Friday, July 29, 2005

Wal-Mart and Neighborhoods

As you all know, we are firm believers in the value of the neighborhood commercial strip and see Wal-Mart as a major threat to this crucial aspect of New York City’s economy. The good folks at No Cleveland Wal-Mart posted some excellent commentary on this very point:

The business plan of Steelyard Commons is to pull lots of the local customers away from neighborhood retail nodes, effectively wiping them out. That’s not scare talk… it’s a simple statement of obvious fact. SYC’s big anchor is Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart wouldn’t play unless it could sell food. The principal market area for a SuperCenter is generally described as two miles around for food, and five miles around for other goods (that’s why so many small cities are seeing one built at each end of town).

By supporting — pushing, celebrating — this SYC/Wal-Mart business plan, the Campbell Administration is abandoning the City’s twenty-year commitment to food-anchored neighborhood shopping districts in these and (eventually) other neighborhoods.
The below-mentioned Mary Gallagher also has a interesting piece on the economics of box stores and whether it makes financial sense to lure big boxes at the expense of neighborhood retail.

Wal-Mart, Traffic and Developer Dishonesty

Mary Gallagher, a longtime opponent of box stores and proponent of neighborhood vitality, references our Wal-Mart traffic post on her website Big Cities, Big Boxes:

One of BCBB's chief reasons for urging the people of New York City to hold a serious debate on the conditions we want to impose on the big box stores is the fact that big boxes usually demand the use of automobiles. New York is a transit-oriented city, but the big boxes are suburban, automobile-dependent stores. The big boxes cause substantial increases in traffic. Traffic is objectionable in itself, of course, but more important, it will quickly affect our urban way of life. More traffic means demands for more parking. More parking means more sprawl. More sprawl means less urban density. Less urban density means a decline in walkable neighborhood shopping streets.
Gallagher also mentions the dishonesty of developer EIS reports vis-à-vis traffic, specifically citing the Ikea case in Redhook:

The New York City Planning Commission has allowed developers to submit Environmental Impact Statements that grossly misrepresent the traffic congestion these stores cause. In the Ikea application for a zoning change on the Red Hook waterfront, the City Planning Commission tolerated an EIS with obvious gaps in the disclosure of traffic impacts. The EIS didn't even nod to the increase in congestion that the largest Ikea store in the world, at 346,000 square feet, would cause on the already-jammed Gowanus Expressway, the only highway shoppers could use to get to the store.

What’s $41 Million Dollars Between Friends?

Part of the sweetheart deal to redevelop the Bronx Terminal includes swapping the City-owned Bronx House of Detention (HOD) for a parcel now being leased by the Related Companies. The original intent of this agreement was that Related would build an Olympic Velodrome on its land, transfer it to the city and be compensated with the 288,000 gross sq. ft. on which sits the now defunct jail.

During the City Council’s hearing on the fate of the Terminal Market merchants, EDC President Alper stated that no appraisal of the HOD was needed because he assumed the city was getting a better if not comparable deal. His exchange with Council Member Monseratte is very elucidating:

Mr. Alper: So no appraisal is necessary, Councilman.

COUNCIL MEMBER MONSERRATE: No appraisal, so you don't know what the property is worth?

Mr. Alper: I know it's worth the same or less than the property they're giving up. Do you understand that?

COUNCIL MEMBER MONSERRATE: And how much is that property worth?

MR. ALPER: It doesn't matter. It's in-kind –
There are two problems with Alper’s testimony. The first is that New York City’s Economic Development Corporation should not be “assuming” a property’s value especially when it is transferring that property, sole-sourced, to a private entity. This is not only unprofessional, but it smacks of favoritism especially considering the political connections of the Related Companies.

The second issue is, with the Olympic bid dead, what and how much land is the City getting in return for the HOD and how will it be used? The only thing we do know, according to a government appraisal (block 2357, lot 1), is that the City-owned land is worth 41,000,000 dollars. Why is EDC handing over this valuable property to Related without an upfront payment and without the public knowing what it’s getting in return?

The HOD lease transfer (registration may be required) occurred on May 14th, 2004 barely a month after Related bought out the old landlord, Buntzmann. So, before the ink is even dry on the “private” Terminal Market transfer, the City is compensating Related with land equal to the amount the developer paid to buy out the lease. But wait, Related used only $10 million its own money for the buyout; the rest was a loan from the Bank of America guaranteed by the City of New York! This is why, if the approvals for Gateway are not obtained, the City is obligated to buy back the site for $40 million.

How sweet it is to be a friend of the Deputy Mayor.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Malanga Maligning?

Steve Malanga, who we have had disagreements with over Wal-Mart and box store zoning issues, had a very incisive piece in yesterday’s New York Sun concerning the “anti-businesses policies of the Bloomberg administration.” He has a particularly jaundiced view of the mayor’s tax policy, especially vis-à-vis commercial real estate (something we have commented on prior). As Malanga points out:

The rising property taxes have put the squeeze on landlords and homeowners and have channeled billions out of the private economy that would otherwise have been used for reinvestment
Of particular interest to us, given the fact that we are often driven by self-regard, is Malanga’s citing of our comments made before the City Council that:

"This is the worst environment for small business in New York City in 20 years."
Curiously, Malanga attributes to this quote to “head of a neighborhood retail group” while later on in the article he cites the head of the City’s Small Business Congress and refers to Sung Soo Kim by name.

Come on Steve! We’ve had our differences in the past and will continue to disagree in the future but don’t you think that it was kind of petty to disembowel us like that? The fact is that it is precisely the anti-small business in New York City that colors the debate over box stores like Wal-Mart. It is true that stores like this locate in tax-reduced industrial zones and are less affected by the tax and regulatory climate that impacts their competitors on the neighborhood commercial strips.

It is because of the lack of a level playing field that small businesses are so outraged by the Mayor’s cheerleading for mega-developments. It seems to us that only when it comes to the aggrandizement of large real estate developers does the Mayor really find his pro-business, economic growth voice.

Sunday Parking Meters

We finally have found something that the Bloomberg Administration can be passionate about: the City Council’s ban on Sunday parking meters, a measure cosponsored by Councilmen Monserrate and Gentile. The level of vitriol, however, is hard to fathom. We watched yesterday as Commissioner Weinshall got red in the face at an impromptu news conference demonizing the legislation.

Why the emotion? It can’t be the money because, after all, 12 million bucks is pocket money and the mayor has shown himself to be resourceful at creatively finding ways to reach into the tax payer’s pocket. And what’s up with the mayor’s dig about the lack of “adults” over at the Council.

Our take is that John V. Bloomberg can’t stomach any measure that limits his ability to tax already overtaxed New Yorkers. All the folks over there in the tax-and-spend brigade have a concept of paternal, benevolent government, one whose beneficence it is our obligation to unquestionably support. All of the Commissioner’s comments on traffic flow were simply a hilarious attempt to cover up the belief in the government’s inherent and unquestioned right to demand tribute.

Oh yes. If the Commissioner is truly concerned with issues of traffic flow she might find a better use for her time examining the Pulitzer Prize level fiction traffic study submitted by the Related Companies on the Gateway Mall . She might also look for ways to provide more ample parking opportunities for neighborhood shopping areas.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


For local communities one of the most salient issues surrounding a proposed Wal-Mart is traffic. These people may have no ideological problem with the retailer but they become quite distressed when their already congested local roads are asked to accommodate the influx engendered by 200,000+ sq. ft. supercenters.

It is first important to examine exactly how many vehicle trips a Wal-Mart supercenter actually generates. According to the Institute of Traffic Engineers, a 200,000 sq. ft. discount center on average results in 76,232 car trips per week (with the high end of the range being 92,806).

Yet this astoundingly high number may in fact be much too conservative considering that the Institute’s traffic estimates for “regular sized” discount stores are actually higher than for the larger supercenters. This paradox became quite important when Wal-Mart wanted to build in Pasco County, FL:

If you build a regular Wal-Mart, the traffic experts say the store will draw 850 car trips during the busiest evening hour.

If you build a Wal-Mart Supercenter - which includes the regular store plus a full-service grocery store, hair salon, vision center and tire and lube express - those same experts say the store will draw only 750 car trips that hour.

If you think those numbers don't add up, you're not the only one.

County-hired engineers have been sparring for months with Wal-Mart engineers over the best way to estimate how many shoppers will visit the proposed supercenters in Holiday, Bayonet Point and Land O'Lakes.

Wal-Mart's engineers want to stick with the industry standard - the Institute of Transportation Engineers' Trip Generation Handbook - which estimates a lower traffic count for superstores than regular discount stores. The averages are based on traffic studies of other Wal-Marts, most of them paid for by the retail giant.

But the county's consultant, Tindale-Oliver and Associates, argues those numbers are "not logical."

After all, the supercenter is about a third larger than a regular store, "with a broader range of goods that would appeal to a larger sector of the shopping public," Tindale-Oliver wrote in a March 31 memo about the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter in Holiday.

Wal-Mart's consultant, Kimley-Horn and Associates, argues that supercenters draw fewer shoppers per hour because they are open around the clock. They also say the supercenter data, which is more recent, is more reliable than the regular discount store data.

The county's consultant wasn't convinced.
This Florida case reinforces the need for an independent traffic analysis when Wal-Mart decides it wants to site in an area. As we’ve said previously, the sole job of a developer–hired consultant is to minimize the project’s impact so that it will face less resistance. According to these liars-for-hire, traffic never is a problem and can always be mitigated with better timed traffic signals, left hand turn lanes and improved off ramps.

Residents opposed to a Wal-Mart in the Tri-Lakes area of Colorado saw this whitewashing in action. By approaching an independent engineer the anti-Wal-Mart coalition was able to deconstruct the study:

The Developer's traffic study shows that the Wal-Mart retail center including lots 2 and 3 would generate a total of about 11,936 vehicle trips per day.

The traffic study estimates that 34% of these trips would be by passers-by, that is, by people who are on their way to another destination via Baptist. An experienced traffic engineer we consulted feels that since Wal-Mart is considered a "destination store", 20 to 25% is a more realistic factor.

Another questionable assumption is that the satellite businesses would be "general retail." It is far more likely that the businesses that lease lots 2 and 3 would be a fast food restaurant, convenience store, drive-through bank or gas station. This more realistic assumption would generate two to four times the traffic assumed in the Developer's traffic study.

Using the conservative 25% passer-by figure (rather than the unrealistic 34%) and doubling the assumed trips generated by lots 2 and 3, the projection for the proposed Wal-Mart is 10,968 new trips per day not 7,598 as shown in the latest traffic study. View the details of this calculation of Wal-Mart Trips. For comparison, the traffic study shows 9,500 trips per day as the current load on Baptist Road. If this Wal-Mart proposal is approved, traffic would more than double to over 20,000 trips per day.
A similar situation occurred in Gresham, Oregon where the developer’s traffic study estimated:

The complex will generate 290 new trips during weekday morning peak hours, 635 new trips during weekday afternoon peak hours and 1,010 new trips during Saturday peak hours, according to an estimate that Kittelson & Associates gave to Gresham city planners in late March.
Wal-Mart’s traffic analysts assured that they could mitigate this impact:

Wal-Mart's traffic analysts said the retailer could make changes to local roads to prevent serious traffic jams and safety problems; it plans to spend about $2 million in fixes and in traffic fees.
However, according to a traffic consultant hired by GreshamFirst, a group opposed to Wal-Mart coming to their community:

Some of Wal-Mart's proposed fixes, such as better timing of traffic lights, may not solve jams or safety problems, Nys wrote. Others may prove unsafe, Nys wrote, such as allowing drivers to turn left from Powell on a flashing yellow arrow if they don't see oncoming traffic.

Still other changes are the responsibility of other developers, and Wal-Mart shouldn't assume that they will be built, Nys wrote. In some cases, Wal-Mart's traffic consultants didn't provide enough correct information for the city to make a decision, he wrote.
GreshamFirst Board Member Javon Gilmore responded to the new revelations about the proposed development, saying that:

The congestion it could create makes it a bad fit for an area the city has designated as a transit corridor and commercial area for residents' day-to-day needs, Gilmore wrote. The store could hurt police and fire department response times, partly because of congestion and partly because of the store's needs on issues such as shoplifting, Gilmore wrote.
Another Oregon case demonstrates the difference between Wal-Mart’s analyses and reality. The following is from an article entitled “Study: Wal-Mart Will Clog Streets:”

A third traffic study has confirmed earlier findings of the Oregon Department of Transportation that the proposed Central Point Wal-Mart could clog streets and cause traffic backups onto Interstate 5.

On the opening day of the proposed 207,000-square-foot Supercenter, traffic volumes would either exceed or come close to exceeding roadway capacity, predicts JRH Engineering of Eugene.

"It’s either just failing or it’s just passing," said JRH President Jim Hanks.

Both the JRH and ODOT studies conflict with the findings of Kittelson and Associates of Portland, a company hired by Wal-Mart to determine the potential effects of a Supercenter on traffic.
Wal-Mart has also clogged streets in Maine where:

At lunch- time on Sunday, the line of vehicles snaking down the northern end of Upper Main Street reaches 40 cars deep.

Honking starts as drivers wait to make the left turn into Waterville Commons to get to the Wal-Mart Supercenter. Jostling for space ensues as some drivers try to cut in line.

Tempers and traffic safety are wearing thin as the queue of cars grows outside the retail giant's new outlet.

"It's terrible," said Larry Dickey, a Waterville man who was visiting the new Wal-Mart for the first time Sunday. "It took me 15 minutes to get from McDonald's (on Upper Main Street) to here. It needs another lane, I would say."

Since Wal-Mart opened its new Supercenter on Wednesday, Upper Main Street has seen a surge in traffic jams. Vehicle lines at lunchtime and after office hours reach as far as a half-mile down the thoroughfare.
Developers have also downplayed traffic impacts in town like Wallace, Idaho and Columbia, Missouri where a developer-sponsored study had the audacity to claim:

“Building a Wal-Mart Supercenter on a larger site on Columbia’s west side would improve traffic flow.”
These examples are not the only instances of Wal-Mart’s traffic impact causing communities to worry and, in some cases, reject the store:

In Newport News the Planning Commission rejected Wal-Mart’s application due to traffic concerns and the development’s proximity to a residential neighborhood.

The same occurred in Asheville, Buckeye, and Windsor, where the 4,200 new daily car trips generated by Wal-Mart would directly threaten schools close by.

All of this is important to New York City, especially to the outer borough neighborhoods that Wal-Mart is looking to enter into. It will be important to conduct an independent traffic analyses and for various NYC neighboorhoods to then use this data to decide whether it wants Wal-Mart as a neighbor.

Wal-Mart and Labor

An article in today’s Daily News is predicting that the split in big labor could prove to be a boon to the local Wal-Mart organizing effort. The scuttlebutt is that the money previously funneled to the AFL-CIO will now be channeled into organizing campaigns at Wal-Mart and Federal Express.

Another good sign in the wake of the AFL-CIO defections is that local labor leaders are going to try to continue cooperating. As State Fed leader Dennis Hughes says:

"This is a national disagreement. On the local level, we have great relationships with these people," he said. "We're determined to get through this."
Even the Daily News editorial page, not known for its friendly labor positions, sees a potential positive result in the labor split if the new entity goes after Wal-Mart. The money quote:

Stamping a union label on Wal-Mart, for example, would be a shining badge of success.

Eminent Domain

As we predicted, there is a flurry of bi-partisan activity in Albany to curb the excesses of eminent domain (see today's Crain's Insider). Richard Brodsky, already out in front on the issue, has a bill that would restrict the state’s taking power without local approval. Even more interesting is a bill being drafted by Assemblyman Roger Green that adopts a California definition of blight and “says companies should share profits with homeowners they displace.”

Republican legislators are drafting more restrictive bills that would more narrowly define just what public use is and would also restrict eminent domain to blighted areas. Clearly, all of the proposed bills have features that merit further attention and we’re hoping that any legislative action will be preceded by hearings on all points of the proposed statutes.

Billionaires for Bloomberg

In yesterday’s Times Jim Rutenberg did an interesting story on all the big money Democrats who have essentially closed their checkbooks to the candidates seeking to run against Mike Bloomberg. Nothing could be a better illustration of the bankruptcy of the Democratic Party, a party that has become an elite ensemble of wealthy liberals, academics and media folks. In the process, the average worker is basically unrepresented and regular neighborhood people are eschewed.

All of this reminds us just how much Bloomberg has become the reincarnation of John Lindsay, a theme E.J. Dionne elaborates on in the Washington Post. The limousine liberals have taken over and this is not good news for small businesses and neighborhood concerns as far as the expected sympathies of a Bloomberg second term are concerned.

On the other hand, this situation creates an opportunity for these neglected constituencies, especially when it comes to the City Council. Clearly, the power of the Mayor, perhaps enhanced by a robust victory in the fall, will need to be checked by a vigorous Council. The evidence from his first term suggests a father knows best superciliousness and we can anticipate that an overwhelming victory will only embolden Bloomberg even more.

That being said, we should all welcome the challenge since the Mayor’s lack of policy acumen, when combined with a sense of invulnerability, will offer opponents a rich opportunity to bring him down a few pegs. Certainly, we believe that the Wal-Mart fight will be one of these issues and, perhaps, eminent domain and the Willets Point merchants will be another.

We also believe that a second term will be a time to expose the Mayor’s bankrupt solid waste plan and will give opponents the opportunity to demonstrate just how lacking in imagination this mayor is. Yet, even while saying this, we will continue, in Socratic fashion, to offer the kind of advice that we believe will be helpful to the Mayor so that he can avoid policy disasters.

In the meantime, we continue to hope that the Democratic Party will produce candidates that reflect the concerns of homeowners and small business. Bloomberg’s hijacking of the Republican Party has obviously foreclosed this avenue in the current election cycle since no one has the skill or the imagination to get to the Mayor’s right flank.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Where’s the Fourth Estate?

Over the past few months the local papers have been hammering the Democratic candidates for mayor, embellishing ad nausea the pratfalls and the missteps. Amidst all of this negative scrutiny, however, one thing stands out: the relative lack of criticism of the incumbent.

Though the mayor has spent an unprecedented $23 million so far, the press, especially various editorial pages, hasn’t uttered a peep about his obscene expenditure (even though it contradicts what the Mayor had said we would do if he decided to run for reelection). Where is the New York Times, the greatest champion of campaign reform when it comes to national political campaigns (to be fair: unlike its editorial board, some of the paper’s reporters are asking questions). Doesn’t the fact that the Mayor has already spent more than all of what his potential rivals combined have raised give the Grey Lady just a bit of agita?

In addition, what about the Mayor’s philanthropic spending? What about the money that was raised for NYC 2012 from potential city vendors? It has been left to Anne Michaud of Crains to do a hard boiled analysis of the Mayor’s deal making and flip flops. The money quote:

Mr. Bloomberg’s practical deal making, free of ideology, causes him to swing widely on issues. After the West Side stadium project died, the mayor started touting an Olympic stadium in Queens, a plan he had previously derided…
That’s just a nice way to say that the Mayor has absolutely no philosophy or guiding principles. As Professor Muzio says in the same Michaud article, “Since the mayor has no fixed vision he’s totally flexible and that’s what businessmen are.”

Ah but in all of this pragmatic deal making there may actually be an idée fixe: small folks are always expendable to the larger development scheme. Whether it’s the West Side, Willets Point or the Bronx Terminal Market, that one view characterizes all of the Mayor’s thinking.

The corollary to the edifice complex is, of course, that there are some people whose excellence causes them to stand out from the rest. These are the best and the brightest, the mega-rich like Steve Ross and Steve Roth who stand ready to replace the unwashed masses and lesser folks with bright new shopping malls.

These people are given special dispensation and are entrusted with New York City’s future due to the merit supposedly inherent in their great wealth. This logic is, to the similarly endowed mayor, self-evident (and the details are left to Deputy Dealer Dan to implement).

So we hold our collective breaths waiting for the editorial outrage, the exposés and the hard-hitting investigations (for instance, does anyone know that the mayor has quietly put an additional $1 billion into the city’s education budget in the attempt to purchase the extra points in reading and math?). In the meantime, as the Mayor continues to spend his millions, we have to be content with Freddy’s Diallo gaffe, Virginia’s picture cropping and Miller’s mailings.

Wal-Mart and Censorship

The Pensacola News Journal is no longer sold at local Wal-Marts because a columnist had the audacity to criticize the big box retailer. According to editor Randy Hammer:

The store ordered us off their property, told us to come pick up our newspaper racks and clear out.

So we did.


Some managers at Wal-Mart didn't appreciate a column Mark O'Brien wrote last month about the downside of the cheap prices that Sam Walton's empire has brought to America. We all pay a little less, and sometimes a lot less, at the grocery store and department store because of Mr. Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart.


Bob Hart, one of the upper managers for the Wal-Marts in the area, called me and said he didn't like Mark's column, didn't like a lot of Mark's columns.

I might understand it if Wal-Mart said I ought to fire Mark because what he said wasn't accurate. But that isn't the case. Mark accurately reported that there are 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees in a health-care program that is costing Georgia taxpayers nearly $10 million a year.

Shouldn't we talk about that?

When we stop listening to people on the other side of the fence, when we try to silence and even punish people for thinking differently than we do and raising facts and figures we don't like, well, we won't be red, white and blue anymore.


That's why Mark still has a job and you can't buy a Pensacola News Journal at Wal-Mart anymore

The Economics of Big Box Development

In Macleans magazine, Steve Maich pens a piece entitled, “Why Wal-Mart is Good.” In it he partially focuses on the Western Cleveland’s proposed Steelyard Commons development which will have Wal-Mart as an anchor. Maich touts the economic value of this potential big-box center:

Soon, however, this site will also be a symbol of renewal. In May, work began on what will be the first big-box shopping centre in this city of 500,000 people. It's called Steelyard Commons, and will include a Target store, a Home Depot, a Staples, plus restaurants and smaller businesses. It's expected to bring close to 2,000 jobs to the city identified as the most impoverished urban area in the U.S. in the 2004 census. Unemployment here runs at 11 per cent -- roughly double the national average.
As we have pointed out, these numbers have no basis in reality and are often propagated by biased consultants and certain elected officials looking to exploit job numbers for political gain. Take a look at No Cleveland Wal-Mart’s post on the issue, including their very true statements:

The developers and city administration have been selling this as “creating decent jobs and fueling economic growth“.

We’re the only ones who’ve questioned - does it?

Bronx Merchants Won't Be Mall-ified

Anne Michaud, writing in Crains, gives an overview of the situation at the Bronx Terminal Market. She quotes the Alliance's Richard Lipsky who, talking about EDC's response to the merchants' relocation plan, states:

"EDC responded by essentially telling the merchants to drop dead."

And, for those interested, here is the City Council's report on Terminal Market hearing held in June. It comes down pretty hard on the City and EDC.

For Jack Lester

The Alliance rarely does political endorsements but in the case of Jack Lester an exception is more than justified. We have worked with Jack for over 10 years and there is no one running for the Council today who has a longer and more meritorious record on the defense of neighborhoods and small business.

In the early nineties Jack led the fight against a giant Toys-R-Us on the Upper East Side and later in the decade worked with us in putting together the coalition that eventually defeated the Costcos on the West Side. One of his primary campaign issues: Neighborhood control over large scale development projects requiring zoning changes. Needless to say, Jack Lester would be a major voice for accountable development in the City Council.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Bloomberg Challenges Ognibene’s Signatures

Most of the local press is reporting that Mayor Bloomberg, reversing his earlier position on the issue of ballot challenges, had decided to challenge the nominating signatures of Tom Ognibene. The Mayor clearly wants to avoid an annoying primary, one that would at the every least expose his lack of an real Republican or conservative credentials (no one seriously thinks that Tom could beat Bloomberg since everyone, including the voters apparently, has been bought and paid for).

What the mayor wants everyone to forget is what he told the New York Sun last year: that ballot challenges are like a “cottage industry” where you try to avoid having to “beat the other guy based on positions or your ability to serve.” After saying this, the mayor went on to advocate the end to this “gotcha” technique.

Now, however, the Mayor’s head has apparently cleared and expedience steamrolls principal, as it always has for the philosophically-neutered mayor. What it points to, though, is the increasing dangers involved in a second term for Mike Bloomberg. If the Mayor has no real bedrock beliefs there is literally nothing he won’t do, particularly if he no longer is forced to appeal to crass mass sentiment.

Perhaps the Democratic challengers should invite Tom Ognibene to a press conference where all of them could link arms and expose this chameleon for the insincere man he apparently is. Time is running out on all of them.

Update: Interesting. A search of Bloomberg News for Ognibene results in 0 hits.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Come on Freddy, It’s Time to Step Up for the Neighborhood

It was just a little unsettling to see the Manhattan Republic Party (Is it more than James Ortenzio and his few close friends?) send out some negative literature questioning Freddy Ferrer on his abortion stand. It seems that our faux Republican mayor is doing what his taller and better looking (Sorry Dr. Melfi) predecessor John Lindsay did in 1969: go to the left of his Democratic opponent.

This is good politics, of course, but it does open the door for our putative Democratic nominee to smartly return the favor by getting to the right our Silk Stocking, bien-pensant liberal. The way to do it is to emulate the campaign strategy of Bob Coleman in Pittsburgh. Coleman, the likely winner of that city’s November mayoral election is running on a platform of neighborhood importance. As he has said:

“Across the country, people want to come back to cities and neighborhoods. They want Main Streets and they want their kids on Main Street."
In 1997, Freddy Ferrer did begin to run as an outer borough Catholic candidate who happened to be Puerto Rican. It’s not too late for him to go back to the future and there are a number of powerful issues, so far unexploited, that can still paint Mike Bloomberg as the out-of-touch Manhattan liberal, insensitive to the concerns of New York’s neighborhoods.

Here are a few suggestions:

1) Property Tax Reductions – The mayor leveled all kinds of charges about Mark Green being a tax and spend liberal during the run up to the 2001 election. So, what did he do once elected? He raised property taxes to obscenely high levels, hurting homeowners and neighborhood store keepers. Freddy needs to simply stand up and say he will roll back every single nickel of that tax increase;

2) Eminent Domain – The mayor has already staked out a position on Willets Point, eloquently expressed in his remark that “the land is too valuable for the businesses that are on it.” What Bloomberg fails to realize is that the Willets Point Merchants, along with all of the others threatened with expulsion in Brooklyn and Harlem, can symbolize the fears of the average homeowner.

We were casually reminded about the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision last week when, during a meeting with the Tottenville Civic Association, we were surprised by the vehemence of June Delaney’s response. Delaney, the head of the association, expressed deep opposition and concern about the use of eminent domain to expel people from their homes. As we have already pointed out, this issue has the real potential to become a left-right galvanizer if it is nurtured properly.

3) Expulsion of the Bronx Terminal Market Merchants – While we realize that this issue creates some delicate political problems for Freddy with his Bronx supporters, it also has the potential to distance himself from a deal that, if properly framed, could help to portray the Mayor and Deputy Doctoroff as elitists whose only concern is for the rich and powerful. Even though the BTM merchants are only tenants, their expulsion in favor of Steve Ross’s Related Company has exquisite synergy with the whole eminent domain issue.

In addition, the BTM controversy can be used to demonstrate that the mayor does favor certain special interests in spite of his obvious lack of dependency on campaign contributions. A hot-wired real estate deal with all of its questions can be utilized to demonstrate just how the mayor lacks any real empathy for the little guy. Certainly, the letter from Terri Sasanow of the Corporation Council highlights the mind-over-matter sentiment that the mayor often expresses in unguarded moments: He doesn’t mind and you don’t matter.

4) Firehouse closings – This is another issue that crosses left-right and ethnic boundaries. The mayor, while larding up the police’s resources, has reduced neighborhood security through his cheapskate firehouse closing policy. What Freddy should do is to remind voters what a lame duck Mayor Bloomberg, unaccountable to anyone, will do should fiscal uncertainties once again rear up. We would point to the Dinkins doomsday list (at least 30-35 firehouses) and tell the folks that their neighborhood could very well be next.

5) Wal-Mart – The mayor has staked out his pro-Wal-Mart position but, as our discussions with neighborhood civic groups all over the city underscore, there is a great deal of conservative neighborhood opposition to the box store behemoth. In stressing this kind of opposition Freddy would also galvanize a great deal of the labor opposition to Wal-Mart as well.

Bold Strategy Needed

Put simply, Freddy needs to boldly go where most Democrats have been unable to go. He needs to begin to cultivate those outer borough neighborhood voters who now believe that their only choice is a mayor who clearly doesn’t represent their values or concerns but who appears to be the only viable option.

Neighborhoods Count

The New York Sun reprinted an interesting article by David Shribman that had originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The jump point of the piece was a new mall that had recently opened up in the Pittsburgh area with five sections called “neighborhoods.”

Shribman’s point was to stress just how important neighborhood values are even in today’s sprawl-dominated landscape. The sense of place and community, local responsibility and human courtesy are the values that he chooses to highlight.

The article also takes a shot at the Applebees “Neighborhood Bar and Grill,” and points out that a generic menu and décor and 1,700 outlets worldwide can’t be considered part of a distinctive local neighborhood. We do think, however, that Shribman misses a larger point. Applebees and the Pittsburgh mall, while trying to portray themselves as neighborhood-based, are part of a greater trend that has led to the death of these very neighborhoods: the malling of America.

It is like the tomato sauce that was marketing itself by claiming that 20 Italian grandmothers couldn’t replicate its “authentic” Italian flavor. The mass produced sauce substitutes for the real thing and then, voila, the real thing isn’t needed anymore, replaced by a mock-up that symbolizes its lost glory.

Neighborhoods and Small Business

Shribman also fails to mention the importance of the neighborhood store. When he talks about “walking down the street on a streaming July night with an ice cream cone and, even if you're new in town, running into at least one person per block whom you know,” he is talking about a Main Street that gets its very essence from the mom and pop stores that populate it.

We have made this argument a central feature of our conservative case against Wal-Mart but it is not only directed at the world’s largest retailer. It is about the importance of preserving the ecology of neighborhoods and the stores that give them their unique identity. That is what is so objectionable about the neighborhood facades constructed by mass marketers who, if left unopposed, will bury the last vestige of the real thing.

Friday, July 22, 2005


As we mentioned previously, Wal-Mart is trying to add beer and liquor to its enormous inventory. There was some protest from local business owners in Fayetteville, Arkansas but the Sam’s Club there obtained its permit:

The Alcohol Beverage Control Division board on Wednesday granted Sam’s Club a liquor permit to sell spirits from its planned store at 3081 Arkansas 112.
To get around local law that prevents a store like Sam’s Club from selling liquor:

Plans indicate the liquor store will be 6,458 square feet and will be accessible only through an entrance separate from the 136,440-square-foot retail center. The spaces also will have different employees, loading areas, heating and cooling units, utility meters and bank accounts.
Continuing with the booze news, a Wal-Mart in Wisconsin wants to vend beer:

While there has not been a vote yet, the Portage Legislative and Regulatory Committee is showing an apparent split on whether or not to give Wal-Mart a license to sell malt beverages.

Two committee members voiced possible support for an application from the company, while two indicated they had reservations over the number of existing establishments available in Portage to buy malt beverages.
Wal-Mart’s desire is to sell as many different types of merchandise as possible. Its portfolio is ever-expanding and small businesses in NYC that feel they are immune or will not be affected by the box store should take note. In fact, Wal-Mart is now looking to enter everything from banking to gasoline stations.

Wal-Mart on Staten Island Update

As we mentioned in a previous post, Wal-Mart and the Department of City Planning are in negotiations over a proposed site in Richmond Valley on the south shore of Staten Island. Though Wal-Mart is touting the supposedly high support on the Island for the box store, we believe there is a lot more opposition than meets the eye and that this opposition will increase in number and intensity as the store’s plans become more widely known.

During a meeting with June Delaney and members of the Tottenville Civic Association (Tottenville borders Richmond Valley) one of the greatest fears was the increase in traffic that a Wal-Mart would cause. Remember, Statens Island’s road infrastructure is already at or above capacity and the access points that would lead into the proposed Wal-Mart are all old, two-lane roads. Ms. Delaney and the others were concerned about the effect of 50,000 extra weekly car trips on their already congested neighborhood. The folks in Tottenville also stated that members of other surrounding civic associations, including the Richmond Valley group, have similar reservations about the project. Simply put, they don’t see the need for this big box store in their already overdeveloped community.

Another point brought up was that the proposed Wal-Mart location is a superfund site that needs to be cleaned up. Regardless of what is put there, community members worry about whether the site can be cleaned up properly and whether construction will negatively impact local aquifers and other bodies of water. This concern was echoed by the National Resources Protection Association, a Staten Island-based environmental group that also has serious doubts about Wal-Mart. Jim Scarcella, President of the NRPA, told us that a number of other SI groups also are concerned about the potential environmental impacts of a 200,000 sq. ft behemoth.

Much has been made of Wal-Mart’s burden on tax payers (e.g. workers on public health care, the cost of infrastructure improvements) and Staten Islanders are listening closing to this line of reasoning. Nothing aggravates folks in Richmond Valley more than seeing tax dollars being wasted and for this reason groups like the SI Partnership for Community Wellness and the Staten Island Tax Payers Association, led by Dee Vandenberg, do not want a Wal-Mart coming to SI.

Staten Island is burdened by traffic and overdevelopment and, we predict, as more people pay attention to Wal-Mart’s negative side-effects – especially those who live closest to the proposed sites – there will be tremendous opposition.

Russell Harding Goes to Jail

After a long, agonizing period of feigned mental illness Russell Harding, the symbol of the Giuliani administration’s slogan, “one city, one standard,” finally got sentenced for stealing from the NYC Housing Development Corporation, the agency he was unqualified to run in the first place. Only the Times story, however, alludes to Harding’s father Ray who was the recognized patronage king of the former mayor’s reign.

We bring up the Giuliani slogan because Harding symbolizes the blatant hypocrisy of the Giuliani years where nothing, except perhaps law enforcement, was done without pure, unadulterated political considerations. Though, when you consider the reasons for firing Bill Bratton, not even law enforcement can be considered above crass politics.

We bring this up because we just returned from Staten Island were we are working with local civic groups on the anti-Wal-Mart campaign. About ten years ago the first BJ’s was defeated in the Charleston neighborhood at the behest of their councilmember, now Judge, John Fusco. You see, this was in the middle of Giuliani’s promotion of his megastore policy which, in his usual fashion, he subordinated to his own political interests.

In fact, without Giuliani realizing it, he and the Alliance made a fine team together. Whenever there was a megastore proposal in a community that had supported the former mayor we went in, helped the local civics organize the anti-development effort and, once done, sat back and let the Giuliani do his thing. And do he did – in Forest Hills, Mill Basin, and Bay Ridge the ex-mayor stepped in to prevent the very kind of stores he argued were vital to the city’s economy.

This brings us to a Wal-Mart point. No matter how much rhetorical and theoretical support for the store exists in the City, it all comes down to location and it will be those locations that will step up to defeat the behemoth.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Wal-Mart and Organized Labor

Juan Gonzales writes today in the Daily News about the looming potential schism in the AFL-CIO unless current president John Sweeney agrees to some substantial changes. The dissident unions, calling themselves the Change to Win Coalition, are pointing to the drastic decline in union membership and the impact of Walmartization on the country’s entire workforce.

It is important to note that the impact of Wal-Mart goes way beyond its own practices or even the fact that imitators like BJ’s assiduously ape the behemoth’s labor philosophy. Put simply, the Wal-Mart business model has become the dominant one in the entire retail industry and, with the decline in industrial employment, has come to dominate the employment practices of many American businesses.

That is why the fight against Wal-Mart can never be seen simply as a battle against particular sites. As the New Republic reports, Wal-Mart opponents, led by the UFCW and SEIU, are taking the fight to Washington. The effective battle against Wal-Mart must be a political one that de-legitimizes the company’s business model.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bronx Pols Demand Preservation of Bronx Terminal Market

Today at the offices of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation a number of parties met to discuss preservation of the Bronx Terminal Market. This meeting, organized by County Leader Jose Rivera, was an outgrowth of the earlier City Council hearing where a number of Bronx council members echoed the need to resolve the current situation.

In typical fashion, EDC wavered and reiterated its reluctance to relocate the wholesalers collectively. However, a number of Bronx electeds, including Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Joel Rivera and Adolfo Carrion, forcefully told the dithering economic development agency that it was imperative that the merchants be given a viable relocation deal. This is great news and we commend these politicians for defending indigenous Bronx small businesses that have served the community for generations.

There will be another meeting next week where the merchants will present to EDC preferred sites (based on Professor Fainstein’s report), necessary square footage, the amount they can pay, as well as other specifics. While we are pleased by response of Borough President Carrion and members of the Bronx delegation, we’re still skeptical about whether EDC is willing do all it can to ensure preservation of the Terminal Market. Remember, this is the same agency that has said it is under no obligation to relocate the wholesalers, that it will not assist in the construct of a new facility and that the merchants are of negligible economic importance to the City. Hopefully, the political pressure being applied will be sufficient to ensure an optimal outcome.

More Eminent Domain

Once again the ED issue finds another voice indicating just how hard it is to pigeonhole people ideologically on this issue. Writing in the Sun, Jamal Watson inveighs against the use of eminent domain, at any time, for the purpose of economic development.

In particular, Watson pinpoints the potential that the policy has for disadvantaging poor people. He approvingly cites Justice O’Conner on this point:

The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process…
In response to the Court’s ruling, Watson suggests that New York adopt Utah’s recently passed legislation that bans the use of eminent domain for economic development “once and for all.” In this he diverges from Chris Owens's position – no doubt mimicking his congressman father’s – that ED can be a useful tool in some situations. We welcome people’s comments on all of this since it is not an issue that can be easily resolved given the lack of neatness in the real political world.

Bronx BTM Meeting: “Still Fighting Mad”

The Daily News is reporting on today’s meeting between Bronx pols, EDC and the BTM merchants. The sub-head: “Ousted Merchants push for relocation plan.” The funniest comment (aside from our own of course) is from our dependable straight man Michael Sherman of EDC. When queried about the possibility of building a new market the EDC folks say that a sticking point is the issue of comparable rents. Sherman’s hilarious comment: “We want a return on our investment.”

If EDC does build a market for the BTM merchants it will, in fact, be the only development that does a fair return for the City since it won’t be coming from the heavily subsidized Gateway project. In addition, given the EDC position (“we will not consider the construction of a new market”), it is hard to see just what the agency plans.

Wal-Mart Plans New York Ad Blitz

The NY Post is reporting today that Wal-Mart, looking to generate popular support for its incursion into the city market, is readying an ad blitz on land, sea and air. Breaking from its tradition – and we’ve already stressed many times that everyone should watch how adaptable the company will become – Wal-Mart is planning to place ads in 9 community newspapers (which is ironic considering its effect on those papers). More ominously, it also plans to “expand the campaign to ethnic newspapers, radio and television as well.” The ad campaign’s goal is to stress, in each borough, all of the wonderful things the city has to offer except – “everyday low prices.”

In addition, Wal-Mart has also begun holding meetings with local reporters who, undoubtedly flattered, will be seen as more likely to soften criticism of the company’s less than flattering labor practices.

The Post also reports that the company has yet to find suitable sites (disingenuously, we might add). As Mia Masten says, “We still don’t have a site … But we are still interested,” This is, of course, poppycock since the Richmond Valley location on S.I. is very much theirs and the developer has been trying to negotiate a site plan that accommodates the views of City Planning as well as Wal-Mart. In typical big box fashion, neither the store nor the developer wants to publicly be identified with the site before they are ready to go full speed ahead.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sharpton to the Rescue

As the Times and News are reporting today, Al Sharpton has decided to support the Atlantic Yards project (full disclosure). The key point here for us is that the Reverend made it a point to single out the CBA signed by Ratner and a consortium of community groups. It may not be a perfect agreement, but it is the first such effort in NYC and it certainly is an agreement that others can use to promote accountable development.

Health Care Front and Center

Hats off to Errol Louis for revisiting the Health Care Security Act, still languishing in a City Council committee. The key point here is the roughly 420,000 New York City workers who, because they are uninsured, “end up using Medicaid and other government-funded anti-poverty programs to pay for health care.”

This, as Louis emphasizes, is nothing less than corporate welfare and it’s costing NYC tax payers around $466 million a year. Under the legislation sponsored by Councilmember Chris Quinn and being pushed by Jobs with Justice, around 60,000 uninsured workers would get coverage.

So, what’s the hang up? It seems that the Bloomberg administration is holding up the bill on a pretext. This is the same administration that has made it clear that it will leave no stone unturned to find New Yorkers who aren’t getting the benefits they’re entitled to. It seems, therefore, that the mayor feels it’s okay to further burden the tax payers but, God forbid, we should expect the BJ’s and the Gourmet Garages to take care of their workers.

Big Box Store Issue

As we have been continually emphasizing here, the health care issues goes to the heart of the box store fight in NYC. Already on Staten Island, a local community health awareness group has jumped on the anti-Wal-Mart bandwagon because of that company’s poor record on health benefits.

If the Mayor, Deputy Dan, and the rest of real estate team Bloomberg are going to cheerlead for stores like Wal-Mart and BJ’s the least it can do is to try to level the playing field so that, in the words of Paul Sonn of the Brenner Center, we can begin “to take health care out of compeititon.”

EDC’s Bad Faith

It is instructive to read the DEIS that AKRF has prepared for its client Related alongside the communication from EDC to the layers from the Bronx Terminal Market merchants. Before you do, however, it is important to point out that these same accommodating consultants got millions of dollars to spew forth self-serving claptrap when Rudy Giuliani was proposing to rezone all the M1 and M2 space in the city for big box use. They remind us of Tom Lehrer’s observation about Werner Von Braun: “A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience.”

Direct Displacement

Under the rules of CEQR a land use applicant must conduct a rigorous analysis if a proposed development will have a significant impact on the city’s economy or businesses that may depend on the economic activity being displaced. Terms such as “uniquely dependent,” “critical social or economic role” and “substantial economic value to the city” frequent the CEQR narrative on direct displacement.

If such a possibility of significant impact exists, the applicant must conduct a “detailed analysis” so that the lead agency can “understand the potential for and extent of a significant adverse impact to a level that will allow appropriate mitigation to occur.”


Two points about mitigation should be made. First, it may include “helping to seek out and acquire replacement space” and/or a provision of “relocation assistance.” Clearly, the City has refused to consider the first option. What is not being said, however, is that the relocation assistance is not mitigation at all because, as CEQR alludes to, the possibility that there may be “unusual difficult in relocation.”

Ironically, the DEIS makes the merchants case very well. As Professor Fainstein has pointed out to us after reviewing the DEIS:
“The text on p. 3-15 indicates that shoppers at the market are drawn primarily from the Bronx and northern Manhattan and that access and one-stop shopping are the principal attractions.”
Additional irony inheres in the consultant’s contention that the market merchants are currently utilizing 407,180 sq. ft. Once again Fainstein nails the hypocrisy:
“Finally it notes that altogether the Bronx affords only 472,500 sf of vacant space (scattered around and not necessarily suitable for a market) and finally concludes that the businesses on the project site "would not have any difficulty in finding alternate industrial space within the Bronx" (p.3-18). This is obviously contradictory and the analysis of the direct displacement effect is not fully included in the summary EIS.”
Reconfigure the project

Finally, CEQR counsels that if direct displacement is to occur it might also be advisable to reconfigure the size and scope of the project:
“If those businesses occupy only a portion of the project site, a smaller project or an alternative configuration that avoided them could also be considered” (p3b – 1b).
Lying and Swearing to It

All of the potentially constructive mitigations are never considered because EDC had an a priori evaluation of the worthlessness of the businesses in the market, a view they have freely expressed throughout the controversy. Unsurprisingly, AKRF, trained in the abject aping of its master’s whims, mirrors this view in their so-called analysis of the value of the BTM to the city’s economy.

Elsewhere we have argued how insufficient this analysis is, saying that it underscores the need to remove the evaluation process from the sullied hands of those who would benefit from a falsely sanguine analysis of a project’s impact. What’s clear in this case is that all of the economic observations done by the consultants are simply made to rationalize EDC’s originally held, jaundiced view of the BTM merchants.

Whither negotiations?

Given all of this where is the ground for compromise? If the Bronx electeds truly want to save the BTM they must do so by aggressively challenging the EDC-Related premises.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Brooklyn Wal-Mart Could Look Like A Brownstone

Via the Box Tank, Wal-Mart met with New York City reporters on June 30th to discuss Wal-Mart's desire to come to New York City. In addition to other speculated sites (Staten Island, East Harlem):

Now add a site near or within the Atlantic Terminal mall and Atlantic Avenue subway station as a possible site (think Target). "There are many situations where we are right across the street from a direct competitor," said Mia Masten, Wal-Mart's communications director. "In many of our competitive districts its not uncommon to see a Target, a Lowe’s, a Wal-Mart and a Kohl’s across the street from each other — and they all do well."
Wal-Mart is ready to modify its architecture to accomodate New York:

Would a Brooklynized Wal-Mart be in the shell of a couple of brownstones? “Yeah, to the extent we could find the space, yeah, I think that could work,” Masten agreed.
The Box Tank responds appropriately:

There you have it. New Wal-Mart Architectural Style: Brooklyn Brownstone! Obviously Mia has never seen one of her stores and a couple of Brooklyn brownstones side by side, because it isn't likely a 100,000 square foot store will fit in a couple of brownstones.
The Box Tank also references the "strife" over a rumored Wal-Mart in East Harlem, showing two flyers side by side, one in support of the big-box, one against. Though we must say from the scoping meeting we attended concerning the East Harlem project, there was no love for Wal-Mart.

“Hail Seizers!”

The eminent domain issue continues to galvanize diverse constituencies. This post’s title for instance is cribbed from Jacob Sallum’s on-line piece for the libertarian Reason magazine. The Sallum piece is cited in another eminent domain article penned by Brad Lander, director of the progressive Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development.

Sallum’s piece is directed at the New York Times editorial that we have already commented on. The important point that needs to be continually reiterated, however, is fact that the court’s decision and the Times’s rationalization of it sets absolutely no limits on what constitutes legal taking. As Sallum writes:

“Mindful of the appearance that big corporations such as Pfizer and the New York Times Co. use eminent domain for their own ends, the Times cautioned that "eminent domain must not be used for purely private gain.”
Anything’s a “Public Benefit”

Which gets us back to the vaunted Plan, you know the one that somehow justifies the taking of your property. Without the Plan it’s a no-no but with the Plan anything can be justified. What this mystifies of course is the fact that a) plans are always a creative part of the taking and b) all a plan really does is to ensure that the scope of the eminent domain seizure is properly grandiose.

In fact, without the Plan more of people’s property would be safe. Justice O’Conner, cited by Sallum, gets to the core of this issue:

“nearly any lawful use of real private property can be said to generate some incidental benefit to the public.”
Left-Right Coalition

Lander’s piece hits the protean nature of the eminent domain questions and underscores the point we have continually made. The progressive position against development becomes linked to the conservative affirmation of basic property rights (“all rights are property rights,” says Sallum).

Not everyone agrees, however. It is interesting that David Goldberg, the former counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed an amicus brief in support of the Brooklyn Nets development. Goldberg has been collaborating with the Community Rights Counsel, a D.C. organization which works with community groups that are seeking to “preserve the power of government to regulate development.”

Accountable Development

Goldberg takes issue with Siegal and Develop Don’t Destroy because, unlike the Robert Moses-sponsored urban renewal of the 1950s and 60s that displaced poor people arbitrarily, the Atlantic Yards project displaces middle-class homeowners and business people “who are being paid a fair market value for their property.”

This just demonstrates how tricky and nuanced the eminent domain issue can be. It’s worthwhile to note that it was the NAACP that intervened in New London, on behalf of the homeowners, indicating that it might not be easy to hold an absolutely pure ideological position on this issue.

The Neighborhood Retail Alliance’s Position

We have been consistent over the past 20 years in our efforts at protecting neighborhood business. Our position in this fight, however, did not emerge from the purity of an intellectual ivory tower but from a perceived vacuum that needed to be filled. Put simply, no one was stepping up to protect the interests of neighborhood stores in the face of first suburban style shopping centers and then an invasion of box stores.

On this front we have a great deal to be proud of. You can read about some of these success stories on the website. From the protection of 15 supermarkets in an East Bronx shopping center fight in 1981 to the defeat of BJ’s and Wal-Mart in 2005, the Alliance has been the only group successfully lobbying for neighborhood businesses.

In fact we are proud to say that we have been the linchpin in the defeat of five box store fights in the past five years and, even more impressively, got one company (Costco) to totally give up on its misguided urban adaptation (“Costco Fresh”). So if people want to criticize us for our support of Atlantic Yards let them. Just ask yourself however which of the protagonists in this argument you’d want to see in a political battle if your neighborhood was being threatened.

Where do we go from here?

It seems to us that the overlapping sides and nuances of the eminent domain battle demand a full and frank political debate. We’d definitely say that our position has not been fully defined and, as so often in the real world of politics, will gain more clarity as this debate continues to percolate.

We’re not sure yet that we will always agree, for instance, with Brad Lander’s position that eminent domain can be part of an accountable development process. We do feel, however, that without such an approach it is hard to see where seizure is justifiable. This is particularly true when small minority businesses are “traded up” for larger chains or box stores after the smaller entrepreneurs have pioneered the redevelopment of blighted areas.

Property Rights are Important

We will always need to be extremely vigilant about property rights because we agree with Sallum’s position and that articulated by the conservative members of the Supreme Court. To believe otherwise is to begin the embrace of the collectivist “greater good” mentality that Goldberg seems to express.

The important point to stress is that one can never be cavalier about taking anyone’s property. If you don’t feel the need to at least in part stand up for property rights you are left in a relativist position that, when you examine it, leaves the protection of your own interests in peril. It does no good, for instance, for Goldberg to argue that eminent domain is OK if it benefits poor people but not so if it hurts them. It is the principle of property rights and its defense that offers all of us, rich and poor alike, the protection we all need and deserve.

New Jersey up Next

Which brings us to New Jersey where, as reported in Friday’s New York Times, both candidates for governor have come out strongly against eminent domain abuse and, most tellingly, have also begun to craft policy positions on the issue. Interestingly, Forrester the Republican makes the point about a “sinister” nexus between pay-for-play and development abuse. Corzine for his part introduced a 7 point plan which according to a spokesperson (if you can believe it), “had been in the works since even before the court ruling.”

Hail Brodsky

The Times also points out that a “bipartisan, nationwide gallery of officials have condemned the ruling and pledged to protect their constituencies. First and foremost in New York is attorney general candidate Richard Brodsky who, not accidentally, has also been in the forefront of the accountable development movement.

Eminent Quandary

In one of the most precious examples of how difficult it is to remain consistent about eminent domain, the Sun reported last Friday that Congressman Major Owens, after composing a rap poem blasting eminent domain, had voted against the Garrett amendment which would have limited federal funds for some private projects that make use of eminent domain.

Since neither the congressman or his spokespersons were available for comment it was left to Chris Owen, his son and a candidate for the office, to explain the apparent inconsistency (hypocrisy). Young Mr. Owens justified his father’s vote by saying he believed the language of the amendment wasn’t “specific enough” because “you’re opening the door to stopping things that are justified.” In addition, he said that he might support its use for economic development in some instances.

All of which leaves us in very murky waters indeed since Owens junior doesn’t specify und what conditions government taking might be justified. Are we to make these decisions ad hoc, so to speak, since it appears that Owens isn’t ready to strongly support the concept of private property rights?

City Callous on Bronx Terminal Market

Kudos to Albor Ruiz for his trenchant column yesterday on the city’s callous indifference to the fate of the Bronx Terminal Market. Citing Hiram Monserrate’s chiding of the city for its view of the merchants as “expendable” Ruiz says:

Yet the city's indifference is telling the soon-to-be-displaced merchants very clearly to drop dead.
Ruiz’s peeve is the city’s refusal to even consider the construction of a new market and its factually inaccurate claim that, unlike the Fulton Fish market case, the city is not the landlord of the BTM. In his rebuttal Ruiz cites our blog:

"But Terri," they answered her, "the city is indeed the landlord and in its landlord capacity brokered the deal that brought Related into the market."
Ruiz goes on to cite Monserrate’s concern about the lack of transparency and proper due diligence in the Related deal and labels the entire mess a “secret deal” done between Deputy Mayor Doctoroff and Steve Ross of Related, Dan’s once and future business partner.

All this makes the July 20th meeting between the merchants, EDC and Bronx political leaders that much more compelling. Will Bronx leaders insist on the city’s obligation to reconstruct a market? Will they be willing to use their considerable leverage to force EDC and Related tot the negotiating table? This week will, perhaps, be the crossroads for the final determination of the fate of the merchants.

Wal-Mart Class Action Update

From Bloomberg News comes a very lengthy update on the gender discrimination class action lawsuit currently pending against Wal-Mart. One of the newest developments:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. took no action on internal warnings seven years ago that it was falling short in promoting women, documents in a federal sex-discrimination lawsuit show.

The world's largest retailer didn't carry out the 1998 recommendations of a diversity task force and disbanded the panel, according to company memos, reports and depositions filed in the case. Two years later, Wal-Mart had a reduced percentage of female managers.
The key point is that Wal-Mart knew it had a problem as seen by the creation of the task force but as William Gould, a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board who teaches employment law at Stanford Law School remarked:

But they didn't have the wherewithal or the interest to follow through or do something about it. It strengthens the plaintiff's case that it's about intentional as well as unintentional discrimination. I'm sure this has made them more interested in settling.
The article also summarizes the various claims of the class action lawsuit including pay disparity, a lack of female representation in manager positions and a system of promotion that lacked transparency.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Big Box Traffic Jam

This from Durham County, NC:

A traffic study in the hands of the N.C. Department of Transportation estimates that a planned shopping center on the northern edge of Chatham County that could house a Wal-Mart Supercenter will generate almost 21,600 car and truck trips each day.

The study -- authored on behalf of the center's would-be developer, the Lee-Moore Oil Co. -- also says he soon-to-be-widened U.S 15-501 and its intersections can handle the added traffic.


The traffic study's conclusion drew a skeptical response Tuesday from one critic of the project, Chapel Hill Town Councilman Ed Harrison, who contended that commuters are likely to experience a lot of frustration as they travel up and down the 15-501 corridor:

Because of the growth occurring in the corridor, "this could be a messy piece of roadway with a lot of turning movements, including U-turns, and a lot of signals in a short period of space -- as does 15-501 north [between Chapel Hill and Durham]," Harrison said. "It's Chatham's choice how to use the land, but it's a road of at least regional if not statewide significance."
The study also mentions a considerable increase in traffic on a currently local, rural road, which doesn’t sit well with at least 1 local official:

The percentage of traffic assumed likely to use Smith Level Road caught the eye of Carrboro Alderman and mayoral candidate Alex Zaffron, who said it raised questions about the future of a road local officials want kept as a rural byway.

If the developer's assumptions are correct, the 4,320 additional cars that would use Smith Level would push the road's daily traffic load up over 14,000 by 2020, Zaffron noted.

That "could put pressure on DOT to add improvements that are completely outside the scope of preserving it as a rural corridor," he said. "My concern is that pressure is going to be brought to bear that could turn Smith Level into 'Wal-Mart Parkway,' and that is precisely what everyone in Orange County has been working to avoid for any number of years. And mark my words, we will continue to do so."
Now we know this area of North Carolina very well - Go Duke! – and it’s one that is often plagued by with congestion. The 15-501 corridor, between Durham and Chapel Hill, is lined with big-box retail and, as a result, makes the 8 mile trip often take 30 minutes or more. One of the worst stretches is near the shopping center that houses the Chapel Hill Wal-Mart (not a supercenter) where, on weekends, it could take 15-20 minutes just to turn off of 15-501 and park.

Like some of the critics in the story, we are also skeptical of the traffic study, knowing from experience that the consultants developers hire are brought on specifically to minimize impacts. This is why independent consultants are needed and why the residents of in that area of North Carolina should encourage the county to conduct its own report.

Wal-Mart Wants Sam's Club To Sell Alcohol

Wal-Mart is poised to enter yet another market: liquor. This goal is going over well with local liquor store owners in Fayetteville, where a local Sam's Club is attempting to obtain a liquor license:

FAYETTEVILLE -- A battle over booze could stop the world's largest retailer from opening a store in Fayetteville.

A group of local liquor store owners want to block a Sam's Club that would be the first in the state to sell liquor. Wal-Mart officials want to open a 135,000-square-feet store at the southwest corner of Arkansas 112 and Interstate 540.

The state Alcoholic Beverage Commission will hear a request July 20 to transfer an existing liquor license to the proposed Sam's Club.

Jay Gillespie, manager of Liquor Mart and Wine Shoppe, said allowing Sam's Club to sell liquor circumvents Arkansas law, which prohibits selling liquor with other merchandise.
Add liquor stores to a growing list of small businesses that would be affected if Wal-Mart enters New York City.

Wal-Mart and Race

Wal-Mart is shrewd with its messaging as evidenced by its sponsoring of the American Black Film Festival:

We are supporting African-American filmmaking because it makes good business sense," said Troy Steiner, senior media director, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. "We would like to see these wonderful films gain a wider audience, so we are making it possible for our customers to enjoy them both on network television and by making them part of their family film libraries.
We think this sponsorship is a great thing but are skeptical about the motivation behind it as well as the timing. These last few days have not been kind to Wal-Mart in terms of alleged race-related discrimination. According to the Boston Globe:

Nine minority customers say they were racially profiled while shopping at a Wal-Mart store in Avon.

In a lawsuit filed in US District Court in Boston yesterday, the consumers alleged they were followed, searched, humiliated, and in some cases, detained by greeters at the store after entering the retail center in 2002 or 2003.
Though Wal-Mart denies any discrimination while searching these shoplifters, when a white teenager and her two black friends were leaving the Avon store only the African American teens were stopped:

In one case, two black Brockton teenagers, Alexandra Bastien, 18, and Toni Gabriel, 18, and their white friend, Courtney Myles, also 18 and from Brockton, entered the store in September 2003. The three teens decided not to buy anything. They allege in court papers that as they were leaving, store employees pulled Gabriel and Bastien aside and searched them. Myles was not searched, but she is a party to the lawsuit.
As Wal-Mart Watch points out, there has been some more bad news for Wal-Mart vis-à-vis its treatment of blacks:

As NAACP members gather in Milwaukee for their annual meeting, the civil rights organization released its 2005 Economic Reciprocity Initiative industry report card. Wal-Mart scored a C in general merchandising and a C- on philanthropic giving to African American organizations and programs.
Wal-Mart Watch also mentions this story about black truckers suing due to alleged discrimination.

And here's an interesting fact sheet from the Coalition for a Better Inglewood about Wal-Mart and racial discrimination.

Album Cover Gives Wal-mart the Willies

Wal-Mart was irked by Willy Nelson’s latest album cover and, using its power as the country’s largest seller of music, made sure it was altered:

The regular cover, which features marijuana leaves, was replaced by a palm tree, in order to satisfy the retailer’s strict rules regarding packaging and lyrics. Critics have charged that as the nation's largest music retailer - it tallies more than $52 million in music sales - Wal-Mart has the power to persuade artists to edit content. In the past it has refused to stock albums by artists such as Sheryl Crow and The Prodigy.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Clinton Critiques Court

Former President Bill Clinton, the master of triangulation, always has had the most acute political instincts. So it was not a great surprise to read the Gerstein article in today’s Sun and find that Clinton had come out and strongly criticized the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision on eminent domain. If Bill Clinton has arrived at this conclusion than it would certainly be smart for other Democrats to do the same. We’re sure that, once the issue gets local relevancy, a veritable stampede on both sides of the ideological isle will soon follow.

Controversy in Flushing

Both Newsday and El Diario covered a development story in Flushing yesterday. Of particular interest to us was that a group called “Save Our Flushing Community” came out with dozens of protestors because of the perceived threat that the Flushing redevelopment plans posed to traffic and small business in the area. The group, probably predominately Korean, was led by a Daniel Kim and heartily booed Councilmember John Lui indicating perhaps an ethnic tone to the development controversy.

In addition, in Eva Sanchis’s story she reports that 13 developers have presented proposals for the redevelopment of Willets Point and Deputy Dan is quoted as saying all of this development is the harbinger of a totally new Flushing river waterfront.

New Republic Disappoints

The New Republic is often characterized as a more moderate liberal voice so it was disappointing to read their editorial defending Kelo in the latest issue of the magazine. Arguing that the principle of judicial restraint was admirably expressed in the Kelo decision the editors applaud the court’s refusal “to second-guess the economic judgments of city and state legislatures.”

So according to the New Republic, judicial restraint is to be applauded when the highest court fails to uphold the constitutionally protected property rights of Americans but judicial activism is affirmed when, as it did in Roe v. Wade, the court finds a privacy right that is explicitly expressed nowhere in the Constitution.

Stranger still is the slippery slope argument that foresees a “torrent of judicial activism” if the Court had acted differently, one that “might have called into question everything from local zoning ordinances to environmental laws.”

Political Response Most Appropriate

The New Republic believes that the appropriate response in unfair eminent domain cases is political and not judicial. It cites the Homes, Small Businesses and Private Property Act of 2005, introduced in the Senate by Texas Senator John Cornyn, as the right approach to this issue. The money quote:

A bill like this might help to discourage eminent domain abuse--that is, condemnation of private homes for private profit--without asking judges to second-guess the economic decisions of legislators, a task for which they are notoriously ill-equipped.

We could also argue that the same principle – developing a political approach and consensus – could as equally be applied to abortion rights. On what basis does the New Republic make decisions about what constitutes legitimate judicial activism? Our opinion is that the violation of basic constitutional rights is not something that can be cleverly elided from a discussion of judicial philosophy without undermining the core responsibility of this country’s highest court.

Eminent Domain: Where are the Democrats?

Up until now, the uproar over the Kelo decision has been in the exclusive purview of conservatives, reflecting the court’s ideological split. Yesterday we reported that Conn. Dems were starting to get it and it will be interesting to see who on the left is the first to take up this cause in New York State (not including paid advocates like Norman Siegel, of course). Any candidate for statewide office would be smart to pick it up.

Speaking of which, the Hartford Courant reported on July 6th about a rally in New London attended by hundreds of people “some from as far away as Texas,” who had come to protest the Kelo decision. Most telling is the fact that, “support is also building for a bill proposed late last week that would forbid the use of eminent domain power for economic development projects.”

Also of interest is a Washington Times Op-Ed piece done by three retired justices that looks at the “elitist bent” underlying the Kelo decision. What we liked was the point that was made about how medieval kings used to simply take someone’s property and transfer it to “another” who was in greater favor with the ruler or who offered greater kickbacks.

Building on this analogy, the three judges characterize the SC’s decision thusly:
“the elaborate 20 page majority opinion of the Supreme Court is one of the most eloquent, articulate, intellectual efforts to ever rationalize or try to cerebrally legitimize the forced transfer from the legal, legitimate owner of non-blighted property to someone who is in greater favor with the ruler of the area.”
Anyone who knows anything about development will understand the “greater favor” concept all too well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Big Unanswered Question: Traffic

While working to preserve the Bronx Terminal Market we have become intimately familiar with not only the merchant’s plight but the Related Companies redevelopment proposal. As we have pointed out previously, there are a number of unanswered questions concerning this plan, questions that can’t even be asked because of the lack of community education and input.

One of the biggest question marks with this Gateway proposal is its impact on traffic. Though Related plans to build over 1,000,000 sq. ft. of retail space there are few details about exactly how the greatly expanded number of trucks and cars will be able to get to and from the site. There is currently a lack of adequate access from the Major Deagan, a highway that already is a veritable parking lot most of the day. This situation will only get worse if the Gateway project is built.

Local roads will also become inundated as truck drivers and motorists seek alternative routes to get to the mall. The dangerous intersections at 161st and Grand Concourse and 149th at Grand Concourse will become even more so as the number of vehicles and delivery trucks expand considerable.

This increase in traffic also has significant environmental implications. For a neighborhood that already has the highest asthma rates in the country, what is going to happen to the air quality when trucks delivering to Gateway’s big-box tenants rumble down the Concourse or sit in traffic on the Deagan? What is going to happen to asthma rates as cars trying to enter the Gateway mall idle while waiting to enter one of its inadequacy few entrance points? These are questions that EDC and Related need to answer.

With Gateway being planned for the same time as the Yankee Stadium redevelopment, people and elected officials in the Bronx need to stand up to make sure that the enriching of a politically-connected developer does not trump the maneuverability, health and safety of a community. According to our sources, even City Planning has serious questions about how Related is planning to handle the new traffic flow. If the agency that certified the project is worried so should the community members who will have to deal with that nightmare for years to come.

East Harlem Says No to Wal-Mart, No to Uptown NY

We attended a scoping hearing last night in East Harlem that dealt with Uptown NY, a proposed mega-project for 125th, 126th and 127th streets in Harlem between 2nd and 3rd avenues. This immense mixed use development is the same one that has been rumored to contain a Wal-Mart or similar non-union big box store.

What was amazing about the hearing was the incredible community attendance. Well over 125 people packed into Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center and they unanimously railed against a project that they said had numerous flaws and, in general, was rapidly moving ahead without community input. Elected officials, affordable housing advocates, environmental justice activists, affected businessmen, local architects and planners as well as White, Black, Latino and Asian members of the community all told the developer that they could not support the development in its current form especially if the affected neighborhoods were not brought to the table. Specifically, they said that they were concerned about the affordability of the apartments, the scale of the development, the environmental impact and the presence of irresponsible employers like Wal-Mart.

The turnout was especially amazing considering that these scoping hearing are quite purposely poorly advertised. Generally, a 10 point font advertisement will appear in the NY Post, 5 people will show up and the developer wins because he does not have to deal with true community opposition and can simultaneously claim that the public had the chance to voice its opinions. The East Harlem scoping hearing was not well advertised either but fortunately a number of active community members spread the word.

This whole mobilization, though, is starkly different that what occurred with EDC’s Bronx Terminal Market scoping hearing. There, not including two representatives from the community boards, only 5 community members testified. No one was alerted about the meeting and to this day few community-based organizations or community residents know the details of the Gateway development. If these stakeholders had learned early on about the project’s specifics they probably wouldn’t have been very happy and this opposition might have jeopardized the political support for the project. However, now that the project has been certified Related and EDC believe that even if there is opposition it’s too late to change anything.

Eminent Domain Politicized

The New York Times is reporting today on the political fallout in Connecticut from the Supreme Court’s eminent domain decision in the Kelo case. What’s really interesting is the about face of Nutmeg Democrats who have routinely worked to defeat any change in the law.

More interestingly still is the rethinking done by Richard Blumenthal the state’s astute attorney general. After initially praising the court’s decision as “vindicating long-established eminent domain principles,” he reversed himself one day later saying that Connecticut’s eminent domain law deserved “serious, critical scrutinizing.”

Once a certain momentum gets going in New York, we can see similar rethinking here as well. It is likely that the Columbia and Willets Point cases will jump start the political debate and will help inject the issue into next year’s gubernatorial and attorney general races.

CBA for the Bronx Terminal Market?

Anne Michaud is reporting in Crain’s Insider that the July 20th meeting scheduled by the Bronx leaders is for the purpose of creating a CBA. If that’s true it’s the first we’ve heard since our understanding is that the meeting on the 20th is for the purpose of negotiating a settlement for the BTM merchants.

While we’re on the subject of a CBA, however, it is useful to point out that the Ratner agreement that Crain’s refers to was worked out in the absence of input from the area’s local elected officials and, instead, negotiated directly with a consortium of community groups. That certainly is the correct precedent to follow with Gateway.