Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dear Mr. Bloomberg, . . . . . the Harm and the Foul

I have written a number of letters to the politicians who represent us, calling for them to take responsible action on Atlantic Yards.

One of these letters was already shared via an Atlantic Yards Report post about the letter I wrote and the ill-thought-out response I got from the Mayor: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 “Last month, Bloomy was offering a boilerplate defense of AY”.

I have done my best to tailor the letters to the political representatives to whom I sent them.

In a series of posts I will share the letters I sent and I invite others to borrow freely from them in structuring their own letters.

In addition to the letter I got back from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, I got a response from Eliot Spitzer when he was still governor. More on that later.

I begin this series with the already public letter to Bloomberg, and I refer you to the aforementioned Atlantic Yards Report post for the response I received on his behalf and an excellent analysis of it.

The letter, which is CCed to Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, addresses the surmise that Bloomberg and others do not “truly understand how bad the proposed Atlantic Yards project is.” Indications since that time are quite clear that Bloomberg and Doctoroff at least eventually understood the project to be bad: See: Atlantic Yards As Political Hot Potato (my MDDW comment).

May 10, 2007

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Re: The harm and the foul.

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

As a lawyer who has recently exited more than a quarter century of public service, I fully appreciate your reported impatience with adhering to proper public process and your desire to find developmental shortcuts. Also, as the expression goes when process is sidestepped or technically avoided, “Where there is no harm, there is no foul.” But Atlantic Yards is not in this category: It is a stark example of where the sidestepping of process is the instrument being used to deliver the foul.

When I was in government, we had a standard we looked at as a condition to using the powers of the Urban Development Corporation (aka the Empire State Development Corporation). Though the statutory powers of the Corporation might be virtually unfettered, the standard we considered was that we would never use the powers of the Corporation if using them would result in the legislature subsequently taking those powers away. Ergo, the powers should be used only to do what is clearly good and about which there can be a fair degree of reasonable public consensus.

As a real estate development and public finance professional, I can find no shortage of colleagues who seriously question what you are doing with Atlantic Yards. Few believe you or various other elected officials truly understand how bad the proposed Atlantic Yards project is or the terrifically negative legacy it will represent. The consensus approaches unanimity. Nevertheless, there is a desperate shortage of professionals who are willing to express their extreme concerns directly to you.

To be a good project, the Atlantic Yard project should be high density, but needs to be reduced to an appropriate high density. In other words, it needs to be a much lower density than you propose. It needs to be properly and much more carefully designed. That includes properly oriented green space and avoiding most, if not all of the proposed street closings. (Probably, in addition, additional streets should be opened.) It means that the project should be broken up into many smaller parcels that can be properly and fairly bid upon by developers who feel they are actually free to make such bids. Doing so will almost certainly, and appropriately, mean that the overall development will have multiple builders. Plans for unnecessary and destructive condemnations such as that of the Ward Bakery building should be abandoned. In most respects your model for what should be done here in terms of process and quality of design should be Battery Park City.

My wife and I support you for having been the “business mayor” and there are many things we would like get behind you on like congestion pricing, (about which we have heard Deputy Mayor Doctoroff speak eloquently), sustainability and, in general, building for a bigger and better future city. Nevertheless, in assessing your record, a former boss of mine had an expression: “100 `at-a-boys’ are wiped out by only one `Oh sh*t’.” I am afraid that is the territory we are in.

If the Atlantic Yards project is ever built in any version approximate to what you have been promoting, not only will everyone experience its blight in ways they might not now all fully anticipate, but in the future people are likely to say: “After Mayor Bloomberg’s Atlantic Yards was completed, the State Legislature stripped ESDC of its condemnation powers and the city Charter was amended to prevent City investment in huge capital projects that have not been ULURPed.”


Michael D. D. White

CC: Daniel L. Doctoroff

No comments: