing absolutely anything they want or can imagine.”

(* NOTE: Arthur Schwartz is the same community activist attorney who successfully represented WBAI free speech radio, "Radio for the 99.5%," the only truly listener supported public radio station in New York City, in fending off a potentially privatizing attack on the station that involved the surreptitious and illegal shutdown of the station in October 2019.)                       
The Village Sun article includes this overview analysis by Schwartz, “speaking to The Village Sun,” he said:

what is currently being seen with the Open Restaurants diktat is part of a wider problem of community disenfranchisement perpetrated by City Hall.

“To me,” he said, “it’s part of an approach taken by the city that is also reflected in the recent proposal by [Council Speaker] Corey Johnson to create a ‘zoning czar’ that would shorten the ULURP process, where decision making on land use is getting more and more centralized and less involving the affected communities. This is imposing the will of the mayor on communities without their having a say.”

Those of us who have been watching the effect of Covid on city real estate are worried that this will also compound consolidating ownership: Are we are going to be seeing greater consolidation of property ownership in a city where a limited number of real estate families already dominate excessively given the squeeze of high property high taxes from a stressed city in need of income while store fronts are vacant as Mom and Pops close because of the virus?  Mom and Pops, unlike the big box stores, don’t have a parallel web-sales presence to help carry them through.  Big real estate owners also seem to have an affinity for big-box chain stores where they can replicate deals over swaths of property. . . All this in a city where City Hall has been handing out huge acreage swath to single owners, like the Atlantic Yards (now “Pacific Park”) project, Hudson Yards, Willets Point, the Columbia takeover of West Harlem, etc. often with the aid of eminent domain abuse seizures of property from smaller owners. And now public streets and sidewalks will be consolidated in that ownership.

Mayor de Blasio has defended making the `Open Restaurants Program’  permanent saying that assuring that permanence will induce the construction of sturdier outdoor enclosures to accommodate restaurant patrons.  He notes that many of the streeteries initially built last spring were ramshackle affairs, thrown up often so improvisationally that they constitute unsettling eyesores to the community.  "Knowing that you can keep, rather than quickly scrap what you build, will generate investment in far lovelier enclosures as people think in terms of a future and build with that in mind," said de Blasio.  

Irving Place is one of the streets where sturdy streeteries are expected to be greatly expanded under the new de Blasio permanence program.


Mayor de Blasio’s new edition of the `Open Restaurants Program’ is supposed to be initially be launched mostly by new regulations issued by the mayor. Ideas for it started to get generated when Evan Moore a Department of Transportation Deputy Director was conferring and trading expertise and thoughts with Max Tolstoy of the Department of Buildings.  With the streeteries built last year becoming more permanent and with the continuing need for such legal “outdoor” spaces to accommodate patrons given the prospective bans on indoor restaurant space, a number of the streeteries were informing the city that they were going with the expedient of building second stories to their “outdoor” space.

Moore and Tolstoy quickly realized there were implications to be considered.   For instance: `Should staircases meet any prescribed code standards?’  This led to trying to think through possibilities through on a more integrated basis.  `Should second stories only be permitted for those who had built sturdier structures making use of the outdoors, for instance, those with locking doors, and operable glass windows?’ Then it was realized that with outdoor staircases possible, maybe even lifts and sidewalk elevators being used, especially if wheel chair access is to be nondiscriminatorily provided, why not consider putting some of the new outdoor space structures on the roofs of shorter buildings?

Irving Place is a good small street to see in microcosm many solid doors and sturdy operable windows on streeteries.

Thinking multidimensionally this way, and thinking of building upwards in general, Moore and Tolstoy realized they had a tool to work with that they hadn’t been thinking about, known to those who understand the zoning code and regulations as "FAR," for Floor to Area Ratio.  The FAR concept, already in the code and thus already available, prescribes that how much and how tall you can build in terms of total square footage will be determined as a multiple of the dimensions of the real estate you own absent any structures.  Thus, formally recognizing the right to permanently occupy what was parking lane space as the addition to the owned property that it actually is, means that all building owners with such space attached have additional FAR with which to build higher and more real estate.

Mr. De Blasio, immediately blessed this concept with the caveat that any new space built with the additional FAR coming available would have to be deemed “outdoor” space for a period of time, a period of time that would also have to have some conceptual relation to the period of time that people think that Covid, at least as a crisis, is expected to be around.  Furthermore, the space would also have to be deemed restaurant space throughout that period.  De Blasio further specified that, somewhat along the lines of some of the legal concepts of `adverse possession’ or `possession is nine-tenths of the law,’ the Moore Tolstoy Open Restaurants Program should henceforth start requiring that parking lane street acquisitions and everything built under the program should be built with a certain level of sturdiness and meet certain minimums of protected enclosure in order to be considered certifiably consummated.

On 19th Street and Park Avenue, one of the city's streeteries is now rebuilding in a sturdier fashion planning to take advantage of de Blasio program loans for structures of greater permanence.


“But you can’t just expect that people will be able to do all this building under the program with insufficient resources to do so,” said de Blasio.  That is why eligible owners applying to City Hall for approval will be able to take out loans from the city, “Sturdier Construction Underwriting Motivation” loans.  Modeling the program on the federal Covid program Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, these loans will likewise be forgiven if the structures built are sturdy enough to stand for one year.  The loans will be funded by tax-exempt bonds issued by Goldman Sachs.  The City’s former deputy mayor for housing under de Blasio, Alicia Glen will get a finder's fee for the bond transaction.  Although Glen is not now with Goldman, she came to work for de Blasio as Deputy Mayor for Housing from her previous position with Goldman where she led Goldman Sachs’s Urban Investment Group.  Glen said that it required a lot of thinking, `to whom the loans should go,' but that Goldman was advising that loans should, for logical reasons, go to the property owners, not the restaurant operators.  She said this was the advice the city was going to go with.

Most of the streeteries on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, the neighborhood from which de Blasio originally hails, are expected to go to two story editions

Because most of the loans are expected to be forgiven rather than repaid, the source of funds for bond repayment will have to come form another source.  Goldman has decided the bonds will be tax-increment bonds.  Instead of any repayment funds having to come from the real property owners acquiring new properties and building rights under the program, the bonds will be paid off by higher taxes (tax-increments) that the rest of each neighborhood’s properties will pay. This is justified, says Glen, by the additional value and overall uplift the new building and dining spots will add to the neighborhoods.  To encourage their acquisitions, the street property acquiring owners will be exempt from real estate taxes for five years.

Arthur Schwartz says he will fight the new Moore Tolstoy Open Restaurants Program for all the same exact reasons he brought his lawsuit against de Blasio’s initial Intro 2127-A version of the program prior to these new expansive interpretations, and he emphasizes that this version has all those same faults, flaws and unconstitutionalities, while at the same time "being ten times worse" . .  Schwartz says he is absolutely confident he will prevail. . .

. . . Nevertheless, mayor de Blasio is set to boldly announce, in a press conference today, the Moore Tolstoy Open Restaurants Program along with Goldman's imminent issuance of its tax-increment bonds for  the“Sturdier Construction Underwriting Motivation” ("SCUM") program loans.  That should make a lot of restaurant landlords happy, this first day of April, April 1st.


Another streeterie in Park Slope that just went to two stories in March.

And one more