Friday, July 28, 2006

Wal-Mart: From the Windy City to the Big Apple

The New York Times weighs in today on Chicago's decision to require large retailers including Wal-Mart to pay better wages and offer more substantial benefits to its employees. It first offers harsh words to Wal-Mart concerning how its obsession with profits has a negative impact on workers and publicly-funded safety net programs:
While the company’s obsession with the bottom line has made it a huge international success, its meager health benefits often leave public hospitals and government programs for the poor paying the bill instead. And as the giant retailer begins to saturate suburban neighborhoods and turn its attention toward cities, it is important to point out that urban residents cannot survive on the company’s traditional low wages.
The Times then goes on to say that while Chicago's measure is a start a more national approach to wages and health care benefits needs to be undertaken. We understand this rationale but considering that such a solution, if ever feasible, is years away more local approaches are needed.

In terms of New York City, the Crain's Insider reports that a Chicago-style law is not in the city's future because wage statutes are under the purview of the state. Regardless, due to the tremendous support of the City Council and Speaker Quinn, such legislation is not necessary for New York City has and will continue to prevent the Wal-Monster invasion.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Chicago: Up Against the Wal Mother...

In a striking decision that is certain to reverberate throughout the country, the city of Chicago ordered "big box" stores to raise the wages of their employees by the year 2010. As the NY Times reports this morning, "The ordinance, imposing the requirement on stores that occupy more than 90,000 square feet and are part of companies grossing more than $1 billion annually, would be the first in the country to single out large retailers for wage rules."

The response from the Walmonster: "It means that Chicago is closed for business." Yet it seems that the onerous requirements are not barriers for Costco, a box store that currently offers wages and benefits that exceed those of Chicago's statute.

What is undoubtedly true, however, is that the Chicago decision will be replicated in cities all over the United States. The argument will revolve around the claim of large retailers that these measures will stifle growth and the counter opinion that in cities where similar measures have been passed large retailers have continued to come in to take over new sites.

Of course the fact that the legislation was pioneered in Chicago has an added significance since it was in that city that Wal-Mart was able to mount the most significant booty capitalist effort on the city's West Side. The company was able to marshall African-American support by hiring a Black women to be the store's developer.

The gauntlet has definitely been set for NYC. This should give the meeting that Wal-Mart foes have set for next Tuesday night an extra degree of attention. We anticipate that excitement will be building and the anti Wal-Mart fever will be at a high level.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Going Uptown?

As we have mentioned before, the decision by the Bloomberg administration to pull the plug on the Uptown USA project in response to community opposition was a definite first for the mayor and his economic development team. EDC listened carefully to the folks who were concerned with both the size and the scope of the plan.

Now, however, it is up to EDC, Councilwoman Mark and BP Stringer to help craft a plan that will more clearly reflect the needs of the local community. It seems to us that part of this new plan needs to be the inclusion of local businesses and, possibly, a minority development team. Ever since EDC scuttled the efforts to include the Fernandez brothers on the Bradhurst site at 145th Street we've been waiting to see if any attempt would be made to increase the role of minority firms in the city's economic development plans.

So far not much has happened in this area and what we've seen is best described as "patricianage," the aggrandizement of well-heeled developers and the failure to include the new set of minority entrepreneurs that are waiting at the gate. Uptown would be a great place to "set aside" the patricianage trend.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More SWMP Gas

In our discussions with council insiders about the total disregard of the potential cost of the city's SWMP we were told that this was no accident. As one staffer said, "This was all about social justice and that objective overrode any concerns about costs." (See today's good piece in the Gotham Gazette by Tom Angotti)

If true, than all of us got snookered. We did because the city has not done very much to get to the root cause of the transfer station siting issue: the problem of commercial waste and the existence of clusters of private transfer stations in certain communities of color. As we have said before, no one is going to voluntarily divert commercial garbage from its current transfer station destinations and send it to the city managed facilities.

When confronted with the one possible source of relief-the use of food waste disposers to remove putrescibles and enhance recycling-the council blinked and authorized DEP to do a study to see if a pilot program for disposers would be feasible. This is pusillanimous even for the council, and it mirrors the same attitude of the anti-business, anti-common sense Zero Waste Coalition. In fact the whole issue of waste reduction was, as Angotti points out, simply ignored in all the misplaced euphoria.

The likelihood is that all of this effort will be for naught and in two years when the plan falls apart and the mayor's on the way out, the council will simply deny paternity of the politically correct, environmentally unsound SWMP. In the meantime, as the Post reports today, expect more community outrage as the more of the solid waste charade is exposed to a gullible public.

Hi Ho Bloomberg, Away

In a welcome move the city of New York has joined with Gristedes in a legal action against Indian retailers that sell cigarettes without tax to non-Indians. As the NY Post reports this morning the suit targets tobacco wholesalers for selling to reservation retailers without the $1.50 a pack tax.

Refreshingly, the Post quotes city corporation counsel Michael Cardoza who told the paper, "These wholesalers' practices hurt all New Yorkers by shortchanging both the city and the state of tax dollars." Indeed they do but it would have been both appropriate and nice for Cardoza to at least mention that these practices have also devastated existing city businesses that have been put at a competitive disadvantage by the lucrative black market that resulted from the city's 2002 and the refusal of the city and state government to take action.

The Post errs, however, when it states that, "While reservation shops do not have to charge tax to their retail customers, they are supposed to pay it to wholesalers." Not so. As we have commented before, Indian retailers are legally obligated to charge the tax to their non-Indian customers but it is only the inaction of the governor that has prevented the proper enforcement of this issue.

Now we only need for the city to recognize that the proliferation of street peddlers has exactly the same impact as the sale of non-taxed cigarettes does. Legitimate tax paying store owners are victimized in both cases as is the city that loses the revenue.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Support For AY

In today's NY Daily News the paper editorializes in favor of the Atlantic Yards plan. Without going into all of the arguments it's useful to point out that as far as the issue of eminent domain is concerned the News is likely correct about how the SC has made it extremely difficult, if not insurmountable, to challenge a municipality's ED decision.

SWMP: Bill Due

In today's NY Daily News reporter Frank Lombardi takes a hard look at unexamined costs of the recently passed SWMP. As he put it; "In all of the debate last week, little was made of the cost factor." Of course, that wasn't all that was left unexamined.

Once again we need to take our hats off to the mayor for his political sleight-of-hand. He new exactly which politically correct buttons to push and did so with skill. While all eyes were focused on environmental justice and the siting of transfer stations, no one was at the old adding machine or, as we have said before, no one was looking at the "emperor's new clothes" waste reduction components of the SWMP.

One thing we can guarantee: The cost estimates out of Commissioner Doherty's mouth are ridiculously low balled. "In the area" of $107/ton? (Which is about $105 million a year to the tax payer). This is way low because it doesn't cover the capital costs of constructing the 4 MTS. (Which the IBO estimates would add another $24/ton and $84 million a year in costs). These figures overlook the expected price escalation that will accompany dwindling landfill space and the lack of competition in the waste business.

Therefore,the silliest thing that the commissioner said at last week's hearing was, "But the big thing is we're locking in some of the costs that the city would face over the next twenty years." This is because the city is negotiating long term leases with the giant waste oligopoly which we just know will keep these costs fixed even if landfill costs happen to rise or the destination states jack up their own push through costs (assuming that they allow the garbage to come in at all).

So as usual the real issues get buried along with the garbage. What we find especially interesting is that when it is suggested to the city that they look to the use of food waste disposers to reduce the need to export garbage (and perhaps to build extra MTS capacity) the accountants come out en masse and tell us to the decimal point just how much this is going to cost.

Yet in the entire discussion of the SWMP not a single volunteered figure from a city official on the cost of the plan. When city folks don't discuss the price of something it usually means that sticker shock is just around the corner.

The Greenmarketing of NYC

Last week the NY Times ran a long paen to the city's greenmarkets. The piece is written without any regard for the notion of competing equities: the fact that the public subsidizing of the expansion of these outlets puts them in direct competition with tax paying store owners. Where is the worthwhile promotion of a private-public partnership, one that would bring more fresh produce to New York's neighborhoods with the helpp of existing food store owners?

The promotion of these greenmarkets is part of a long tradition in this city. It is a tradition that led to the promotion, and subsidizing, of a Pathmark supermarket in East Harlem. It is a tradition that, because of its ignorance of inner city economics, fails to see the incredible contribution of immigrant entrepreneurs to the provision of good inexpensive food to low income New Yorkers.

It is a tradtion that is exemplified by Marcel Van Ooyen, the head of the Council on the Environment (the chief promoter of greenmarkets). Here's the Times and Marcel: "One question will be how to make greenmarkets wotk in what Mr. Van Ooyen calls 'food deserts'-parts of the ncity where access to freh food is limited and nutritional needs great."

Food deserts? How does Marcel know? Is this a dispatch from the front that has been sent to him by an emissary? What we need is for the City Council to convene a summit on food issues, one that includes the food retailers and their suppliers. This summit should focus on how to use the existing distribution network to improve the access to healthy food for all New Yorkers.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Health Corps Kudos

In today's NY Sun Alicia Colon criticizes Councilman Joel Rivera's call for the use of zoning to restrict the number of fast food outlets in a neighborhood. At the same time, however, she lauds the lawmaker for his backing of the expansion of the Health Corps.

Colon clearly believes that educating and motivating young people is the best way to tackle the obesity epidemic. As she opines, "Despite Mr. Rivera's wrongheaded gesture regarding fast food businesses, he was wise to grant $250,000 to a Health Corps program that targets the root of the problem of obesity through education." Her enthusiasm for the HC effort is no doubt aided by the fact that one of the pilot schools, Cathedral High School, is Colon's alma mater.

We're happy that Colon has praised the HC approach, but we do feel that the fast food industry has a role to play and that "personal responsibility" is not the only answer to the obesity problem. When an industry spends $4 billion a year on its own "education" effort that it is easy to see that peoples' "choices" aren't so easy and clear-cut.

Recycling Ridiculousness

We were hoping that the city wouldn't succumb to the ideological fervor of the Zero Waste coalition but, aided and abetted by the council's insistence, a separate office of recycling (staffed as of now by six dedicated environmental advocates) has been set up-outside of the DSNY- under the auspices of the Council on the Environment. What can we expect from this first step in the wrong direction?

Some hints are contained in today's NY Times story on the renewed recycling efforts that has been grafted on to the just approved SWMP. As the paper reports, "Under the new trash plan... residents will be expected to do more recycling and composting..." How will these great expectations be achieved?

Ah, there's the rub. The recycling effort will be honchoed by a new and seemingly autonomous office that will be run by a quasi-governmental agency outside of the purview of the sanitation department. In fact it was expressly conceived in this fashion because of the feeling, justified it seems to us, that the department was not committed to this important task.

However, how will this new six person strike force accomplish its task if in fact DSNY itself remains in charge of the collections? It's hard to imagine just how the two contrasting mindsets will function in any coordinated manner.

So what's the plan? Well the new office, run by old council hand Marcel Van Ooyen, is poised to "work with building superintendents and residents to get them to stop tossing things into the garbage." All with a staff of six! Undaunted, Marcel tells the Times, "There's a real opportunity to help New Yorkers understand what can be recycled and how to do it." With six people?

Or are we simply looking at the expansion of a nascent city bureaucracy that will be the true heir of the Recycle First Coalition that was around in the early nineties during the last SWMP? That group, father of our friends at Zero Waste, saw the creation of recycling coordinators on every city block as a necessary measure to win the hearts and minds of New Yorkers to recycle.

Te irony here is that both Zero Waste and Recycle First are suspicious of the ability and will of DSNY but do not have any basic distrust of the ability of a command bureaucracy to accomplish the formidable task of recycling in a city as complex as New York. Both believe in the ability of the government to create the popular will to achieve far-reaching environmental goals.

Which brings us back to the basic philosophy and program of Zero Waste, an agenda that is the foundation of the new recycling office. It is the program of a group that has an inherent faith in the expansion of government and, concomitantly, a suspicion and hostility to business. Its answer to the problem of commercial food waste will not be a support for disposers (a program that would save business money while doing no damage to the environment), but for expensive laws and mandates that will escalate the cost of doing business in the city.

This mindset is revealed by the response of many of these folks to Intro 133: "Why should the government and its citizens pay for private garbage disposal? Indeed! Why should the government that collects hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the city's supermarkets and restaurants treat these businesses like the tax paying citizens that they are?

Lastly, as we have noted, the Zero folks want to eventually hand out 50,000 compost bins so that everybody can participate in their grand waste reduction scheme. Talk about a literal rat's nest. Of course all of this will go nowhere once the cost and scope of the effort becomes clear (and when city finances hit a snag). But by then the escalating cost of exporting and landfilling will have become inexorable.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Getting Stuck In The SWMP

An added observation on the passage of the SWMP is pointed out in today's NY Sun. It deals with the legal shakiness of the Manhattan sites. As the Sun writes, "In an acknowledgement that the Manhattan sites remain in doubt, city officials agreed to adhere to a timeline for securing approvals and building the facilities. The administration must also report back on the progress of the plan, and lawmakers must approve any significant changes."

Which is precisely the point that we made yesterday in our "same time, next year" remark. With the likelihood that the sites will not go forward where does this leave the entire fair share concept? Once again, as we have noted, the vexing commercial waste is a card that the city is trying to palm in the hopes that folks won't notice the fact that nothing has been done to alleviate the garbage burdens experienced by communities of color.

We do have something to look forward to, however. It is the creation of a six person office of "recycling outreach and education." This will prove to be a colossal waste of money and is sure to be staffed by dedicated folks who have absolutely no experience with the kind of sound business practices that are essential if recycling is to become a cost-effective waste reduction methodology.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

As the NY Times reports this morning the City Council and the Mayor are moving forward with the city's SWMP. The vote, 44-5, was predictable since all of the minority members were basically in support of the fair share provisions that stuck three new facilities in Manhattan, including one on the toney East Side.

Kudos to the mayor for his masterful orchestration of a garbage siting plan that effectively concealed the fact that the plan's waste reduction components, well, the fact that there really aren't any. Which means that, as the administration acknowledges, the already costly capital construction plan will become extremely more expensive than the current roughly $70 a ton it costs to export waste.

Of course, once again the question of what to do with the city's commercial waste has been punted way down the field. We know that the city can't force carters to tip at any of the new marine transfer stations, even if they do eventually get built.

In regards to this issue the Times had a most interesting observation: "In a further concession to council members, the administration also agreed to work with private waste companies to reduce the amount of commercial garbage being trucked through four neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens that already have heavy truck traffic." Should we call this the Bloomberg air lift?

We're just not sure what this exactly means but we do believe that the methodology for this kind of reduction exists and it is encompassed in Intro 133. Not only will commercial food waste disposers actually reduce the amount of private garbage by 25%, the removal of organic waste will mean that the rest of the garbage will be, (1) Less smelly,and; (2) Much more recyclable-almost 95% in regards to supermarket waste.

So if the administration is serious on this score we will begin to open a dialogue on the issue with EDC. We are convinced that the installation of disposers will have long term benefits to the viability of the SWMP.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Whither Commercial Waste? Part 2

The total lack of any realistic option for the more appropriate disposal of commercial waste in the city's SWMP is also underscored by the inevitable failure of the proposed 59th Street facility. As the NY Daily News reports this morning, "Council insiders and Manhattan community and political leaders contend that the three borough facilities in the plan {Gansevoort and East 91st Street} are doomed to be non-starters, because of litigation or Albany legislative opposition."

So, when these puzzle pieces prove to be unavailable what has the mayor and the council actually done for the beleaguered waterfront communities?" Very quickly, in same time next year fashion, we'll be back to square one. As usual the failure to actually come up with a waste-reduction strategy will bring us back to the same, same old. The fair share plan will be reduced to a continuation of the city's expensive "pump and dump" landfill based methodology.

Which brings us back to the logic of Intro 133, the measure that would study the utility of installing commercial food waste disposers. In today's Crain's In$ider the newsletter reports on the Alliance's continued efforts to win the support of Speaker Quinn for a bill that has 35 council sponsors.

The Insider points out that the DEP and WM are in opposition, and cites a grinder supporter who speculates that WM's opposition may be a result of the fact that the company's "revenues would suffer if businesses could grind up food rubbish rather than pay them to remove it." But on further reflection perhaps this is the source of the city's opposition as well.

If, as we speculated in the previous post the city is looking to flow control commercial waste, than it wouldn't be in its interest to develop a method that would remove the cash cow of organic waste before it reached city controlled transfer stations. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that a public bureaucracy colluded with the interests of a multi-billion contractor.

As we continue to watch all of this unfold we anticipate that the mayor's efforts to appear good rather than to actually be good will flounder and the entire SWMP will unravel. This is precisely what makes the pilot program for food waste disposers so important.

Whither Commercial Trash?

One of the unresolved issues that the city's SWMP fails to adequately address is the fate of the roughly 12,000 tons of daily commercial garbage produced by this town's businesses. The building of a transfer station on West 59th Street is supposed to siphon off a good portion of Manhattan's commercial waste that is currently being sent to Brooklyn and the Bronx, and the other stations are supposed to take some private garbage as well.

Left unsaid, however, is the fact that the city has no ability to force private carters to dump anywhere it tells them to. This is the subject of a piece ($) in this week's Crain's New York Business where author Erik Engquist points out that the private waste haulers not only have no incentive to divert their garbage to a city-owned facility, they are also convinced that it will inevitably be more costly to do it.

Crain's quotes one of our old friends, carter Dominick Incantalupo, saying, "It would send costs through the roof...They could effectively double my tipping fee." He goes on to point out that these added costs would have to be passed on to his customers.

Given these facts it is clear, as Sanitation Chair Mike McMahon points out, "haulers won't use the proposed transfer stations unless the city subsidizes the cost." In addition, if the city tries to mandate their use (called "flow control") a court battle will be inevitable, and carters have won most of these in the past.

Of course as Engquist highlights the city could come down in a draconian fashion on the existing private transfer stations by "strictly" enforcing environmental codes, thereby making it more costly to operate these stations. This is exactly the scenario that we have been predicting: the city builds expensive marine transfer stations, effectively puts the private ones out of business, and then forces the local businesses to subsidize the cost of all the city's garbage removal.

This is not the result that that well recognized expert on garbage costs, Partnership president Kathryn Wylde, feels will happen. Wylde believes that the mayor's plan "would actually lower trash-hauling fees." As she told Crain's, "Each new transfer station has additional capacity for the commercial haulers...That should give the carters more options and overall lower costs."

This is a totally irresponsible statement from the head of a group whose mission is to promote the interests of the city's business community. In the first place, her view of the laws of supply and demand are simply inapplicable to an industry that not only is controlled by an oligopoly but one where the city is in charge if setting rates.

If NYC controls, along with WM, the tipping and export of commercial waste there simply is no free market at work to lower costs. As Incantalupo cogently points out, "My clients will end up having to pay."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Council to Take Out the Garbage

As the Times is reporting this morning it appears that the City Council is poised to pass the SWMP at its Stated Meeting tomorrow. It also appears that, aside from some minor adjustments, the plan will reflect the substance of the mayor's original proposal.

One of the unresolved issues according to the Times is the question of "setting a long-range goal for reducing the 50,000 tons of commercial and residential trash produced in the city every day." This reflects what we have been saying all along about the plan's lack of any credible waste reduction strategy.

What needs to be done is for the Council to move swiftly, after passing the mayor's plan, to implement Intro 133, the pilot program for the use of commercial food waste disposers. It should also examine the expansion of the use of residential disposers so that the city can (as "Zero Waste" spokesperson Jean Halloran says) "reduce our waste exports." The city might also at the same time be able to obviate the need to build an expensive an obtrusive commercial waste transfer station at 59th Street in Manhattan.

Wal-Mart Rings in New York

In today's NY Sun the paper continues to report on the apparent attempt of Wal-Mart to effectively ring the outskirts of NYC with stores. Stymied by City Council leadership and the efforts of the anti Wal-Mart coalition, the retailer has been unable to break into the lucrative city market. This time the store is in White Plains and it is somewhat different from the store's normal format in that it is supposed to have an "urban design" element.

What this attempt means for the city is rather murky it seems to us. It reminds us somewhat of the attempt by Costco to create a new urban model called "Costco Fresh," a multi-story store with little or no parking in the heart of the West Side of Manhattan. This idea was soundly slam-dunked by Chris Quinn and Tom Duane over 6 years ago and we don't think Wal-Mart will do any better with its variant.

The White Plains store will have a parking garage and we don't think it would be practical to replicate this in the heart of Manhattan or in Downtown Brooklyn, as one newspaper has advocated. Which leaves the retailer with the same site fight issues that plagued it in Rego Park and now stall its efforts in Tottenville.

The reality is that Wal-Mart will need to try to find an "as-of=right" site if it wants to make headway in NYC. Any other effort will be uphill all the way.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Atlantic Yards and The Spanish Civil War

The DDD people can out yesterday in Brooklyn and, depending on who you ask, generated somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 folks to a rally against AY. If you accept the lower Times estimate there were more people who came out last week to an informal forum of FCRC to discuss the affordable housing opportunities at the development.

We're not surprised (and hold the comments on how Richard Lipsky represents FCRC-stick to the arguments please). While the DDD have done a valiant job at organizing their rear guard action it will inevitably prove to be insufficient because of the need for new housing and the passionate support from Brooklyn ballers for the Nets.

Which brings us to the title of today's post. The satirist Tom Lehrer, writing a song about the Spanish Civil War said it best: "Remember the war against Franco, that's the kind where each of us belonged. He may have won all the battles. But we had all the good songs."

Poverty, Jobs and Economic Development

The NY Times is reporting today that the mayor is about to embark on his own "War on Poverty." He has set up a commission to attack the problem of poverty in this city. As Linda Gibbs, deputy mayor for health and human services (is this the right porfolio for this work?) explains, the focus is "what we can do to direct investments im poor households in a way that improves their earning capacity."

Hold on to your wallets everyone, "We're from the government and we're here to help you." As the Times points out; "The effort is not without minefields. Mr. Bloomberg has charged the commission with finding ways to diminish or eradicate poverty without significantly increasing the size or cost of government."

Ho! Ho! We've heard this mantra before and the results are predictable. The mindset and approach pretty much insures that the only real beneficiaries will be the service providers. Just take a look at the members of the commission. Old government hands and academics along with one time-honored member of the permanent government, the venerable Bill Rudin. Not a single small businessman or, God forbid, an economist like E. J. McMahon. Just a round up of all the old Good Society types who misread the problem in the past.

Which brings us to the previous comments that we have made about this mayor's basic economic philosophy. He simply does not see the correlation between the size of government, over regulation and taxes and job growth.

In today's NY Post Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute makes the point (and why is no one from here included on the panel?) that the city's relatively poor job growth is the direct result of its record nearly $2 billion real estate tax increase in 2002. This tax, passed on directly to each and every retailer in this city, when combined with increased fines and fees, is the direct cause of the city's poor job development.

Today the city's relatively robust wage picture is a feature of one or two high income sectors, insuring, as Malanga says, that "the city's tax base is also growing ever narrower." Not everyone, however, is as gloomy as Steve. In today's Times our good friend, and Bloomberg toady, Mitch Moss writes a letter that started our day off with a good chuckle.

As Moss and his collaborator point out, New York "is not in a jobless recovery, but New Yorkers are deriving their income from a variety of sources." As they go on to tell us, intrepid New Yorkers are simply relying on "the strength of the cash-based underground economy."

So, "Thank God for the peddlers!" We don't need to worry about job loss because "immigrant entrepreneurs" are flooding the city's streets with pushcarts. New York doesn't need a poverty commission. It needs an economic development policy that understands the correlation between job growth, tax relief and less government regulation.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Oozing Out of the SWMP

The NY Daily News is reporting today that the City Council is slated to vote on the mayor's SWMP next Wednesday. Negotiations are ongoing and there's still a possibility that the vote will be postponed. The question of what to do with the Manhattan transfer facilities is still the major sticking point.

We believe that the Council will pass the plan as is, leaving the issue of the legality of the controversial sites up to the courts. In this way the Speaker will have delivered for the mayor on a key policy and the failure of the siting, if that's what transpires, will be on someone else's shoulders. Key council members have told us that they believe that the two West Side transfer stations will be killed because they will require state legislative approval (the Hudson River Park Conservancy issue), something that's just not going to happen.

If this all goes according to this scenario, the resolution of the commercial waste problem will, once again, be left unresolved. Of course, the use of commercial food waste disposers would go along way toward mooting the necessity of 59th Street altogether. We're still hopeful that the Council will move in this direction in the Fall.

Cigarettes Kill

We have been railing against the blatant violation of law by two Long Island Indian tribes in the sale of buttlegged cigarettes. Our point has been that the butts end up being sold on the streets of the city and, therefore, hurting legitimate store owners. Dealers have also been killed fighting over territory on New York's streets. The situation has led to a lawsuit by the Gristedes supermarket chain against the tribes.

Now, however, the situation has deteriorated with the murder of a rival buttlegger upset with the loss of some of his lucrative business. All of which makes the refusal of Governor George Pataki to enforce the existing tax laws even more egregious. One wonders just what kind of impact the governor thinks his refusal to enforce duly passed laws will have on conservative Republican primary voters.

The only explanation here is that the money trail here must be extremely lucrative (Certainly the stated fear of Indian violence is just a ruse).Why else would a "conservative" governor refuse to enforce the law?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Zero Waste? Not in the Municipal Bureaucracy

In yesterday's Crain's In$ider the newsletter reported that a coalition of "commercial, environmental and consumer groups" were winning support for their "zero waste" program through their support of the city's SWMP. The program features a full panoply of waste reduction strategies as well as the creation of a separate office of waste prevention that would include "direct education to inform communities about recycling."

While we do disagree with a good deal of what the "Reaching For Zero" report outlines, there are aspects of the proposal that are meritorious. In particular, the report states clearly that it is not prudent for the city to continue its open-ended expense of simply exporting garbage to other jurisdictions. The costs it is rightfully argued are "primarily the result of increasing costs of landfills and believed to be at least partly due to the increased consolidation in the waste industry, leaving a few companies controlling most disposal facilities."

The Zero authors also correctly point out that these escalating costs are "clearly untenable for the long term." In place of the never ending landfill future, however, zero wasters propose a comprehensive waste reduction program that would establish a command recycling economy with a fully staffed government bureaucracy to run it.

In addition, they propose a far-reaching composting for food waste that exposes the impractical nature of the authors' mindset. They also outline new legal strictures to insure that the private sector follows government mandated recycling standards. As part of the composting plan they envision the distribution of 50,000 "backyard bins" and a "public task force" to advise the city on "compost facility siting."

The coalition of groups behind the zero waste plan do not have anyone with any real knowledge of basic economics nor is there any visible public policy expertise that analyzes the costs and benefits of such a massive government controlled waste reduction structure.

The plan is also fraught with danger for the city's retail businesses who will be subject to the whims of people whose backgrounds indicate that they are at best indifferent and at worse hostile to the concerns of the city's private sector. The exclusion of any discussion of commercial food waste disposers, and the advocacy of the "bigger better bottle bill," only underscores this indifference and hostility.

The City of New York drastically needs to devise alternatives to exporting and landfilling its waste. The "Reaching for Zero" coalition offers a retrograde and expensive alternative that, while failing to really get to the root of effective waste reduction, will set in motion a government bureaucracy that will wreck havoc on the city's commercial sector.

Zoning: Fast Food Facts

In today's Crain's In$ider there is a post done on the proposal by Councilman Rivera to use the zoning laws to restrict the proliferation of fast food outlets. In the view of Crain's the research done on the issue at The Bloomberg School of Public Health demonstrates that zoning hasn't been use to address obesity but only to "enhance neighborhoods' aesthetic appeals." The heading on the post reads, "Fast-food fight data muddied up."

That conclusion, however, is unwarranted. What the study underscores is that the use of zoning to restrict fast food has been done all over the country on the basis of "community character" concerns, a basis that the authors feel is much less substantial and justifiable than an underlying concern with obesity.

The premise here is that the real justification for any zoning legislation hinges primarily on the police powers of a municipality. Historically health and safety concerns have been the primary variable, under the rubric of police powers, that have been cited for justifying any zoning changes. In fact the first comprehensive zoning laws were enacted in 1916 by New York City precisely to address health issues that were attendant to both the pervasiveness of slum housing as well as the proximity of residential buildings to more noxious industrial uses.

In other words zoning has always been about health and safety and the authors of the report (a collaboration of Hopkins public health folks and Georgetown law professors) are saying very clearly that if fast food outlets can be restricted on the basis of community character, with the restrictions being upheld by the courts, than the more serious health rationales should be able to withstand any legal challenge.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

One Down One to Go

Last night the Yonkers City Council approved, by a 5-2 vote, the zoning permissions necessary to build the controversial Ridge Hill Village development. The approval came after a three year battle waged by those civic groups closest to the project. As to be expected the concerns rested on the traffic impacts of the $600 million mixed use development.

The Alliance's Richard Lipsky has been working with the developer, Forest City Ratner, in an effort to develop a grass roots support for the plan. As a result, a coalition of parents and teacher groups did come together in support for Ridge Hill. These groups were motivated not only by the opportunity that the project presented to significantly increase badly needed tax revenues for the City of Yonkers, but also by the developer's commitment to become a stakeholder for the improvement of Yonkers schools.

What this demonstrated is that grass roots lobbying is a tool that can be used both for and against a development and real estate firms need to learn to use this vehicle to insure political support for their developments. If done correctly, and assuming that there are enough public benefits in the project, this kind of effort can be not only effective but can legitimately be a vehicle to underscore how a development benefits a wider public (especially when a nearby community group that is opposed to the plan gets a great deal of media attention).

What struck us in this battle was the peculiar nature of Yonkers politics. Standard methods and expectations seemed to be absent and strategies needed to be constantly revised. A great deal of credit needs to go to the united front presented by all of the organized labor groups in Yonkers. Their presence was an essential countervailing force to the determined civic opposition. Also kudos to FCRC's Bruce Bender who showed the foresight to put all these forces together.

That is why we were bemused to watch the News 12 Westchester report on last night's meeting. The television reporter claimed that, "While a few people did voice positive opinions, they were largely booed by those in attendance." This is as far from the truth as possible since at least 75% of those at the meeting were supporters of Ridge Hill. In fact the real story was how small a turnout the despirited opposition was able to bring to their last hurrah (Only 100 people in all came out and if there was any booing it was mostly the union folks supplying the passion).

What this all means is that the City of Yonkers will be able to move forward with a badly needed redevelopment plan. We expect that FCRC will move quickly to take a role in the education battles on behalf of Yonkers school kids that certainly lie ahead. When this happens an even greater win-win for Yonkers will become a reality.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Finding Wasteland

Crain's also mentions the efforts of the Durst Organization to "consider other locations for a commercial waste-transfer station proposed for West 59th Street at the Hudson River." This is all quite understandable, given the real estate firms holdings in the immediate area, but it begs the overall waste reduction issue that we have been stressing.

What we do know with some degree of confidence, and former sanitation commissioner and Durst consultant Sexton has a clear picture of this, is that the extensive deployment of food waste disposers, particularly in restaurant-rich Manhattan, will so dramatically reduce commercial waste that it is probable that an additional commercial transfer station would not be necessary. That is what all concerned should be looking closely at as the SWMP is being considered.

Insider's Props to Rivera

Crain's In$ider has a post today on the newly elevated stature of City Council Health Committee chair, Joel Rivera. As Crain's points out, "Some insiders had doubted that City Councilman Joel Rivera, D-Bronx, would be an effective health committee chairman when he inherited the post from Christine Quinn... But Rivera is moving to establish himself as a fighter of obesity, particularly among children and minorities."

Crain's goes on to talk about Rivera's zoning suggestion but also mentions the councilman's funding of Dr. Oz's Health Corps program in three new schools this fall. Clearly, this is an issue that will give Rivera a good platform from which to launch a bid to become Bronx BP in 2009.

Chambers to Meet on Wal-Mart

Tomorrow night there will be a meeting of the newly formed Ramapo Jewish Chamber of Commerce at Eli's Bagels on Maple Avenue in Spring Valley. The meeting will feature a traffic presentation by the Alliance's Brian Ketcham who will critique the projected scope of work being proposed by the consultants for the Wal-Mart in Monsey. Members of the Spring Valley Chamber of Commerce will also join the group.

The Chamber, led by Monsey business consultant Abe Stauber, is rapidly signing up members who are concerned about the super center's impact on their stores. The Monsey scope has now included the socio-economic impacts that it first tried to avoid. As we have pointed out previously, lawyer Dennis Lynch represents a group that will commission its own economic impact study.

One of the keys for us is to help the Planning Board understand more fully the collateral damages of the development. What this means is understanding the full extent to which the local retailers contribute to the economic and social vitality of the surrounding community. This understanding necessitates that any analyst examine the extent to which local business contributes a "multiplyer effect" to the community's economy.

In addition, particularly in regard to the Monsey businesses, the evaluation should include the level of cross-pollination between the business owners and Monsey and New Square religious and cultural institutions. One thing we know for sure-Wal-Mart, unlike the Monsey business community, will not be donating money to places like the Yeshiva of Spring Valley. We'll have more on this topic at a later date.


We couldn't resist commenting on the mayor's efforts to get the MTA to sell the Hudson Rail Yards to the city for the bargain price of $300 million. Why do we still get the feeling that the mayor sees all this property, much like he saw the BTM site, as the back forty of the Bloomberg ranch?

Eliot Spitzer is right. The city needs to put the land up for competitive bid. After that, the uses can be controlled by the mayor and the speaker through the normal land use review process. All of this, just like the Willets Point development could benefit from greater transparency. One thing is certain the private sector needs to be involved more than government if the area is to developed anytime soon.

Monday, July 10, 2006

What is Food Justice?

On Friday our friends at DMI posted an interesting piece on "food justice" in NYC. They are one of the few commentators to give Joel Rivera some props for his suggestion that the city explore using zoning to curb fast food outlets. They also praise Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez for her "Bodegas as Catalysts for Healthy Living Act, " a bill that would provide SBA grants to groups willing "to work with bodegas to create healthy food inventories."

We are especially heartened by DMI's criticism of the ridicule that some heaped on Rivera-"most of whom probably don't live in low-income areas." The Institute also pointedly surveys the eating choices in many of these neighborhoods and opines, "it's a wonder that more people are not lying along Nostrand Avenue or 125th Street leaking grease and sugar from various parts of their bodies."

What we do take issue with, however, is the characterization of neighborhood food shopping as a health wasteland. As we have said before there needs to be more recognition of the incredible success story represented by the independent supermarkets of this city. In addition, it isn't appropriate to try to contrast the number of supermarkets in high income areas with the number in poorer districts. The amount of disposable income is a key varuable that must be factored into the equation.

The point about Rivera's zoning suggestion is that it is based on what we would call the Gresham's law of food shopping: bad food choices drive out good food choices. The proliferation of poor eating choices makes it hard for better alternatives to flourish.

The reality is that fast food outlets, backed as they are by the public financial markets, are at a competitive advantage versus locally owned food stores, who are increasingly priced out of areas by escalating commercial rents. The proliferation of chain drug stores in the city has also added to this lamentable situation by pushing out neighborhood supermarkets with their ability to pay higher rents.

Maybe what NYC needs is some kind of inner city food initiative (like in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) that, along with financial incentives for supermarkets to invest in certain areas, also comes with some healthy eating performance goals as a prerequisite for the aid. By all means, though, the best public policy strategy is to encourage local economic growth and place some restraint on chain store growth.

Post Props for Health Corps

In today's NY Post the paper's Carl Campanile focuses on the innovative approach of the Health Corps to tackling the obesity epidemic (you know the one that Andrew Wolf doesn't think exists). The article details the various techniques developed by Dr. Mehmet Oz to get young people to be aware of their often unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits; and the ways that they can alter these patterns in order to live healthier lives.

Our favorite is Oz's use of diseased organs, lungs blackened from smoking and fatty hearts, in order to "scare straight" the high schoolers. As HC coordinator Leslie Marino told the Post, "The kids take pictures of the organs with their camera phones and think twice about going to McDonald's."

Here is the beginning of an effective fast food awareness program. The HC expands to three schools in the Fall.

Waste Not, Want Not-Part 11

In Saturday's NY Times the paper focuses on the four month strike against Waste Management by Local 813 of the Teamsters. Health care and overtime are the two prime issues in the dispute but other policy concerns underlie the entire mess.

There are a number of overriding questions that this labor conflict raises. The first being the fact that, although WM is a private entity, it is garnering over $1 billion in fees handling the city's residential waste out of two transfer station facilities in Brooklyn, and one in Queens and the Bronx. In addition, the company came into this town riding a Giuliani-induced hysteria over the "mob tax" that was supposedly being charged local businesses by private carters linked to organized crime. Shortly after their entry, however, the company joined with two other national firms demanding that the garbage disposal cap, the one designed to return that mob tax to the city's stores and offices, be lifted because it prevented them from making a profit.

Not only that, once WM had garnered the most lucrative transfer stations from the old cartel, they began to systematically divest customers all over the city's neighborhoods. All of which made NY Post columnist Ray Kerrison look like a prophet when, ten years ago, he wrote, "The Hoodlums are Out, But Who's In?"

Don't forget that in order for Waste to be able to set up shop in NYC it had to get a waiver from the regulation that prohibited anyone convicted of a felony from obtaining a garbage license here. The waiver was needed because of the company's long rap sheet in other jurisdictions all over the country.

NYC is in the midst of trying to develop a sensible solid waste plan. What everyone agrees is that this task can't be accomplished without considering the 12,000 daily tons of commercial waste along with the 13,ooo tons of residential garbage. Who handles the commercial waste and how it is handled is a matter of public concern. The fact that the administration is planning to continue its "pump and dump" export strategy also factors in here since WM remains central to all of it.

Is WM the kind of company that the city wants to get into bed with long term? This issue transcends the current labor dispute even while the strike raises questions about the firm's integrity. This question is exacerbated by the fact that WM has divested its holdings on Long Island and in Upstate Orange County to companies that we are told would not pass the licensing threshold in NYC.

Which brings us to a final crucial point. The Alliance has been promoting a waste reduction strategy utilizing food waste disposers for the past three years. Some of the opposition has come from environmental groups but the real foot dragging has been institutional. Why, for instance, would DSNY do a commercial waste study without even including disposers in its scope of work?

The question that needs to be asked is, Who benefits from not using food waste disposers? The clear answer is companies like WM that profit from the higher put-through fees generated by the heavier food waste. Scores of public policy studies have exposed the often cozy relations between private sector firms and the municpal bureaucracies that are supposed to regulate them. Should we look any further for the real source of DEP's and DSNY's reluctance to embrace a methodology that will dramatically reduce waste ?

This entire waste disposal policy needs to be thoroughly examined with a critical eye. If it isn't than we might find that the city has allowed itself to be held hostage to an unethical private sector firm that will bleed it for billions in the decades ahead.

Wal-Mart in Downtown Brooklyn?

The Brooklyn Papers, having spent a good deal of its resources attacking the proposed Atlantic Yards development, now has set its sights on Wal-Mart and, guess what? The paper feels that the store would, unlike the Brooklyn Nets, be a boon for downtown Brooklyn.

If you read the editorial, however, an interesting pattern emerges. The BPs thinks that a Walmonster in Brooklyn would be different from any other store in the chain. In the first place, "Wal-Mart's standard one-level big box store with an endless parking lot won't fit in Downtown."

What about the company's abysmal labor practices? Not to worry says Brooklyn's authentic voice. "This is not Oskaloosa, Iowa; In Brooklyn, Wal-Mart would not find qualified staff willing to work for sub-par wages and sub-par benefits...Brooklyn presents Wal-Mart with the prefect opportunity to face its critics head on by paying fair wages and offering fair benefits."

Oh, so now we get it. Wal-Mart would be a great addition to Downtown Brooklyn if it just transforms itself into something that it isn't-a transit dependent good employer. As Warner Wolf would say, "Give Me a Break!"

And how about the paper's assumption that, "A Wal-Mart drawing shoppers to Downtown could well enhance the profitability of many nearby businesses..." (unlike if it were built on the periphery). Well there's always a first for everything, and this store becoming a business magnet for others when its entire model is based on eliminating competitors, would break new ground.

So what we end up with is the Brooklyn Papers' offering the borough a classic "pig in a poke." Expecting the retail giant to completely overhaul its business model is a bit much, and it is the kind of expectation that leaves a bad taste in our mouth, especially when it comes from a paper that sees AY as a looming catastrophe for Downtown Brooklyn.

With Wal-Mart joining the Brookln Chamber of Commerce and the borough's anti-development voice joining the company's amen chorus it certainly invites the kind of speculation that there are less laudatory selfish interests at work in this entire situation. Can the "booty capitalists" be far behind?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Cautionary Tale for Wal-Mart in Monsey

With consultants for the proposed Wal-Mart super center doing their evaluation of the store's impact, opponents are gearing up to challenge the "findings" and generate the kind of grass roots opposition that Ramapo electeds will find hard to ignore. Aside from the Alliance and its allies a group from Monsey (not yet identified) has hired attorney Dennis Lynch to represent them in the land use process. Our suspicion is that the group is not any rag-tag outfit if they've come up with Lynch's retainer.

In any case the Alliance's consultant, Brian Ketcham, has outlined a series of issues that the Wal-Mart experts will need to address. The most serious it appears to us involves parking. As we have said before the current parking variance request is for the reduction of the number of spaces needed for the store. As Ketcham says, "If Wal-Mart fails to provide sufficient parking, shoppers will spill over onto Route 59 and into nearby residential communities."

In addition, as per usual in these kinds of developments, the consultants are only looking at a three mile radius from the proposed site. As Ketcham points out, "Wal-Mart will draw from at least a 10 mile radius and must use a study area 10 miles in radius."

Finally, the key issue of socio-economic impact will be a crucial variable because of the slew of minority and Orthodox-owned businesses in the trade area. Lynch tells us that his group will be retaining an expert to evaluate this important issue, and the Alliance may also collaborate in this regard. We're curious to see how the Walmonster's consultants will handle this delicate concern.

In any case we will be meeting with local merchants next Wednesday evening in Monsey. The organizing drive among retailers is going well- no one is happy about the development or sanguine about its salutary impact. Stay tuned for time and place.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Big Mac Attack: Health Corps Expands

As the NY Daily News reports this morning, "Zoning out fast food restaurants isn't the only way to foster healthier eating habits among city youngsters." The other "hearts and minds" approach is the innovative Health Corps initiative that was founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz and is being expanded by Councilman Joel Rivera into three new high schools this fall.

The Health Corps is designed to generate a health activism in the high schools that, if properly activated, will generate greater awareness of healthy living among the friends, families, and in the communities of the Health Corps members. The HC in each school is led by a post grad pre-med volunteer who will organize nutrition workshops, exercise activities and diet awareness programs for the students.

The three schools targeted in the fall will have the HC funded by a city-state grant of $250,000. It is anticipated that the program, which is being monitored for effectiveness by private funding, will be able to further expand at the beginning of the 2007 school year. Quite a few council members have expressed an interest in having HC come to high schools in their districts.

So, for all of the withering criticism that Rivera has received for his "McZoning" proposal, it is clear that the councilman has some substantive plans to go after the change in attitudes that all of his critics say is preferable to zoning out fast-food outlets. It may, however, not be as much of a zero-sum game as many of these critics would like us to believe.

It is time for the fast food folks to become stakeholders in the campaign for healthy eating. If they don't they will find themselves in the same position as Phillip Morris-paying out billions to tell people just how bad smoking really is.

Update: Here are article from El Diario and the Amsterdam News on Councilman Rivera's zoning proposal

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Caveat Vendor

The NY Daily News finally got around to last week's vendor protest at City Hall. A couple of interesting points were made. First, the fact that there are 9,000 "personal licenses" but only 3,000 pushcart permits. According to the paper this means that "some 6,000 are selling without the required pushcart licenses..."

Well, not quite. You see there are many vendors with "personal licenses" who are working for someone who does have a pushcart license and the great likelihood is that a large number of licensed vendors are working as indentured servants for the owner of the pushcart. Not much romance in that story of possible exploitation.

In addition, the paper quotes some"community organizer" who says that the spike in fines and cart confiscation is related to "recent anti-immigrant, anti-minority hate that's been brewing." In Bloomberg's New York? What about in response to illegality?

It seems that these folks aren't content to call for the suspension of all immigration law, they also want to be given carte blanche to hawk their wares anywhere in the city-pedestrian safety and local store owners be damned. This is the sentiment behind the bill to "eliminate a city-imposed limit on the number of vendors issued licenses to sell goods."

Neighborhood store owners are the backbone of this city's economy. They deserve to be protected from freeloading predators who don't support the tax base. This is the battle ahead.

NY Post: Super Anti-Nanny

It took a little longer than we anticipated but the NY Post has finally gotten around to criticizing Joel Rivera's suggestion that the city should use zoning to curb the proliferation of fast food outlets. The paper accuses Rivera of thinking that New Yorkers are all dumb; "Poor people in particular, in his view, are in need of wisdom-because they're not only fat, they're stupid."

The Post feels that everyone is the master of their own fate and deserves to be able to live without the unencumbering control of an intrusive government. Here! Here! All of which overlooks the intrusiveness, not of government, but of an industry that not only seeps into every nook and cranny of everyday life but also wants to seemingly occupy every square inch of the neighborhood.

The River suggestion isn't about control per se, but about the legitimate right of government to use on of its basic police powers to protect the health and welfare of its citizens. Its not the God-given right of the fast fooders to be able to saturate neighborhood commerce and push out the local businesses with their Wall Street driven resources. Which is exactly what other cities and towns all over the country are trying to prevent.

Finally, the Post claims that Rivera, in his zoning obsession, notably overlooks "education, diet, exercise and self-control." Just isn't true. As we have pointed out, the Rivera-sponsored Health Corps initiative in three high schools this fall will do just that. Create a cadre of health activists who will preach the Post's anti-obesity mantra to their friends, families and community, something everyone should support.

More Fast Food Furor

In yesterday's NY Daily News columnist Errol Louis commented about the correlation between obesity and fast food. His "girth of a nation" commentary focuses on a counterattack launched by fast food industry reps against the folks, such as Eric Schlosser of "Fast Food Nation" fame, who have singled them out as prime obesity epidemic suspects.

It turns out that Schlosser is quite the threat since 19 various fast food organizations have started a PR blitz just to "counter the efforts of Eric Schlosser..." We're definitely jealous but the larger point remains: fast food does play a role in the entire obesity crisis and the industry isn't going to escape being targeted by simply spinning tales of fat foods' role in generating good health.

EL also highlights Schlosser's new book, "Chew on This." What the author is pointing out in all of his work is the sheer inescapability of fast food, from the 20,000 junk food ads a year that the average child watches, to the 19,000 schools across the country that sell the stuff in the cafeteria.

The industry response? Why, of course, set up a web set with the beacon of honesty title Its message? "Obesity is a complex and serious problem that is best addressed by living a balanced lifestyle, making good nutritional choices and getting plenty of exercise." Whenever someone attacked uses the word "complex" it usually means that their trying to say that the problem under scrutiny is really not their fault.

As we have said before, however, the industry is part of the problem. If "making good nutritional choices" is a key variable here than the industry can't sit back and let others take the lead. It needs to devote some of its considerable resources to the solution and not to defensive hectoring.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Stinging Up the Wrong Tree

Last week the NY Sun reported on the results of a city investigation into the selling of cigarettes to minors. Nearly 200 bodegas and supermarkets were caught in the investigation. Mayor Bloomberg, commenting on the city's action said, "These businesses are all too willing to put cigarettes in the hands of our kids."

The mayor, with his confiscatory cigarette tax-one that he's looking to increase by 50 cents-is all too willing to put cigarettes in the hands of black marketers who are selling these illegal smokes on the streets of New York. Guess what? No one from the city's DCA is citing these criminals for their illegal behavior.

It's always the legitimate store owners who are targeted. Of course no one examines the ethics of some of these sting operations. As an employee of Space Market, a store that had its license revoked, on University Place told the Sun, "They sent people who looked like they were thirty, at least 28, and they were underage..."

Mayor Bloomberg needs to step up and take a strong stand against the black market activity that is taking over the city's streets. Between the cigarette hawkers and the fruit peddlers the rights of store owners don't appear to concern this administration too much.