Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bogart Starring at Columbia Pictures

It now appears that the City Planning Commission, unless there is some last minute intervention, will certify Columbia University's land use application at its June 4th meeting. This precipitous move, coming as it does before there has been any meaningful negotiations between Columbia and the community, has already begun to spark controversy.

In strongly worded letters, both CB#9 and the West Harlem LDC (formed to negotiate with the university), asked Planning Chair Burden to put off certification because, in the words of Board Chair J. Reyes-Montblanc, "It will be a great disservice to the Community, the Administration and Columbia University to issue such certification and referral during the month of June. The consequences of such an inadvisable action by DCP are dangerously enormous and may even involve public disturbance, this is how serious the situation could be." (emphasis added)

The LDC gets it just right when it tells CPC's Burden that certification this Monday, "will offend the essence of the ULURP process which is designed to seek community comment and involvement." The action also exposes the sham nature of these negotiations, proceeding along the lines of first getting the approval and then tossing the community as meager bone when it's under no pressure to really accomodate the local needs.

Apparently Columbia doesn't care, and is looking to use its political muscle (Bill Lynch?) to bogart the concerns of the community. This steamrolling prospect is in sharp contrast to the comparable expansion efforts launched by Harvard and UPenn. Quite simply, there is very little in the current Columbia plan that addresses the local need for housing, or its worries over the process of gentrification.

As this post is being written, it appears that the CB and Coalition for Community Preservation (the other CPC) is planning to do a press conference down at City Hall tomorrow, an event that could certainly get raucous. This just might be the kind of galvanizing issue that will mobilize the already considerable community opposition to the CU expansion. Columbia's hubris, and the city's need to accommodate the university, might yet lead to unexpected negative consequences for the landlord of Morningside Heights.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ramapo-ses Questions On Wal-Mart

It seems that the Alliance isn't the only concerned party worried about the traffic impacts of the proposed Wal-Mart supercenter on Route 59. As the Journal News reports this morning, the Town of Ramapo is still waiting for the developer to answer questions it has raised, not only on the traffic impacts that the store would have on the county's main state road, but also on the spill-over impacts that would be created on the side roads in and around the project.

The story this morning highlights the fact that the town's own planner is skeptical about the ability of the Walmonster to find realistic ways to mitigate that impact that the store will be sure to have on the area's already congested traffic situation. As the News indicates, "A report filed in late March by the town's planning consultant, John Lange of Frederick P. Clark Associates, predicted that westbound traffic would back up about a mile from the site to Route 45. It was also a concern that side streets would be blocked by lines of Route 59 traffic"

This is in line with the what the Alliance's consultant, Brian Ketcham, has been pointing out from his own analysis of conditions on the local roads, both now, and should the store actually be built. In spite of what anyone who knows the conditions in the area will tell you, the developers persist in trying to get folks to accept that somehow the Walmonster won't have that great an impact.

In a report submitted to the town, consultants for the developer wrote, "Gridlock conditions will not occur..." Which brings to mind the Marx Brothers line: "Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?" And, in typical developer fashion, they proposed some simple turn signal changes and other minor adjustments as mitigation for the estimated 6,000,000 additional car trips that would be generated by the store.

This is precisely what the Manhattan Institute report on NYC's environmental review process called critical attention to-the developers' narrow scope of concern for immediate intersections around a project, but with no attention paid to the larger area-wide impacts that will be created. It doesn't appear that this is going to be acceptable to Ramapo.

Skepticism about the review process was voiced by a local resident who told the paper, "The traffic is horrendous already..." Yet William Johnson also said that, "They're going to do what they want to do anyway." Maybe not William. Opposition in the Monsey community continues to grow, and weekly advertisements in the Community Connections are starting to raise awareness on a wide range of community impact issue.

Legislator Bruce Levine underscores this when he tells the News about residents' concerns for traffic on all of the secondary roads around the proposed site. Today's story also reports on the work of the Alliance in calling attention to the adverse business impacts that a Wal-Mart would have on the retailers of Monsey. So it is beginning to look that the obstacles are growing and the prospects for Wal-Mart, once bright and promising, appear to be dimming.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Taxing Our Patience

Yesterday we posted a commentary on the NY Times' opposition to the AMT. In it we pointed out that the paper, far from becoming noveau tax cutters, was simply looking for a more effective method to get hold of your hard earned money. They found it in a four percent increase on folks earning more than $1000,000 (singly) or $200,000 (as a couple).

In today's NY Sun, the paper editorializes on the tax raising proclivities of the Times and points out that, "In other words, the Times doesn't simply want to undo the Bush tax cuts-it wants to ratchet up taxes on higher-income Americans even higher than they were during the Clinton administration."

All of which leads the Sun to ask, if the NY Times is so hell-bent on taking more money from us in the form of taxes then, "what is holding the paper's owners back from returning the tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks they sought and received from the city and state to build a new headquarters building..?" The reason they're holding on to the dough? The same reason why liberal integrity is an oxymoron-all the way fro Martha's Vineyard to the Hampton's.

Clearing Up Congestion

The mayor is ratcheting up his political push for the implementation of a congestion tax on New Yorkers who have to drive to work in the city. As the NY Sun is reporting, it appears that Governor Spitzer may be prepared to support the plan even though the Q-Poll has shown that most city residents outside of Manhattan oppose the tax in huge numbers.

All of this is being done in spite of the fact that the city keeps inexorably building more auto-dependent mall, and the mayor keeps voicing his support for Wal-Mart-the largest car-dependent retailer in the world. This, my friends, is rank hypocrisy and greatly diminishes the legitimacy of the mayor's quest for sustainability, a word that a few years ago wouldn't have meant much to Mayor Mike if it didn't have something to do with corporate profits.

If the PlaNYC doesn't address neighborhoods and local retailers. along with the reduction in auto-dependent shopping, then it is not a sustainability plan that all of the environmental zealots should be supporting , at least not without some strong caveats. And if the plan to tax truck deliveries is not one that will actually reduce truck traffic, then it should be jettisoned as another example of the tax happy, business unfriendly, city milieu.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Columbia: Comparatively Less Sensitive

One of the things that we have been emphasizing in our discussion of Columbia's expansion into West Harlem, is the glaring lack of genuine concern for the university's impact on the surrounding neighborhood. This is even more pronounced when Columbia's plan is contrasted with those of Harvard and UPenn, a comparison that we came across in a series of articles that were done two years ago by Emily Schwarz in the Columbia Spectator.

We have previously commented on the difference between Harvard's expansion into Allston and Columbia's into West Harlem, in particular, the Boston school's concern for the issue of affordable housing. In the Schwarz series of pieces we also find a stark contrast between Penn's concern for West Philly and Columbia's for its neighbors.

As the Spectator reports, there had been a series of ongoing meetings between the facilities mangers of Harvard, Penn, Columbia and Yale. At one meeting, chaired by Columbia University architecture professor David Smiley, the contrasting perspectives became clear: "Smiley said that Penn's presentation focused on the university's efforts to improve the community, while Columbia focused more on its physical plans."

And the article goes on to say; "Universities can also achieve positive community relations by learning to consider themselves as a member of the community and not as a separate entity." This appears to be a lesson that Columbia has yet to learn, and the hiring of a highly-paid former Dinkins administration deputy mayor is not a substitute for genuine dialogue and collaboration.

One final note. The Spectator quotes an Allston representative on the need for the university to meet the neighborhood half way. The article goes on to point out, citing a university official, that the Columbia plan (circa 2005) has some congruence with the community's 197-A plan. Yet since that time, it appears that Columbia has been doing more to hire political muscle than to try to really work with the local community and meet it, even somewhat half way.

Columbia's Expensive Reasoning

In the weekend edition of the NY Sun, the paper reports on the lobbying effort of Columbia in its pursuit of campus expansion. Now, we'd be the last ones to chastise anyone for spending money on lobbying, but even we were blown away by the information that the university is apparently paying Bill Lynch $40,000 a month to represent its interests.

That's quite impressive indeed. We aren't aware of any single lobbyists being paid that kind of money. Maybe Guy Molinari got more from NASCAR, but we're not sure that it surpasses the Lynch retainer. Bill must be working awfully hard on the university's behalf, although without any real disrespect to Bill, we really wonder if Columbia's getting its money's worth in the deal.

The Sun piece does mention that RLA has been retained, at a greatly reduced fee, to represent the interests of property owner Nick Sprayregen. The resource disparity indicates that, as Nick tells the paper, "These eminent domain fights are like David vs. Goliath..." We'd love to see old BL try to take on an underdog in any lobbying battle. Don't hold your breathe. Like his mentor David Dinkins, those kinds of struggles are museum pieces in his resume.

We are, however, reaching a critical juncture in this particular battle. Once certain moves are made to expose the blatant self-aggrandizement of the university, we will find out whether Columbia has indeed invested wisely. One thing that we have learned, though, working for Goliath doesn't always allow you to fully demonstrate any innate ability to influence the political process.


The NY Times weighs in on the Alternative Minimum Tax and finds, somewhat surprisingly, that the tax may be unfair. But before anyone gets carried away by the spectacle of the Times being opposed to a tax, any tax, it is essential to point out that the paper didn't stop at simply inveighing against the AMT as "unfair."

True to their ideological roots the Times goes on to say, "True reform must lift the alternative-tax burden from wrongly afflicted tax payers while enacting a fair way to raise tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue that will be foregone." Of course there is no mention of reducing the size of government so that the foregone tax money can simply be returned to the tax payers without the imposition of a new burden on the Times favorite bogeyman: "millionaires." Especially those who are, "among the biggest beneficiaries, by far, of the Bush-era tax cuts."

Now admittedly, we're not tax experts, but we can see pretty clearly that the Bush-era tax cuts have benefited quite a few Americans besides the objects of the Times' scorn. Put simply, the US economy is soaring, and a great deal of the credit should go to the tax cutting by the Bush administration. In fact, we see European countries like France looking to emulate Washington, having seen first hand the devastation that follows the implementation of tax policies favored by the Times.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Editorial Decongestion

In today's NY Daily News the paper editorializes in favor of the mayor's traffic decongestion plan. It does so, however, without any good substantive discussion of the plans costs, or its putative benefits for that matter. Instead, it spends a good deal of the time fulsomely praising NYS Senate minority leader Malcolm Smith, one of the few Queens electeds to actually come out publicly in support of the concept.

Smith, in the view of the News, is demonstrating the kind of "gumption" that is "harder to find then parking in midtown." It's a little bemusing to see the News lionizing a politician, and it is especially so since we know just how strenuous the mayoral effort has been to court city elected officials to support PlaNYC's most controversial component. Perhaps the good senator is motivated purely by public policy concerns, but that is generally not the way to bet in this town.

On another front, Dave Seifman reports in the NY Post this morning that even some of those officials in Manhattan who support the pricing scheme are not in favor of the current 86th Street demarcation line. As Council member Gale Brewer told the paper, "I believe that 86th Street will not be the final cutoff" ( a sentiment that was echoed by newly elected assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal).

What we anticipate in the months ahead is that the current proposal will be subjected to a more strenuous evaluation, as political opposition is increased. We all agree that traffic congestion needs to be addressed. Now, and the Daily News is right that there is no other current proposal to do so, we need to devise a better plan to relieve our overburdened city streets and highways.

Fearing Columbia?

In today's City Section of the NY Times, former mayor David Dinkins, and current Columbia employee, weighs-in in favor of the university's expansion plan. In the vacuous style that we have become accustomed to, the former mayor, in an editorial titled Don't Fear Columbia, fails to deal with the two contentious issues that have roiled opponents: the use of eminent domain and the lack of any housing in the expansion footprint.

The issue is not about some generic fear, but of the nature of the university's expansion and its potential impact on existing residents and businesses. But specificity has never been a Dinkins strong suit, and neither has intellectual rigor. The important question is: Can the Columbia plan be made better? And if so, in what way?

These key questions aren't addressed by the Columbia's paid flack, and so all we are left with is platitudinous statements like, "Columbia University's the perfect example of a change that will generate growth and benefit all." Well it won't benefit the four hundred or so low-income residents of the Till Houses, or the property owners who will be forced out if their buildings are taken through the use of eminent domain.

Nor will it benefit the Harlem residents who will be forced to deal with the potential after effects of the university's gentrification of the 18 acre property. The former mayor, writing in prose that are best suited for some third rate PR brochure, goes on to observe that he appreciates "the concerns that some Harlem residents may have about the university's plans." What concerns Dave? Why not list and attempt to address them, rather than blather in a pseudo-sympathetic mode that is utilized merely to appear sensitive, while avoiding the need to actually be so.

Dinkins goes on to detail the numerous ways in which Columbia does interact in a positive way with the local community-from health clinics to tutoring programs. No one, however, is arguing that the university doesn't do some good for the local community, and that it doesn't have some important city wide benefits as well. The issue here, once again is, does this particular expansion plan provide the best possible use for the 18 acres? And is it necessary for Columbia, in an all-or-nothing fashion, to take away people's property in the process?

Our feeling is that the deabte over Columbia's expansion is best focused on some of the key issues we have mentioned, and should not be conducted by "professors of public affairs" whose record in office gives scant comfort in the acuity of their observations about public policy. No one fears Columbia, Dave. The fears that do exist concern an expansion plan that fails to "benefit all New Yorkers" as much as it does the university itself.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Revolving Door Underscored

In a previous post, when commenting on the Manhattan Institute's critique of ULURP, we pointed out that the environmental review process is a sham because the developer-driven consulting is never any real accurate portrayal of the potential impacts of any given project. Exacerbating the situation, is the fact that the review agencies, are loath to do any in-depth review of the consultants' work-not only because it's time-consuming, but also because "no one wants to go on record blowing the whistle..."

Why not? Well, as the MI report highlights, a major reason is that the permanent government is a major potential source of after-government employment. In one very real sense, everyone in the regulatory and oversight agencies are auditioning for that opportunity to make some serious money once they leave the public sector.

As if on cue, Crain's In$ider reports yesterday on this very phenomenon saying, "The New York real estate market is so hot that developers are hiring City Hall insiders at a furious pace. Developers need their guidance through government catacombs and are wiling to pay them higher salaries." And where are the insiders going? To Vronado, Related, Brookfield Properties and The Durst Organization, just to name a few.

Which brings us back to our original observation that no change in ULURP is more imperative than to remove the review process from the hands of tainted consultants hired by developers. If the mayor is really interested in sustainability and the environment, then this is one reform that must be included in the PlaNYC package.

Friday, May 25, 2007

NY Times: Never Counterintuitive

When the Q-Poll came out yesterday showing that an overwhelming percentage of outer borough residents oppose the congestion pricing plan (but with Manhattanites poling in a completely opposite direction) you knew it would only be a matter of time before the Times-the ultimate expression of Manhattan-centric sensibility, weighed in supporting the proposal. Adding some urgency to the situation was the fact that the plan is essentially a tax, making it absolutely irresistible to the solons of 43rd Street.

So it was no surprise to see that the paper threw its editorial support behind the idea in this morning's edition. The editorial makes interesting reading, much like children's fables the world over and, as usual for the Times, eschews nuance or any discouraging word. In characterizing the London and Stockholm experience with the concept of congestion pricing, the Times observes: "Residents of both cities were turned around by the unclogged streets, quicker commutes, better public transportation and cleaner air."

Yes, a veritable environmental Utopian age has been ushered in in those venues, with no attendant problems in the implementation of the pricing scheme in either city. Just another reason to not turn over city governance to the ideologically driven, and fact-resistant, Times editors.

Making this demonstration of solipsistic opining even worse, is the fact that the paper completely ignored the Q-Poll results. Every other city daily, except for the paper of "record," covered the news that most New Yorkers do not support the congested thinking. Most did so in the coverage of the mayor's photo-op on his "Don't block the Box" initiative. The Times story on this completely avoided the Q-Poll's newsworthy information.

Just another reason why you simply can't trust the Times to give you a balanced view of the world, especially when it comes to anything that offends Manhattan bien pensants. (although it should be noted that, as the In$ider points out this morning, two Manhattan lawmakers have come out against the plan because it would allow "people with fill the streets").

The contining flow of red ink at the Times is a verification of the increasing loss of confidence that New Yorkers have in the trustworthiness of the paper. As their stand on congestion pricing suggests, when it comes to the interests of the average New Yorker, the Times not only has no clue, it couldn't care less.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Being Observant

The Observer's Matt Scheurman posts on the congestion pricing/tax press conference we held yesterday and points out that Bodega head Jose Fernandez has said supportive comments on both sides of the issue. Jose, always sensitive to the impacts of policy on small business, understands intuitively that the pricing scheme is going to raise the cost of doing business, particularly for Hispanic distributors.

At the same time, we can't underestimate the persuasive abilities of the mayor. As we told our long time friend, if the mayor will finally live up to some of his promises (particularly on La Tienda Segura) then he should perhaps go for it. His stores can use all of the help the city has to offer.

Columbia: What Housing Crisis?

We are witnessing some remarkable political movement on the issue of the availability of affordable housing in NYC. AS Azi points out today, a diverse coalition of elected officials gathered down at Stuy Town to announce the formation of a coalition on affordable housing. As CLC's Ed Ott told the group, called New York is Our Home, "'the price of housing in this city is effectively theft' and that affordable housing units, like the ones in Stuyvesant Town behind him, "are being stolen by the greed of developers and the market.'"

The new group, composed of "labor and tenant groups, The Working Families Party and others," is coming into existence on the heels of a sobering housing analysis that was done by the Community Service Society. The report, titled Closing the Door, talks about the loss of subsidized housing units to both the market and to disrepair.

As the report points out, the rapid loss of city's supply of affordable, subsidized units is well-documented, "but no level of government has yet produced a coherent policy response to it." The report goes on to say that, "This affordable housing stock provides important protections from the effects of a chronic housing shortage to low-income tenants who would be unable to afford housing in the unassisted rental market."

So we have a burgeoning coalition ready to tackle the threat to affordable housing. The question we want to raise is, what will this group do in response to the Columbia University expansion plan that, not only doesn't include a housing component and will evict low-income tenants, but will also create a gentrification aftershock that will create the market propulsion-expulsion that Ott excoriated at yesterday's press event?

Congested Blogging

Thanks to the links by both Azi at the Observer and Elizabeth Benjamin at the Daily News we got a great deal of additional traffic yesterday on our congestion pricing press conference and related posts. The press event, also covered here, and here, and here, is the first step in our outreach to small businesses and neighborhood civics. In the final analysis, congestion pricing is not a policy that will play well in the boroughs.

As if on cue, the Q-Poll has just come out and the results are eye-popping. By widen margins folks in the outer boroughs all agree that traffic congestion is a major problem but, at the same time, feel that the congestion tax is not the way to go. Q's Mickey Carrol sums it up well: "It's all but unanimous. New Yorkers think traffic-choked streets are a big problem. But Mayor Bloomberg will need every ounce of support from his 74% approval rating to convince New York City voters that congestion pricing is the answer."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wal-Mart Sustains Hypocrisy

While we're all talking about traffic congestion, asthma rates and sustainability, the mayor's full policy monty, now being sold to the city by the NYC Partnership, raises some interesting points of conflict. What does everyone think about the fact that Wal-Mart, the country's largest generator of auto-dependent shoppers, has joined with the born-again environmentalists at the Partnership? This fascinating case of blurred messaging is mentioned by Azi in today's Politicker.

We're, of course, extremely familiar with this issue since we have stayed on top of the traffic problems that the Walmonster poses for any locality. Most recently, the threat of traffic induced mayhem was the catalyst behind the opposition to the box store giant on Staten Island; and we believe will also spell the death knell for the retailer in Monsey, New York. In the case of Monsey, our consultant Brian Ketcham estimates that the store will generate an additional 3,000,000 car trips a year. That's a lot of CO2 emissions.

So what we have is the Partnership, the new Greenpeace of New York, hooking up with Wal-Mart and seeing nothing contradictory about the relationship. In fact, the Partnership's Kathy Wylde, conjecturing about the rationale for the hook-up, and what it means for the siting of a Wal-Mart in the city, tells the Observer; "Obviously they wouldn't be joining if they weren't thinking about it."

Which brings us to the point we've already made about the lacuna in PlaNYC: its failure to consider traffic in the outer boroughs, the importance of neighborhood shopping, and the threat that the proliferation of box stores like Wal-Mart poses to the kind of sustainability that is represented by the preservation of neighborhood ecology. The Partnership's shilling for congestion pricing in this context is unseemly, to say the least.

More Congestion Ahead

In today's Crain's In$ider the newsletter reports, with a somewhat jaundiced spin in our view, that supporters of the pricing scheme are claiming that opponents are "exaggerating their breadth." In support of this, Crain's relates that the groups who will join the Alliance at today's press conference are "relatively small." Quite the canard if you ask us.

When we look at the 6,000 member Bodega Association, The Nightlife Association, the NYSRA, the Small Business Congress, and the 3,000 member Latino Restaurant Association, not to mention the 200 independent beer wholesalers, we have essentially all of the city's 200,000 neighborhood retailers represented in some form or another. And Local 342 0f the UFCW represents over 10,000 supermarket and wholesale meat workers in NYC. But what's this when compared to the handful of billionaire machers over at the NYC Partnership?

And let me say that we've just got started. When we begin, as we did with Mayor Giuliani's mega-store plan, to link the neighborhood businesses with the local civics and community groups, it will be the swells that will be terribly outnumbered.

This congestion pricing idea has not been well thought out and, as the NY Daily News story this morning on yesterday's grilling of the transportation commissioner underscores, the opposition is just beginning to build on this new, unnecessary, and additional tax burden on New Yorkers and local businesses (and props to David Weprin for exposing the idea for what it really is-"another tax that would burden the middle class").

Congestive Traffic Failures

The Alliance is holding a press conference today in opposition to the PlaNYC's proposal for congestion pricing. We have been raising a number of issues in our opposition to the proposal, but the one thing that is paramount here is that the current plan is way to narrow in scope and leaves out serious traffic concerns in those areas outside the CBD.

All of which is underscored in the way in which proponents of the plan emphasize the health consequences, particularly children's asthma rates, as a major reason for their support. This brings up a fascinating point that the advocates all fail to mention: the current plan doesn't address crucial traffic variables in the outer boroughs, and fails to analyze (where's AKRF when you need them?) how the congestion pricing scheme will potentially exacerbate traffic/asthma issues in outlying neighborhoods.

As we have been pointing out, this is especially salient because the multi-page plan fails to look at the administration's promotion of auto-dependent shopping malls. Particularly egregious is the currently constructing Gateway Mall on the grave site of the old Bronx Terminal Market. This shopping Valhalla will generate around 125,000 cars a week and thousands of diesel spewing trucks along a strip of the Bronx that is known as "Asthma Alley."

When the Alliance was fighting the Mall, and EDC promoting it, all we heard was how great this would be for the economy of the borough. Not a single word about the environmental impact, or about the developer's traffic study the the Tri-State Transportation folks called one of thee worst they had ever seen (in terms of low balling real world traffic impacts). This from a group that supports congestion pricing.

Which brings us to the issue of neighborhood shopping. The weakness of the current plan, as far as small business is concerned, is its failure to appreciate the role that neighborhood shopping plays in any concept of sustainability that's worth its salt. Neighborhood shopping strips promote local economies, encourage short car trips or even better, walk-to-shop retailing, and bolster entrepreneurism at the same time. Any sustainability plan that ignores this is one that needs to be sent back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bias in the FDNY?

The NY Times, among others, is reporting today that the Justice Department has filed a suit against the FDNY because of the low percentage of Blacks and Hispanics on the job. Mayor Bloomberg, to his credit, basically told Alberto Gonzales to "take this job and shove it!" The mayor said, "The Justice Department is not going to tell us what to do."

So what are we to make of the low percentages? Is the relative paucity of minority firefighter an example of blatant discrimination, or are other factors at work? Clearly, no one, at least no one other than the mismanaged DOJ, would allege that the firefighter who are eventually hired are not the best and the bravest in the world. And finally, does the scant number of minority firefighters by itself indicate a discriminatory evaluation process?

If one is going to argue this point than it is incumbent in the accusers to point to the way in which the testing process itself weeds out otherwise qualified minority firefighters. After all, white children are scoring better on all of the tests given in the NYC school system. Preparation for the exam and a proper outreach effort, something that the FDNY is now doing, seems like the best approach to raising the number of qualified minority applicants.

When the court's overruled the tests in the early eighties, a number of unqualified women were forced into the city's firehouses and created a chaotic situation. Firefighting is a life and death situation, not only for the people who may be trapped inside of a burning building but also for those brave firefighters who put their lives on the lines. Watering down the tests, or the selection methodology, is a recipe for disaster-for both the FDNY and the citizens of NYC that depend on the bravery of the personnel in the department. 9/11 proved that beyond a reasonable doubt.

Congestion Pricing

On Wednesday, May, 23rd, a diverse group of small business and retail leaders will hold a press conference to announce their opposition to the congestion pricing tax feature of PlaNYC. As Crain's In$ider reports this morning, the plan's congestion pricing component is making it more difficult to get past Albany's legislative scrutiny.

One senior Democrat told Crain's that, "He's going to have trouble with the pricing piece." The trouble stems from the fact that congestion pricing has not been fully thought through, something that will be emphasized at tomorrow's press event.

Where: Food Emporium – 405 East 59th Street

Time: 12 Noon

Check out the press release for more information.

Here's a list of attending groups and their representatives:

1. Richard Lipsky- Neighborhood Retail Alliance;
2. Rob Bookman-New York Night Life Association;
3. Dave Rabin-NYNA;
4. Jose Fernandez-Bodega Association;
5. Alfredo Placeras-NYS Federation of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce;
6. Louis Nunez-Latino Restaurant Association;
7. Chuck Hunt-NYS Restaurant Association;
8. Mitch Klein-Krasdale Foods;
9. Charlie Yim-SKI Beverages;
10. Marlen Lugones-Independent Beer Wholesalers;
11. Pat Purcell-United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1500;
12. Mike Mareno-United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 342;
13. Morton Sloan-MortonWilliams Associated;
14. Nevil Reid-Food Emporium;
15. Steve Barrison-Small Business Congress;
16. Sung Soo Kim-SBC

Monday, May 21, 2007

Recognize the Hero

In today's NY Post the paper finally identifies one of the Circuit City clerks who blew the whistle on the Fort Dix Six. Nate Sierer and two other employees of the chain recognized that there was something really off about the video that the would-be terrorists wanted to copy into a DVD format. Their concerns were relayed to Homeland Security, and the result was the recent apprehension of the gang of six.

As the Post says, Mr Sierer isn't looking for any rewards for his heroism, "I don't want to live scared...And it felt good to be able to do something like that for my country." Yet, his actions should be recognized, and it might even be a good idea to re-name the so-called "John Doe" Amendment the Nate Shierer Amendment.

All the more reason, also, for the Congress to move forward with its effort to immunize good Samaritans against the intimidation tactics of Islamic pressure groups, forces who are cleverly exploiting this country's legal system to advance an anti-American agenda. The NYC Council should immediately schedule a hearing on the Monseratte resolution and bring in Mr. Shierer to testify. All the council members, including the speaker, should support this important legislation.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Zoning Out: The Need to Reform ULURP

We have been actively involved in the city's land use review process for the past twenty five years, primarily in opposition to large shopping center and box store projects. As a result of this experience we can say, without any doubt, that the process is a sham; it avoids real planning and provides a technical evaluation charade that is developer-driven and inconsiderate of an real concern with community impact.

That's not to sat that we haven't learned how to use the process to maximize the power of communities and small businesses. We have, and in the process have stopped over 20 separate development projects. So we understand ULURP- as the philosophers would say, immanently. It is a process that can no longer be depended to provide good public policy outcomes, only victories or defeats that usually have no relationship to environmental issues.

Which is why the recently issued report from the Manhattan Institute, Rethinking Environmental Review: A Handbook on What Can Be Done, is such an important, and long overdo, policy evaluation. It is especially timely in the context of the mayor's long range concern with sustainability. A truly sustainable planning approach must include the reform of a land use review process that is an active impediment to the goals that PlaNYC has laid out.

That being said, there are things in the MI document that we would take issue with (Our new good friend Norman Oder has laid out some of these qualms in a recent post). Let's begin by underscoring what we find to be excellent criticisms in the MI report. In the first place, "the process has little to do with planning." Here the report is right on target.

The entire ULURP review inevitably begins with a developer's vision, and is then narrated by consultants who are hired to embellish the vision with facts that fit the preconceived narrative. The resulting environmental impact statements are certainly "impenetrable," designed as "litigation insurance" rather than as an explication of any real environmental impact.

The impenetrability is by design, since the goal is, as the report points out, "to be sure nobody reads it." We found this out exactly twenty five years ago. In one of the first projects we worked on, the Cherry Street Pathmark, we closed the parking lot for six months because we actually read the traffic study-and found that the developer had submitted the very same study that had been done for Pathmark's first urban store in Gowanus.

The consultant's have gotten a great deal more sophisticated since then, but the game is the same. And Oder's comments about the role of AKRF in all of this-both judge and jury-is right on target (something we can see most clearly in the Columbia expansion). It is the same phenomenon that we see on the Federal regulatory level: a revolving door between the private sector and government that makes legitimate regulation problematic.

The MI report captures this in quoting a unnamed consultant who said:

"Politicians have no time to read thousand-page volumes of technical data,
and bureaucrats are overwhelmed by their workload...{which leads to}...The
revolving door between powerful government and highly paid private-sector
CEQR jobs means that no wants to go om record blowing the whistle...A guy works
for the city, then goes to work for AKRF...and you can't get out of the circle."

The quality of the technical review is also called into question in the report. In developing mitigation for traffic impacts, consultants for developers tend to evaluate a narrow range of local impacts, and avoid looking at the wider possible damage that can be done to surrounding neighborhoods. This can be seen in the traffic signal retiming mitigations: "It is perfectly possible for a retiming, proposed to address congestion at an intersection, within the study area, to make things worse in the larger neighborhood just outside the study area."

So, for instance, with the Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Terminal Market projects that will certainly have a cumulative impact on the South Bronx, but were examined as if they were two discrete projects without any contiguity whatsoever. And of course no one bothered to look at traffic on the Deegan, since there appears to be no requirement to look at state roads-even if they are on "Asthma Alley."

So the MI report has a number of important observations, but its major weakness is its attempt to narrow the scope of review to what it feels are legitimate environmental issues. Neighborhood character and socio-economic conditions are eschewed in favor of very narrow parameters. This overlooks a number of salient points.

In the first place, the review process is a political process as much as it is an environmental one. Developer visions have a political component, and their impact needs to be evaluated on a number of levels that transcend narrow environmental concerns. When ULURP becomes a "weapon of choice" for activists-something that MI sees pejoratively-it is because it is the only available venue to express the concerns of communities and small businesses.

In addition, the issues of community character and socio-economic impacts often do have an important environmental impact. As we have commented concerning the mayor's congestion pricing plan, the building of auto-dependent shopping centers creates congestion and threatens the sustainability of local {often walk-to-shop} commercial strips. And why shouldn't the nurturing of local economies be a focus of any review? If not in ULURP, where?

Which brings us to what we feel is a major lapse in the MI report. It is spot on in showing how consultants collude with developers-and how beleaguered city bureaucrats play matador with the review-but it fails to call for the removal of developer-paid experts from the review process. As we have said before, experts should be hired by the city and paid for by the developers; and they should be given a wider planning agenda for their review.

So the MI report is a good start in the reformation of a broken ULURP process. Ultimately, however, it is too developer-friendly and insensitive to the needs of communities and small businesses. A comprehensive reformation should be made an integral part of PlaNYC so that, going forward towards sustainability, we have as disinterested (and as community-friendly) a review process as possible.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Beyond Congested Thinking

We're definitely sorry that we're unable to attend this morning's round table on congestion pricing that is being sponsored by the DMI. Whatever our disagreements are with DMI, we think that the round table is a public service, and that more such discussions should be held because the issues raised by this policy initiative need to be fully debated.

Along these lines there is an insightful column this morning in the NY Post by Manhattan BP Scott Stringer. In his piece Stringer outlines some of the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the current formulation of congestion pricing. His most important point from our perspective: "If we are serious about changing the status quo, our work must start by acknowledging that there can be no transit solution for New York City except for a five borough solution."

Stringer point, one we have alluded to previously, is that the administration's plan is much to Manhattan-centric, and ignores some serious outer borough traffic issues. In addition, Stringer points out that we need to examine the cart and horse nature of the current plan, to the extent that the pricing scheme long precedes any mass transit improvements for folks who now are forced into their cars because of inadequacies in the current system.

In our view we need to also examine the current congestion pricing tax in the context of the overall tax burden that New Yorkers are subjected to. As the Post discusses this morning, this tax burden is a challenge to the preservation of the middle class and small business in the city.

All of which will be coming to the fore as we come on board to assist the opposition to the congestion pricing scheme. Next week we will join with other opponents in a press conference that will emphasize some of the negative tax consequences of the congestion plan. AS Scott Stringer underscores, the mayor has highlighted some serious environmental issues that need to be addressed. Well meaning people can disagree on the proper approach to solving traffic congestion, and as far as the mayor's plan is concerned we respectfully disagree.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Posting Bodegas

In today's NY Post the paper covers the DOH report on Harlem and East Harlem's access to healthier food choices. As we commented yesterday, and we're cited to that effect in the paper today, "The report doesn't break new ground. There has always been less demand for these so-called healthier products in low-income neighborhoods."

The underlying factors for this situation have long been misconstrued, a tendency that Assemblyman Keith Wright continues when he tells the Post, "After years and years of glaring racism, environmental and otherwise, this is what happens." What is "this?"

Does Wright mean that stores deliberately refuse to sell Harlemites healthier foods? Or is the situation more a reflection of demand? As we said in the Post, "If in fact that department is successful in increasing the demand {for healthier food}, and we certainly hope they are, then store owners will respond as retailers do all over to their customers' wishes."

This is, in fact, what the Post does find when it surveyed bodegas on the East Side. In contrast to a bodega in East Harlem, a grocery on East 71st Street carried arugula, scallions and leaks, along we a selection of high-end cookies. Bodegas respond as neighborhood tastes change.

What is overlooked in the report is the fact that while bodegas, much as convenience stores everywhere, carry less healthy choices, supermarkets carry a fuller range of food products. And there are a significant number of supermarkets in the neighborhoods in question. The report points out, however, "There are 3 supermarkets per 10,000 people on the Upper East Side compared to 2 supermarkets per 10,000 in East and Central Harlem."

What does this mean? Is this, per Wright, an example of "environmental racism?" Or is it, rather, a result of the income disparities between the neighborhoods? Should we be comparing the highest income neighborhood of the city to some of the poorest? To what end?

Not only does the income disparity skew the comparison, but the fact that healthier foods are more costly exacerbates the situation making the comparison invidious in the extreme. The point is driven home in the food stamp story in this morning's NY Daily News. As one nutritionist told the paper, "Eating this diet long term, I'd be concerned about heart disease, diabetes. cancer, and osteoporosis."

The issue being that a food stamp recipient can't afford to purchase healthy foods, and if a neighborhood has a large percentage of these recipients, stores will be less likely to stock items that their customers can't afford to purchase. Poorer people, then, because of income levels and the lack of proper education, will not eat as healthy as people with greater nutritional awareness and higher incomes. There may be a limit as to what government can do to change this equation.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Healthy Food Access

The DOH has just released a report that tells us that it is harder to get healthier food products in Harlem and East Harlem. Frankly, we don't really think that this is news. We have been commenting on this issue for years, and there have been any number of studies that have been done to demonstrate that food options are not as plentiful for low income neighborhoods as they are for higher income communities.

The real issue in all of this is the underlying cause for this disparity. There are some who like to place the blame on the stores themselves; for their failure to adequately stock shelves with healthier foods, opting instead for cheaper unhealthier stuff. Clearly, this perspective fails to understand the demand side of the food equation. As a corollary to this, it also underestimates the role of income.

Taking income first, the Daily News reality series on the food stamp follies of Councilman Eric Goia underscores just how difficult it is for low income people to eat healthier-more expensive!-food items. The lower incomes militate against local groceries carrying healthier, but more expensive foods.

The second feature on the demand curve is that lack of nutritional awareness. Here, the DOH report makes an important contribution. One of its major recommendations is: "Promoting consumer demand for nutritious food at affordable prices through education and social marketing."

This is a point we have been trying to emphasize for years. If consumers begin to become more aware of what's good to eat, they will demand that local stores stock these foods. And guess what? The stores will respond to these new demands, as they do when formerly low income neighborhoods begin to gentrify and consumer preferences change.

So there' good news here and we're ready to praise the department's actions and directions. Beginning with the "Healthy Bodega" initiative DOH has recognized that it needs to partner with the local stores and restaurants; and that partnership needs to encompass an aggressive community nutritional awareness plan. The department's convening of the Harlem Food and Fitness Consortium is a major step forward.

We'd also like to see the Health Corps concept integrated with the department's efforts. Getting young people activated on health is a crucial variable that needs to be brought into play, something that the HC definitely does. The fact that the DOH has already met with the HC folks on the bodega initiative bodes well for the integration of these various good policy approaches.

Tax and Spend

We have been arguing over the past few weeks with the tax sanguininity of our friends over at the Drum Major Institute. Some of our ripostes have been sarcastic, but the substance of the debate reveals deep disagreements about the salutary role of government, and the impact that taxes have on economic growth.

The debate is put into sharp relief by the story in this morning's NY Post that reveals that New York's "overall tax burden is the heaviest in the nation..." Not surprisingly, the story isn't covered at all over at the ("We've never met a tax we didn't like") NY Times. The reason for the ranking is that NY has a bloated and over paid municipal work force, skyrocketing Medicaid expenses, and "school spending well above the national average..."

It is in this over taxed climate that we find the calls for greater "progressivity" to be both alarming and counter productive. Alarming because there is no evidence that the city of New York has the ability to use these taxes in a way that improves the quality of life of the average tax paying citizen. These folks, of all races and ethnicities, are the homeowners in the boroughs whose basic requirements from government are more or less limited to safe streets, infrastructure repair, and a well-functioning school system.

The higher taxes are counterproductive because they lead inevitably to the exodus of our most productive citizens and to fleeing retirees who can do much better on fixed incomes in low taxed southern and western areas of the country. A companion piece in the Post about a fleeing businessman, a lifelong Brooklynite, underscores this point.

The point is driven home by a spokesman for the Business Council who tells the Post that New York is "one of only four states that is losing population." And in the midst of all of this we have the anomaly of a businessman mayor who, perhaps because he is so wealthy that he has lost touch with the facts on the ground, feels that New Yorkers can't complain about taxes because of the gold plated services they demand.

What we have is a city that is caught in a time warp, governed by folks who forget that the 1970's revealed in a stark fashion (and wonderfully chronicled by Ken Auletta's book, "The Streets Were Paved With Gold"), that you can't run a quasi-socialist local government in a capitalist economy. Unfortunately the governing class and the chattering class collude to perpetuate the situation, and Mike Bloomberg is the perfect embodiment of the city's zeitgeist.

At some point the tax and spend impulse will collide with reality. The greatest gift that the city's
poor can receive from their government is a business climate that encourages robust job growth, and quality schools so that the up-and-comers can take advantage of the burgeoning opportunities that will follow economic initiative. Cutting taxes is the only sure methodology for insuring the continued health and vitality of NYC.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

See Something? Say Something

As the recent foiling of the Fort Dix six highlights, whistle blowers and good Samaritans are essential in fighting the war on terror. As the NY Post editorializes, however, there is a degree of self censorship that threatens to undermine the active participation of citizens in the effort to keep the country safe. As it points out, the clerk who played the key role in the stymieing of the plot asked a colleague "I don't know what to do...Should I call someone, or is that being racist?"

The reason for the clerk's reticence is, we believe, two fold. Initially it stems from the concerted campaign to prevent racial profiling of African Americans and Latinos by the police. As a result of this campaign there is a reluctance to accuse any minority for fear of being labeled...racist. So the completely different issues involving Islamic terrorists gets inappropriately conflated with standard American civil rights issues-at a cost to our security.

Secondly, there is the efforts being made by so-called Arab-American civil rights groups to do two things. First, is to cloak their issues in the language of the mainstream civil rights movement in order to avoid too stringent a scrutiny of some of the activities in their community. Second is the effort to downplay the extent to which the "War on Terror" is more accurately a war against an extreme version of Islam. These two approaches work together to forestall proper vigilance.

All of this is played out, of course, in the well-publicized "Flying Imams" case. The actions of the imams, both before and after they boarded the USAir flight, were nothing if not provocative. They were meant, in our view, to provoke the responses they did get from the passengers on the plane. The imams lawsuit, aimed as it is against the alleged bigotry of both the airline and its passengers, is designed to generate the fear, initially expressed by the Fort Dix whistle blower, that pointing a finger at the suspicious behavior of Muslims might be considered racist; and even worse, the exposure to the expense of a lawsuit.

The actions of the good Samaritan in New Jersey is turning the tide on all of this trepidation. As we have reported the City Council has introduced a resolution of support for Peter King's John Doe amendment, and Joe Lieberman and two of his Republican colleagues have introduced companion legislation in the Senate. The City Council resolution already has 17 co-sponsors to the Monseratte-led measure, and we're hopeful that the full body will join their colleagues in support of this commonsense effort.

Bloomberg Plans, Albany Doesn't Laugh

AS the NY Sun and the NY Times are reporting this morning, the mayor sojourned in Albany yesterday and made some headway in selling his controversial congestion pricing plan. In particular, the Senate's Majority Leader Joe Bruno was particularly receptive since he is going out of his way to tout Bloomberg as the next GOP gubernatoirial candidate.

Unquestionably, however, the plan has a long way to go before it receives legislative approval. With a scant 37 days left, it leaves little time for the two chambers to duly consider and pass such a set of complex and, at least with congestion pricing, controversial ideas.

We do agree with the NY Daily News that editorializes this morning that the mayor deserves credit for bring the discussion to the forefront. After criticizing Speaker Quinn and Comptroller Thompson for their silence (and Weiner for his opposition-if rather obliquely), the paper says, "They don't seem to realize that the mayor is doing them and the city a huge favor by forcing this very big idea onto the public agenda."

Agreed. Unlike many elected officials who can't seem to think much past their next quarterly filing, Bloomberg does offer a refreshing contrast. That does not mean that the plan he has put forward is flawless. In addition, let's not forget that Weiner, while opposing congestion pricing, has made himself constructively part of the conversation.

At the same time we should also add, as today's Daily News 2009 mayoral poll highlights, that schools and housing are still the major concern of New York's voters. And at least with the schools there is clearly a great deal of room for improvement. It's always a good idea to plan, as long as we don't lose sight of the most pressing immediate needs that face the city.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Show Me a Good Loeser, And I'll Show You a Loser

Our annoying little friend Stu Loeser is at it again. This time he's taking Anthony Weiner to task for the congressman's plan to combat congestion in the city. Now, we haven't had a chance to fully review Weiner's proposal, but Loeser's comments are genuinely droll.

Weiner's plan focuses in on reducing truck traffic by encouraging deliveries outside of peak daytime hours. Loeser's take is that Weiner's idea would "drastically increase truck traffic in neighborhoods that already have high child asthma rates." Really, Stu, you need to get out more. It is Mayor Bloomberg who has drastically-and already-increased truck traffic in asthma-laden nabes by his box store mania.

How can you explain or justify building an auto-dependent mall, with 500,000 square feet of retail space, right on the Major Deegan parking lot next to Yankee Stadium? Stu, this area is called asthma alley and your own Planning Commission ignored the traffic analysis that the Alliance did, along with the one done by our friend Teresa Toro of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Both of these studies, work that should be seen alongside of the analyses that have been done on the CBX/Deegan interchange and the new Yankee Stadium, predict millions of additional tons of CO2 emissions as cars and trucks try to navigate entry and exit from the Gateway Mall. Yet the mayor's myopic CPC wasn't able to see any flaws in a traffic study that felt that simply widening the Deegan off ramp at 149th Street would somehow mitigate an extra 250,000 cars and thousands of more trucks a week

In addition, this mall will pull thousands of local shoppers away from their neighborhood shopping areas, commercial strips that many, if not most consumers, are walking to shop at. Nurturing local shopping should be part of creating a sustainable city, but Bloomberg's grand plan hasn't a single mention of this.

But Loser is nothing if not arrogantly presumptuous. After all who else could, in criticizing Weiner, claim that the congressman's plan would "hurt small business." This from an administration whose policies have been virulently anti-small business (and from a mayor who called the $250 million a year Bodega tax, "a minor economic issue").

Kermit the Mayor and his little mouthpiece sidekick should stick to the promotion of their own plan and steer clear of caricaturing the alternative proposal of the Congressman. The more that Loeser does so, the more he appears to be engaging in self-parody.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

DMI's Poor Sintax

In a post at DMI today Amy Traub takes a look at this country's tax policies and finds them, well of course, insufficiently redistributive. The focus of the post is on a NY Times business story about $350 drink minimums at the city's night clubs. The author points out that, the declining tax rates fuels the kind of spending that contributes to the development of an entire class of workers earning their living by catering to the "obscenely wealthy."

Traub finds this disturbing, the idea that "the market itself will redistribute wealth." And she goes on to point out that the author of the story, "to his credit...never quite says that that the market redistributes wealth as effectively as good old progressive taxation." Nor, one might add, as effectively as confiscating the land of kulaks though forced collectivization.

This brings us face to face with the efficacy of the entire redistributive worldview. The fact remains that lowering the tax rates does create wealth and encourages new enterprise. Not all of the excess capital is going to purchase expensive liquor, a great deal of reinvestment is fueling the market growth that, more and more, is helping millions of middle class Americans grow their investments and savings. More capital is going to create new enterprise and the employment that spurs economic growth.

But let's just take the $350 drinks at the city's night life venues. The fact is that this industry alone is generating $700 million a year to the city in tax revenues. It is, as we have pointed out, a $10 billion economic engine that employs 19,000 city residents. These are good jobs, and it is the generation of good jobs that makes this economic system superior to all of those whose basic premises rest on some notion of redistribution.

This does not mean that the lack of affordable health care shouldn't be a concern, or that those of us who support the assumptions of this economic system have a Marie Antoinette attitude. It does mean that we believe strongly that the "throw the baby out with the bath water" economic philosophy of the redistributors is an example of the cure being much worse than the disease.

Who Will Educate the Educator?

It just keeps getting more bizarre all the time. The mayoral takeover of the schools was designed to bring an out-of-control system under some kind coherent structure that would improve the education of the city's million-plus school kids. Instead what we're seeing is an educational leadership, devoid of any expertise in the field, ceding control over pedagogy to teachers hell bent on reordering political priorities rather than lifting math and reading scores.

All of which is underscored in Sol Stern's brilliant expose in the NY Post this morning of the proliferation of "social justice" high schools in New York. In today's column Stern focuses on a cadre of math teachers who are using an anti-capitalist ideology to teach math. The "lessons' focus on thing like how check cashing locations are "ripping of" poor people.

Now we know that "motivation" is a big part of any lesson plan, but how about a little even handedness. You know, How many kulaks did Stalin exterminate;? and if he continued at the rate he was going, How long would it have taken him to wipe out the entire population? Why doesn't "social justice" teach kids about all of the atrocities that have been committed in the name of social justice?

There was actually a conference held last month in Brooklyn, titled "Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice," that was funded with a $3,000 grant from Joel Klein's Department of Education. In the conference one of the speakers told the gathering that "teachers shouldn't use traditional math lessons where students calculate the cost of food. Instead they should use their lessons to get their students to see that in a truly 'just society,' food would 'be a free as breathing the air.'"

How the hell do we allow these political morons to get within ten feet of a child? If they want to preach revolution this country allows them to be as outrageous as they want to be in preaching their version of the gospel. Allowing them to do so inside a public classroom is insanity.

All of this gives new meaning to Lenin's observation that, "the capitalists will sell us the rope that we will hang them with." Even worse is the lame response Klein gave to Stern when he inquired about the appropriateness of this grant being given. He told Stern, "This is a private conference, at which a range of views will be expressed, it seems that many of these views are hardly 'radical'..."

This statement should be grounds for the chancellor's dismissal. Private conference? Who's he kidding? This conference is detailing the methods of political indoctrination that this radical cohort of teachers is using in Mr. Klein's classrooms. The conference was a staging ground for the expansion of the inappropriate politicization and brainwashing of New York's schoolchildren.

And people wonder why the Beacon School can defy the State Department and take high schoolers to Cuba? It's relatively easy when useful idiots are running the entire education enterprise. Someone needs to come in and investigate this situation, and if it means new leadership, so be it.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Taxing Credulity

As would be expected, the DMI has come out strongly in support of the mayor's congestion pricing plan. We say expected, because the plan amounts to a tax on commuters, distributors and small businesses, and DMI has generally never met a tax it didn't see as justified. In fact, the Institute is holding a forum on the congestion pricing topic next Friday down at NYU, a summit that is co-sponsored by the NYC Partnership, a strong advocate of the plan. It doesn't appear that any naysayers are on the official agenda.

Adding additional spice to the event will be London Deputy Mayor Nicky Gavron, the person who implemented the London congestion pricing plan. Gavron initially was put up by the Labour Party to run for mayor, but stepped aside when Kenny the Red Livingston was readmitted to the party. We'd certainly like to know just how Gavron, a child of Holocaust survivors, justifies serving alongside of a Jew-baiting anti-Semite like Livingstone.

What is missing from the DMI post is any degree of intellectual depth; there is simply no evaluation of the potential costs of the mayor's proposal and there is a unreflected, and reflexive genuflection to the virtues of mass transit. There is, as usual, a class-based emphasis on the fact that the pricing tax only hits the 5% minority of those commuters who drive to work. That may be true, but the fact that a tax only effects a minority doesn't, ipso facto, mean that the policy is therefore without any faults.

The DMI, along with all the rest of the mayor's clacks, also fails to point out the extent to which the tax on the CBD avoids any amelioration of the serious traffic congestion being stimulated by the numerous mega-projects sponsored by the current administration. It also lacks any real policy analysis of the numerous ways in which the plan could serious hamper outer borough residents who lack any access to good mass transit alternatives.

A belated correction here is in order. I've been informed that the post in question here is actually a guest blogger's from Transportation Alternatives. The substance of our comments doesn't change but if DMI's position differs we'd love to see to what extent.

Maybe Not So Smart

The NY Sun is reporting today that the mayor's grandiose traffic plans may be running into some resistance up in Albany. It seems that the proposed SMART authority may create a jurisdictional battle with the MTA; and that some state officials view the proposed authority as little more than a power grab by the city. As State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky points out, "It's essentially about control, not policy. What they're really saying is that the decision making over regional transportation should be made by the city."

All of which could spell trouble because the SMART authority is the vehicle (no pun intended) for the financing of all of the transportation projects that comprise the backbone of the mayor's sustainability vision. In addition, MTA folks are worrying that the SMART money is geared only to construction, which would leave the operating expenses for the new train lines as the MTA's responsibility.

None of this is insurmountable if all sides feel that it is something that is worth doing. It does indicate, however, that there are some serious details that need to be ironed out, something that is complicated by the nature of the political opposition being generated against the mayor's plan.

As Crain's In$ider reports this morning, congestion pricing foes have scheduled a number of press events starting next week. The events will focus on a variety of opponents' rationales for viewing the mayor's plan unfavorably. It will be difficult, given the operational problems and the political opposition, for the mayor to achieve a swift, positive, resolution to his policy initiatives.