Friday, March 31, 2006

Yankee Stadium Project Not a Done Deal?

According to Patrick Arden in today’s Metro, there is still much concern about the proposed new Yankee Stadium, even within the Bronx delegation. According to Helen Foster, one of the area’s councilwomen:

“Many Council members have concerns, many more than the media realizes,” said Foster, who represents the Highbridge neighborhood and opposes the project. “The Bronx delegation isn’t completely on board yet. I don’t see how between now and Wednesday the issues that we have can be resolved.”
Foster also makes an interesting point about how the Yankee plan relates to the Bronx Terminal Market redevelopment. She says that the projects are very much related but the city pursued them separately “for money reasons.” Because of this poor planning, alternate locations for Yankee Stadium (such as south of the current site) were never considered and now are unusable because they will part of the Gateway Mall.

Manhattan Councilman Dan Garodnick, chair of the land use subcommittee that will first vote on the proposal, had some interesting remarks as well:

“[Yankee President Randy Levine’s] reasons were that the footprint of the current stadium was too small and that the Yankees did not want to bear the expense and inconvenience of playing in Queens,” he said. “But in response to my questions, it became clear that this is really a matter of money. I still have some concerns.”
The major question is whether these concerns translate into credible, widespread opposition. There is still a lot of support within the Bronx Delegation so it will be interesting to see which way the Speaker will lean on this. While he hope that Councilwoman Foster is right, odds still are that the project will be approved and that the legal option will have to be exercised.

A lawsuit, though, may be quite effective in killing the project, at least according to one professor:

“If this gets dragged through the courts, it could be years,” said Baruch College professor Neil Sullivan. “Construction costs will keep going up, and it will become too expensive to build. That’s what killed the Westway.”

Butts for Terror

When Gristedes filed its lawsuit against the Indian retailers one of the complaints was that untaxed smokes is a source of terrorist financing. In response to the complaint, the tribal spokespeople took great umbrage over the terrorism link even though the point that was made was that the differential between untaxed and taxed cigarettes, and not the direct intention of the tribes, provided the opportunity for the financing of terrorist activity.

Now we have another confirmation of this point and a further indication that the tribes were protesting too much. In today's Daily Star, the largest English language paper in the Middle East, there is an article about 19 people who are charged in connection with a scheme to fund the terrorist group Hizbullah. Here is the money quote:
"The indictment charges that the group would obtain low-taxed or untaxed cigarettes in North Carolina and the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in New York and bring them into Michigan and the state of New York for the purpose of evading tens of millions in state cigarette taxes."
As the story goes on to report, "The enterprise obtained large profits by reselling the cigarettes at market prices in Michigan and New York." Just as we have been arguing till we're blue in the face. Not only do these tax disparities hurt local businesses they also threaten our country's security.

Developer Needs to Answer these Questions about Wal-Mart

On April 4th, there will be a scoping session for participants to suggest what the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Monsey Wal-Mart should examine. Here is a summary of what the Alliance will be asking the developer’s consultant to address:

Impact on Small Businesses – How many competing store will close and what does this signify in terms of jobs and tax loss?

Economic Impact of Small Businesses – According to the multiplier effect, small businesses, by utilizing local services, contractors and wholesalers, keep more money in the local economy. If a new Wal-Mart results in the closure of competing neighborhood businesses how will this economically affect the service-providers (lawyers, banks, graphic designers, newspapers advertising) that currently rely on the threatened businesses?

Property Values – How will a 215,000 sq. ft. Wal-Mart affect both commercial property values and the residential property values of the neighborhoods that are proximate to the store?

Public Safety – Wal-Mart’s all across the country increase the burden on neighborhood police precincts. What will the cost of the potential increase be and how does it compare to the projected tax gains the country will receive from the store’s operation?

Costs to Tax Payers – It is important to examine how much the proposed project will cost tax-payers in terms of Wal-Mart workers and their children using public safety net programs and the store receiving subsidies.

Trash Talking at Waste Management

In a thoughtful article in this week's Village Voice Tom Robbins delves into the labor dispute between Waste Mangement and Local 813 of the Teamsters. The bottom line: If no agreement is reached the city could well be looking at a garbage strike in the private sector come April 1st.

What is particularly of interest here is Robbins' narrative about the evolution of the city's commercial garbage collection. He rightly points out that then elimination of the unsavory element and the ushering in of Waste created its own problems. In fact, as Ray Kerrison pointed out over ten years ago in a NY Post column, "The Hoodlums are Out, But Who's In?"

In some ways the city traded in one monopoly for another and the fanfare surrounding the elimination of the "mob tax" proved to be premature: First, the big national firms, with Waste Management in the lead, started dropping customers, complaining that the city's cap on garbage collection prices was too low. The city responded by allowing some prices to rise, with the predictable result that many small businesses complained that their costs soared by 500 percent."

As a result, disposal costs for the city's food stores and restaurants now exceeds those charged during the reign of the old mob cartel. This is precisely why the Alliance has been advocating the use of food waste disposers for the private sector. It would dramatically reduce the amount of waste hauled from neighborhoods at both the retail and transfer station points in the disposal system. It would also, if implemented properly in the residential sector, dramatically reduce the city's garbage export costs.

In the process of removing the mob, however, Waste did emerge with a strong and profitable presence in the city's transfer station and garbage export business. It is the current duopoly that puts great pressure on the city and makes the export option so expensive. Innovation is stifled as alternative methods are stillborn given the private sector's stranglehold on solid waste management.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Wal-Mart Traffic Fears

Al Meehan, a resident of Rockland County, where Wal-Mart wants to build a supercenter, writes a very good letter to the local paper describing his greatest concern about the project:

I am curious as to what is going to happen to the Rockland Drive-In. A super Wal-Mart? Route 59 in Monsey doesn't need any more traffic and congestion. Why doesn't the Town of Ramapo take over the drive-in and turn it into a park with little gardens, green grass and nature trails?

Three and a half years ago, I moved to Rockland from the Yonkers area. I soon went into semi-retirement and wanted to live in a more natural environment with peace and quiet and with a slower and more relaxed pace. I wanted to escape from the hustle and bustle, stop and go traffic, congestion and the commercialism of the Central Avenue area.

It is worse here.
Indeed!

"Standing on a Corner in Winslow, Arizona"

Just finished listening to Imus in the Morning talk about the impact of Wal-Mart on small town America. He recounted taking his wife to the Winslow, Arizona, the town made famous in the Eagles song. He told his audience that it was really sad because the town was almost completely boarded up. The reason: Wal-Mart was built on the highway right on the outskirts of town.

This is the reality in many different areas of this country and it must come into play as Ramapo begins to gauge the store's impact along the RT. 59 corridor in Rockland County, New York. The economic and social costs must be carefully examined so the putative benefits are put into the proper perspective.

The Alliance's consultant Brian Ketcham does this in his traffic analysis. He points out that consultants hired by developers almost never examine the social costs of additional traffic. This doesn't mean just the aggravation and lost work time for those stuck on RT. 59 trying to get to work or go home. As Ketcham points out in his prepared testimony the congestion can be quantified if you model the increase in the number of accidents and the environmental impact of the traffic jams: "The dollar cost of these impacts is estimated at about $30 million a year. These are costs shifted from Wal-Mart to your community."

The beguiling mantra of economic development in the case of a Wal-Mart needs to be thoroughly examined and, when seen in conjunction with increased traffic and crime, we believe that the costs far outweigh the benefits.

Governor Butts Heads With Legislature

The recently concluded state budget negotiations were not without acrimony. The governor's budget division folks are carping about the legislature's refusal to include Pataki's $1.50 cigarette tax in the final package. As the NY Times reports this morning, "The governor's staff also expressed concern that the Legislature was rejecting Governor Pataki's plan to increase cigarette taxes, which provide money for a variety of health care initiatives..."

Joe Bruno and the NYS Senate have been the strongest opponents of the increase and as John McArdle, Bruno's Senate spokesman said, "'there are plenty of other options besides new taxes to pay for health care.'" Let's hope so.

Still unresolved, however, is the fate of Mayor Bloomberg's additional 50 cent a pack increase for New York City. We certainly hope that the moolah provided by the state for the city's school system is enough to assuage the need for the legislature to cave in on this issue. As we have said before the increase will only encourage the Indian retail black marketers.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Vermin and Disposers

The papers have recently been reporting on how New Yorkers are getting fed up with rats, cockroaches and other vermin. In Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn the failure to pick up garbage has resulted in a rodent feast right by PS 32. In Stuy Town, cockroaches are such a problem that at least one resident has decided to move ASAP.

One major reason for this vector problem is that there is a readily available food source: the organic refuse thrown out everyday by New Yorkers. The City of Philadelphia realized this public health danger and decided to mandate grinders in order to lessen the amount of material being thrown into dumpsters that would attract rats and insects. We are confident that the City Council will grasp this positive aspect of disposers and pass Intro 133, which will conduct a cost/benefit analysis prior to any legalization of these devices.

Monsey Wal-Mart: Prototypical Traffic Deficiency

On Tuesday, April 4th, the Town of Ramapo Planning Board will be holding a "scoping session" before letting the developer of the proposed Wal-Mart on Rt. 59 begin to conduct the environmental review pursuant to the submission of a full EIS. The purpose of such a session is to give the various stakeholders-neighborhood residents, small businesses and elected officials-the opportunity to suggest the kind of data that the developer's consultants should be collecting if an adequate analysis is to be forthcoming.

Typically consultants for the developer try to minimize the potential impacts of a project in an attempt to reduce opposition. It is also typical that localities, and this includes a large city such as New York, don't have either the inclination or the resources to challenge the developer's self-serving data.

This leaves it up to the opponents to hire expertise to question a project's assumptions. In the case of the Monsey Wal-Mart the Alliance has retained Brian Ketcham and he has already examined the preliminary traffic data that was submitted to the Ramapo Board. It shouldn't be shock to find that this traffic report leaves a great deal to be desired.

Initially, the submitted study appears to be almost entirely derivative: the consultants did very little independent data collection and instead relied on available information from the town and NYS DOT. Cleary, one of the primary necessities here will be for the consultants to collect data from comparable Wal-Mart stores in similar milieus.

In addition, as Ketcham points out, any reliance on the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE) trip generation rates is inadequate because these numbers are not only dated but they don't speak well to the hyper-Wal-Mart phenomenon. Wal-Mart is certainly not average.

One thing we know about Wal-Mart is that the company possesses precise data on customer counts by the hour! It will not be difficult to get a better estimate than the one that the consultants have submitted which relies on the experiences of the contiguous Pathmark supermarket. Pathmark is a grocery store that services the local community, not a regional supercenter that will draw people from as far away as the Bronx and Westchester.

It is also important to point out that the regional nature of the store means that the shopping patterns of the local Orthodox Jewish community will not be the factor that the consultants are alleging in their preliminary report. In fact it is more probable that, instead of the diminution of business that Pathmark experiences on Friday night and Saturday, there will be an increase as non-Orthodox shoppers take advantage of the relative calm in the local community.

Ketcham goes on to question the parking requirements and his full report can be found here. A final point is the issue of the "societal costs" of the store. Here the issue is traffic accidents and particularly the higher rate of fatalities that characterizes the Rt.59 corridor. Community safety, and not only traffic is involved in this, will become a big issue as the debate evolves on this Monsey store.

Anyone who is concerned with the quality of life in this area of Rockland should come down to the Ramapo Planning Board meeting at the town Hall on Tuesday at 7:30 PM.

Traffic Remedy for Staten Island?

In his unveiling of a "comprehensive" plan to alleviate Staten Island's traffic problem Mayor Bloomberg takes a page out of Murray Edelman's classic book, The Symbolic Uses of Politics. As Edelman points out, politics proceeds on a symbolic level (as opposed to a tangible one where folks actually get something concrete) when public pronouncements are used to relieve anxiety, allay uncertainty and, thereby, promote quiescence.

The use of symbolic rewards (such as press conferences announcing "comprehensive"plans to address intractable problems), creates the impression that action is being taken when nothing is really being done that would deal fundamentally with the problem at hand.

This is precisely the case with The StatenIsland Transportation Task Force. As the NY Times reports,"The announcement gave Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican who received significant support from Staten Island voters during his mayoral campaigns, an opportunity to surround himself with other Republican politicians..." In other words, as Otto Schindler said, "I'm here for the presentation."

All of which is better underscored in yesterday's StatenIsland Advance. As the paper reports, "The bulk of the proposed long-term projects that could make the most difference-such as road widenings and the replacement of the Goethals Bridge-will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and are in the out, out capital years." Precisely so; long after Bloomberg goes back to giving away his considerable fortune.

The Advance captures the point we're making about the two levels of politics when it indicates, "All that raises the question of how much the transportation task force will be able to accomplish." And the area that has been designated by Borough President Molinaro as a "traffic nightmare" along Page Avenue (where the Walmonster wants to go) has a "to be determined" time frame when it comes to road improvements.

This means that the proposed Wal-Mart for Richmond Valley Road and Page Avenue will potentially create-What transcends a "traffic nightmare"? As Amanda, The Dollar-a-Year Burden points out, "she did not know if those developers {including the Stop-N-Shop builders} could be forced beyond the legal requirement to improve local roadways if and when they seek approval from the city if and when they seek to build in those areas."

When, however, a project will exacerbate an already nightmarish traffic situation the city can simply say no to the developer's plans. This, we will argue, is exactly what should be done when Wal-Mart comes begging later this year.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Comparing Apples and Basketballs

The Daily News reported yesterday (with an assist to the clever playmaker Matt Scheurman) that State Senator Velmanette Montgomery is arguing that the $100 million requested by FCRC for Atlantic Yards be blocked "until a desperately needed Sunset Park high school is built..." Which might make some sense if the senator wasn't simply against any money going to Ratner at any time. Cause we all know that should the money for the school be forthcoming Montgomery's position on the project funding would still be -NO!

And of course if the AY development is not going to mean a net gain in jobs and city revenues it makes no sense to fund it at all. If, however, there is going to be a huge influx of positive economic growth, and we believe this to be the case, than trying to hold the arena plan hostage to a school building that everyone admits has been 37 years in the making is plain silly.

The refrain should be: more tax revenue, more money for schools. Which is one of the reasons that the nascent Brooklyn Amateur Sports Alliance (BASA) will be in Albany today. The other reasons are derived from the fact that the arena development will be a major boon to amateur athletics in Brooklyn, to groups in Senator Montgomery's district for sure. And we inform these folks that their senator is opposed to AY, well, we'll let her explain her position to her constituents.

The BASA will be constituted officially next week and we plan to reach all across the borough with clinics that emphasize athletics and academics-basketball as a means to an end and not an end in itself. We also plan to do a borough-wide BB tourney this summer that links the diverse Brooklyn neighborhoods together. FCRC and the Brooklyn Nets will become a major stakeholder for amateur sports in Brooklyn and the rest of the city.

Watch out NYK! With the Nets success on the court and the Knicks abysmal management it will only be a matter of time before the Brooklyn Nets logo becomes the hot ticket item in this city. We anticipate that the BASA will be working alongside the Nets and FCRC for many years to come.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Yanks Are Coming!

As we approach the City Council hearing on the proposed Yankee Stadium more and more people are weighing in on the less than transparent political process that seems to be characteristic of the Bronx. We are particularly amused by Andrew Wolfe's take on the Yankees and how it underscores the questionable nature of the entire process.

In Wolf'e view, the use of a community benefits agreement masks the extent to which a new Tammany-like "honest graft" is being created in the Bronx. Now Wolfe sees absolutely no merit in the desire of the community to preserve its parks ("environmentalists who view parkland as sacred in perpetuity..."). But he blanches at the shakedown of the Yankees.

As he points out, "To ensure the continued support of Bronx elected officials, a scheme has been concocted to have the Yankees set up a $28 million trust fund to be run by 'an individual of prominence' selected by a group appointed by Bronx political leaders." Wolfe rightly sees this for what it is-public policy for sale.

He also sites the support that Maria Baez gave to the BJ's project in the BTM development, a project that Wolfe approves, as the same kind of "honest graft." The entire CBA charade needs to be redesigned so that the use of this vehicle doesn't get transformed into its opposite: a boondoggle that benefits the political machine much more than any putative community interest.

Confused (C) For (F) Ever (E)

In all of the hoo hah over the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's lawsuit and the state court decision saying that New York City school kids are being shortchanged, there is no better explanation of the legal issues than is contained in the article in today's NY Sun by Jacob Gershman ("A Court Without Power"). It all comes down to the fact that the court has no power to enforce its ruling.

Under our system of checks and balances it is the legislature that appropriates money and the executive that spends it (Of course when it comes to Indian retailers the governor has decided to take the law into his own hand). This is precisely why Speaker Silver has talked about the governor's "moral" rather than "legal" obligation to follow the court's ruling.

Plaintiff's lawyer Michael Rebell laments that the governor is setting a bad example for the kids by flouting "the rule of law." Others see it diferently and wonder how the violation of the legal separation of powers would enhance respect for the law. All of which reminds us of President Jackson's response to the SC's ruling on the banks: "Well, John Marshall has made his ruling, now let him enforce it."

Friday, March 24, 2006

One Burnt, Twice Burnt Again

In today’s Daily News Errol Louis has a scathingly accurate column on how the pols in the Bronx need to listen to their communities and not rubber stamp a highly problematic Yankee Stadium proposal:

But it's not clear that the Bronx's elected officials, each of whom has sworn to protect the interests of his constituents, did very much demanding at all. Shame on them all, especially Borough President Adolfo Carrion and the county's Democratic boss, Assemblyman Jose Rivera.

Dispensing with all pretense of protecting the public interest, Rivera has allowed one of his right-hand men, longtime Bronx fixer Stanley Schlein - who was on Rivera's Assembly staff throughout last year and doubles as the party's lawyer - to also collect a paycheck from the Yankees to goose the project along.

Carrion, who is busy trying to run for mayor, has his own conflicts of interest - he has collected $9,000 in contributions from Yankee executives so far - and has been roundly criticized for giving community organizations the big runaround. This week, for instance, neither Carrion nor anybody from his office - despite promises to the contrary - could find time to attend a forum on the pros and cons of the project held at the New York Foundation.
We must point out that the precedent for this type of development was set by the Bronx Terminal Market fiasco. What can we really expect from Bronx politicians who, for the most part, did not even raise an eyebrow when 23 merchants were exterminated to make way for a mall development that many agreed was one of the biggest sweetheart deals in recent memory. Unfortunately the BTM merchants were the canaries in the mine shaft, portending how unrepresentative Bronx politics can be.

The Rockland Business Association And Wal-Mart

We met yesterday with Sandy Fried the owner of The Tire Warehouse in Spring Valley, New York. Sandy is a member of a group called the Rockland Business Association. Now we have been trying to make contact with the RBA and, since Mr. Fried is a member and supports our efforts against the Walmonster, we thought it would be a good idea if he reached out to Al Samuels, RBA's president.

Which he did but not with the results we would have hoped. It seems that Big Al is suspicious of the Alliance and told Sandy Fried that he thinks we are a "carpetbagger outfit." So, without the courtesy of a meeting, the head of a group that purports to represent Rockland's business community, a group that has actually set up a Small Business Council, won't meet to discuss the impact of the largest single retailer to look to locate in Rockland.

How sad is that? What's really ironic is that of all the participants in this site fight the Alliance's Richard Lipsky may be the only local resident of the county. In addition, calling the Alliance a carpetbagger when it looks to fight the ultimate retail carpetbagger of all time is beyond absurd and is an egregious example of the toadying that certain business groups do when the Walmonster comes to town.

In looking at the membership list of the RBA, however, what strikes us is the relative paucity of retailers. The RBA clearly doesn't represent the interests of local retailers in Monsey, Suffern, Airmont and Spring Valley. What's more it also doesn't represent the suppliers of these retailers, the local wholesalers who will also be ruined when their customers are put out of business. In addition, it isn't representing the professionals--the accountants, lawyers, insurance brokers and bankers--who service the local businesses and will be shut out by the out-of-town retail giant.

The RBA should have an obligation to examine carefully the potential negative impact of a Super Wal-Mart in Rockland. We have seen the kinds of impacts that the store has had on rural and suburban downtowns all over the country and there is no reason to believe that the Rt. 59 corridor would be any different. Just think of the local drug stores, supermarkets, florists, optometrists, dress store, appliance outlets- the list is endless-who will be put at risk by a Super Wal-Mart.

Not to mention the predatory pricing practices of the company. As we have pointed out, Wal-Mart doesn't look to compete it looks to eliminate the competition with initial prices that are designed to put competitors under. Once this is accomplished the company reverts back to a more profitable price structure.

All of which is meant to underscore the serious economic issues involved in the Monsey Wal-Mart fight. This seriousness demands that a group whose charter it is to represent and advocate for local business must not roll over and become a shill for a company that will threaten the viability of many hundreds of Rockland businesses.

Roger Perb-turbed

As NY 1 first reported yesterday, and is followed up in the papers today, the Public Employee Relations Board has voted to send the transit contract dispute to binding arbitration. Roger Toussaint, Local 100's leader, nevertheless vowed to re-submit the rejected contract back to the members saying, "Today's PERB ruling serves neither transit workers nor the riding public." Nor, of course, does it serve Roger himself very well.

Clearly Toussaint has not distinguished himself and the editorial in today's NY Post underscores just how much the contract fiasco has hurt his reputation. It's not just that Roger is dislikable, a trait that a leader can overcome, he is now being viewed as ineffective. This, when combined with his lack of good looks and charm, is becoming insurmountable as union elections loom at the end of the year.

The longer this dispute keeps going the more vulnerable Toussaint appears to be. It certainly doesn't help him that as of today workers will lose a day's pay for each day of work missed during the strike. All of which makes the re-vote process that much more interesting.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Yanking Their Chain

In today's NY Daily News Juan Gonzales goes after the Bronx political machine for its subservience to Boss George and a concomitant lack of concern for community interests. In particular, he comments on the lightening-like speed that the legislature passed the bill to alienate the parkland that the Yankees will use to build their new stadium: "Steinbrenner's bill, as it will now be known, was introduced in both houses of the legislature over the weekend of June 18...and the final vote was done by June 23."

The issue of the parks has been flim-flammed by proponents and their media acolytes and ignores the construction gap-the years when the old parks will be destroyed but nothing will have yet been built to replace them. What it really comes down to is that the elected officials in the Bronx have been given carte blanche by a downtrodden and apathetic constituency. Perhaps this, along with the Terminal Market debacle, will light a spark of grass roots democracy in a borough that doesn't get to experience it often.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

When we criticized the Bronx Terminal Market CBA we mentioned that a major concern was that the flawed agreement would become a precedent in the Bronx. It seems that our worries have been confirmed after seeing what the Yankees are supposedly offering to the community.

According to the NY Times today:

As part of the Yankees' proposal to build a new stadium, the team will contribute $28 million to a trust fund and distribute 15,000 free tickets each season to Bronx groups, according to the draft plan of a community benefits program.

The proposal also calls for the team to pay $100,000 a year to maintain parks around the stadium and distribute $100,000 a year in "equipment and promotional merchandise" to schools and youth groups in New York City.
As the paper points out one problem with this agreement is that there is no guarantee that a lion share of the money will go to the South Bronx community that is being asked to give up its park and accommodate increased traffic (and the money being proposed is a meager 3.5% of the project's total value). Another is that the fund will be administered by an “individual of promise” appointed by an elected-official controlled panel.

"It would be like the fox guarding the henhouse," said City Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster, one of the few Bronx officials opposing the new stadium.
And like the Bronx Terminal Market agreement one of the most egregious shortfalls with the Yankees deal is that the community has never been involved in the negotiations and therefore its concessions are minimal and enforceability suspect.

Bronx Community Board 4 member Lukas Herbert sums up document nicely:

After he read the eight-page draft yesterday, Mr. Herbert called the $28 million trust fund a "slush fund."

"This thing is disgraceful," he said. "It's going to be controlled by the Bronx political machine — the very people who sold out the community in the first place."
We must also mention that Councilwoman Helen Foster has been one of the few elected officials who has stood by her community:

"Everything we hear is about how this is going to be a better thing for the Yankees and their fans. But I don't care about the Yankees, I care about my constituents," she said.

Council on the Warpath?

In today's NY Sun Russell Berman reports on the City Council's weighing in on the Indian cigarette controversy. Council member Lou Fidler has introduced a resolution that calls on the governor to start enforcing the tax laws. As Finance Chair David Weprin says, "I think it's outrageous that the governor is not enforcing the law..." The Council plans to hold a hearing on the measure after the budget process is completed.

The paper goes on to recount how this dispute is pitting Pataki against Attorney General Spitzer, an elected official who feels strongly that the governor needs to enforce the law. Clearly, however, the state's claim that Indian violence is a reason for not enforcing the law doesn't sit well with the sponsor of the Council resolution. "'I don't believe it's appropriate to succumb to that'...Lewis Fidler of Brooklyn said, 'I don't believe you negotiate the enforcement of a statute when it's legal and on the books.'"

Amen to that. Things are starting to move in the right direction on this issue and the Gristedes lawsuit will certainly roil the waters further. Isn't it time for the mayor to step in and join us?

A Better Idea for Monsey

In today's Rockland Journal News the paper editorializes in favor of a "Science Academy" for a site that is being proposed for a new Wal-Mart Supercenter in Monsey. As the paper says, and we agree, "We bet that most area residents would prefer a school to a large shopping center which would exacerbate traffic in an already overbuilt area along Route 59."

The paper goes on to praise Mayor Darden of Spring Valley for his concern for the renewal of downtown Spring Valley, "Since he is convinced that a Wal-Mart would cause environmental and economic damage to Spring Valley, which is facing downtown renewal..."

The paper encourages the Ramapo planners to entertain this alternative idea and we agree wholeheartedly. An elite academy for math and science makes a lot more sense than a community wrecking Walmonster. "Let the idea be debated. A specialized academy that could help build the brain-trust this nation needs in math and sciences would be tempting."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ground Hog's Day For TWU

Taking a page out of the Bill Murray movie, TWU Local 100 set in motion the machinery for a re-vote on the contract that was turned down by the membership in January. As the Times is reporting this morning this sets up a potential confrontation between the union and the MTA, since the agency is arguing that a contract, once turned down, is no longer on the table.

This is, as labor historian Joshua Freeman says, "an extremely confusing situation." It is also one that is fraught with danger for Jolly Roger Toussaint. The Local is already feeling the financial pinch from the strike, a docking of workers' pay is to begin this week, and the resentment against the leadership of the union will only grow worse if the contract issue is allowed to continue to fester.

Roger needs to get this all behind him quickly or else he will be history and a new group of leaders will take over.

Tax Deferred Indian Exemption

The Indian cigarette tax issue is now beginning to become a major issue up in Albany. The Attorney General and the Governor appear about to lock horns over the issue and the lawsuit filed yesterday by Gristedes (with a follow-up story in today's Newsday) will undoubtedly put pressure on the state to take the appropriate action.

The pressure will continue to build as the media attention focuses on the unfairness of the so-called Indian exemption. In today's NY Post the paper editorializes against this "foolish policy" that is costing the state and city-along with thousands of legitimate retailers-millions of dollars a year.

As the Post points out, "You can't blame the company for suing...After all, if it has to pay the taxes, then why shouldn't its competition-the stores and internet retailers on Indian reservations-also pay?

In addition the Post also points out the false correlation between higher cigarette levies and the decline in youth smoking As the paper says, "But data from the Centers for Disease Control suggest otherwise. Even Mayor Mike, in crediting cigarette-tax hikes with lower rates of smoking among kids, admitted that lighting up also fell before the hikes took effect."

Finally, the Post goes after the governor for discriminating "in favor of the tribes" and suggests that "If Albany won't make the tribes pay, it shouldn't make anyone else pay, either." Pataki, however, still feels entitled to flout the law.

As the NY Times reports this morning the Tax Department spokesman is saying, "Our goal has always been to solve this matter through cooperation instead of confrontation.." What balderdash! Someone should seriously investigate the money trail on all of this. It has a distinct Abramoff flavor to it and our suspicion is that the hoo hah over Indian violence is a true smoke screen to cover up the real source of the reluctance to enforce.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The NY Times' Suicide Pact

Once again the NY Times goes out of its way to demonstrate that we should all be grateful that its esteemed editorial board has no role in the governance of this country. This time its misguided advocacy for free speech in the case of Umar the Magnificent underscores its frightening naivete and limited worldview.

The Times editorial praises the mayor for a "Solomanic solution" in what the paper describes as a "unexpectedly stirring defense of First Amendment rights..." The description that the illustrious man of God used to depict the men and women in the White House--"the greatest terrorists in the world"--and the ant-Semitic attack on the "Zionists of the media" barely troubled the E-Board. All of the outrage that the Times could muster was that the Iman's remarks were "bound to raise some hackles."

Ah, "But should it be a dismissable offense?, the paper asks. Of course not. While the Iman "chose his words poorly" the overall context of his remarks were, well, in the Times' view, rather uplifting. How sad that the paper has absolutely no appreciation of the kind of war this country is in.

Perhaps we should just observe the troubles that Europe is facing with unassimalated Muslims on the front lines of this culture clash. What we observe, and the phenomenon can be seen in this country as well, is that we have folks in our midst who are all too eager to use our constitutional protections to destroy the very freedoms that the Times professes to hold dear. As Justice Jackson pointed out in 1949, the Constitution is not a suicide pact.

And what about all of the clergy that came to Umar's defense? Looks to us as part of a GUILD that is eager to defend its own vested interests. If the Iman could say those things to a student group what is he telling inmates? Do any of those who rushed to his defense, including the Times, have any idea?

Which brings us to the blinders that the paper apparently has on the whole Church-State question. When the controversy over the display of the Ten Commandments was roiling public debate the Times vehemently objected and said that the courts should order the displays removed.

And what about school vouchers? The Times, in an editorial written in 2002 and titled "A Matter of Church and State", said that the use of vouchers, because public money was indirectly channeled into religious schools, was unconstitutional. Yet it is OK for public money to go directly to a rabbi, a priest or an iman? The paper simply ignores the issue, so intoxicated it is by the anti-Bush rhetoric of our Islamic Patrick Henry.

We are spending $1 million a year on prison clergy. We shouldn't be spending a dime. So when we see one of these public funded clerics express the most extreme anti-Semitic and anti-government rhetoric it should be seen as a golden opportunity to rid ourselves of the whole bunch.

Smoke Signals: Retailer on the Warpath

As we have been reporting the anticipated lawsuit against the Indian retailers selling cigarettes without tax is being filed today. The suit, being brought by Gristede's chairman John Catsimatidis, alleges that the tribes on Long Island helped spawn "a thriving black market of discount cigarette sales." The action seeks an injunction and punitive damages against the Poospatuck and Shinnecock, tribes that aren't recognized by the US government.

The legal action by Gristedes is also designed to force the hand of state government. As the Sun reports this morning, Governor Pataki's office has been dragging its feet on enforcement claiming that enforcement was "premature." Gristede's lawyer Bill Wachtel commented that "Our hope is that in the next month or two, we're going to get the enforcement from the state that we all think is warranted."

Warranted it is, with the state and city losing over $500 million a year and local retailers suffering from unfair competition. It goes without saying that ten years is too long to wait for equity to be achieved and the bleating of the tribes needs to stop. All of this economic activity that is supposed to benefit the tribal members should be thoroughly investigated since, as Wachtel points out, "the lion's share of the money made on reservation cigarette sales is not being used to improve tribal conditions."

The tribes deserve the last word on all of this because they never fail to provide a comical context to what hould be viewed with all seriousness. Harry Wallace, chief of the Unkechaug Nation, takes issue with the Supreme Court ruling that determined that NY State had the right to tax Indian sales to non-Indians: "That's charging people based on ethnic identity, and I refuse to do that."

So now the entire issue of Indian cigarettes is going to come down to a principled fight on the question of racial profiling. You really couldn't make this up.

Update: The State Tax Department ruled recently that a Buffalo wholesaler could ignore state law and resume shipping cigarettes to Native American retailers who weren't paying taxes. Attorney General Spitzer has condemned this move, setting up a showdown with certain tribes assuming he's elected governor.

Thank You for Not Taxing

In yesterday's Daily News Bill Sherman writes about the growing outrage, one that we have been harping on for four years, over the governor's failure to enforce the tax law against Indian retailers who sell cigarettes. The failure doesn't come cheaply "costing the city and state $500 million this year."

The funniest line in the story comes from "Seneca nation President" Barry Snyder who told the News that enforcing the law "would wreck havoc on both the nations and western New York economy." Now we can't comment on the impact of enforcement on the Senecas but the idea that this would hurt the economy of the region is a cruel joke to all of the legitimate retailers in that part of the state who are being shafted by the governor's pusilanimity.

As the News points out the cost of a carton of Marlboros is less than $30 at the reservation smoke shop and over $70 in New York City. This disparity has created a lucrative and violent black market in the city and is a major impediment to the mayor's efforts to reduce teen smoking.

Which is why the Gristedes company, and its president John Catsimatidis, is launching a lawsuit today against the Long Island Indians whose "tax free" cigarettes are flooding the city's neighborhoods. As the suit underscores these tribes have a great deal to lose and this legal action is probably only the first of a number of such claims agains tribes that are willfully disobeying the law.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Monsey Wal-Mart

The Alliance continues to make inroads into the Monsey community in our effort to stop the Walmonster from destroying the indigenous retail community. We've hired ace traffic consultant Brian Ketcham and have started an extensive community outreach.

There are a couple of factors that will make this an interesting site fight. The first, of course, is the religious nature of the immediately surrounding community. This brings up an interesting issue in regards to the question of Saturday shopping. The Monsey community shuts down on Saturday and there is a great deal of resentment when it feels that its Sabbath peace is being violated.

In addition, there are a number of vibrant shopping areas that will be dramatically affected by a Wal-Mart. In particular, the Route 306 corridor and Spring Valley's downtown, struggling to revive after years of decay. What can't be denied is that many of the impacted retailers come from the Orthodox community and these storeowners are vital contributors to the local communal institutions.

In addition, there are also significant numbers of Haitian and Jamaican retailers who will also suffer from the Walmonster's intrusion. This could become the most diverse retail coalition that the Alliance has ever generated. And we haven't even included Mr. Wu's large International Food Market on the corner of Rt. 59 and Rt 45 or the Suffern Chamber of Commerce that is led by Mel Berkowitz.

We anticipate that all of these forces will begin to mobilize to convince the Ramapo town leaders that this project is not in the interest of the overall business community. Local people still remembers what happened in 1969 when the Nanuet Mall opened, Spring Valley's downtown was devastated and still hasn't come back. Imagine what Wal-Mart will do to the Village's effort at revitalization.

Arbitration Mach Frei

It looks like we will see the entire TWU mess thrown into arbitration. At least, as the Times is reporting today, this is what the mediator in the dispute is suggesting and the MTA agrees. What this does to Toussaint's call for a re-vote is anyone's guess.

If the arbitration does go forward, however, it would not be a good thing for Jolly Roger. Almost everyone believes that the results of an arbitration would be worse than the contract that the members of Local 100 turned down in January.

Teflon Iman

Writing on the City Journal's blog Stefan Kanfer wonders why the city of New York is paying clergy to minister to the prison population. Kanfer's musings mirror the concerns of the NY Sun. Both sources are perplexed why the mayor can't understand that, in a war against terror, you simply don't subsidize the terror team's culture corps.

It really isn't, as the mayor would like us to believe, about free speech. Certainly, as Kanfer points out, you wouldn't approve some radical Christian fundamentalist to minister to the like-minded in our jails. So why does the city seem to go out of its way to get the most extreme Muslim to do so?

This gets us back to the issue of government subsidized religious leaders. Stormin' Norman Siegal jumps in to defend Umar the Magnificent while he wouldn't be caught dead defending the rights of, let's say, Catholic school students. We wonder what Siegal would have done if the chaplin in question had ties to the old Jewish Defense League? As long as the Iman was bashing US everything's OK.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Smoke at the End of the Tunnel

In a startling move both the NYS Senate and the Assembly have refused to pass the governor's proposed cigarette tax increase unless the state begins to enforce the tax laws against Indian retailers. In a story the other day in the Buffalo News, Tom Precious reported that, "The Senate turned down the governor's plan to raise the state's cigarette tax from $1 to $2.50 per pack, with Bruno saying such an increase would be 'aiding and abetting those that smuggle and cheat' through the sales of tax-free cigarettes."

In taking this stand both houses "rejected another year's delay in collecting tax on Indian sales..." In an interesting twist the Assembly went one step further "by requiring tobacco wholesalers to turn in their licenses June 30th. They would get new licenses only if they showed they had sold no tax-free cigarettes between the budget's passage and June 30th."

It appears that the handwriting may be on the wall for tax dodging Indian retailers. If, as we expect, a lawsuit is filed shortly the pressure will really be on the governor to stop his dilatory tactics and simply enforce the law.

Toussaint or Sinner?

It is always fascinating to watch someone trying to wiggle out of a tough situation of their own making. Even more so when the individual in question is so disagreeable to begin with. This is precisely the case with the attempt by TWU president Roger Toussaint to extricate himself from the labor pact snafu he himself created.

Now, as the NY Post is reporting this morning, Roger has come out of the closet on the "grassroots" petition effort to re-vote the contract that was voted down two months ago. The union leadership believes that the arbitration it faces will end up forcing Local 100 to accept a worse deal than the one that was rejected by the rank-and-file by a scant 7 votes.

The MTA, however, isn't being so accomodating. As Board Chairman Peter Kalikow told the Post, "Put simply, this dispute should be sent to arbitration. Period." Not everyone is as apparently obdurate as Kalikow. In an editorial in today's NY Times, the paper endorses the re-vote saying, "Settling this contract now would serve not just the workers, but the MTA and the riding public."

Fair enough. But the Times goes on to observe that many of those union members who voted to reject the pact, "were expressing their displeasure with management, not necessarily their position on the merits of the contract."

This misreads the TWU situation completely. The contract that was voted down by the members was negotiated by the Toussaint team and the rejection reflected a lack of confidence in their own leadership, one that lead them out on strike only to settle for a deal that wasn't worth the sacrifice it entailed.

As Toussaint opponent Ainsely Stewart tells the Post today, "Toussaint had a golden opportunity at the beginning of these negotiations...The MTA had a billion-plus surplus. And instead he boxed us in to this deal. And now he has no way out."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Survey Says?

When Wal-Mart released its survey showing just how much New Yorkers love the store everyone reacted with a good deal of healthy skepticism. Self-serving data deserves no less. But look what happened when the NYC DOH released the results of its own survey on teen smoking. The media's response was to swallow the results whole.

Yet when we examine the Department's own newsletter ("NYC Vital Signs") we find that the much ballyhooed survey was constructed and administered by the Department itself, with aid from the Department of Education. All of which makes us extremely skeptical since the folks doing the survey have a vested interest in finding, well, just what they seemed to find: youth smoking is in percipitous decline (you see the tax works!).

When we examine the Department's newsletter more close we see a number of interesting things. First, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids is listed as a resource and this lends credence to the suspicion that the Department is an advocacy group rather than a disinterested observer. Imagine if a survey had cross-listed Phillip Morris.

So what we have here is a government agency with a vested interest in obtaining certain results, collaborating with an advocacy group with the same bias. It doesn't inspire confidence that the study was done without prejudice.

Lastly, the newsletter advocates that "business owners who do not comply with state and city laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco to youths less than 18 years of age should be reported to 311." What about the 110,000 cartons a day that are being smuggled into the city and sold on the street? Not a word from our vigilant health commissars!

Vendor Inequity

At the February 9th hearing of the City Council's Committee on Consumer Affairs Mr. Sung Soo Kim of the Korean-American Small Business Service Center (KASBSC) outlined some of the issues facing the city's roughly 3,000 green grocers. In particular, after highlighting the intensity of the over-enforcement campaign against the stores, Kim underscored the disparity between the city's focus on these stores and its blithe disregard of street vendors who sell the exact same products.

As Mr. Kim pointed out, "Produce vendors in the city are thoroughly immune from any enforcement." He provided the Council with a chart that illustrated the unfair dichotomy. As he demonstrated the vendors, unlike the tax paying stores, are not subject to repeat violator guidelines, are not required to post any DCA complaint sign, are not held accountable for illegal dumping, and will only have a license suspended after four violations in one year (a store will face revocation for its second violation in two years).

We are working with the Council to draft equitable legislation that will create some parity between the vendors and the legitimate store owners (which goes to show you how far the disparity has come- the vendors are less scrutinized!). As if the the harshness of the regulatory climate wasn't bad enough, green grocers, bodegas and supermarkets must stand by and watch unregulated competitors simply steal their business away. Justice and equal protection demands nothing less

I'm-an Ill Suited Leader

The mayor's unwillingness to forcefully confront the Muslim chaplin who clearly is unsuited to continue to act in any official capacity, stands in sharp contrast to his percipitous dismissal of an employee in the city's Albany lobbying office. That poor sap's sin was having had a game of solitaire on his office computer.

Let's go back to 2002. It was at that time when the mayor, goaded by the NY Post's attack on his smoking ban, actually had a NYCHA employee fired for taking too long a smoking break in front of the agency's 250 Broadway headquarters.

It's a good thing that Umar Abdul Jalil wasn't caught at his desk smoking and playing computer solitaire. This, and not blatantly anti-Semitic and subversive statements in defense of Islamic extremism, would bring down the righteous wrath of our municipal leader.

How sad. And what is Norman Siegal doing defending a government paid religious leader? Isn't he the one who, along with the ACLU, is always fighting educational vouchers because some public money may get channeled into a parochial school? As the Sun editorialized yesterday, if you want any government funds to go to a religious activity you just have to go to jail.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Taxing Credulity

In today's NY Sun the paper editorializes on the much trumpeted decline in the consumption of cigarettes. What is fascinating in the Sun's take on all this euphoria is the apparent disparity between the sale of "legally traded cigarettes" and the percentage of Americans who continue to smoke (something that has barely changed at all).

What this means, if the dichotomy holds up, is that all of the "taxes up, teen consumption down" rhetoric is pure hokum. We've made this point before: if black market cigarettes are readily available on the street than price increases will only drive more business to the illegal sellers. And that is exactly what has happened.

As the Sun's editorial highlights, "...up to 110,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes are smuggled into New York City each day..." If a black marketeer brings just one truck of low or no-taxed smokes into the city he or she is looking at a profit of--minimally--$2 million "for one day's work."

Of course the situation is exacerbated in NYC by the existence of the Indian loophole. We have two "tribes" out on the East End of Long Island (neither is officially designated as such by the federal government) that are selling "untaxed" smokes with impunity and the 50 mile hike into the city is a short cut to big profits for enterprising black marketeers.

Food Waste: The Worm Turns

Many of those who aggressively oppose the use of food waste disposers champion composting as a realistic alternative that is more environmentally friendly. As the DSNY points out, "The average New York City household discards two pounds of organic waste each day. This adds up to more than a million tons of organic waste per year." In response, the Department encourages New Yorkers to compost either in their backyards or indoors using (we kid you not) a "worm bin."

In fact, the Department has an entertaining brochure that it gives out to homeowners. The pamphlet details the kinds of worms best suited to the composting task (red worms are the best digesters). It was fascinating for us to be told that the best way to feed your worms is with broccoli stalks. It's also important for the budding "vermicomposter" to learn how to capture the fruit flies that inevitably become pesty accomplices to your indoor worm bin.

All of which makes for interesting reading but it has a kind of "theater of the absurd" quality. The money that is spent on this kind of quixotic venture is a waste and simply panders to the romantic environmentalists who don't want to address the realities of urban life.

In fact, as we have pointed out before, the use of food waste disposers not only is more effective at diverting food waste from export, it actually allows for the creation of the most nutrient rich compost, an end-product that is better for the soil than any backyard composting could ever hope to achieve.

In addition, the use of commercial disposers has the added environmental advantage of being able to facilitate the recycling of the waste that remains once organic material is diverted. Implemented properly, this methodology could allow the city to reduce the number of transfer stations needed to export municipal waste. It's a relatively simple technology with wide-ranging implications for waste reduction.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Cigarette Taxes: Whose Armey?

In yesterday's Daily News the paper prints a point-counterpoint on the question of whether it's good public policy to raise the state and city's cigarette tax. The advocate for the increase, something the Alliance has been commenting on for some time, makes the point that, "Public health authorities have amply documented that every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes causes about 7% of young people who smoke to quit."

Let's parse that sentence. It seems that according to the anti-tobacco advocates, citing other anti-tobacco advocates ("public health authorities"), there is a correlation between the tax increases and a decline in youth smoking. Why would we take the assertions of the ideologically driven as "amply documented"?

We routinely discount assertions of self-interested businesses as biased so why not those who are equally self-interested? Just because an entity is a self-described "public interest" or "public health" group doesn't mean that it is competent do econometric studies or even weigh data in a unbiased way.

What we do know is that smoking among teens has dropped dramatically in this country. And it has done so in low taxed as well as high taxed states. Let's not confuse correlation with causation.

And certainly when there is such a huge black market loophole as the one that exists in New York State it is dangerous to continue to postulate the correlation between taxes and cigarette consumption. Our advocate, however, is undeterred by the facts on the New York ground: he calls the smuggling and tax evasion an "insignificant" problem.

What this shows is that we shouldn't let public health advocates moonlight as financial experts. Only a good government type (or a NYC mayor) could call a $500 million tax evasion problem "insignificant." It is typical for these folks to simply ignore the reality of the black marketeering while continuing to hoist the same questionable data on a gullible public.

And just what did the News have in mind when it asked Dick Armey to craft the rebuttal argument? Armey did do a competent job in raising some of the Alliance's issues, particularly on the harm these taxes do to small businesses. Why didn't the paper go to the folks at NYACS or the Bodega Association? Choosing a right-wing Republican seems to be designed to discredit the point-of-view from the get-go.

In any case it is time to close the Indian loophole. No new tax should be levied until this shameful kowtowing to the threat of Indian violence is ended.

Bruno Posted on Wal-Mart

The NY Post is at the defense of the Walmonster once again. This time it is in the context of an attack on Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno for his favorable response to legislation that would force a company like Wal-Mart to take care of its worker's health care costs.

What's particularly fascinating in this diatribe is the Post's defense of Wal-Mart's workers utilizing public health care benefits. As the paper says, "If a state health plan is available, why shouldn't workers partake of it?" Is this the same newspaper that inveighs regularly against welfare abuse?

So let's get this straight. If, in the Post's view, a poor black women is accessing too many public benefits that is somehow scandalous, but the richest corporation in the world is training its employees to obtain public benefits that the company itself should provide, and that is somehow OK.

It's more than just OK, however. In one of the most ridiculous passages in yesterday's editorial the Post actually says, "And if workers choose the state plan over Wal-Mart's, why blame the store for offering poor benefits; why not blame the state for being too generous?" This is plain silly. The workers go to the state because, on a Wal-Mart salary, they can't afford to both eat and pay for health care.

And what about the fact that Wal-Mart provides so many jobs? ("...which is why job applicants line up for blocks every time a new store opens"). The reality is that low paying retail, driven by WalMartization, has replaced the high paying, good benefit manufacturing jobs that we have exported overseas. It is a process that Wal-Mart itself aids and abets in its own lucrative outsourcing of the manufacturing goods that it is able to sell so cheaply at retail precisely because they have been made so cheaply overseas.

So when the Post says, "These stores are doing nothing wrong", it lays bare the bankruptcy of its own ethical standards. Maybe Lee Scott of Wal-Mart is right when he says that we as a country needs to do something about the rising costs of health care. But it is clear from Wal-Mart's record in this area and the Post's moral obtuseness that neither of these worthies are part of the solution.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Yankee’s Bogus Community Agreement

As we have mentioned, the extremely flawed “Community Benefits Agreement” adopted for Related’s Gateway Mall project is now being used as a model for the controversial proposed new Yankee Stadium. Patrick Arden of Metro reports that despite promises no agreement is even ready yet:

In January, New York Yankees president Randy Levine made a promise to people who live near his team’s current ballpark and who were upset that the Yankees’ proposed new stadium and parking garages would claim 22 acres of parkland.

“We will enter into a community benefits agreement,” he told a luncheon of the New Bronx Chamber of Commerce. “It will be a very good, fair one — and we intend to be long-term, good-standing neighbors in the Bronx. I promise that on behalf of the Yankees and George Steinbrenner. We care about the quality of life for residents in the Bronx.”



But after almost two months, there’s still no sign of any community benefits agreement.
Arden interviews Majora Carter, executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, who was involved in the Related negotiations and the removed herself when she realized it was problematic and that her critiques weren’t welcome:

“I took part in it until they determined that we should no longer be a part of it,” Carter said. “We weren’t exactly kicked out, but it became very well known that our assistance was not required.”
Like with the Bronx Terminal Market, the Yankee CBA process is extremely problematic at least according to the nation’s foremost experts on these deals:

“This is pretty late in the game to still be negotiating an agreement,” said Roxana Tynan of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, the group that pioneered the idea of CBAs. “The more votes that have been taken on the project the less leverage local folks have, unless they have a legal angle and can buy time.

“CBAs don’t work when they’re top-down, because then people don’t trust the process — you have a lot of trust issues to overcome about whose interests the CBA is really going to serve.”

Smoke and Taxes

The city has released another survey that documents the dramatic decline in youth smoking. Once again the mayor is crediting his cigarette tax increase as a major reason for the good news. What this overlooks of course is the fact that, as the NY Times points out this morning, "...the declines were also reflective of nationwide trends showing that teenagers are increasingly shunning smoking."

It is also important to emphasize the undeniable reality of the black market in cigarettes that in all likelihood is skewing the results of the city's survey. This phenomenon makes it easier for the youth of the city to avoid the higher prices that the mayor credits for lowering the number of youthful smokers.

In fact the city's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden, has himself pointed out that the black market is the one major obstacle in the way of a fully successful campaign against youth smoking. This is why the mayor's continued call for higher cigarette taxes, while Indian retailers are hawking non-taxed smokes with impunity, makes no sense.

The Alliance is poised to join with others in the fight against this problem and the litigation is likely to be launched next week. The tax payers and small businesses of this city and state are being hosed and we're hopeful that Bloomberg and Frieden will join with us in support of the effort to close this unconscionable loophole.

Bloomberg Hawks Eminent Domain

In a totally expected move Mike Bloomberg has taken up the fight to preserve eminent domain as a tool of municipal government. In a story that ran a couple of days ago on NY1, it was reported that the mayor was "racking up some frequent flyer miles" in the battle to preserve eminent domain. "Bloomberg says sometimes it has to happen, otherwise, 'Every big city would have all construction come to a screeching halt.'"

Quite the overstatement, Don't you think? What it comes down to, however, is the expansive nature of how ED is currently used, with very few safeguards to protect homeowners or small businesses. And Mike Bloomberg, with his vast wealth, is certainly not the best spokesman for the pro-ED side. After all, we can be sure that he will never have to worry about anyone taking his property.

No one is going to condemn a $20 million town house on the Upper East Side but someone with a couple of acres of property in Willets Point better watch out. This is all about who gets to decide just what is in the public interest. This is an extremely delicate situation when government is transcending basic constitutional rights.

In addition, as we have seen in this city, certain well-placed real estate companies have an insider's advantage. So what happens is that less well-situated firms find that their investments are at risk when government and the private sector collaborate on one of those "well-developed" plans that the NY Times ballyhoos.

As we have said before, we're not totally against a more expansive use of ED for development but it is absolutely essential for New York to craft more comprehensive (and fair) guidelines so that the entire exercise doesn't become Robin Hood in reverse. As David Birdsell of Baruch College points out, "'It's not necessarily the case that the fact that a private interest's developing property means there is no public value. The question is adequate compensation and adequate process for the people who are dispossessed'..."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Observations on Trash

The New York Observer has joined the NY Times in editorially supporting the mayor's SWMP. In giving its support to the plan the Observer talks about the mayor's "long-term vision to resolve the city's solid waste crisis."

Once again we are forced to remind people that a siting plan for garbage hauling is not a long-term vision by any definition. What is long term is for the city to figure out how to manage its trash without a heavy reliance on a truck-to-landfill methodology. The use of marine barges only solves a small part of this unhealthy reliance.

As far as the current SWMP is concerned no one has really put any long-term financial projections together to estimate what the export methodology will cost as landfill space dwindles. In addition, we haven't seen a real good cost estimate of the city's proposal to build all of these new marine transfer stations.

And what about commercial waste? How will the city get the private carters to dump at 59th Street if these companies have their own transfer station facilities? Will the city look to mandate this through some kind of flow control that will undoubtedly be litigated?

Our big fear in all of this is that the city's commercial sector will be held hostage to the public sector and, with a city-owned site mandated, local businesses will be forced to pay through the nose to get rid of their garbage (payments that the city will use to subsidize the residential disposal).

So once again we are left with a garbage disposal plan that isn't a plan, one that has no concept of waste reduction or long-term costs for that matter. No one at the City Council, however, has stepped up to address the SWMP's shortfalls. If it is only about siting, then by all means pass the mayor's plan. Just don't call it a "long-term vision."

Check-Off's In the Mail?

As the Daily News reports today and NY1 follows up, TWU Local 100 is scrambling to come up with a back-up plan just in case the court suspends the union's automatic dues check-off, a decision that could financially cripple the Local. The union is trying to create a voluntary dues plan to prevent what it describes as "union busting."

The union is still trying to fend off a $3 million fine that Governor Pataki wants the court to impose on the union for depriving the public of transportation for three grueling days. All of which makes it extremely difficult for Roger Toussaint to effectively represent his membership as elections loom at the end of the year

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wal-Mart Looms Over 2 NY Bills to Improve Worker Health Care

From the NY Times:

The national effort to force Wal-Mart and other employers to provide better health care coverage came to Albany on Tuesday, with legislators of both parties promoting bills that would require many businesses to provide insurance for some 450,000 workers who now lack it.

The move comes after similar legislation passed in Maryland in January, though that was aimed more narrowly at prodding Wal-Mart. The company has long been accused of offering meager benefits, forcing many employees to seek health care from state programs.
Some unlikely legislators are supporting and sponsoring these initiatives:

In fact, one of the two bills unveiled Tuesday — both based on a proposal by the Working Families Party — will be sponsored by Senator Nicholas A. Spano, a Westchester Republican who in 2004 provided crucial support for minimum wage legislation, ultimately persuading Senate Republicans to override Gov. George E. Pataki's veto.
And how about powerful Majority Leader Bruno:

Governor Pataki and the Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, the state's two top Republicans, have been cool to proposals in the past to tax businesses that do not provide health insurance. But Mr. Bruno did not rule it out in comments during a news conference on Medicaid in his office.

"When some of these so-called big box stores say to their employees, 'Here is an application to go apply to Family Health Plus or Healthy New York to get your insurance,' that's a taxpayer expense, while the person next door is providing health insurance as part of their overhead," Mr. Bruno said, referring to two state programs aimed at low income people.

Online Cigs Attacked

Most of the papers are reporting the agreement reached by Mayor Bloomberg with a Virginia internet company that would enable the city to begin to collect taxes from folks who bought their smokes online from eSmokes. The mayor, in announcing the settlement made the following statement: "Internet cigarette merchants who misrepresent themselves and evade the law cheat local businesses and New Yorkers."

Hooray for the mayor. The Alliance applauds the enforcement action but the estimated $33 million recovered is just a drop in the bucket compared to the Indian retail loophole. With a lawsuit against the Indian retailers about to be launched the Alliance looks forward to the support of the mayor at eliminating a scam that "misleads the public and breaks the law."

We should point out that this cheating is costing New Yorkers and New York stores at least 20 times the money recovered by the city in yesterday's announced settlement. We would also argue that until this loophole is closed no new cigarette taxes, including the mayor's 50 cent increase, should be imposed. We applaud Joe Bruno for his pledge to hold the line in this regard.

Environmental Obstacle for Wal-Mart in Monsey

Last night the Ramapo Planning Board unanimously approved a "positive declaration" for an application to build a 215,000 sq. ft. Wal-Mart Supercenter on RT. 59 in Monsey, NY. As the Journal News reports this morning the Board meeting was attended by members of Local 1262 of the UFCW as well as representatives of the Alliance.

The key issue for the board is the center's potential traffic impact on the already congested Rt. 59 corridor. Allen Berman, the Ramapo's attorney did, however, go through a more comprehensive list of concerns that the Town wanted to see addressed by the developer. In particular, he cited the potential impact on the character of the community as well as the socio-economic impact on area businesses. All of these issues are germane to any comprehensive review under the NYSEQR guidelines.

The attorney for the developer, one Charles Bazydlo, complained briefly to the Board that his consultants had already done "exhaustive" traffic studies of the area and held up a two volume example of the work at the meeting. Of course, no independent eyes have ever seen this work or reviewed it for its veracity. Its length is no testament to its accuracy, as we have seen in numerous other developer-sponsored studies.

A good sign last night was the presence of Bruce Levine, Spring Valley's tenacious village attorney. Levine was at the meeting to reiterate Mayor Darden's strong opposition to the proposed store. Darden is quoted in the News saying. "I just don't think this is a place for Wal-Mart...This is an organization that has been around to try to destroy other businesses."

Clearly, as the News points out quoting the Alliance's Richard Lipsky, the positive declaration is a victory for the community. The developer will no have to go through a rigorous year long review process and the Alliance will be hiring its own traffic consultant to provide a degree of accuracy to the developer's self-serving analysis. The Board has scheduled a scoping session for April 4th and we plan to be there in force.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Wal-Mart goes on the Blogfensive

The NY Times has an interesting front page story today on Wal-Mart’s attempt to use blogs as a PR weapon. Wal-Mart, through its PR company Edelman, sends out communiqu├ęs to bloggers, complete with formatted text and links, with favorable information about the country. One issue is that bloggers are lifting this information sometimes word for word with attribution:
But some bloggers have posted information from Wal-Mart, at times word for word, without revealing where it came from.

Glenn Reynolds, the founder of Instapundit.com, one of the oldest blogs on the Web, said that even in the blogosphere, which is renowned for its lack of rules, a basic tenet applies: "If I reprint something, I say where it came from. A blog is about your voice, it seems to me, not somebody else's."
But the bigger story is that Wal-Mart has been nettled by critics and is doing anything it can to strike back. With its controversial Staten Island store entering the land use review process shortly and its proposed suburban Monsey, NY supercenter receiving considerable flak, the world’s largest retailer is attempting to mitigate the poor PR that especially harms them in these site fights. However, though we obviously respect blogging, Wal-Mart is going to have to do much more to convince NYC and many other communities around the country that this store makes sense for their neighborhoods.

Wal-Mart Boxed In

Theboxtank is running a feature on the attempt by Wal-Mart to devise some unique urban designs for some of their city stores. This brings to mind Al Smith's famous quote: "No matter how you slice it, it's still bologna." You really need to take a gander at some of the futuristic designs, it reminiscent of Jed Clampett in a tuxedo.

All of which is, at least for us, besides the point. The threat that Wal-Mart creates has little or nothing at all to do with the ugly box store design. And really when you look at some of the photos you have to wonder what this would mean to a site on Pitkin Avenue in East New York, or on on Richmond Valley Road in Tottenville.

What is intriguing about these new multi-level stores is, well, their multi-levels. But this design feature doesn't change the central dynamic of the box store: its dependence on cars and a large parking facility. Will it make any difference for a Wal-Mart in Soho if the parking is below grade?

Of course the union and small business issues aren't altered by the design component either. It reminds us of the attempt by Costco to introduce its "Costco Fresh" concept into the city in the late nineties. No on was fooled in Chelsea by this attempt at repackaging and the Wal-Mart makeover will generate the same kind of skepticism. As always, the real fight will be a site fight, and the nature of the local community will determine the outcome.

Et Toussaint?

It looks like when it comes to Roger Toussaint, when it rains it pours. The latest in the Toussaint travails is an allegation that the so-called grassroots petition drive at Local 100 to re-vote the contract that the rank-and-file turned down recently is in reality an effort orchestrated by the transit union head himself.

At least it is according to allegations reported yesterday in Newsday. As one union member remarked, "Don't put up a smokescreen and pretend it's grassroots." Toussaint must be getting quite antsy with union elections scheduled at the end of the year. The more this contract issue is allowed to fester and the closer it gets to a union vote, the greater the trouble for Roger.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Toussaint just like the MTA

According to today’s NY Post, Transit Workers Union Vice President Ainsley Stewart is suing Roger Toussaint and Local 100 for illegally docking his pay more than $20,000. Stewart is one of Toussaint’s most vocal opponents and believes that this action is nothing more than retribution:

"He wants to bend and break me," Stewart said. "Everything he's condemned the MTA for he now does to me."
It will be interesting to see if stories like these, combined with the failed strike and prolonged absence of a contract, will lead to Toussaint’s ousting during the next union elections.

Trashy Plan

In yesterday's NY Times the paper editorializes in favor of Mayor Bloomberg's solid waste plan. The paper continues to fail to understand the plan's total inadequacy to devise a single credible waste reduction strategy.

It is simply not enough to craft a "fair share" distribution of waste transfer stations whose sole merit is that more neighborhoods get to experience the pain of the siting of noxious garbage facilities. Ths Times, lost in the nuances of this debate, decides that the issue is NIMBY: "The not-in-my-backyard attitude is understandable. But that alone is no reason for one neighborhood to escape its responsibility."

Just so. The fact is that this is not what this should be all about and, quite frankly, the Times should do better than simply parrot the mayor's clever misdirection. When the paper says that the city's proposal would enable "most of the trucks" to come off of the street it has no idea what it is talking about. With no reduction in the amount of garbage generated truck traffic to local transfer stations continues unabated.

In addition, the Times has no discussion of the mayor's recycling proposals, the ones that the mayor has called "groundbreaking." The harsh fact is that the current SWMP is simply a real estate policy, one that already has a $1 billion price tag and the cost is still growing.

The editorial does make at least one good point about some critics of the mayor's plan: "So far its opponents have been short of real alternatives..." This is true of those folks fighting the Manhattan siting issue but is totally off-base when it comes to those of us who have been advocating the expansion of the use of food waste disposers.

The use of disposers would be the one method that would reduce the amount of waste generated and therefore trucked into the transfer station neighborhoods. In addition, the removal of food waste is also the single best method for the enhancement of recycling. Once putrescible waste is removed the rest of the materials, no longer contaminated, are more easily recyclable.

Entertaining the expansion of disposer use should also generate a re-evaluation of the need to construct so many of the proposed transfer stations. There should be no need if the level of garbage reduction begins to approach the percentage of food waste in the waste stream (over 25%). In addition, the transfer stations themselves could be converted into material recycling facilities (MRF's) and the noxiousness of their presence could be reduced.

Traffic Nightmare Targets Staten Island

There was a good piece in Friday's SI Advance on the opening of a Target store at the Bricktown Centre on the South Shore of the Island. It will be interesting to see if Islanders will forego the lower-priced New Jersey option in favor of a Target that is closer to their homes. As the paper points out, "Opponents of Bricktown Centre have argued that Islanders can easily cross the bridge to shop at similar stores in New Jersey, where there is no tax on clothing..."

Borough President Molinaro disagrees and believes the store will be a success but, as we have pointed out, he is rightfully concerned with the pending traffic nightmare if the area's road infrastructure is not improved. The Advance underscores this point: "While Molinaro supported Bricktown, he has also recently predicted a 'traffic nightmare' in the area if untouched portions of Page Avenue and Arthur Kill Road and Veterans Road West are built out with similar stores, and he said that$100 million worth of roadway improvements is needed."

This of course has implications for the proposed Wal-Mart on Richmond Valley Road, as well as a Stop-N-Shop on Page. The supermarket is likely to have greater local support since it's not a regional draw and its trade area is much smaller.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The McLaughlin Raid

New York City is abuzz with the news that the Central Labor Council offices were raided yesterday and its chief, Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, is under suspicion of ridding bids for city street lighting contracts. While nothing is certain at this point we agree with Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News that McLaughlin has done a lot for the labor movement of this city but nonetheless he needs to answer questions and fast.

The NY Post also editorializes on the subject today in its typical vitriolic fashion. In the Post’s harangue it uses the investigation of McLaughlin and the CLC to make wide-sweeping attacks on the labor movement and those politicians who are supposedly bought by labor. Certainly organized labor has had its untoward incidents but then again so has corporate America, specifically Wal-Mart. We don’t remember the Post issuing a tirade against the world’s largest retailer when Vice President Tom Coughlin was forced out for improper conduct (depending on which side you ask it was either for improper use of company funds or illegal union busting).

We also can’t seem to remember the Post railing against the Bronx Terminal Market sweetheart deal, the genesis of which was the conflict-of-interest relationship between a city official and a powerful real estate firm. Or how about when Maria Baez accepted $40,000 dollars from the Related Companies and its consultants and then all of sudden became both a BJ’s and Gateway Mall booster?

We agree that McLaughlin has some explaining to do but so does the Post when it allows such ill-informed invective to appear on its pages.

Eminent Domain Showdown

As we had noted the other day the city has designated a short list of finalists for the development of Willets Point. In today's NY Sun (Crain's Insider also makes note) Dave Lombino goes into greater details on the city's interest in developing the Iron Triangle. And as he points out, "The proposed project is likely to require condemnation of private property through the exercise of eminent domain..."

All 48 acre of the Point will be subject to at least the threat of eminent domain and it will create the single largest area of property threatened with a public taking in the city's recent memory. It certainly will be one of the largest land areas slated for condemnation that will be utilized exclusively for private development.

Even our good friend Jesse James Masyr, the lawyer for Related, a company that is "seriously thinking about" the possibilities at the Point, recognizes the complications this project entails, "It's a great piece of property, but it's complicated how you will get the land control--so much of it is privately owned."

Well, actually it isn't all that complicated as to how you can get control. It's the controversy that the process will generate. Related's interest will undoubtedly recall all of the questions concerning Steve Ross's relationship with Dan Doctoroff and will generate speculation over whether the company's "favored nation" status remains.

In any case it appears that, according to the Sun, a consultant will be hired by EDC to prepare an EIS and the review process may even begin before a company is selected. The review promises to be contentious since Councilmember Monserrate remains a skeptic of the development and is certainly no knee-jerk supporter of the work of EDC.

As Monserrate says about the Willets Point area,
"It is a viable economic hub today. It generates revenues and produces jobs...I'm more concerned that those who work and live in the surrounding area will be directly impacted. It is unacceptable if we don't meet the needs and interests of the people in these communities first, before the developer."
All of which rekindles the importance of addressing the issue of accountable development. The interests of the various community and business stakeholders must be catalogued and then taken into consideration. Collateral damages must also be evaluated and any effort that involves the taking of private property must meet some very high standards before being initiated.