Friday, June 30, 2006

Fast Food Redux

On a related issue to our last post it is important to point out that Andrew Wolf's critique of Rivera's efforts to use the zoning tool to curb fast food outlets is, on this issue, just factually inaccurate. He argues that the councilman's proposal "will not be the first time that zoning regulations will be misused to advance an unrelated non-land use decision" (He refers to the Alliance's successful effort to stop a BJ's from being built on Brush Avenue).

The fact say otherwise. As we have pointed out, there is no stronger zoning rationale than the protection of the public's health and safety. In fact, the 1916 NYC comprehensive zoning law, the first of its kind in the nation, rested squarely on the correlation between the municipalities police power to regulate public health.

Now you might not believe that there is a correlation between obesity and fast food (as we're sure Wolf does not) but if a strong link can be established, as it has been in recent research in public health, that there is no stronger rationale for zoning than that.

Wolfing Down the Fast Food

In today's NY Sun columnist Andrew Wolf continues his attack on the those who believe that we need to do something drastic about what our kids eat. Initially he had ridiculed the efforts of former president Clinton to eliminate soft drinks from our schools, and now he takes aim at Joel Rivera's proposal to use zoning as a tool to restrict the number of neighborhood fast food outlets.

What's interesting in the Wolf piece is his skepticism about the entire issue of childhood obesity. As he says about the Rivera proposal, "This seems to be strong medicine for a disease that I'm not sure really exists. There is precious little evidence of any long term health danger posed by this 'epidemic' either to children or to adults."

Wolf opines that although Americans are getting fatter they are still living longer. "Nor is there any evidence that attempts to manipulate portions of the diets of children will really result in weight loss." This is all very provocative but also useful, because what Wolf is arguing is subject to rigorous scientific evaluation.

He also argues that all of this diet restriction "hysteria" will have harmful repercussions, "but it won't be a glut of fat children. Rather we will see an epidemic of eating disorders, similar to what we have seen among young women in recent years."

The reason? It's because we are supposedly taking a pleasurable activity and investing it with "anxiety and alarm." Here Wolf's argument devolves into the hysteria that he criticizes in others. Not only that he has created the "restrictive diet" strawman that is not central to the thrust of the anti obesity effort aimed at children.

Wolf cites the author of a book called "The Tyranny of Health" who critiques the efforts to "coerce children into a 'five a day' fruit and vegetable consumption..." that will rob our children of the "sensual enjoyment of eating and drinking." This is not what the opponents of fast food and its corresponding gluttony have in mind in their efforts to fight the growing obesity problem.

In questioning the existence of an obesity epidemic Wolf reminds us of the Marx Brothers' line: "Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?" But give Wolf credit for bringing this to the fore and now that he has done so we would suggest that Councilman Rivera, along with his collaborator on the Health Corps, Dr. Mehmet Oz of Columbia-Presbyterian, convene a conference in the Fall that addresses all of the various points of view on the subject.

Whose Community?

Hats off to the Riverdale Review (and to our friends at Save Our Parks for calling attention to the piece), for its commentary about the actions of BP Carrion in regards to the galling nerve of CB #4 to actually attempt to represent the community's interest. As we have said before, Carrion has done us all a public service by disabusing us of the idea that these boards are actually in place to live up to their name.

All kidding aside, the sacking of the board raises a number of serious issues that relate to the integrity of the ULURP process. Also being questioned here is the competency of Carrion to be a mayoral candidate in 2009. As the Review said, "If Carrion cannot deal with a little difference of opinion over one issue in the Bronx, how could he ever govern an entire city with eight million points of view?

Pushcart Before the Horse

As the NY Post reports today there was a protest yesterday in front of City Hall by unlicensed street vendors who are complaining about their carts being "wheeled away by the city for lack of proper licensing." A group called Street Vendors for Justice is protesting the move complaining that about 20 carts have been, along with the goods they contained, confiscated by the city.

NY1 picks up the story and quotes one of the unlicensed (undocumented?) vendors saying, "We are asking for an unlimited amount of licenses," and Councilman Charles Barron seems to agree since he has introduced a bill to raise the 3,000 license cap. As the Councilman told the Post, "Why should we restrict access to be fully licensed when they are just trying to make an honest living?"

Why should we restrict? Well for one thing these folks who are just trying to make an honest living (By working illegally?) are actually taking business away from the tax paying store owners they often set up their carts right in front of. If they are only interested in feeding their families than they should look for work at one of the countless supermarkets that are constantly looking for new employees.

If they are afraid to actually apply for a real documented job than we do have a real problem with illegal immigrants coming into the city and threatening, through their unlicensed peddling, to undermine the city's tax base. Calcutta hear we come!

One last point. The Post points out that the city only licenses 3,000 pushcarts but, at the same time, licenses 9,000 vendors. What this means is that the city is creating a pool of contract laborers to work for unscrupulous goods wholesalers. The exploitation is inevitable and needs to be investigated.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rivera Post Toasted

In today's letter section of the NY Post the paper's readers take aim against Councilman Rivera's suggestion that we use zoning laws to curb the proliferation of fast food outlets. The thrust of the opposition view is expressed by Nat Weiner of the Bronx who suggests that Joel Rivera "attack the root causes of obesity."

Well Nat, Rivera must be listening to you because included in the just concluded budget deal is an initial $250,000 Rivera-sponsored grant to expand the Health Corps program to three additional high schools in the fall. The Health Corps goal is to change the attitudes of young people aboujt health and nutrition. So, while we partially agree with letter writer Karen Parisi of Maryland that, "it is not the government's job to control what our children eat," we also believe that government can and should play an educational role in this area.

Environmental Hypocrisy

The NY Times has a great story in today's paper about rats "swaggering" in East Harlem. Swagger they do because the latest city effort to curb their population hasn't really made a dent into the profusion of their numbers. An audit released last week by Comptroller Thompson found that the city's response to rat complaints "was slow" even though DOH has improved somewhat in its fight against the rodents.

All of which underscores what we have been saying all along about the need to go after the source of rat nourishment, the food waste that attracts them in the first place. This can be significantly accomplished through a program to install both commercial and residential food waste disposers. It is exactly why the NYCHA has installed disposers in housing projects on the Lower East Side and Bushwick.

Instead, precisely because of the misguided effort of some of the city's leading environmental groups Intro 133, a measure that would eliminate the rat food source, remains stalled. Stalled because groups such as the NRDC are more concerned about the algae in the Jamaica Bay than they are about the poor folks of East Harlem.

A concern for public health was the primary reason for the City of Philadelphia to mandate the use of food waste disposers for any store and restaurant that applied for a dumpster permit. The solid waste benefits of disposers are clear, but when we add the positive impact that their use will have on neighborhood public health it is inexplicable that the City Council has not seen fit to act on legislation that is sponsored by 36 members.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Crain's Gives Us Props

We need to give a shout out to the Crain's Insider for singling this blog out in this morning's In$ider. The kind words-"an informative pro-union blog"-were appreciated and, hopefully, the observation that our observations "rarely generate comments" can be seen as a result of our emphasis on policy analysis rather than pure partisan rabble rousing.

We do have a point-of-view but our pro union stance is usually restricted to the box store issue, since our main focus is on defending neighborhood stores. Our goal is definitely to advance certain issues but we like to inform as many as possible on the various sides of any policy debate. Sometimes this wish is limited, as some readers never fail to point out, by the fact that we are in business to defend our clients' interests.

Journal News Says No!- to Wal-Mart in Monsey

In today's Rockland Journal News the paper editorializes against the building of a Wal-Mart supercenter in Monsey, N.Y. In doing so the paper praises the Town of Ramapo for scoring "a win for planning common sense by requiring that the developer...provide a study of its economic ramifications." This precisely what the Alliance had been urging the planners to do and the the Board's chair, Sylvain Klein, properly made sure that the study was included.

The JN feels that the economic impact analysis could (should?) "highlight the good reasons why there should not be a super center or other major developments in the congested Monsey corridor." The paper feels that the project could "hinder renewal and force store closings" in Spring Valley and along Rt. 59 in Monsey.

One key point that the Journal adds is the need for the Ramapo planners to look at the report "with healthy skepticism." Which is precisely why the Alliance, much as it has done in NYC in its BJs and Wal-Mart fights, plans to do its own impact analysis in conjunction with both the Ramapo Jewish Chamber of Commerce and the Spring Valley Chamber. Ramapo simply cannot rely on the self serving data provided by National Realty and Development Corp.

Finally, the JN tells the Ramapo planners to"have the courage of your convictions" and be prepared to "say 'No' to whatever you must in the interest of the people." One important point is left out here, however. The one man who holds the fate of this project in his hand is Ramapo supervisor St. Lawrence and we've been hearing that he may not have the same degree of healthy skepticism toward Wal-Mart that the JN has.

If true, you can depend that he will be hearing from the good folks in Monsey and Spring Valley. If he listens to the voice of the people than there is a good chance that the Wal-Mart project won't "damn the St. Lawrence."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Garbage Deja Vu

Yesterday's City Council hearing on the city's SWMP took a very predictable course. As the NY Times points out, opponents of Manhattan transfer stations came out to inveigh against the siting of facilities on 91st Street and 14th Street. In turn, proponents of the mayor's plan accused the protestors of being insensitive to the fact that minority communities have had to put up with these stations for years.

As we have been saying all along, this is all an exquisite result of two things: the mayor's clever emphasis on "environmental justice," and the plan's failure to address any substantive proposal for waste reduction. The result is the current fight over a couple of transfer stations, and the total disavowal of the need to come up with a cost-effective waste reduction and disposal plan.

This is all kind of a Kabuki theater presentation as lawmakers debate issues that are only partially germane to dealing with the need for a less expensive and more comprehensive garbage solution. And, as David Yassky tells the Crain's In$ider this morning, "he won't vote for the plan because he believes that the Sanitation Department has not fully developed the commercial part of it."

Crain's goes on to point out that "commercial trash haulers have been lobbying against the mayor's proposal." This is because the city is looking to channel all of the commercial waste into a city-controlled 59th Street transfer station. Something that the NY Times has approved of without giving much thought to its feasibility or legality. In addition, the paper exhorts the city to recycle private waste with no clear idea just how this is supposed to get done.

All of which gets us to the essence of Intro 133. This proposal to experiment with the feasibility of legalizing commercial food waste disposers would demonstrate the dramatic potential to reduce the export of commercial waste by over 90%. Once the numbers are crunched we strongly believe that the necessity of building an expensive commercial waste station at 59th Street would be obviated. Not to mention the potential to address the public health issue that is created by the city's rat epidemic.

It will be interesting to see whether council people like Yassky, Monseratte, Garodnick, Lappin and Rivera can push the body in a positive public health and solid waste direction. If they do the current plan can have the number of transfer stations, and the amount of overall garbage exports, reduced in all neighborhoods.

Monday, June 26, 2006

McZoning: Fat Chance?

In today's NY Post the paper picks up on the fact that, "The City Council's push for a McZoning law to restrict the number of fast-food restaurants is not so far-fetched-a study conducted by Bloomberg's alma mater strongly endorsed such a crackdown." The Post also reports, as we have commented, on the fact that other municipalities have enacted restrictions on fast food outlets, including Detroit, where no fast food place is allowed within 500 feet of a school.

All of which is to once again point out that the obesity issue isn't something that should be a subject of ridicule. The problem is so serious that a National Obesity Action Forum has been established and in its meeting earlier this month the group began strategizing how to further reduce obesity. As the Journal News reports this morning, "A Food and Drug Administration-funded report released this month assesses the annual medical cost of the overweight problem at nearly $93 billion."

The crisis in poor Black and Latino communities is so severe that the clergy in Harlem has become activated to combat the epidemic. Led by Dr. Olajide Williams, a member of the Central Harlem Obesity Workshop, a "Health Revival" plan has been launched by Harlem ministers "to attack obesity among the super-sized in their pews."

Zoning-out fast food outlets, as Elizabeth Whelan opines in today's NY Sun, may not be the best strategy to combat the obesity epidemic but its threat may be necessary to energize an industry that the Journal News tells us "is balking at proposals to require sharing detailed nutrition information with customers..." They respond to the suggestion by claiming that "it is not food establishments' role to police what people eat."

The first recognition that tobacco was a danger to public health surfaced in 1920. It took us over 85 years to reach where we are on this subject today. With obesity we simply don't have that much time to get a serious grip on the problem. We need immediate drastic action today, and the fears of Big Government that Whelan expresses are not as frightening as the proliferation of preventable chronic diseases that are directly attributable to obesity.

Solid Waste Movement

The NY Times editorialized yesterday on the need for the City Council to adopt the mayor's SWMP with little or no tinkering: "Because the plan's placement of transfer sites hangs like a Caldor mobile, the City Council should adopt it without too much tampering."

What's troubling about the paper's view is its lack of emphasis on just how the city is going to "expand recycling to businesses," something that the Times thinks needs to be done. As it points out, "Ultimately the task of successfully managing trash will require not just burial or incineration, but reuse and reduction of rubbish as well."

Just so. However, isn't it incumbent of a solid waste plan to actually lay out some coherent methodology for waste reduction? This is totally missing in the city's elaborate siting plan. The sections on recycling are devoid of any useful proposal that would make anyone but the mayor's most ardent acolytes sanguine about the possibility of waste reduction.

And what about the 59th Street commercial waste transfer station?- something the Times tells us is "without question necessary for Manhattan, which produces 40 percent of business trash." The paper doesn't say just how the city is going to incentivize or, perhaps, force the private carters to divert waste to that transfer point from others that they are already using.

All of this is, of course, frustrating to us because of the myopia that exists around the one methodology, the installation of commercial food waste disposers, that could "expand recycling to businesses" and reduce rubbish as well. This is particularly true of Manhattan where food waste is a significant component of the commercial waste stream.

Without any real waste reduction strategy the city moves ineluctably towards a fiscal and solid waste nightmare. The Times, unfortunately, neglects to raise any questions about the escalating costs of disposal, costs that are exacerbated by reliance on questionable export-landfill destinations as well as on the failure of the city to reduce the amount of waste being transported.

Will Power, Fast Food and "Common Sense"

The crescendo of ridicule that was generated by Councilman Joel Rivera's trial balloon about using the city's zoning laws to reduce the availability of fast food joints continues. This time it is the acid-tongued Ellis Henican in Friday's Newsday. In what must be considered unintentional irony, the liberal Henican morphed into Nancy Reagen with his injunction to, "Just say no to the jumbo fries."

Henican does ask a series of legitimate questions regarding the overall legality of the proposal and the definition of what exactly qualifies as fast food. He than also points out that there are a whole host of things that government can do-like "smart nutritional education" and "not canceling the phys ed classes in school"-but goes on to pose the following question: "does anyone really believe the answer lies in making colonel Sanders move down the street?

Well, a lot of public health researchers think that zoning is part of a comprehensive approach to the serious public health crisis generated by this country's obesity epidemic. In fact they point out that the most fundamental underpinning of all zoning regulations is public health and safety. Not only that, a great many municipalities have already taken zoning action against fast food, although not for obesity per se, and these ordinances have survived legal challenge.

It doesn't mean that a number of Henican's other suggestions shouldn't also be included in any anti-obesity health policy. In fact, as we have pointed out, Rivera is doing just that in his sponsorship of Dr. Mehmet Oz's Health Corps initiative. Better education should be the main thrust of any policy but the proliferation of fast food establishments, especially in low income areas, is a problem that can be addressed through zoning.

If, as it is in San Francisco, Newport RI, Concord, MA etc, zoning is being invoked against fast food and "formula" restaurants on the grounds of "community character," than it can be used for a legitimate public health purpose in the fight against obesity. It might be a last resort remedy, to be used only in the event that the fast food industry maintains a deaf ear about the obesity epidemic, but it should certainly be examined for its efficacy and be held in abeyance so that the fast fooders know that policy makers are serious.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Daily News Zones Out: From Obesity to Opacity

In today's NY Daily News the paper editorializes against the suggestion, advanced by Health Committee Chair Joel Rivera, that city zoning law be used to control the proliferation of fast food joints in neighborhoods where childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportion. The councilman's proposal earned him a "Knucklehead Award" from the paper's pontificators.

In this case, however the shoe, or should we say the dunce cap, is being worn by the wrong party. In their efforts to belittle the proposal the News' erudite crew resorts to ridicule:"Lose Your Butt Bill," "Slaw and Order candidate," etc. The epidemic of obesity, and its attendant diseases, is no laughing matter. In one estimate 365,000 deaths a year can be attributed to obesity, making the disease second only to tobacco use as a killer in this country.

We can ask the smug editorialists, just what has the Daily News done to be part of the solution for a health crisis that is plaguing the kinds of neighborhoods that are represented by Mr. Rivera? The unfortunate answer is- absolutely nothing. Instead of being proactive and helpful the paper's rhetoric degenerates into sarcasm.

What makes the ridicule even more misplaced is the ignorance that the editorial page exhibits on the entire zoning/obesity questioning. You see, the musings on the subject do not originate from the solitary ruminations of Rivera but, instead, are drawn directly from the cutting edge scientific research being done in public health at-hold onto your seats-The Center for Law and the Public's Health at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

So before we kill the messenger here isn't appropriate to first question all of the highbrow folks that are being partially funded by our own mayor's largesse? When we look at the work being done in the field we find that there are a lot of serious researchers who believe that zoning can be used as a tool to control obesity (See "The Use of Zoning To Restrict Fast Food Outlets: A Potential Strategy to Combat Obesity, October, 2005). Not only that, the mayor's health commissioner certainly hasn't ruled the zoning tool out.

Now the News might not agree with the researchers' conclusions but it needs to become better informed on the subject before the lapse into ridicule makes them look, well, ridiculous. If they review the literature they might discover that the historical foundation for all zoning is the protection of the public's health and safety. Not only that, zoning is already being used in other parts of the country for the purpose that Councilman Rivera suggests.

The obesity epidemic (which costs New York state $3.5 billion just in Medicaid payments) and the concomitant health crisis is probably the most important public health challenge we face in this country. Fast food is not the only contributing factor but it certainly plays its part. The fast food industry needs to wake up and become part of the solution-and so does the Daily News. If this doesn't happen than more punitive measures will be forthcoming. The handwriting is on the wall and you don't have to be a seer to read it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Zoning for Fast Food?

At yesterday's City Council Health Committee hearing the committee's chair, Councilman Joel Rivera, "proposed overhauling the city's zoning rules to limit the number of fast food restaurants in neighborhoods where obesity is epidemic among youths." Obesity was the subject of the hearing.

The Alliance applauds Rivera's desire to do something about the obesity epidemic. We do, however, think there are better ways to do it that don't involve restrictive zoning changes that may not even be feasible. The Alliance doesn't hold a great deal of sympathy for the fast food chains that have pushed out indigenous neighborhood eateries, but zoning changes could have unintentional consequences and could hurt the growth of neighborhood economies.

In the first place even coming up with a definition of fast food wouldn't be easy. As Mitchell Moss of NYU points out in today's NY Daily News, "it's unlikely any zoning resolution could dictate that level of detail. The zoning code for eating and drinking establishments does not distinguish types of food. "

Testifying yesterday at the hearing, though, was our good friend, Dr. Lynn Silver of the NYC DOH. Silver is in charge of the city's efforts to reduce obesity rates in the city's poorest neighborhoods. The doctor told the committee that "restrictive zoning seemed to be a 'perfect example' of how government could help control the epidemic."

Not so fast. As one Yonkers teacher told the NY Post, "'Trying to hide a donut won't work...,' said Gary Londis...He said teaching kids to exercise and eat better would be more practical." Exactly so. In a city where 21% of kindergarteners are already obese drastic intervention is necessary.

Which brings us to Rivera's major new health initiative: the expansion of Dr. Oz's Health Corps concept. Health Corps, using a Peace Corps-like model, trains volunteers who then are placed in underserved high schools to teach various health-based lessons. The program is already being piloted in two city high schools and is designed to create a grass roots activism for health among the city's young people. Judging from its initial reception, the program could be the beginning of an attitude revolution, one that could lead to the kind of life-style changes that would make any zoning change superfluous.

Assisting in these lifestyle alternations should be the fast food companies that Councilman Rivera cites. It would make perfect sense for the McDonalds of the world to team up with Health Corps to encourage healthy eating and proper exercise. Childhood obesity and diabetes are socially and economically costly and the best way to combat these epidemics is, in partnership with food retailers, to convince young people to make improved choices.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

New Direction for CBAs?

In today's Crain's Insider($) the newsletter is reporting that a local development corp has been formed to "negotiate a benefits agreement on behalf of neighbors of Columbia University's planned second campus in Manhattanville." The group, seeded with $350,000 provided by City Hall, consists of 13 reps from community, bushiness and residential factions.

As Crain's wonders, could this be a change of policy on the part of the Bloomberg Administration when it comes to the approval of CBAs? The mayor's criticism of the negotiations around the Mets stadium apparently devolved more from his lack of control over the process than from any philosophical disagreement with the CBA concept.

That being said there is some merit in the Columbia approach -as long as the LDC is actually representative of the impacted community. It gives some rationality, and hopefully some transparency, to the CBA process. It'll be interesting to see how this turns out and what the reactions will be from some of Columbia's opponents.

In any case it is a sharp departure from the manner in which these things are done in the Bronx. We finally got some reaction from BP Carrion over his jettisoning of some CB#4 members because of their opposition to the Beep's Yankee Stadium plans. As the NY Daily News reports this morning, Adolfo's view of the community resembles that of Louis the XIV ("Le etat c'est moi"): "My very clear expectation is that these appointees are there to carry out a vision for the borough president and the leadership of this borough, and that's simply what I expect." We'll see whether these turn out to be words to live by or to eat.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Spitzer Withholds Support for Fair Share

As the NY Post is reporting today, and it's a sure sign that Eliot Spitzer feels his poll position is comfortable indeed, the Democratic candidate for governor has split with his party on the so-called Wal-Mart health care bill. Spitzer believes that "Fair Share" is not the kind of comprehensive health care reform that he feels New York State needs.

Knowing Spitzer and watching his demonstration of political independence over the past few years we'd be shocked if this split is viewed will be viewed as an anomaly when the dust settles on Eliot's career. If we were a status quo Democrats we'd be just a little bit worried with Mr. Spitzer as governor, Since we don't fit into that category you can describe us as quite sanguine about a Spitzer governorship.

Jewbilation in Bentonville

For all those critics of Wal-Mart who railed against the company's homogenization of America with its vanilla box architecture there is news that should get us all to re-think our harsh critiques. What kind of news could cause such a sea change in attitude? Here it is: The Jews are coming to Bentonville.

As the NY Times reports this morning in a front page story, the growth of global Wal-Mart is threatening to turn Bentonville, Arkansas into a cosmopolitan metropolis. Hundreds of executives and employees of suppliers have been drawn to the Wal-Mart corporate home and there are now enough Jewish families to support a synagogue.

Talk about irony. All throughout the country the Wal-Mart behemoth is eliminating the diversity of small businesses and neighborhood retail. In fact, as we have ben commenting, this is just what will happen in Monsey, New York if the Walmonster gets the approval to build a supercenter in this heavily Orthodox Jewish community.

So while a cosmopolitan feel of cultural diversity begins to give Bentonville a different communal flavor, the drive toward eliminating these positive features of American communal life continues with Wal-Mart's drive towards lebensraum. Can this trend be stopped? Let us all pray.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Shuffle Board in the Bronx

In today's NY Times the paper gets around to the controversy surrounding the cashiering of many of the members of CB #4 in the Bronx by BP Carrion. One member, housing and land use chair Mary Blasingame, was one of the most concerned and conscientious community board members we've ever met. This is all about political payback. The BP was embarrassed by the board members he had appointed and he wasn't going to sit still for that.

Put simply the Yankees plan was no good for the High Bridge community and the board knew that. AC didn't give a rat's ass because he has his sights set on bigger things, something which a new ball park will help him achieve.

As the Times points out this was the second time that the BP had shafted this local community. "In February, several board members said a community benefits agreement negotiated by Mr. Carrion with the Related Companies for a new shopping mall at the site of the Bronx Terminal Market had shortchanged Bronx residents."

Whether this all comes back to haunt Carrion remains to be seen. One local resident is circulating a critical letter concerning Adolfo's failure to reappoint community-minded board members. AS Maria Simmons told the Times, "Don't play with people who put their trust in you."

Focus on Economic Impact for Monsey Wal-Mart

In yesterday's Journal News Sulaiman Beg continues his excellent work reporting on the evaluation process for the proposed Monsey Wal-Mart, in particular the Ramapo Town Board's decision to require a full review of the store's socio-economic impact. As Beg points out, "A decision to have the the economic ramifications of the project has proved to be a plus for the development's opponents."

Indeed it is a plus for opponents but, as the Alliance's Richard Lipsky points out, "This is a victory for the community...It's great that discretion was used to expand the scope and look at these essential issues. It's important information that needs to be examined." What needs to be done now is to insure that the kind of study that is done actually examines the real impact that a Wal-Mart can have on a local economy.

This is particularly true for the Monsey-Spring Valley area. As deputy town attorney Richard Ackerman says, "Why build new stores when there are already vacant ones?" The reaction of the developer also is cause for concern. Jerrold Bermingham says that Wal-Mart could "revitalize" this section of RT. 59 "making it more appealing to other national retailers."

If Bermingham believes that the building of a Wal-Mart will prompt a flood of additional national chains into the area than he better include these projections in the economic impact analysis. We know the kind of devastation that a supercenter can cause and an additional two or three chain stores will only exacerbate the situation. This is not good news for Monsey and Spring Valley retailers.

In fact the JN talks to our friend Abe Stauber who is busy organizing the Monsey retail community. Stauber doesn't see "how the project could be good for the heavily Orthodox Jewish Community." "Look what happened to downtown Spring Valley when the Nanuet Mall opened. I don't see a silver lining in the whole thing."

The next step is to prepare for the July town meeting. The purpose of the gathering will be to alert the impacted communities to the "high cost of low prices." The more people are educated the more difficult it will be for the developer to argue the putative merits of a Wal-Mart on the overcrowded traffic corridor of Rt. 59.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bottle Bill Bottled Up

The yearly dance in Albany over the expansion of the "Bottle Bill" has just about ended with the legislation failing to be sent to the Senate floor for a vote. This is good news for all of the state's food stores that have been turned into garbage dumps ("transfer stations?") in this flawed and misguided environmental effort.

What gets us is the determination of the folks at NYPIRG and the Environmental Planning Lobby to put businesses on the front line of the solid waste issue when better alternatives exist (We're still waiting for NYPIRG to support any policy that would be good for business-Whose public interest is it anyway?).This is especially true for NYC stores that lack the space to adequately handle the deposit containers.

When it comes to these solid waste problems all of these groups are missing calculators. Their view seems to be: "We don't care what these initiatives will cost the stores or the tax payers." The problem is that the expense of the effort is not effective at really addressing the problem.

This callous disregard is particularly evident in the call to continue to expand deposits will simultaneously running an expensive and inefficient curbside collection program. Since we have examined the entire solid waste/deposit equation we've concluded that the only sensible way to expand the deposit system is to take it out of local stores and establish well-funded free standing redemption centers. Deposits can work more effectively in a system where everyone has the proper incentive to redeem and recycle.

Friday, June 16, 2006

More CBA Controversy

A few days ago the NY Times weighed in on the controversy roiling the CBA discussion that we've been commenting on extensively. One of the most significant questions that the Times story raises is "whether the groups signing the document really speak for the community."

The other important issue is the role of the municipality. In some jurisdictions the city is a party to the agreement since many of the provisions impinge on quasi-public functions. In NYC, however, there is no clearly defined process and the developers are forced, if they want to utilize this mechanism to garner support for a project, to wing it.

This makes some in the development community nervous. As one attorney remarked, "There are no guidelines, no control. The transparency is not there. You just don't know what you're walking into."

What clearly doesn't make any sense is the suggestion of one Manhattan community board chairperson that these entities ought to be brought into the process, "They can look at the bigger picture," said Patricia Jones of Community Board #9. The community boards are representative of nothing but the elected officials who appoint them and, as the furor over Board 4 in the Bronx demonstrates, if they go off the political reservation they are quickly shown the door.

We do agree that the process needs to be made more rational so that the slick Potamkin Village style CBAs (like the one for Gateway) aren't deemed acceptable. The mayor and the council are apparently reviewing the entire issue and, as land use chair Melinda Katz says, "We can probably learn a lot from other jurisdictions..."

More Monsey Heat on Wal-Mart

We have already reported on the decision of the Ramapo Planning Board to expand the scope of the Wal-Mart EIS. We did,however, miss Sulaiman Beg's story in the Journal News that previewed the action last Sunday. The story did report that the Board had insisted that the developer would have to "complete a more comprehensive traffic study" but didn't yet have the information that it would also insist on the economic impact analysis that the Alliance had requested.

The paper did underscore the Alliance's concerns and the Board's reaction two days later indicates that it is possible to get the planners to recognize some important variables if the proper effort is made. We will continue to do this since awareness of the development and its potential impact is not clearly understood by the nearby communities.

That is why we have been working with the nascent Ramapo Jewish Chamber of Commerce and its founder Abe Stauber. Yesterday we met with a group of Abe's retailers in Monsey and, unlike Frank Garcia's make believe ballroom, these are real store owners with real concerns about the potential impact of Wal-Mart on their businesses. When all is said and done we think that this is one Chamber that will have a big impact on the outcome in Monsey.

The Bronx Wal-Mart

As the organizing work of the Alliance and its allies continues in the Bronx the rumors keep persisting that the giant retailer has its sights set on the city's poorest borough. In today's NY Daily News the paper is reporting on the grass roots effort and the gyrations of some of the Walmonster's putative supporters who are attempting to distance themselves from the retailer's radioactivity.

Of course the Wal-Mart flack believes that the opposition is "a small minority of special interests" who "stand in the way of choice." We guess that he doesn't read his own public opinion surveys that show that the store is generating the king of similar negative ratings that our current president is trying desperately to raise.

What's most interesting in the story is the reporting on the booty capitalist effort to sow support with cash. For instance, even though it doesn't have a store in the Bronx the retailer joined the Bronx Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, no doubt embarrassed by this hand-out, is scheduled to vote today to terminate the Wal-Mart membership. As the Alliance's Matt Lipsky says, "We fear Wal-Mart is giving-and will keep giving-money to create support for itself."

Which brings us to old friend Frank Garcia and his Bronx Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. We have already commented on our suspicions that Frank is looking for ways to promote the company. With all of the heat being laid on him, however, Frankie from the Bronx is shucking and ducking-"people are spreading rumors about me," Garcia said. We can just see Garcia burning those travel vouchers to Bentonville.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Dances With Schnorers

In today's Newsday the paper is reporting on the counterattack being launched by a pair of Long Island Indian tribes against the Alliance's effort (as well as a lawsuit filed by Gristedes), to get the state to enforce its own tax laws. The tribes are arguing that the tax "removes the incentive" for people to shop at their stores.

This incentive, as the Alliance's Richard Lipsky told Newsday, is in fact the greater proportion of the cost of a pack of cigarettes, and the sale of these smokes in NYC has contributed to the loss of over $250 million a year in business for city stores. If the tribes need the money than they should find ways to do business that don't unfairly rig the playing field against struggling small store owners.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wal-Mart Scoped In Monsey

It's always refreshing when people who are charged with taking care of the public interest actually take their responsibility seriously. Such is the case with Mr. Sylvain Klein, chair of the Ramapo Town Board.

As we commented yesterday the draft scoping document for the proposed left a lot to be desired when it came to socio-economic as well as traffic impacts. We had a long chat with the chairman and he promised that he would try to include this missing data analysis in the scope. Later that evening he lived up to his promise and the scope was amended to include the business impact in Monsey and Spring Valley. In addition, Saturday was added as a peak traffic day at our suggestion.

All of which doesn't mean that the RTB will do the right thing in this matter. Much work needs to be done before we can say that the powers-that-be are paying attention. This was the concern expressed by someone commenting on last nights meeting (see yesterday's post). The poster feels that "St Lawrence...has already made his deal and is screwing the rest of us..."

We understand all the cynicism but we're not willing to throw in the towel by any means. We've been in fights where the key elected official actually brought the developer to the area yet was forced, when the community sentiment was passionately expressed, to side with his constituents. That is the gaunlet that we face here.

We are, however, not without allies. So far Legislator Fried and Spring Valley village attorney Bruce Levine (running for the legislature) are solidly in our camp and we're reaching out to all of the others as well. Our town meeting will be held in July and we expect that, once the public gets a better idea of what this project means, the opposition will become a crescendo.

Smoking on the Rise

The NY Daily News is reporting today that there is an increase in the percentage of New Yorkers who are smoking after a two year period of decline. Health Commissioner Frieden is using this increase to once again call on the state legislature to pass the city's proposed 50 cents a pack increase.

This is not a great idea since the level of illegal street sales has continued unabated and the Indian retail loophole is still in place. Interestingly, Congressman Charlie Rangel has weighed in against any new cigarette tax since he feels that it "unfairly targets the poor." Let's close the loophole, eliminate as much as possible the high level of street sales, and then a more rational debate about taxing cigarettes might make more sense.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Getting Jobbed at Wal-Mart

In today's NY Sun the paper reports that Wal-Mart is opening up a new store in Kearny, NJ, and the company received more than 8,000 applications for work. The Wal-Mart take, seconded by all of its commentator toadies, is that this deluge of applications means that "we are bringing good jobs with good benefits, and tremendous career opportunities into this community."

Well, not so fast fellas. We've been through a lot of this before, and it's useful to reiterate the fact that there are costs as well as benefits in the Wal-Mart equation-something that all of the acolytes fail to mention. What no one on that side of the ledger points out is that over the past decade 13,000 supermarkets have closed in Wal-Mart's wake. In this scenario the Walmonster's jobs have replaced those where workers were receiving much better compensation packages.

This is the process that the NY Times calls Walmartization-the replacement of locally owned businesses and unionized workers with less well-compensated retail employment. If Wal-Mart came into Monsey or NYC would there be lines of folks ready to accept the new jobs? Of course there would be, but that doesn't dilute the argument that the costs don't outweigh the benefits. Would the lines be any shorter if Wal-Mart actually paid their people better and provided for their health care?

Wal-Mart's Scope-A-Dope in Monsey

We've just received a copy of a draft scoping document, required under NYS SEQR rules, that has been prepared for the Planning Board of the Town of Ramapo. What we see in front of us is a seriously deficient document that fails to address a number of key issues. It is now incumbent on the Board to reject this scope as inadequate.

The major deficiency, and we're still examining the document along with Brian Ketcham our consultant, is its failure to consider the economic impact of the giant retailer on the areas existing neighborhood stores. In the more rigorous NYC CEQR rules the examination of both "direct" and "indirect" displacement of business is required.

As far as Wal-Mart is concerned we have a well-documented record of the store's devastating impact on existing stores in a community. Given these well-recorded dangers it is imperative that the Ramapo Planners demand that the developer of this store include an analysis of the Walmonster's impact on business in its EIS.

In addition, it is also imperative that the EIS include a full Wal-Mart market study as part of its impact analysis, This study would enable the Town to better understand just where Wal-Mart's customers are going to come from. Once this is known, it is possible to more fully understand potential traffic patterns. Without this data all of the consultant's traffic figures are basically unrefutable since no one would be able to judge the accuracy of the estimates without a benchmark.

So, given these deficiencies we're calling on the Planning Board to send the Wal-Mart consultant back to the planning board. Otherwise the Alliance and its allies may have no choice but to legally challenge the certification of the Draft EIS. There's simply no way for a document that is deficient from the start to somehow address key issues that it never felt were necessary to address in the first place.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Community Gored #4

Patrick Arden continued his good reporting on the shenanigans in the Bronx last week when he detailed the actions of BBP Carrion in respect to the recomposition of Community Board #4. This reaction by Adolfo, the decision not to re-appoint certain members because of their opposition to the Yankee Stadium deal, and the demotion of a number of committee chairs, sheds a great deal of light on one of the worst kept city secrets: local community boards, especially in the Bronx, represent the powers that be and if they go off the reservation thinking differently, well, you get what happened last week.

The story is picked up today in the NY Post and it talks about the BP playing "hardball" with his foes on the board. The Post also discusses, in a separate story, some of the hurdles that the theft of city parkland for the new stadium will face in Washington.

All of which raises questions about the legitimacy of the community input during the city's ULURP process and adds another reason to the compelling need to reform the entire procedure. Now don't get us wrong, you're never going to get a "politics-free" process, it's just that some better mechanism for community review is needed. And thanks to BP Carrion the rationale is crystal clear.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Palisades Mall Traffic: A Wal-Mart Lesson

There's a front page story in today's Rockland Journal News about the continuing efforts to mitigate the traffic going into and out of the gigantic Palisades Mall in West Nyack. What's instructive for us is the fact that the Clarkstown Planning Board, which approved the original traffic design in the early nineties, failed to envision any of the current problems even though critics were quick to point them out at the time.

All of which should be an object lesson for the Ramapo Planning Board as it looks to review plans for the Wal-Mart supercenter on Rt. 59. Planners need to weigh carefully the contentions of all of the paid experts who are brought in to tell them that the increased traffic volume can be easily mitigated.

What usually happens is that the subsequent mess, all because of store demand that couldn't have possibly been anticipated by the experts, is left to the town and county to fix-usually at the tune of hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars. In addition, the added "social costs" of accidents, fatalities and lost work time is never even figured into the equation.

It is now the job of the Alliance and its allies in Monsey and the rest of Ramapo to make sure that the surrounding communities are on high alert for the usual developer snow job when it comes to the evaluation of the traffic impacts that a project of this size will generate. The old adage of-"Figure don't lie, but liars figure"-needs to be applied to the Walmonster's expert witnesses.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Park Your Trash Here

The NY Times is reporting today that Speaker Quinn is backing a key element of the mayor's solid waste plan and may be getting close to a deal with Bloomberg on his proposed SWMP. The key agreement is on using part of the Hudson River Park site down near the Gansevoort Market for a recycling center. As the Speaker told the Times, "...that Manhattan should be responsible for disposing of its own waste, and that a recycling center could be operated at Gansevoort Street without disrupting the park..."

Still up in the air is the fate of the proposed commercial transfer station that the mayor has slated for 59th Street and the proposed residential one at 91st Street on the East Side that has caused so much controversy. The tentative agreement on Gansevoort has already sparked sharp disagreement from parks advocates and Quinn's erstwhile colleagues in the state legislature who represent the area. As Assemblymember Glick told the Times, "It's not the most helpful thing, but it is certainly not the last word."

Indeed it is not. In the middle of all of this is the proposal, Intro 133, to actually try to do something to reduce the city's commercial waste so that a waste station does not need to be built at 59th Street. As we have been saying all along there is nothing in the mayor's plan that does this. Without realistic waste reduction strategies the city's SWMP is doomed to be a bottomless money pit (cha ching Waste Management) and a real threat to New York's businesses that are inevitably going to be stuck with an enormous garbage bill.

Wal-Mart All Coked Up

The Alliance has worked on behalf of neighborhood food and beverage retailers for the past twenty five years. One of our first campaigns was waged on behalf of independent beer and soda distributors and it was designed to prevent the big guys-particularly Coke and Budweiser-from monopolizing the distribution system.

One of the things we learned early was how powerful Coca Cola was. In 1980 they had used their clout to get Jimmy Carter to push through a franchise territory law that preserved their hallowed three tier distribution network. Anyone who tried to "transship" Coke was going to have a major legal headache.

With Coke you had two choices: buy their product from the local route man or don't sell the stuff at all. How times have changed and guess who we have to thank? You guessed it-Wal-Mart. As CNN reported yesterday, "Coke caves under Wal-Mart pressure."

It seems that the beverage giant was being pushed to directly deliver its Powerade brand to the Wal-Mart warehouses instead of through the traditional store-door method. And, facing a freeze-out from the retailer, Coke caved and went direct prompting a lawsuit from 55 of its smaller bottlers (the same folks the franchise bill was designed to protect). In essence Wal-Mart, in effect, forced Coke to eat its own young.

Coke panicked because it was afraid that Wal-Mart would develop its own competing sports drink brand and Powerade would become toast. Talk about power! This is what the small retail and wholesale businesses of America are up against. If you can make Coke buckle, then everyone is at risk.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

More Monsey Traffic Mayhem and Wal-Mart

The concern about traffic along the Rt. 59 corridor, a concern that we have highlighted as a big problem for planners considering the merits of the proposed Wal-Mart in Monsey, is once again spotlighted in today's Journal News. This time it is the intersection at Rt. 306 and the concerns are very real. In 2004 there were 23 accidents resulting in six injuries at Maple Avenue with one injury at Rt.306 and Rt.59.

In order to address the seriousness of this traffic threat the Town of Ramapo is planning to go forward with a $1.2 million "traffic safety project" that looks to reduce pedestrian accidents that are particularly present in this "walking community." As Ramapo Supervisor Christopher Lawrence told the Journal News, "We have a lot of kids in the area. Mothers are pushing kids in baby carriages and they fight with traffic on Rt.59."

The problem is that there are no real sidewalks in the area and pedestrians are forced to walk on the street. "That, Ramapo Detective Sgt. John Lynch said, can be a deadly combination." A 67 year old Monsey women was killed by a cement truck as she tried to cross 59 last year.

As everyone quoted in the story pointed out, "The traffic is a nightmare." And now just when you think things couldn't get worse, along comes Wal-Mart to add to the 21,000 cars that travel through the 59-306 intersection.

All of which adds to everything that we have been warning Monsey about. As our traffic consultant Brian Ketcham tells us time and time again there are "social costs" to the project that never get considered. Among these costs is the inevitable increase in the number of pedestrian accidents, and yes fatalities, that will occur when you add thousands of new vehicle trips every day. These are costs that are borne, not by Wal-Mart, but by the good citizens of Monsey.

The Ramapo Planning Board is scheduled to certify the Wal-Mart traffic study and EIS next Tuesday. Our sources are telling us that the Board is going to allow the developer to do the minimal "scope of work." If so, this will be a great disservice to all of the communities that are going to bear the brunt of the Wal-Mart impact. It might also very well result in a lawsuit against the town.

This can all be avoided if Supervisor Lawrence breaks his inexplicable silence on the issue and instructs his planners to insist that this project undergo the strictest review. As the paper points out, ..."with a Wal-Mart Supercenter...both pedestrian and vehicular traffic are likely to increase."

The current proposals are like trying to bandaid a shotgun wound. As one small businessman said, commenting on the already nightmarish conditions on the corridor, "I have no idea how they can solve this problem...I don't know what they can do. This is a walking community. There is a large Jewish population. Friday night to Saturday night; they only walk."

Taxing Issues

The flap over Denny Farrell's tax "philosophy" is a good start to the upcoming gubernatorial debate. While we have great admiration for Eliot Spitzer and his potential to shake Albany up in a good way, we also feel that John Faso's anti-tax platform will help focus attention on the overburdened tax payers in this state.

Denny, who has a history of being anti-business, particularly small stores, needs to sit quietly in the corner and allow this debate to go forward. His continued pontification on policy issues is only going to shed unwanted light on a particular big government mindset that is too prevalent in the NYS Assembly. Spitzer needs to keep a good distance from all this.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Racial Flap Continues in the Yards

AS Metro reported yesterday and Ben Smith continues today in the NY Daily News, the racial backbiting over comments made by DDD's Daniel Goldstein continues. All of this is unfortunate because it obscures the debate over the merits of the development and pollutes any reasonable discussion.

What's clear to us is that there is a damned if you do, damned if you don't, quality about the criticism that the FCRC is "buying" the black community's support. For a very long time developers in this city have plowed ahead with a "community be damned" attitude that ignored any direct attempt to provide positive support for the impacted neighborhoods.

So now Forest City directly engages the local community, promulgates a CBA-the first of its kind in NYC-and includes an affordable housing component whose percentage far exceeds the norm, and for all of its pathbreaking efforts gets demonized by opponents.The irony here is that FCRC is also being demonized by many other prominent developers in the city precisely beacuse of how it has directly partnered with the local community.

Put the AY situation into context and compare it with what went on in the Bronx with the BTM. As Metro reported yesterday Patrick Canale, a long time member of Community Board #4, is leaving the board with a bad taste in his mouth. Canale was asked to participate in the "negotiation" over a CBA for the Gateway Mall.

The so-called CBA was in reality a "Carrion Benefits Agreement." As Canale says, "He formed all the committees...We found out that it was the borough president's deal. We were just wasting time again. We were negotiating among ourselves, and he negotiated with Related himself. When it came time to the finished agreement, nobody wanted to sign."

There will always be disputes about who does or doesn't really represent the community. In Brooklyn, with Daughtry, Sharpton, Lewis, Coach Screen, Renan Ebeid from Lincoln High and Jocko Jackson from Brownsville all on the side of the Yards the grass roots support is both wide and deep. To paraphrase Justice Stewart's comment on pornography, "We may not be able to define what the community is, but we know it is when we see it."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Baldor's, EDC and RFP Fairness

As we have already commented the city's actions over the Baldor's RFP raises some good questions about how the EDC makes its land use decisions. The article in today's NY Daily News points out some additional issues that should be examined by the City Council. It appears to us that, given Judge Billings' observations, the legislature should be looking to have more oversight before the ULURP process commences.

What the judge observed in this case was an apparent pattern of both favoritism by EDC and dissembling by Brian Murphy, Baldor's CEO. The reason for all of this sleight-of-hand was that the city was trying to find a way out of the BTM by using the abandoned Baldor's site as a destination for the BTM merchants.

As the News points out, "Baldor was also aware that the city wanted to secure its current site in order to relocate ethnic food merchants from the Bronx Terminal Market..." All of which is quite strange to us since the city never thought it wise to actively involve the merchants themselves in all of this maneuvering.

In any case, All Hail Judge Billings! Unlike the lamentable Judge Cahn, who saw precedents were none should have been found in the BTM litigation and toadied up to EDC in the process, Billings examined a rotten process and ruled accordingly.

All of which could set some interesting precedents of its own. As winning attorney Mastro told the News, the judge's decision "'speaks volumes about how shocking and unfair the city's disposition process was here'...and could set a 'very important precedent' involving future city requests for proposals.'"

Heads up Willets Point!

Dropping the Baldor

According to Crain's the city is going to have to re-open its bidding process for a 15 acre site that EDC had all but earmarked for Baldor's Specialty Foods. In her ruling Judge Lucy Billings had found that the bid process had been "skewed" and proceeded to annul the agreement.

What Billings also found was that the city had "failed to disclose a central criterion on which [it] intended to base its lease award..." In addition the judge agreed with the Hunts Point Produce Cooperative that the city had steered the site to Baldors because of its desire to help the city with its BTM relocation effort. Here's the judge's money quote:

"Although respondents denied communications about this objective, contradictions in the evidence, both related and unrelated to this precise issue, make those denials incredible"

The Astroturf Plantation

Just when you thought that it couldn't get any worse for the DDD group that has been fighting the AY development, it did. The group's trusty leader, Daniel Goldstein, accused the various supporters of the development ("plundering astroturf groups") of fronting for their "white masters."

There are a number of legitimate reasons for neighborhood groups in and around the development to oppose the project. There are also some good reasons for the groups that support the project to feel that, on balance, AY is a good thing for Brooklyn and the city. We've also stated our support the project and have done so by acknowledging the paid role of Richard Lipsky.

The Alliance has spent the better part of three decades opposing much of the mega-development in this city. We have done so generally on behalf of small businesses and the communities they're located in. When RL was approached on the AY development there was a great deal of analysis and some degree of soul searching before the decision to support was made.

Part of what made the decision easier was the variety, quantity, and quality of the groups and individuals that signed on to support the project. Given these supporters it is quite sad to see Mr. Goldstein resort to the language of slavery to demonize the likes of Bertha Lewis, Al Sharpton and Herbert Daughtry. The fact that he is holding a losing hand doesn't excuse the intemperate remarks.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Transportation Planning in Rockland?

Yesterday's Rockland Journal News gives a preview of a meeting of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council that will be held on Tuesday at the Palisades Mall. The purpose of the Council's "listening sessions" is to gather ideas from citizens about transportation issues that concern them the most.

Since one of the crucial issues that faces traffic planners is the proliferation of box stores and shopping malls it is indeed ironic to convene anything that deals with traffic over at the biggest mall in the Hudson Valley. On second thought maybe it is the most appropriate venue to examine the traffic problems facing Rockland; the eye of the storm as it were.

As we have been commenting in this regard one of the biggest challenges facing the county is the fact that each town and village reviews development in its jurisdiction without any input from contiguous communities that are sure to be impacted by the projects approved by their neighbors. This is especially unfortunate when it comes to the problems manifested by any proposed Wal-Mart.

So we plan to be at Tuesday's forum and the issue we will present is, how does a region devise traffic plans amidst the autonomy of towns and villages? We will also raise the problem of box stores such as Wal-Mart and the challenge they pose to sustainable development.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Monsey Wal-Mart Townhall Meeting

It's just about set; a townhall meeting to discuss the implications of building a Wal-Mart super center on Rt.59 in Monsey. The meeting is tentatively set for Spring Valley High School, a short step down from the site, on Tuesday, June, 27, 2006.

The focus of the gathering is to galvanize the diverse impacted communities about the various dangers posed by the development. The meeting will be sponsored by the Alliance, the Ramapo Jewish Chamber of Commerce and the UFCW. It will focus primarily on three key issues: traffic, crime and small business.

Joining us on that evening will be the Alliance's traffic consultant, the inimitable Brian Ketcham, and the good folks at WakeUp Wal-Mart who have been studying the issue of crime generation at the Walmonster. In addition, Abe Stauber of the RJCC will discuss the implications that the store has for the hundreds of locally owned businesses. We also expect that we will be joined by quite a few of the areas local elected officials since we believe that the Wal-Mart issue will be central to the upcoming electoral fight to replace the disgraced Ryan Karben.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Wal-Mart Watch in the Bronx

When the City Council approved the Gateway Mall project earlier this year, an approval that made a special arrangement to accomodate BJ's, concern was raised that the Bronx might be fertile ground for a booty capitalist thrust for Wal-Mart. Hence, the conference scheduled for Friday by WakeUpWal-Mart.

The purpose of the conference is to galvanize all of the community, labor and small business stakeholders in the borough in order to head the Walmonster off at the pass. From the looks of things the response has been overwhelming and attendance will be strong over at Hostos College.

As we have been commenting the key to Wal-Mart's entry into NYC is the ability of the retailer to garner Black and Latino support through the cooptation of minority developers and small business groups. The company has already started in this direction by collaborating with the ultimate booty capitalist-Frank Garcia and his Bronx Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It has also joined the mainstream Bronx Chamber as well.

The Wal-Mart tactics are being noticed nationally. In the April edition of Inc Magazine the Alliance's Matt Lipsky was quoted commenting on the effort by Wal-Mart to elicit small business support; "They know their biggest criticism is their negative impact on small business and they're trying to cover that up."

In the current issue of the magazine there is more comment on the giant retailers tactics. In an article titled, "Wal-Mart: the little guy's champion?, James Schrager, a University of Chicago business school professor, tells Inc that the new Wal-Mart initiative is a "grab bag of silliness" but goes on to say that "They'll wipe out all of the inefficient ma and pas, which is a good thing."

Except for the mom and pops themselves, but give the prof props for a degree of honesty that the Wal-Mart folks-and their paid acolytes like Mr. Garcia-lack. It reminds us of all the Polish nationalists who welcomed the Nazi invaders only to become the first victims of Hitler's wrath.

That is why the presence of Alfredo Placeras at Friday's conference is so welcome. Placeras is a true voice of Hispanic business and he, along with Jose Fernandez of the Bodega Association, Sung Soo Kim of the Small Business Congress and Paul Fernandez of the National Supermarket Association, is a legitimate representative of small, minority business.