Friday, April 28, 2006

Wal-Mart: Start Your Engines?

In what could probably be seen as a precursor to the upcoming Wal-Mart battle on Staten Island a large and boisterous crowd gathered last night at the Petrides Educational Complex to discuss the merits of the proposed NASCAR race track. Along with the race track an additional 620,00 sq. ft. of retail space (to be built by Related) is also planned.

The results were not pretty. As the SI Advance reports the meeting got out of hand as supporters of the project ripped the microphone out of Councilman Andrew Lanza's hand. As Lanza told the NY Post, "This was no democracy tonight...This was a mob." The meeting started at 6:00 PM but was shut down by police at 7:30.

As we have been emphasizing the main issue on the Island, and really the only issue, is the traffic congestion. Lanza, as he has done on the question of Wal-Mart in Tottenville, did not trash the NASCAR facility-calling it "a world class venue"-but rather spoke to the intractable congestion on the Island. For his trouble the Advance reports that one man actually put the Councilman in a "partial headlock" as his microphone was snatched out of his hands.

Most of the ruckus was caused by out-of-the-area construction workers who were advocating the development as a jobs generator. What is clear, however, is that all development on Staten Island will be put on hold until something concrete (and not pie in the sky) is done to relieve the congestion. Oh yes, our contacts on the Island are telling us that the new Bricktown Centre is generating over 9,000 cars a day near the Outerbridge. Wal-Mart on Richmond Valley Road would be beyond a nightmare.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Spinola and CBAs: "No Mas"

In today's Crain's Insider Steve Spinola, the head of the Real Estate Board of New York, comes out strongly opposed to the growing practice of including Community Benefits Agreements as part of large real estate developments. He's calling on the mayor "to limit them" since in his opinion they "usurp the role of environmental impact statements."

Well, perhaps they do but if so than that's probably a good thing since, as we have pointed out, the EIS's and the entire ULURP process leaves a great deal to be desired. In addition, as we have also pointed out, the land use review doesn't really gauge economic impacts and lack accountability in this area.

All too often the community that is hosting the project fails to realize benefits that truly mitigate the costs of being the host of the development. A CBA can do this but this vehicle needs to be further standardized to avoid it becoming a cynical tool of unscrupulous local elected officials.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jail House Crock

Following up on our earlier post, Frank Lombardi in today’s Daily News reports on the new jail being proposed for the South Bronx:

City officials disclosed yesterday they are negotiating to acquire a vacant industrial site in the South Bronx to build a $375 million detention center.

The proposed location of the new Bronx jail - a former dump in the Oak Point section of heavily industrial Hunts Point - was revealed during a City Council hearing on a plan to upgrade jail facilities at Rikers Island and move thousands of inmates into jails in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
According to Lombardi, Bronx Councilman James Vacca is skeptical of the deal and, as the Times reports, so are a number of community groups in the area:

Elena Conte, a staff member for Sustainable South Bronx, said the community was keenly interested in the development of the site and urged the city to include them in the process. "Deals are being made," she said, "but there's very little transparency and no real opportunity for public participation, and that's a major concern."
Like we mentioned previously, the biggest sticking point for us is that the city swapped the Bronx House of Detention in the Bronx Terminal Market deal – saying there wasn’t a need for more jail space – and now is proposing a new South Bronx jail. As the Alliance’s Richard Lipsky says in the Daily News article:

"They left out at the time they gave away the Bronx House of Detention that they were also planning to build a $370 million prison in the South Bronx," said Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist who opposed the Related project.

Wal-Mart and Friends

Crain's New York Business never tires in its promotion of Wal-Mart in NYC. In this week's magazine the editors argue, "The simple truth is that New York needs Wal-Mart more than Wal-Mart needs the city."

Crain's goes on to talk about the dreaded problem of leakage. It does so withoout a clear idea how this phenomenon actually operates in and aroun NYC. It also does so without any real analysis of the way in which the store cannibalizes existing retailers. In fact, Crain's once again takes this opportunity to besmirch the city's small retailers saying, "And, by the way, the small shops it supposedly puts out of business rarely offer any benefits, period."

Why does the city's premier business voice feel it necessary to stigmatize small retail entrepreneurs? And, Isn't there a big difference between a small store owner, someone who may also own a home in the city, and the world's largest retailer when it comes to employee

Finally, Crain's tells us that no matter how bad Wal-Mart may be, other retailers are worse. This is an argument for holding Kohl's and Targets to a higher standard as well. In any case, the fight over the Walmonster will always be a site fight and we're not certain just where the store will be able to find a hospitable neighborhood.

House of Deceit

When we were in full throttle over the BTM development one of the aspects of the deal that really burned us was the swapping of the House of Detention, a property that was appraised at $41 million, to the Related Company for land valued at a great deal less. As it now turns out, however, this deal is a good deal worse than we first realized.

It is so because we now find out, thanks to testimony from the Department of Corrections yesterday, that the city is going to build a new jail in the Oakpoint section of the Bronx for, hold your hats, $377 million! So a perfectly functional jail is being handed over to a private developer, an entity that was just about given the BTM for a song, and the taxpayers are stuck with a humonguos bill for a new facility.

This is the biggest rape of the taxpayer we've seen in along time and Deputy Dan and Steve Ross should be the first occupants of the new jail. In actuality, the city will probably give Related the contract to build it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Choking on Hypocrisy

NY 1 is reporting that Assemblyman Peter River has introduced a bill that would address the city's growing asthma problem. The law would "require schools to stop vehicles from idling outside school buildings and would allow more access to asthma medication."

Rivera is a conscientious legislator who has a genuine concern for his borough where asthma is epidemic. At the same time, however, it is important to deal with root causes and not superficial symptoms. The root causes in this case, causes that has led the EPA to call NYC's air "the dirtiest in the country", derive from the sheer volume of vehicular traffic, particularly diesel trucks powering through the Bronx.

This is why the approval of the Yankee Stadium and BTM/Gateway deals is so egregious. If, as the Alliance's consultant has observed, the BTM traffic study is the "worst he's seen in thirty years" than the Deegan corridor will be choking with traffic and so will the local streets as consumers and Yankee fans look for shorcuts to the mall and the stadium.

To cavalierly allow developments to proceed when traffic and air quality concerns are not adequately addressed is to mask the root causes of the boroughs health problems. Any ex post facto "solution" is reduced to hypocritical posturing.


It is becoming clearer each day that the MTA and the courts have just about succeeded in making the TWU's Roger Toussaint a hero and a martyr. Yesterday's long march across the Brooklyn Bridge seems to have cemented the iconization of Roger as the symbol of a besieged labor movement. As Barry Feinstein, MTA Board member and former labor leader told the Times, "There is little or no value in locking up a labor leader-it inflames people."

Well, not quite. There certainly is a value to Toussaint because martyrdom serves to deflect attention away from all of his blunders and, in addition, makes him once again the favorite to win re-election. Roger seems to have his heroic role down pat. As he marched off to the Tombs he told reporters, in response to his contempt of court conviction, "The truth of the matter is I have nothing but contempt for a system that gives employers free rein to abuse worker."

One does wonder what would happen if all of the transit workers were let go tomorrow. Our prediction is that tens of thousands of New Yorkers would be getting in line for the chance to get "abused" in an MTA job. The fact remains, however, that Toussaint's union opponents have their work cut out for them.

The reality that will help them lies in the arduous nature of the contract negotiations, a process that will undoubtedly drag on for months. Hopefully, in the months ahead the aura of martyrdom will have faded and Local 100's members will cooly face the mess that Jolly Roger has gotten them into.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bodegas Got Milk, and its Low-fat

The NY Post is reporting today that the city's DOH initiative on getting low income consumers to try low fat milk is starting to have some success. As the paper says, "Bodega owners say more and more customers are reaching for the low-fat milk, which has fewer calories but the same amount of nutrients as found in whole milk.

In one store the owner reported that almost twenty percent of his customers were reaching for the low-fat whereas before he only sold whole milk. What this suggests is that there is a great deal of room for a public-private partnership on encouraging healthier eating habits.

NYC to Nightlife: "We Don't Like to Boogie"

The NY Times this morning details the reaction of the city's nightlife businesses to what appears to be a crackdown on an industry that generates an annual $9.7 billion for New York and employs over 19,000 people. Last month five clubs were closed and as Rob Bookman, the attorney for the New York Nightlife Association (NYNA) told the paper, "The city doesn't realize it, but they're killing the goose that laid the golden egg."

All of this is being driven it seems by a concerted effort of local residents to rid their neighborhoods of what they feel is a proliferation of bars and clubs. The effort is abetted by the city's 311 system that allows folks to complain incessantly-and anonymously- about noise and rowdiness.

The reaction of the police is instructive. The department's spokesman says, "We expect people to keep illegal activity out of their premises...The police have an obligation to stop it if the club operators will not or cannot." The club owners point out, however, that almost all of the drug activity has been by customers and the transactions have been small.

NYNA's position is that it is impossible to keep clubs with thousands of customers drug-free. Certainly, as one club's lawyer points out, "Should George Steinbrenner be penalized if drugs are found at Yankee Stadium?"

What this all means is that there is the need for some kind of rapprochement between the city, its neighborhoods and the businesses that are vital to the growth of our economy. In meant neighborhoods that are going through gentrification the bars and clubs have been operating for years without the kinds of vigorous complaints we're seeing today. In addition, areas that weren't previously residential are now seeing new housing arise with all of the potential for more business-neighborhood strife.

Exacerbating the situation for the industry is a bill in the Assembly, sponsored by the speaker, that would limit any new liquor license 500 feet or less from an existing establishment. This would mean that no new license could be granted in many areas of Manhattan. Large real estate developments like Atlantic Yards could also be impacted if they had a number of bars, restaurants and/or hotels.

So what we have is a challenge for the city. Some kind of policy is needed that takes into consideration the concerns of neighborhoods but the needs of the nightlife industry as well. Let's see if the city rises to the challenge.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Wal-Mart Poll

Crain's Insider is reporting today on its online poll about how New Yorkers feel about Wal-Mart coming to the city. The Crain's poll found that "Fifty-seven percent of the 1,069 respondents said that the retailer should be permitted to enter, while only 43% said the retailer should be kept out."

An interesting side note is that the poll also found that, "Most of the respondents said that the city should not be deciding which retailers are allowed to operate in New York." All of which underscores the fact that polls are only as good as the questions asked. In 1996, when Mayor Guiliani was trying to eliminate the ULURP process for the siting of megastores the City Council overwhelmingly rejected a plan that would have eliminated any Council oversight. This was strongly supported by New Yorkers all over the city.

Now, if Crain's had asked its respondents whether they would like to have the city's ULURP process overturned so there would be absolutely no community review of box stores and shopping centers we wonder what the results would have shown? This is the essence of this particular public policy debate.

In addition, take notice of the fact that the Crain's poll, unlike the one done by Wal-Mart itself, found that there are millions of New Yorkers (43% of 8 million, do the math) who simply don't want the Walmonster anywhere in the city. Combine these folks with the large percentage of folks who wouldn't want the store anywhere near their neighborhood and you have a potent opposition indeed.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Sweetheart Deal for the Mets

The Independent Budget Office (IBO) just released its analysis of the proposed Shea Stadium deal. The unambiguous conclusion:

The plan for financing a new stadium for the Mets includes direct subsidies and exemptions from state and local taxes as well as access to tax-exempt bonds for building the stadium. Over a 40- year period, these subsidies and exemptions would cost the city $177 million (present value) and the state an additional $89 million. For the Mets, these benefits, including savings that result from the use of tax exempt bond financing, add up to $298 million over 40 years (present value).
Councilman Monserrate, who represents the Shea Stadium neighborhood, responds to the IBO’s findings:

"The IBO report puts it in black and white. The Mets are getting a sweetheart deal from the city to build a new stadium. The residents of New York are footing the bill to the tune of $177 million, while the Mets stand to save almost twice that much. Without a promise to give anything back to the community, it's clear the costs and benefits of this deal do not weigh in the favor of our residents."
This independent cost benefit analysis demonstrates that, in true Bronx Terminal Market form, Dan Doctoroff and company seem unable to resist aggrandizing a private company with public monies. What’s also clearly proven is that economic analyses by unbiased agencies like the IDA cannot be trusted. According to the IBO report:

IDA’s cost/benefit analysis finds a net fiscal benefit for the city of $47.9 million in present value terms. But their calculation ignores several items that IBO would include in such a calculation, most notably the foregone parking revenues, which IBO estimates have a present value of $80 million. Simply including that item in the IDA calculation would switch the fiscal impact from a net positive to a net negative.
Considering the extreme cost to tax payers, and the impact the stadium has on surrounding neighborhoods (Patrick Arden emphasizes this point today’s Metro) we think it quire reasonable for Councilmen like Monserrate to be demanding a community benefit agreement that will make these deal a bit more palatable.

Spitzer: More Smart Growth, less Wal-Mart

The NY Sun’s Jacob Gershman reports on a policy pronouncement by Eliot Spitzer concerning the concept smart growth. The most interesting aspect from our perspective is how Spitzer’s view of development may affect Wal-Mart and similar box stores:

In recent policy speeches, the state attorney general has raised the banner of "smart growth," a development and land use strategy that favors building neighborhoods that are compact and have a main street feel, taking advantage of existing infrastructure, and protecting open spaces and farmland. It opposes suburban and exurban sprawl, driving, and "big-box" stores like Wal-Mart.
Gershman does mention that there is opposition to the smart growth idea but at least from our experience in NY such planning and restrictions, at least in certain instances, make sense. Considering that the proposed Wal-Mart in suburban Monsey will add hundreds of thousands of car trips to an already congested area – a situation also seen in Staten Island – Spitzer’s rethinking of economic development and planning is needed.

Brooklyn Sports Alliance Moves Ahead

The nascent Brooklyn Sports Alliance, busy incorporating as a not-for-profit corporation, will be joining Basketball City and FCRC tomorrow for a basketball clinic at Bishop Ford High School. This clinic will be followed by a series of clinics in diverse neighborhoods all over the borough that ill be collaborative efforts between the Sports Alliance, BC and FCRC.

The BSA has already identified dozens of local groups, amateur teams and youth organizations eager to join with the newly formed coalition. We're talking about groups that have been laboring for years on behalf of the young people of Brooklyn and are excited about the first professional franchise to come to Brooklyn in over fifty years.

We anticipate that the Nets and FCRC will become a major stakeholder in the development of this sports advocacy group but, at the same tome, once others see the depth of the group's support, we think it won't be long before the number of the group's supporters grows considerably.

While skeptics may label this cooptation, the test of the venture will be seen in the extent of the Alliance's support and the way in which it reaches out to help youth sports group all over Brooklyn. Clearly, this is not pure altruism on the part of the incoming team and its ownership, but is there really anything that's truly pure when it comes to philanthropy? There are always less pure motivations involved in corporate giving but that doesn't take away from the good achieved.

What we hope to achieve is a dynamic partnership that benefits both the team and the amateur sports community of Brooklyn. A win-win situation would be for kids to get support and exposure to the larger sports world while the team gets a growing and enthusiastic fan base.

Mets Stadium Muddle

AM Metro reported yesterday that the Queens council delegation may hold up the crucial vote on the financing for the new Mets stadium. As usual, Councilman Monseratte led the charge saying that until some key issues are addressed, " would be imprudent to move on this vote..."

The vote is scheduled for next Wednesday and, as Ben Smith told us yesterday ("Not Convinced in Queens"), only Weprin and Vallone are solidly behind the stadium plan. Smith speculates that the Mets might not have hired as well as the Yankees and without the proper lobbying support they got caught unprepared for the mounting opposition.

The Speaker's Office has gotten in the middle and her spokeswoman told AM that, "We still anticipate moving forward with the vote on the 26th as scheduled but we are going to continue to work to ensure that community issues are addressed." All of this comes on the heels of a march that Monseratte led on Shea the other day that drew over 200 little leaguers and residents.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Low Income Communities and Wal-Mart

Over at the DMI blog, Andrianne Shropshire, talks about the recent Wal-Mart funded survey that showed low-income New Yorkers have the most favorable views of the store. While Shopshire is somewhat skeptical of the numbers she does believe that better outreach needs to be done to these communities:

What NYC needs is a good organizing drive. One that focuses on organizing low-income and working-class neighborhoods around a community standards platform. One that brings neighborhood people together to analyze the clear implications of Wal-Marts model. And one that builds a unified front that will not accept poverty jobs in exchange for a smiley face and company cheers. It won't take much to turn those public opinion numbers around, we can't be duped so easily. But we are a bit behind on this and before Wal-Mart spins it into a story about how unions are thwarting the destiny of low-income communities of color, we better get busy.

Quinn: No Wal-Mart in NYC

According to the Daily News, at a Crain’s breakfast yesterday City Council Christine Quinn reemphasized her strong opposition to Wal-Mart entering New York City. One of the Speaker’s major concerns is Wal-Mart’s reliance on public safety net programs:

"It is well documented across the country that Wal-Mart frequently uses the public insurance programs of the cities they are in as their own health insurance programs," Quinn charged. "We can't put that additional strain on our Health and Hospitals Corp., which is working as hard as it can to take care of uninsured New Yorkers."
Wal-Mart is going to have a very tough time building in the city if the speaker maintains her steadfast opposition. However, there is still the possibility that the retailer will find suitable space already properly zoned which is a cause for concern and something that the Alliance will be working on with our allies.

Reiter Downplays Developer Money

As Room Eight reports yesterday former Guliani deputy mayor Fran Reiter testified before the CFB and told the panel that she didn't think that developer money impacted the political process. As she said, "The developer money in the system just says 'Don't hate me as much as you already do.'"

Reiter goes on to say that politicians don't want to be revealed as "on the take against the community." This is one of those great half-truths that are true in some circumstances but often not seen in certain areas where elected officials are less sensitive to the local community. David Weprin, for instance, held firm when Pathmark was trying to site a store in Fresh Meadows last year in the face of community opposition but, on the contrary, the Bronx council delegation rolled over the community opposition this year in the case of the redevelopment of Yankee Stadium.

The same could be said about the BTM fight where minority merchants were given the bum's rush as local legislators found themselves awash in developer dollars. Reiter is right about certain well-organized neighborhoods, and the example of Wal-Mart in Tottenville is a good one, where electeds are wary of going against the local opposition.

This is not always the case, and we still recall Speaker Vallone's steamrolling of Juanita Watkins in Laurelton when he ignored her wishes and those of the community in his support of a shopping center on Merrick Blvd. Developer dollars are still a potent weapon in any local political fight and the CFB should be vigilant of this fact when it looks to make the system more democratic.

Second Time's a Charm for TWU

It appears that the leadership of TWU Local 100 has finally gotten the contract vote that it sought two months ago. According to NY 1 the rank-and-file has overwhelming "ratified" (71% in favor) the contract that was narrowly defeated in January. Toussaint, speaking on the station last evening, said that he believes that the "MTA should honor the earlier offer.

What to make of the turn-around? Toussaint blamed the media and "membership confusion" for the failure to ratify the contract the first time. Maybe so, or perhaps it was the realization that, given the union's missteps, it would be unrealistic for the workers to think that they could get anything better at this time. In any case, as the NY Times reports this morning, this all sets up a showdown next week when the MYA board meets

Whatever happens, however, the entire fiasco and the union's handling of it will be hashed out in an election later this year when Roger will undoubtedly present himself as a martyred warrior for his members. He'd better hope that the membership doesn't become confused a second time.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Philadelphia Fines Business for Not Using Disposer

As we’ve mentioned the City of Philadelphia mandates that commercial establishments dispose of their organic waste via food waste disposers. Contrary to the opinions of certain New York City administrators, officials in Philly’s Water, Health and Streets departments all believe that it is a public health benefit to remove fetid, rat-attracting waste from dumpsters and instead pump it into the sewer system.

In fact, after a recent complaint, the Philadelphia Health Department handed out a citation to a butcher not using a disposer. According to the Philadelphia Weekly:
An enforcement officer cited Chestnut Farms butcher shop for tossing out slabs of meat (the health code requires that food waste be ground up and thrown down a garbage disposal). The butcher shop wasn't fined, but simply told to change its practices. "That's typically how we handle violations," says department spokesperson Jeff Moran.
As Intro 133 continues to garner support we hope that Councilmembers and the DEP take into account Philadelphia’s model.

Wal-Mart Floundering

According to Crain’s ($), Wal-Mart has not only passed on the previously mentioned Caldor site in Queens but has decided not to pursue sites in downtown Brooklyn and Carnarsie. Couple this with what happened in Rego Park and is occurring in Staten Island and it’s safe to say Wal-Mart’s attempt to enter New York City isn't going so well.

What a Fine Mess You've Got Us Into, Roger

The TWU Local 100 is in deep trouble. As Newsday reported late yesterday Judge Jones socked it the union with a $2.5 million fine and the elimination of its dues check-of privileges. This, on top of Jolly Roger's ten day jail sentence, puts the Local in a precarious position.

The unanswered question is how the union's rank-and-file will respond to this draconian action. Will they blame Roger and look to replace him when elections come up later this year? Or will they perceive the union head as a victim of vicious anti-labor forces out to sabotage the labor movement?

In today's NY Post union ran-and-file appear to be ready to pony up in defense of the local but, predictably, both the Post and the NY Daily News loudly applaud the court's strict response to last year's strike. It is unfortunate that Local 100 botched the entire labor negotiation so exquisitely that the dunderheads at the MTA came out looking like heroes.

Mets March

As the Daily News reports this morning Councilman Hiram Monseratte and Councilman Tony Avella will be leading a candlelight march on Shea Stadium tonight. As the News says, "Hundreds of irate residents-including kids in Little League uniforms-will march to Shea today to demand the Mets become better corporate citizens."

As Monseratte told the paper, "The kids in our community deserve better from the Mets." Not everyone agrees, however. In this morning's Post editorial on the naming rights for the new ball park Monseratte is described as a "cheap chiseler" for his youth advocacy. The Post has nothing to say about the millions of dollars the Mets will be saving, at the expense of the tax payer, as a result of the unique financing arrangement the Mets negotiated with the city.

When a large corporation gets millions of dollars for its own financial benefit it is called "negotiation." When an elected official tries to get the same company to be more responsible it is termed "extortion." We guess it's really where you're sitting.

Grinder Pilot Potential

As The Crain's Insider is reporting today Councilman Jim Gennaro, despite the fact that 36 of his colleagues have signed on as supporters (Tony Avella being the latest), has told the newsletter that he and DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd are forming a "truth squad to fight gains made by lobbyists for commercial waste disposals." According to the Insider's Anne Michaud, however, it appears that someone forgot to tell Lloyd.

When the DEP was asked for comment on the councilmember's squadron a department spokesperson said "that Lloyd was looking into the science behind the disposals and has not ruled out a pilot program." This, if true, is indeed good news for the Alliance and its allies in the food industry who have been fighting for such a pilot for over three years. It also makes sense since Lloyd had been a supporter of disposers in the early nineties when she was the city's sanitation commissioner.

All of which sets the stage for the presentation next week by Dr. Robert Ham, arguably the world's foremost expert on food waste disposers. The Alliance is bringing in the professor to brief councilmembers on the science and economic soundness of disposers. Given the DEP's position, we will now look to extend Ham's briefing to the DEP and its staff.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Trash Dilemma

Last week the NY Post printed an Op-ed piece advocating incineration as a solution to the city's costly garbage disposal problem ("Burning is Green" PostOpinion, April 10). Predictably there was a response, and the three letters printed today perfectly underscore the differences people have on this issue.

The first from Bob Mercandetti, a private carter, accurately points out the extent to which the city's pump and dump, landfill-based methodology has one clear result: the financial aggrandizement of the mega-haulers who own the landfills. As he says, "Feeding the landfills is where the profit lies in our industry today."

The other two letters come from the environmental community and exhibit all of the retrograde and myopic tendencies that we've come to expect from these romantic folks. The first from our old buddy Tim Logan rants against the evils of incineration and ignores all of the contrary evidence from the past ten years of experience, the old "don't confuse me with the facts, my mind's made up" mentality.

The other letter comes from the "Zero Waste Campaign" and as you might expect from a group so aptly named, it makes zero sense. It repeats the religious mantra of "waste prevention, recycling and compostng" and ignores all of the evidence that more practical intervention will be needed if we are to free ourselves from a landfill based disposal plan.

This is especially true for the composting argument. That is why we have promoted the introduction and expansion of food waste disposers. It is, as we have pointed out, the only practical and environmentally sound method to reduce the city's waste and the concomitant reliance on trucks and landfills. More on this next week.

Leaky Analysis on Wal-Mart as Neighborhood Store

In today's NY Sun the paper reports on another Wal-Mart commissioned study that "proves"-well, just what the company sought to prove-that city shoppers want the retail giant, not only in the city, but actually in their neighborhoods. We now have another slightly ironic example of the old adage, "You get what you pay for."

It seems that the company survey found that 60% of city residents want the Walmonster while 62% "support a Wal-Mart store in their neighborhood." That is what we would call counter-intuitive to the extreme; more people supporting the store in their own neighborhood than those who just responded generally with a support of the retailer. Obviously this is not decent polling by any means and shows a dramatic increase from the numbers elicited in the February Quinnipiac poll that showed a 51%-47% split over the store's desirability.

This is all contradictory of course to the Alliance's twenty five years of experience with shopping centers and box stores in this city. The Wal-Mart survey fails the test of experience (and a saliva test as well). Ask the community leaders in Tottenville, for instance, who recently made their own feelings about a Walmonster in their neighborhood quite clear.

The same could be said of the folks in Fresh Meadows and Mill Basin who turned down proposals for new large supermarkets because of the fear of disruption to the neighborhood quality of life. The same phenomenon was exhibited over the past two decades in Astoria, Bay Ridge, Laurelton, Chelsea and Canarsie. It is precisely the reason that Mayor Guiliani's megastore proposal was overwhelmingly defeated in 1996.

The other aspect of the Wal-Mart survey that is as faulty as it is irrelevant is the focus on "leakage." This focus, the argument that the city is losing millions of dollars to suburban retailers, money that could be captured if these retailers would be allowed to proliferate in the city, always fails to adequately analyze two key points: 1) why are people leaving? and 2) Would more box stores in the city prevent the efflux?

We've dealt with these issues before and made the point that in the end the proliferation of box stores would not stop the leakage and would only further cannibalize the neighborhood retail base in this city. So, as the Alliance's Richard Lipsky told the Sun building a slew of Walmonsters will not be economically beneficial and , "Leakage will continue on a massive scale for a whole host of reasons..."

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Schism in Queens?

There appears to be some internal bickering in the Queens council delegation over the possible CBA with the New York Mets. As Newsday and Metro reported last week, some of the members who don't represent the immediate neighborhoods feel that the Mets have been "good neighbors" and don't feel that the team should be asked to do what the Yankees have pledged to do in the Bronx.

Clearly, Hiram Monserrate, the member who represents the immediate local are around the stadium feels differently, as does Tony Avella from College Point and John Liu from Flushing. In fact, Monserrate has called on the IRS to investigate whether it is legal for the city to use tax exempt bonds to fund the stadium construction. Earlier last week the city's Independent Budget Office had called this form of financing a "very aggressive interpretation" of the law.

According to our sources there are negotiations going on between the speaker's office and the Mets. Hopefully something can be worked out to benefit the kids of Queens. The tax breaks alone justify the aggressiveness of Monserrate and company.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

NY Sun and Wal-Mart: Perfect Partners

The NY Sun continues today in an editorial with its unabashed Wal-Mart cheerleading. It seems that the paper feels that the old Caldor's site in Flushing "would be a boon for New York." It then goes on to argue, based on one study alone, that the chain may in fact "drive down wages" but even so the "cost" to workers "is significantly less than the benefits." (Huh?)

The study that the Sun refers to argues that the Walmonster is "one of the few retailers that offer health insurance to part time employees in addition to full time staff." The Sun should check with the UFCW and find out that every single supermarket chain represented by the union not only offers this coverage to their workers they also pay for it themselves!

It does no good for an employee to be offered something he or she simply can't afford. Which is precisely what happens with the majority of the Wal-Mart workers. The Sun than goes on to defend the chain claiming that while they do have more employees and their children on Medicaid than the national average other retailers have a worse record.

That's a defense for the richest corporation in the world? And what are we to make of the argument that the employees who are forced on to public assistance "choose" this coverage over the company's.

And the paper's argument that Councilmember John Liu's statement that "Wal-Mart is not welcome in Flushing", is a disservice to "that lot of low-income immigrants looking for work in Mr. Liu's district...", overlooks the hundreds of immigrant retailers who would be forced to close their doors (and look for work at Wal-Mart) if the retail giant opened in Flushing. It is these retailers, and not the carpetbagging interloper, that offer the most economic advantage to NYC.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Daily News Bashes Queens Delegation

In an editorial today, the Daily News excoriates Queens Councilman Hiram Monserrate and the other members of the delegation who demanded that the Mets agree to a community benefits agreement just as the Yankees did recently for their new stadium. Likening these elected officials to extortionist mobsters, the News opines, “What Monserrate & Co. are up to now is a squeeze play and an abuse of power.” This pro-developer piece, is not surprising coming from a paper published by a real estate mogul.

However, what’s interesting is that the paper has had no problem with community benefits agreements in the past, no matter how flawed or quid-pro-quo they may have been. In the case of the Bronx Terminal Market, the News hailed the awful CBA negotiated by the developer and a non-existent “coalition of neighborhood organizations.” In an editorial urging the approval of a new Yankee Stadium, the writers glowingly describe the community benefits package as a trust fund for the community, instead of a slush fund to be controlled by supportive Bronx electeds. So why all this sudden criticism when Queens decides it should be treated at least as well as the Bronx?

The other problem with the editorial is that it fails to consider the direct and indirect public subsidies the Mets will receive and how these incentives change the nature of the project. If the development is approved, the Mets will receive hundreds of millions dollars of taxpayer dollars for infrastructure improvements as well as tax-free bonds that will save the team $50 to $60 million. Therefore considering the huge public investment in this stadium, it is not unreasonable for Councilman Monserrate and his colleagues to ask the Mets to ensure that minorities and women will be hired and that neighborhood children have access to quality sports facilities, Mets games and job opportunities.

Since the Mets’ new stadium hinges upon the public’s generosity, and considering there will be a number of negative community impacts resulting from new construction, it makes sense to us for the franchise to reciprocate with an agreement similar to the those signed by other New York sports teams.

Wal-Mart Punked Again

For the second time in fourteen months Wal-Mart has tucked tail and run from a prospective store site in Queens. This time, as the NY Sun reports this morning (with reports also in the NY Daily News and the NY Times), it was an abandoned Caldor's site on the corner of Roosevelt and Main Streets in Flushing.

The location had been identified by Wal-Mart's opponents through the Dodge Report, a trade publication that tracks construction activity. As the Sun says, "The report said that the Wal-Mart project was in its "final planning" stages, and a renovation costing between $5 million and $10 million would begin this July."

Once Wal-Mart opponents got wind of this stealth operation notifications began to fly to area electeds and the press. We made it clear in the process that even though it appeared that the store might be "as-of-right" we were going to go all out to prevent its siting in Flushing.

As it happens the Wal-Mart people were meeting yesterday with Speaker Quinn's staff and, inexplicably, they failed to inform the staff about Flushing. As the Sun points out, "According to a spokeswoman for Ms. Quinn, Maria Alvarado, Wal-Mart representatives were asked 'point blank' about the Flushing site and said they had no serious plans for it."

This did not sit well with the Speaker who, having been informed about the Dodge Report, recalled the Wal-Mart folks back into her office to explain the situation. As Maria Alvarado says, the Wal-Mart people were "disingenuous at best" and at worst "lying."Quinn and her staff made it abundantly clear to the Walmonsters that they needed to inform the Council on any store location "even if not legally required to do so."

What are we to make of all this? It appears that the world's largest retailer was, while attempting to sneak into Queens, literally "punked" by the Speaker and their opportunities elsewhere in the city don't appear too rosy anywhere they might need land use approvals. Clearly, as the UFCW's Local 1500 political director Pat Purcell told the Sun, "...bypassing the City Council would be 'penny-wise, pound foolish' for Wal-Mart because it would likely anger the legislative body that would presumably need to approve future projects."

All in all not a stellar day for the Walmonsters and a great day for all of us in the anti-Wal-Mart coalition. Shout outs go to Speaker Quinn who stood the bully down!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Mets Lowball Council

As we have been reporting the Mets have chosen to ignore the requests made by some members of the Queens Council delegation for a comprehensive CBA. As the NY Daily News tells its readers this morning the Mets have agreed to provide only $200,000 a year to fund Queens youth sports. This is a far cry from the request made by the delegation to the team in a meeting late Sunday night.

The reason for the lowballing, and the hearing going forward yesterday, was that Speaker Quinn had intervened and prevailed upon a majority of the delegation to let the hearing proceed. She also pledged to conduct negotiations with the Mets. It is, however, hard to see how much leverage she will have-assuming that she cares to negotiate the best deal possible-once the process moves forward and the approvals of the PILOTS are garnered.

All of this has got Councilmen Avella and Monseratte, the two lawmakers who represent all of the areas around the new stadium, extremely upset. As Monseratte says, "Shame on them if they think that's okay! Shame on them! Our kids are worth more..." The $200,000 pledge represents 43 cents a year for every kid in Queens.

As he has done since the rumblings began over the Mets stadium, Mayor Bloomberg once again blasted the attempt to "extort" money from the team. This, of course, is quite incongruous since the mayor has responded to criticisms of the other CBAs with the defense that they were "private deals" (see previous post). Which is both silly as well as incorrect.

The fact is the "Mets will save $50 million to $60 million on the stadium if the council supports the tax exempt bonds." If the team will save this much than the kids of Queens deserve to be treated better.

CBA's For Sale?

As the ongoing controversy over the substance of various CBAs continues with the dispute over the construction of the new Mets stadium Alair Townsend of Crain's New York Business weighs in this week with her opinion that the entire process needs to be reined in. Her take on the CBA revolution does mirror some of the comments we've made on the subject but Townsend goes further by labeling the use of CBAs as "zoning up for sale."

Townsend's observations are contained in the form of a memo to Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn. She chides the two lawmakers saying, "You have both chosen to sit back and watch the action unfold...This way the most serious opposition will have been bought off by the time projects come before you for approval."

Where we agree with the former deputy mayor is in her concern that there is no standardization or oversight in the process, especially when cash grants are being forwarded to certain groups. "Should there be any oversight to ensure that the processes for selecting who gets the housing, contracts and jobs are fair and not just sleazy patronage? You need to decide how far you're willing to let this go."

At the same time there are legitimate reasons for CBAs and the city has for too long ignored this rationale in the rush to do developers' bidding. Standards are, however, welcome.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A cornered market

It today’s Metro, Patrick Arden reports on the continuing saga over the Fulton Street Transit Center where a number of small businesses are being evicted in order to make way for the new MTA facility. As we’ve reported in the past, these 140 or so firms are not fighting the plan but are simply trying to get fair compensation and a viable relocation plan.

In order to achieve this goal, the MTA has hired the Cornerstone Group of Bronx Terminal Market fame or should we say infamy. As you may remember Cornerstone was charged with relocating BTM merchants but all they did was copy NY Times real estate listings, many of which where too small, had no refrigeration and no loading docks. The biggest issue, of course, was that these spaces were spread throughout the Bronx and did not allow for the synergistic market to be maintained.

Cornerstone is similarly failing to help the evicted businesses at Ground Zero. Arden quotes Manhattan Borough President Stringer who describes an effort eerily similar to what happened with the Terminal Market:

“Their relocation effort was basically giving real estate ads out and saying, ‘Good luck,’” said Stringer. “We need now to figure out how we’re going to relocate these businesses in four months, what assistance do they really need, and who do we hold accountable.”

We’re pleased that Stringer and other elected officials are sticking up for these guys. Hopefully they won’t receive the same short shift as the Bronx Terminal Market merchants.

Shea it aint so

In a meeting last night, the negotiations between the Queens delegation and the Mets broke off, with the Mets agreeing to contribute $200,000 a year to a youth sports fund but remaining noncommittal on all the other demands which are described by Michael Saul in today’s Daily News. An agreement was reached to hold the bond financing hearing today after City Council Speaker Quinn intervened with a promise to negotiate the other items of the community benefits agreement. The Quinn intervention is unusual only in the sense that all the negotiations with the Yankees were handled by the Bronx delegation and the Bronx county leader. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Subway Series: Queens Pols Ask Mets for Parity with the Yankees

As we have been reporting the Queens council delegation, led by Hiram Monseratte, has held up the Finance Committee hearing on the financing of the new Mets stadium. The NY Daily News, hot on our heels, revealed the details of the snag in yesterday's paper.

As the News reports other members of the delegation are starting to aggressively push the Mets to replicate the deal that the Bronx negotiated with the Yankees. As Councilman John Liu said, "...a stadium imposes burdens, substantial burdens, on part of the nearby community...We'd like to see an integration between the Mets and the Queens community, so the Mets aren't an island unto themselves."

The Mets are finally aware that they need to do a beter job of lobbying the elected officials that hold their financial fate in their hands. Met CEO Jeff Wilpon, recognizing this reality, told the Queens councilmembers, "Look, the communication has not been good. I take full responsibility for that and I'm sorry, and I'm here to say I want to improve it."

The NY Times also weighed in on the two stadiums yesterday calling on the Yankees to fund the proposed Metro North station. The paper argues that the deal struck with the team and the additional support that it calls for would be "a good start toward restitution for the many years in which the team, the richest sports franchise in the land, largely ignore residents of the disadvantaged South Bronx."

The same could be said about the Mets and their neighbors in Queens. As the Times points out, "The Mets will get at least $165 million in public assistance for infrastructure and other costs...On top of that both teams want help through tax exempt bonds and tax-alternative payments that could save each club tens of millions."

Given this level of suppert it would be in the enlightened self-interest of the Mets to move quickly to consummate a CBA with Queens. The emphasis should be on helping the kids of the borough and should avoid the more questionable slush fund that severly taints the Bronx deal.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Wal-Mart: "Pre-Restitution"?

Normally when someone commits a financial crime part of the punishment involves restitution: the compensation awarded the crime victim that attempts to make him whole for his losses. Well, Wal-Mart is taking this principle to a new level.

As the SI Advance reported yesterday, in a followup to the Financial Times story the day before, the company is looking to pay out grant money to small retailers in and around their new stores in order to help these little guys to compete against the store that is trying to take away all of their business.

If all of this sounds crazy it's because it really is. And the retailers on Staten Island certainly get the picture Listen to Vincent Campitiello, a local pastry shop owner: "It's great propaganda, but how can it be true? Once they open they're going to destroy other businesses."

Wal-Mart is what it is and no new wrapping is going to change this. When the "present" is opened up what you have is a small business destroying behemoth. As the Advance accurately points out, Wal-Mart "has been responsible for hundreds of small business closings." And, it is the store's "all-in-one retailing" model that is the cause of these destructions. No grant money will ever change this and those who believe it will are truly gullible.

Meet the Mets

As expected focus rapidly shifted away from the just concluded Yankee Stadium deal and gravitated toward Queens and the proposed new stadium for the Mets. The stadium that was unveiled yesterday evoked memories of the old Ebbets Field and brought tears to the eyes of Met owner Fred Wilpon. All was not euphoric, however.

Amidst all of the hoopla was one discordant note. As we have already discussed there is a concern among the Queens council delegation, led in this regard by Hiram Monseratte, that the Mets need to do more to become "good neighbors" to the communities of the borough they reside in.

As an expression of their concern the councilmembers have temporarily tabled the Finance Committee hearing that was scheduled on the stadium funding for next week. As the NY Sun reports today, Monseratte and his colleagues want the Mets to replicate the Yankees' effort in the South Bronx. As the councilman said, "We love the Mets. But we also want the Mets to be good corporate neighbors...The same way the residents of the Bronx are benefiting from an agreement with the Yankees, Queens residents should be benefiting from an agreement with the Mets."

Monseratte's push for parity for Queens and his role in the delayed council hearing did not sit well with Mayor Mike. As the NY Times reports, "The prospect of community groups demanding a Yankee-like benefits deal from the Mets angered Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 'Every development project in the city is not just going to be a horn of plenty for everybody that wants to grab something...' New development, he said, should not be a rush to 'line up to get ransom.'"

Is the mayor serious? The Gateway project the AY project and the Yankee Stadium deal all have a community benefits component. In all of these cases there is a recognition that economic development needs to be accountable, particularly to the host communities. This is especially true when there is a considerable public investment in the deal.

In the case of a sports team the argument is even more compelling. As Andrew Zimbalist, the sports stadium guru from Smith College points out in today's Sun, "the amount of 'trickle down' from the arenas into the neighborhoods is more like a 'light trickle.'" The money flow is more out to the corporate office than towards the local community.

It is also true that a local professional sports team has a different relationship with the community than any other business. Very few companies can consistently break so many hearts as the Mets do on a regular basis. There is a deep emotional connection between a team and its local area fans. It is, or should be, in the interest of the franchise to nurture this relationship and certainly not take it for granted.

Insuring this kind of ongoing relationship should be job one when, as Crains Insider reports, the Queens delegation meets with the Mets today. We kind of like the idea the Andrew Wolf floated in his critique of the Yankees CBA today. A big chunk of any change that is negotiated should go directly in support of the little leagues of Queens, and not into the hands of local pols.

This is exactly what we're trying to do with FCRC, the Brooklyn Sports Alliance and the Brooklyn Nets: a working partnership with the kids and coaches of the borough. This is certainly not any "ransom" but an example of enlightened self-interest.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Yankees Score, Mets on Deck

As expected, the City Council overwhelmingly approved the Yankee Stadium redevelopment plan yesterday. As the NY Times reports this morning the approval came "despite opposition from parks advocates and residents in the surrounding community, which is among the most impoverished in the city."

The critics who still see the stadium, in the words of Councilmember Helen Foster, as "a win-win for the Yankees and leftovers for the community", were drowned out in a sea of Yankee euphoria and exuberant cheerleading from the Bronx BP and the eight other Bronx councilmembers. It would be hard to imagine this level of complicity against the loss of public parkland in any other city community.

All of which now shifts the focus of attention to Queens and the Mets. The Council had planned to take up the issue of the PILOT financing of both stadiums next Wednesday, but in a late move yesterday the Met financing was removed from the scope of the Finance Committee hearing.

The change was spearheaded by Councilman Hiram Monserrate who, while supporting a new stadium for the Mets, wants to be sure that his community doesn't get shortchanged (see end of article) . The Yankee CBA has generated its share of critics but when compared with the Mets even more limited efforts it manages to look robust.

In response a meeting has been set up between the Mets and the Queens council delegation for this Friday. We expect that a series of demands will be put on the table as a kind of quid pro quo for the council's support of the stadium financing.

Bloomberg: "Ours for the Taking"

In an attempt to enhance his and the city's political power the mayor has issued a "NYC Card" to 100 influential contributors to political campaigns. As the NY Sun reports this morning, the card highlights some of the key issues that the mayor feels should be a prerequisite of financial backing. One of the five priorities is "the ability to use eminent domain in blighted communities."

Now we have made it clear that we don't take an absolutist position on the ED issue. That being said, however, we also believe that the current policy and procedures involved in the taking of private property needs to be reformed.

In addition, Mike Bloomberg, given his immense wealth, does not come across as the best spokesman for the policy. More protection needs to be put in place for property owners and small businesses-along with greater compensation-and a more rigorous review of the public benefits must be made part of the process.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Wal-Mart’s Urban Agenda

In 1984ish parlance, Wal-Mart’s CEO Lee Scott announced yesterday that the company would create Jobs and Opportunity Zones in “socially deprived” neighborhoods, hoping to lessen the opposition to its urban expansion. According to the Financial Times these zones would:

include identifying local businesses to be featured in free local newspaper advertising and on Wal-Mart's instore radio broadcasts, as well as organising business development workshops aimed at exploring opportunities created by the presence of the retailer.

Wal-Mart said it would donate $500,000 to local chambers of commerce in the zones, with a focus on helping local minority groups and women.
Wal-Mart’s proliferation in urban areas like New York City will no doubt result in the destruction of numerous minority union jobs and countless minority-owned small businesses, as can be seen by this Brennen Center report. What good is free advertising and workshops when a huge chunk of your business evaporates? As for the money to local chambers of commerce, these bodies are pro-Wal-Mart to begin with because they are not generally comprised of mom and pop retailers but real estate firms, insurance brokers and other such non-competitive businesses.

WakeupWalMart makes a good point about Scott’s statement that the stores will be specifically located in high crime / environmentally-tainted areas:

Wal-Mart says it will build the stores in neighborhoods with high crime or unemployment rates, on sites that are environmentally contaminated, or in vacant buildings or malls in need of revitalization. Of course, new Wal-Mart stores would violently exacerbate existing problems of crime, poverty, environmental contamination, and urban blight in these areas.
That is exactly right considering Wal-Mart’s burden on police forces nationwide and its sub par record vis-à-vis pollution.

On the DMI blog, Adrianne Shropshire rightly suggests that Wal-Mart's goal is to stifle grassroots business opposition from groups like ours and that it fails to address greater issues surrounding poverty in these neighborhoods:

"Urban" areas with "high unemployment" and "high crime"? Well my-my, Wal-Mart, who on earth could you be referring to? I am disgusted to no end by this company trying to push their poverty-wage jobs on already poor communities of color and then looking for thank yous. The Brennan Center report also sites two other important stats, 1. communities experience job loss, not gain, when Wal-Mart enters and, 2. poverty actually increases in communities when big-daddy arrives on the scene pimpin' his low-wage, no benefit jobs. I don't think that one of the policy solutions recommended for addressing the disconnection of Black men from the workforce was "increase the number of jobs that keep families in poverty".
A final point is that these zones are in the same areas that groups like NY Industrial Retention Network are trying to preserve for better paying manufacturing jobs. The NYIRN would argue that by rezoning this manufacturing space for commercial use you are preventing the preservation / expansion of a sector that has family-supporting wages and benefits.

In the Financial Times piece, the Alliance’s Matt Lipsky responds to this PR tactic of emphasizing how Wal-Mart will create jobs and revitalize neighborhoods:

Matt Lipsky of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, which campaigns against Wal-Mart opening in New York, said the argument that its stores promoted economic development overlooked their impact on the wider community.

"Our feeling is that the collateral damage, such as the impact on better paying competitors, is going to outweigh any benefits they might bring into an area," he said.

Scoping Out the Walmonster in Monsey

As the Journal News reports this morning there is growing concern in Monsey over the impact that a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter will have on the already over-congested Rt. 59 corridor. As local resident Hershel Klara told the paper it now takes him 20 minutes to drive 6,500 feet from Kennedy Drive to Remsen Avenue "And that's without Wal-Mart...I don't know how I'd do it with a Wal-Mart."

The Journal News also quotes extensively from the Alliance's own traffic expert Brian Ketcham, and from the looks on the faces of the developer's consultants last night Brian was most definitely not a sight for sore eyes. What Brian underscored was the need for the developer to go way beyond just a few intersections in and around the project site (a favorite ploy of developer consultants everywhere). He also emphasized that the five mile trade radius was way too conservative and the store will likely draw from ten miles or more.

The key point in Ketcham's testimony, however, was his estimate of the sheer number of cars Wal-Mart will generate. In his view the proposed store will bring "16,000 vehicle trips on a typical weekday and 21,000 on a Saturday."

He then went on to describe how this extra traffic will impact on auto accidents in an area that has a "sordid accident history." The are between Kennedy Drive and Rt. 306 has 175 car accidents a year and, as Ketcham points out, "Travel to and from this Wal-Mart is estimated to produce another 130 auto accidents annually, in which 45 people will be injured each year." The estimated additional cost of all this?--$30 million every year!

Spring Valley attorney Bruce Levine testified for the village and hit on the socioeconomic impacts that the store will have on local business, a point that the Alliance's Richard Lipsky also emphasized in his testimony. "Levine said that the store would greatly affect Spring Valley's urban renewal plan, which aims to bring more stores into the county's most populous village."

The scoping session sets the stage for what promises to be a titanic struggle. Last night over 50 residents came out but once the traffic impacts and social costs become more widely known we expect an outpouring of concern from the targeted community.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Monsey Wal-Mart Scoping Session

As a reminder, tonight at 7:30 at the Ramapo Town Hall there will be a scoping session to determine what Wal-Mart’s developer has to examine in its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Town Hall is located at 237 Route 59, Suffern, NY 10901.

Here is our testimony for tonight and here is Brian Ketcham’s comments on the developer’s traffic analysis.

Yankee Stadium to be Voted on Tomorrow

According to Frank Lombardi of the Daily News, an approval for the proposed Yankee Stadium is likely at tomorrow’s subcommittee and committee votes. Though one the South Bronx’s councilwomen has publicly stated her opposition the rest of the Bronx Delegation seems to favoring approval. One unnamed source sums it up the best:

"It stinks," said a resigned Bronx insider familiar with the Council's eleventh-hour negotiations with the Yankees. "But who's going to block the Yankees?"
Like with the Bronx Terminal Market redevelopment, these last minute talks will probably result in a couple more dollars being thrown on the table though not the resolution of the major issues. This extra money will most likely be added to the community benefits agreement Lombardi mentions, a document that was negotiated between the Yankees and supportive elected officials.

As the Daily News’s Juan Gonzalez writes, adding insult to injury is the fact that local opponents of the stadium deal are being shut out of a local school where they planned to have a rally:

Three weeks ago, Chauncy Young, a member of the United Parents of Highbridge in the South Bronx, got permission from the principal of PS 218 Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School, a public school near Yankee Stadium, to use the school's auditorium for a big community meeting scheduled for tonight.


But about 2:30 p.m. on Friday, top officials at the Education Department suddenly declared the school off-limits and threw the community out on the street.

"It's a political event," Education Department spokesman Keith Kalb told me. "Chancellor [Joel] Klein's regulation No. D-130 bars political activity in schools."
Of course the Department’s justification is ludicrous. Continues Gonzalez:

The January 2004 regulation he cited, a copy of which I have carefully reviewed, specifically states that it "governs the use of school buildings by candidates, elected officials, and political organizations and the conduct of school employees ... with respect to political campaigns and elections."

It affects political candidates but says nothing about barring local parent and community groups from school buildings.

"We've used local schools often and never had any event canceled until this one," Young told me. "This says a lot about the stakes involved."
One can’t help feel sorry for the community that is not only losing its parks but also the chance to speak out against this action.

Garbage Canned

As expected the city's largest private waste hauler was struck last night by workers from Local 813 of the Teamsters union. The strike focuses attention on the commercial waste sector and its 13,000 daily tons of trash that, along with the city's roughly 12,000 tons of residential waste, must find a home in some out-of-state landfill.

As we have pointed out the strike highlights the extent to which the commercial sector has become dependent on a garbage duopoly and this concentration hasn't been good for the city's neighborhood retailers. When former mayor Guiliani, amidst much media fanfare, set up his Trade Waste Commission there was much talk about how the racket-buster had eliminated a $500 million a year "mob tax."

Thanks but no thanks Rudy. Since this relief was given to the city's businesses the cost of garbage collection has more than doubled for food stores and restaurants, making retailers nostalgic for the bad old days. This situation has been exacerbated by the city's opposition to the introduction of commercial food waste disposers.

What's missing, however, is the city's own dependence on the new garbage cartel, something that the DSNY commercial waste study itself points out. As long as we are exporting to landfills, and this is the only mindset of our contracting companies that own these dumps, we can expect an everlasting escalation of the cost of trash removal.

This is precisely why we need to begin to develop the kind of alternative waste reduction strategies that actually have the real world potential to be effective. The suggestions of folks who have never spent a single day in the private sector, let alone in an actual waste hauling business, amount to little more than pie in the sky approaches that would, if ever implemented, either not work or be exorbitantly expensive.

Intro 133 is the most cost-effective and environmentally sound method available to reduce commercial waste and free local retailers from the grip of the garbage behemoths. If implemented properly on the residential side, disposers would dramatically reduce waste along with our city's dependence on garbage export.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Developer Defends Wal-Mart

The developer of the proposed Rockland Super Wal-Mart responded to critics (including us) who claim the store will have a detrimental impact of the surrounding neighborhoods and county as a whole. In today’s Journal News Jerrold Birmingham, managing director of the National Realty & Development Corp., had this to say:

Birmingham said the site was well-suited for this type of development because it had the right zoning and existing water and sewer lines. He said that in addition to creating a positive visual impact — the site is now a parking lot — the store would bring in thousands of dollars in real estate taxes that would benefit the town and school district. He said he expected the project to cost more than $20 million and open by spring 2007.
First, we couldn’t help but chuckle the implication that Wal-Mart’s bland white walls would help beautify the area. Perhaps the box store is more visually pleasing than a parking lot but if a main reason for the project is aesthetics than alternatives such as a high school or park make more sense. Second, the real estate tax argument is typical developer sophistry considering that Wal-Mart will burden tax payers in terms of safety net programs, subsidies, and burdens on police and emergency services.

Birmingham also floats the job rationale – Wal-Mart will purportedly create 500 new jobs – but again the argument is specious. What the developer leaves out is that a super Wal-Mart will put a lot of other jobs at risk, especially at competing small businesses. Spring Valley’s Mayor Darden sums up this counterargument nicely:

"You may gain 500 jobs, but you're going to lose 1,500," said Spring Valley Mayor George Darden, one of the project's most vocal critics.

Darden said the Wal-Mart would put smaller stores out of business along Route 59 and would greatly affect Spring Valley's urban renewal plan, which aims to bring more stores into the county's most populous village.
The developer’s feeble response:

Birmingham said the development company made a living leasing space to business owners who wanted to move in next to stores such as Wal-Mart.

"What Wal-Mart does is, it creates an interest for national retailers to come to this place," he said.
The issue isn’t attracting national retailers; it’s retaining homegrown businesses and recognizing their economic value. As the Alliance’s Richard Lipsky is quoted as saying:

The local businessman has local wholesalers and local accountants and advertises locally," said Lipsky, of New City. "It's a multiplying affect."
And there are already plenty of national retailers within a few mile radius of the proposed supercenter – Target, Home Depot and Staples to name a few. The developer makes it sound like the county is some backwoods hinterland in need of economic invigoration but the opposite is true. In fact, the area is in some ways overdeveloped, creating the traffic problems that will mostly likely be the most contentious issue:

Maryellen Griffin of Suffern said that if the Wal-Mart in Tallman closes, she might shop at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Harriman because she didn't want to deal with the Route 59 traffic.

Al Meehan said he moved from Yonkers to Spring Valley about four years ago because he couldn't take the growing congestion on Central Park [sic] Avenue.

"But 59 is worse," he said. The increase in traffic a Wal-Mart could bring is among the reasons he doesn't want to see it built.

Sink These Putzes!

If you wanted to write a screen play that caricatured the issue of eminent domain you couldn't have even imagined this current scenario in affluent North Hills, Long Island. As the NY Post editorializes today ("Eminent Dementia") the town wants to use ED to confiscate a private golf course for another essentially private golf course.

In Mayor Natiss' view the acquisition of a "public" course (not really so since it would be restricted to North Hills property owners) would enhance local property values. As the Post points out, however, this is precisely the kind of taking that Kelo prohibits since it is designed to benefit exclusively "a particular class of identifiable individuals" (the property owners of the town).

What North Hills seeks to do is to enhance the value of some of the richest property in the region and, in the process, aggrandize the already wealthy (although in their defense there seems to be the kind of "well developed plan" that the SC and the NY Times saw as girding the defense of ED).

Sometimes, as Freud pointed out, it takes the truly irrational forms of behavior to really illuminate the so-called normal patterns. In this North Hills case what is exposed is the unseemly side characteristic of many ED property transfers. It is time for clarification and legislative reform.