Monday, March 31, 2008

Heavy Consequences

As the NY Sun reports this morning-on a story that was covered in the other daillies earlier, here and here-NYC has put on an extra 10 million pounds; and the trigger seems to be the draconian ban on smoking. AS the Sun says: "New York City residents are growing obese at a rate nearly three times that of other Americans, prompting some who cited a link between weight gain and smoking cessation to question whether the city's crackdown on smoking may have had an unexpected result."

Now as we would expect city officials, while acknowledging the unfortunate timing of the ban and the excess poundage, were quick to express skepticism about the relationship: "City health and mental hygiene officials acknowledged the timing but said they had no evidence that the crackdown on smoking had caused obesity rates to increase." It good to see that the DOH folks do understand the difference between causality and correlation, but it certainly doesn't stop them from making unwarranted links between fast food and calorie posting.

What's really fascinating here is that all of this weight gain is occurring while the city is becoming more and more intrusive into people's lives. In fact, the study on obesity gains was done by the same DOH that has led the charge to micromanage fast food businesses and to dictate how New Yorkers should live their lives-all in the name of health, the last refuge for scoundrels it seems.

None of this deters the zealots, however, As the NY Post pointed out on Friday: "Health officials are unsure why living in the city no longer provides protection from the obesity epidemic.
"But this is all the more reason we need to move forward with initiatives like the green carts to make sure New Yorkers are getting their fruits and vegetables," Van Wye said."

Just as with school failure, bureaucrats will often use the failure of policies to advocate for an even more aggressive approach: more regulatory intrusion or a greater expenditure of public funds. As the NY Daily News pointed out, the new target is soda: "Obesity and with it diabetes are the only widespread major health conditions that are getting worse in New York City," said Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden. The city fared far worse than the nation, which posted a 6% increase in obesity and flat diabetes rates for those years. Health bigwigs blamed syrupy sodas in part for the city's fat surge, saying that 27% of New Yorkers drink nearly two sodas a day - 300 nutrition-free calories. "When people count calories, they do often forget to include drinks, which can account for a large number of extra calories," said Cathy Nonas, the Health Department's director of physical activity and nutrition."

Will the soda wars be far behind? And can we expect water vendors all over the streets in "underserved areas" where high levels of obesity is being caused it appears by a "Coke epidemic?" All of which points out that the improvement of the body politic and the bodies of New Yorkers may be a coterminous project. A crusade for health needs to begin at the grass roots level, and not be heavily laden with bureaucratic edicts that often lead to dangerous as well as unintended consequences.

Pfizer and Eminent Domain

In today's NY Sun, the paper writes about the concern generated by Assemblyman Vito Lopez's bill that would invoke the use of eminent domain for the property owned by the Pfizer company in Williamsburg: "A bill winding its way through the Assembly is prompting concern about the state's use of eminent domain in the potential condemnation of Pfizer Inc.'s Brooklyn factory."

The assembly man feels that the property in question needs to be used for affordable housing, and apparently doesn't believe that Pfizer will provide enough of this vital need for the community. As the Sun says: "The pharmaceutical giant has said it plans to develop a mixed-use project that would include an unspecified amount of "affordable" housing...The assemblyman's chief of staff, Stephen Levin, said he blames Pfizer for not specifying how much "affordable" housing it would be willing to build. Mr. Levin said the 6.7-acre Rheingold Brewery site in Bushwick is an example of a similar site that was developed into hundreds of "affordable" housing units."

Which of course gets our buddy Daniel Goldstein's knickers in a knot. He told the Sun: "The fact that this grossly mistreats business doesn't make it any better. If Lopez wants the affordable housing on that site then he should work with Pfizer to get it included in the development and require that they build it on their property," Mr. Goldstein said." What did he say? It's generally okay to mistreat business unless it involves the use of ED?

That being said, we believe that Vito's move here will certainly get Pfizer's attention; and it is likely that the assemblyman and Pfizer will likely sit down some time in the near future to negotiate all of this-and as we've said this would be a good supermarket site. The Lopez gambit is a good example of the story of the old mule and the two-by-four: sometimes you just need to get its attention!

Healthy Skepticism on Congestion Tax

As we rapidly approach the hour of legislative decision-the City Council may vote today on a home rule message that will send the mayor's congestion tax up to Albany for the final approval stage-many are wondering once again: can the MTA be trusted? As the NY Post editorializes, "New Yorkers are wary of congestion pricing - and they found even more reason to be last week. No sooner did a poll show New Yorkers guardedly supporting Mayor Bloomberg's plan to charge $8 for passenger cars driving below 60th Street in Manhattan - if it could be guaranteed that the funds would be targeted toward capital improvements in the city's mass transit system - than the MTA abruptly announced a halt in solemnly promised plans for such improvements."

If we remember back, the recently passed fare hike was designed for just that purpose, another indication that New Yorkers should be very wary of giving this dysfunctional public authority carte blanche with our money. Recognizing the danger in the Authority's about face the mayor tried to reassure us: "I think the public has every right to be skeptical," he said. "I can just tell you that I am giving the public my word that these monies will be used for mass transit for the next 646 days I am in office and that I will do everything I can after that as a private citizen to make sure that . . . the MTA lives up to its commitment."

And just how much clout does Mayor Giuliani still have? Which brings us back to the essence of the argument that we have made all along: no matter how you slice this baloney, it remains once and for all just another tax.

Which is why, absent incredible political pressure, the congestion tax would have almost no support. As Councilman Lew Fidler has pointed out, his 29 "no" votes may be eroding as the MTA, the mayor and the speaker all inveigle the lawmakers with goodies. AS the NY Sun reports this morning: "According to one congestion pricing opponent, Council Member Lewis Fidler, Mr. Bloomberg met with another city legislator to offer fund-raising help in the 2009 elections in exchange for support on congestion pricing. Mr. Fidler said the council member came to him to say he turned the mayor down. Mr. Gallagher declined to comment on the allegation."

How well this works may depend on the fact that this is a term limited council, and that the public doesn't want this tax increase because the pols and the MTA can never be trusted. Still, once again, the power of the mayor's check writing is not to be underestimated.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sprayregen Lawsuit Coverage

Yesterday's press conference on the Sprayregen environmental lawsuit was covered by News 4, Fox and NY1; and was also covered in this morning's NY Post and Metro. As the NY1 report points out: "Lawyers say the city approved the plan based on the the vague promise of future engineering solutions. "What specific solutions, when, how, we submit no adequate details have been provided. This is simply unacceptable," said civil rights attorney Norman Siegel."

The Post had sent a photographer, indicating a more comprehensive look at the matter, but instead truncated the Austin Fenner story into a couple of short paragraphs. The story did highlight the fact that: "Nick Sprayregen, whose Tuck-It-Away storage facility sits on Broadway between 130th and 131st streets, believes that constructing a 2 million-square-foot "bathtub" surrounding the new buildings' foundations, similar to the one at Ground Zero, could be dangerous."

If the suit, one of four that has been filed-two FOIA suits have been successful-is successful we anticipate that the press will be a bit more diligent in its response. That being said, the university is facing a persistent critic who's intent upon preserving his property rights. Given the current development climate, the university would be wise to be more proactive in its pursuit of a negotiated settlement.

Greetings to all of Liz's avid Daily Politics readers-thanks for the link Liz.


El Diario also weighed in today on the lawsuit. Here's the money quote from a soon to be displaced local resident: “Esto es racismo ambiental”, expresó la ecuatoriana Hilda Muentes, quien lleva 30 años viviendo en el mismo apartamento de la Calle 132. “Nos están tratando como basura”.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lobbying Double Standards

There are two items in today's Crain's Insider that underscore the hypocrisy of those who inveigh against the "special interests." In the first one, the newsletter reports that the Environmental Defense Fund has failed to report its current lobbying activity to the Public Integrity Commission: "The Environmental Defense Fund, a leading backer of congestion pricing, has not registered as a lobbying client with the state. A spokeswoman says the group was not trying to hide its activities. “We thought we were doing it the right way, and we’re taking steps to correct it,” she says."

Now this is a so-called good government group, but when you strip aside the pretense all you'll find is what amounts to an ideological special interest, an interest that is so cloaked in self righteousness that it feels that it doesn't need to comply with the law. As one genuine good government person pints out: "Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, says EDF is just one of many nonprofits that don’t account for their lobbying. “The public needs to know about that activity,” he says."

Indeed it does; and the public also needs to know where all of the money-reportedly around $5000,000-is coming from to pay for all of EDF's congestion tax ads, money that is also a reportable lobbying expense. Sources tell us that the group was pauperized before all of the congestion controversy began.

Which brings us to Crains' second item-and what we believe is the long fiscal arm of our public spirited mayor. It appears that the pro-tax forces are out spending the opposition by what may be 20-1; and we should know, because the antis couldn't afford to continue to retain us in the fight. As Crain's points out: "Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan is gaining momentum, in part because of its lobbying advantage. One insider estimates that proponents have outspent
opponents by more than 10-to-1; another believes it is closer to 20-to-1. Well-heeled business interests have funded their own campaign, and environmental groups are flush with cash from foundations friendly with the mayor."

Now if this was a campaign that was mounted by business interests promoting business goals we believe that the press would be taking a much greater interest in the money trail. The saying goes, that all roads lead to Rome; in the case of the congestion tax, they all lead to 79th Street. Who's going to tackle this issue?

Whither Pfizer?

The Observer is reporting that Assemblyman Vito Lopez is trying to use the state's power of eminent domain, in the form of legislation he's introduced, to take away property that drug giant Pfizer owns in Williamsburg. Lopez wants to use the property to build the kind of affordable housing that we commented on in our last post. "Mr. Lopez said he was taking action on Pfizer because it failed to donate its land, as it has done in other instances. "Though Pfizer has shown concern for other communities coping with job loss and housing needs, it appears the global company has little interest in returning the land in question to the State of New York," the justification reads."

Pfizer is countering that it has begun a process to identify a developer for the site, and that affordable housing is definitely a company goal. In a response to the Observer the company said: "Pfizer Inc strongly opposes A10272 (V. Lopez), a bill to allow the seizure of Pfizer-owned property in Brooklyn by eminent domain for the development of affordable housing by New York State. Not only is the concept of state-sponsored eminent domain extremely premature at this point and potentially chilling for development statewide, but the legislation’s justification fails to mention that affordable housing is one of the key uses currently being considered as part of potential future private development scenarios for this property."

Now we know and like Vito Lopez, and we're convinced of his support for affordable housing, but we think that Pfizer and Lopez should get together on this and stop fighting if there's really good faith about the desire on the part of both parties to build the housing they claim to want. In addition, the Pfizer site would also be ideal for a nice large modern supermarket-clearly Williamsburg could use it. It's time for all concerned to get onto the same page here.

Affordabillty Crisis

In this morning's NY Daily News, Errol Louis focuses on the crisis of affordable housing in New York City: "Our city's housing crisis - the shortage of homes and apartments that average New Yorkers can afford to buy or rent without shelling out 40% or 50% of their income - is going to get a lot worse before it gets better."

The crisis devolves from the city's decontrol rules. As Louis points out: "Generally speaking, two rules, vacancy decontrol and luxury decontrol, allow landlords to boost rents when an apartment is vacated or when rents rise to $2,000 a month - a system that has caused more than 200,000 apartments to drop out of the stabilization system over the past decade." Which means that as real estate values rise average folks are priced out of certain neighborhoods.

Which is precisely what we've been talking about in regards to the city's disappearing supermarkets-neighborhood stores priced out, just like residents, as rising rents make space unaffordable. Which means that the city's supermarket task force can't be operating in a policy vacuum: affordability of housing and vital retail services must be tackled in tandem.

The crisis here also means that the labor push for what's known as prevailing wages must be tempered by the understanding that the goal of affordability takes precedent over hard and fast wage scales that just might put the affordability of housing and moderately priced retail services at risk. Balance and common sense are going to be needed to devise good public policy in this area.

Columbia ULURP Challenged

As the NY Sun is reporting this morning, Harlem landowner (and our client) Nick Sprayregen is challenging the city's faulty environmental review process that allowed the city council to approve the expansion of Columbia University into West Harlem. In particular, Sprayregen, who is holding a news conference this morning, is attacking the failure of the city to realistically evaluate the dangers surrounding the Columbia "bathtub," the contiguous development west of Broadway.

Here's Sprayregen's take from an editorial he's written on the subject: "Last December, the New York City Council voted to approve Columbia’s plan for a new 17 acre campus in the Manhattanville neighborhood of West Harlem. I believe that in regard to the bathtub, the city did not take the required “hard look” when it approved the overall expansion. As such, the city is in violation of laws, rules, regulations and executive orders. Not to mention common sense. I am deeply concerned that if construction is allowed to proceed without proper independent review, a disaster may someday occur."

The lawsuit would force the city and the university back to the drawing board, an eventuality that CU spokeswoman La-Verna Fontaine appears to be nonplussed about: “We are confident that the extended public land use and environmental review processes were rigorous and comprehensive.”

Perhaps so, but given what we've seen about the collusion between developers and environmental consultants (and Columbia's own use of some double dipping flim flam artists known as AKRF), its not beyond a reasonable doubt that improper shortcuts were taken in this rush to get the expansion approved. The legal action only underscores the extent to which the university faces a determined opponent-and makes it more incumbent for Columbia to work hard at negotiating with Sprayregen once the swap plan is presented.

Given the difficult economic times for developers, further obstacles are certainly not needed. The current climate, when combined with Sprayregen's determined pique, should be a great incentive for the demonstration of flexibility and good faith up at the Morningside campus. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Doctoroff and the NY Times

In the previous post on the ludicrous COIB ruling on Deputy Dan's conflicts of interest-in the Board's Alice in Wonderland world the word conflict apparently means only what it decides it to mean-we took the press to task for its failure to examine the interlocking relationships and unseemly logrolling that characterizes the Doctoroff universe. Clearly, the Times is an exception and should be exempt from the same harsh criticism.

Ray Rivera and Charles Bagli have made strenuous efforts to document the world according to Dan; where they haven't succeeded owes more to the opacity of the Doctoroff/Bloomberg power elite atmosphere, than to the lack of skill and vigor both men have brought to the effort. In particular, Bagli had the one exhaustive piece on Doctoroff/Ross that really came close to giving us all a glimpse of how really powerful operators help each other and avoid any public opprobrium.

Rivera has also been tracking the elusive Doctoroff butterfly but has yet to journalistically nail him to the specimen case. One way to explore this further might be to follow the money trail on congestion pricing. With all of the environmental groups in an advertising feeding frenzy it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Bloomberg's money and Doctoroff's deft hand are complicit in all of this new found wealth-and don't forget that the Steve Ross-led NYC partnership has been the congestion tax's biggest cheerleaders. Surely, it's not because they're simply good citizens. Is it?

Early April Fools Joke: COIB Clears Deputy Dan

In a decision that demonstrates its usual lack of perspicacity, the city's Conflicts of Interest Board has cleared New York's Prince Charming, Deputy Dan Doctoroff, to continue to be involved in some of this town's major real estate decisions-the most glaring being the ongoing saga over Moynihan Station. As the Board said: "Thus the administration still believes that without Mr, Doctoroff's continued involvement in this extraordinarily complex negotiation process, the city's position would be seriously undermined..." Not to mention the position of some of his close friends!

What a load of crap! The most germane section of the ruling on Doctoroff begins; "He convened all relevant stakeholders on behalf of the city..." On behalf of the city? Or perhaps better stated, on behalf of the stakeholders themselves-the twin lions, Related and Vornado; Deputy Dan's close buds. So the CIOB continues to whitewash all that Dan has done for his good friends-in particular Steve Ross of Related who he deeded the entire Bronx Terminal Market to without the benefit of a bidding process. If there's no conflict with Doctoroff and Ross, there's no such thing as a conflict possible anywhere in municipal government.

At the time, the COIB declared that the Doctoroff/Ross dealings didn't amount to a conflict because their relationship predated the entry of the Prince into the service of the people; which was a crock considering the fact that Ross was not only heading NYC 2012, the leading policy objective of the mayor's first term, but he was also bailing out Doctoroff's loan to the Olympic Committee.

That decision of the COIB, cited by Eliot Brown in Real Estate, is as good an argument as we've seen for the need to disband the entity for sheer hypocrisy, not to mention uselessness. But any discussion of the current decision needs to be seen in the context of the COIB's original inane ruling.

In this morning's NY Times, the paper does raise some questions about the board's most recent decision: "The opinion advises Mr. Doctoroff to recuse himself from any discussions between Bloomberg L.P. and Vornado for one year from the date of the conclusion of the Moynihan Station negotiations, and from all dealings involving Vornado or Bloomberg L.P. in any of the other projects addressed in the ruling. Gene Russianoff, a senior lawyer for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said he agreed with much of the ruling but was troubled by the absence of the railyards and the station exception. “I can see recusing himself from landlord-tenant matters with Vornado, but is Vornado going to say, ‘O.K., we’re going to jack up the rent when we’re trying to make some kind of deal over Moynihan,’ ” Mr. Russianoff said.

Still, the one weakness in the Times story is the absence of any discussion of the Doctoroff/Ross relationship, and the COIB's inexplicable whitewash of the conflicts inherent in the continued shilling Deputy Dan did on behalf of Related for his entire tenure in office

While the majority of the press corps sleeps on all of this, the mayor is allowed to pontificate with impunity on the way in which he transcends the so-called special interests. But as we've said many times before, Bloomberg's not above the special interests, he's their embodiment.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rising Food Prices & Supermarket Policy

As CNN is reporting this morning food prices are rising all over the world: "If you're seeing your grocery bill go up, you're not alone. From subsistence farmers eating rice in Ecuador to gourmets feasting on escargot in France, consumers worldwide face rising food prices in what analysts call a perfect storm of conditions. Freak weather is a factor. But so are dramatic changes in the global economy, including higher oil prices, lower food reserves and growing consumer demand in China and India."

We've already seen this in the city as our friends at Jetro have told us that the price of flour has tripled and the cost of a bagel-now over a dollar-and a a slice of pizza-heading for $4-will soon go through the roof. This inflationary trend has some dire implications for the city's goal of giving low income New Yorkers access to healthier food.

The reality is that healthier food products such as fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive, and this factor is one of the major reasons why low income folks aren't consuming more of these products. When we couple this trend with rising real estate values and subsequent higher rents, then a real crisis is right on the horizon.

We need to make supermarket retention and development economical, and the effort to do this is complicated by the inflationary trend in food prices. This means that a conscious effort needs to be made to craft a supermarket policy that not only gives landlords incentives to rent to food stores at reasonable prices, but also sets up some feasible barriers to prevent the eviction of vital food outlets in our city's neighborhoods.

On the development side, city subsidies need to be tied-in with the provision of affordable supermarket space; and specific financial incentives need to be added to foster new supermarket development. A development as lucrative as the Gateway Mall on the site of the Bronx Terminal Market (in the poorest neighborhood of the city) should not go forward without an affordable modern supermarket-and there's still time to remedy its exclusion by the Related Companies.

Just as distressing is the way in which Vornado, one of the city's wealthiest real estate holders, is trying to evict a large local Key Food supermarket in the South Bronx. Now, as the NY Times tells us this morning, our friends at Vornado are supposedly in the running to do the lucrative development over at Hudson Yards. Here's the paper's take on the company's joint bid with the Durst Organization: "In negotiations over the past week, the Durst-Roth team has argued that unlike Tishman Speyer, it has an anchor tenant — Condé Nast Publications — for its office space and a greater likelihood of approval by the local community board and the city’s Planning Commission, which must review the proposed zoning for the yard on the west side of 11th Avenue."

Well, just hold on for one New York minute. If Doug Durst and Steve Roth are making their last minute push on the basis of being able to better navigate ULURP than we think every one should take one giant step back. If Steve Roth's Vornado company doesn't begin a reasonable negotiation with the Key Food in its Bruckner Boulevard shopping center, all bets will be off.

Starting tomorrow, we are expected joined by Cablevision's Bronx 12 News out in front of the Key Food to begin what will become a city wide protest against the loss of neighborhood supermarkets. We plan to make Vornado the poster child for a landlord insensitivity that should not be rewarded by the city granting the company profitable public opportunities. If Roth doesn't come to his senses Doug Durst will be ruing the day he joined forces with the Vornado folks. Stay tuned here, this is going to be big,

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sun's Wal-Mart Wailing

In this morning's NY Sun, the paper editorializes about the absence of Wal-Mart from NYC-they lament this absence with a dissertation on a senior citizen field trip to a Wal-Mart in Monroe New York: "A brief item inside the City section of yesterday's New York Times reports on a non-profit group in the Bronx, Highbridge Community Life Center, that, among other services to senior citizens, offers round-trip van rides from the Bronx to a Wal-Mart in Monroe, an hour north of New York City. "The expeditions," the Times reports, "are intended to help older residents cope with the ever-rising prices of groceries and household items."

Now the Sun focuses on what it views as the irony of having a senior citizen group, using tax payer money, visit Wal-Mart while the City Council fights the siting of the store anywhere in NYC: "What the Times article omits is the reason these elderly individuals have to travel for an hour in a van in one direction and an hour back in the other direction to shop at Wal-Mart. That reason is the New York City Council. In thrall to labor unions and other forces that are lobbying against Wal-Mart, the Democrat-dominated City Council has all but banned the nation's largest retailer from New York City. What the report also omits is that Highbridge Community Life Center gets about $2.4 million a year — about 60% of its annual budget — from the New York City and State governments."

What the Sun omits, however, is that what the Highbridge community really lacks is a large affordable supermarket, a policy initiative that is long overdue for a city that is hemorrhaging supermarkets at an alarming rate. We're hopeful that the supermarket task force will get right to work on this since there is still space available at the Gateway Mall a stone's throw from the Highbridge neighborhood.

And come to think of it, we didn't see any lamentations from the Sun when the city gave away the old Bronx Terminal Market to one of Dan Doctoroff's old friends-Steve Ross at Related. That a man who can afford to donate over $90 million to his University of Michigan Alma mater, was deeded city land at less than one dollar a square foot went uncommented on by the Sun.

Now, however, the city has an opportunity to rectify the land give away; it can make 100,000 sq. ft. available for a supermarket space at the Gateway site (at a reasonable price) so that the seniors of Highbridge-and the rest of the Bronx-can get healthy food at affordable prices. But this means that the Bloomberg administration must play hardball with one of its favored nations developers, something it has been reluctant to do; a situation made harder by all of the selfless help that Related, Ross and the NYC Partnership have been giving the mayor on congestion taxing.

And while the Bloombergistas are pushing hard for access to healthier foods, an issue that transcends minor economic considerations (see the mayor's comments on the fact that his cigarette tax would cost local bodegas over $250 million a year in lost revenues), it should be holding its friend Vornado Realty to account for its desire to evict a Key Food supermarket from its Bruckner Boulevard shopping center.

If you want to obtain city benefits-and Vornado is still very much in the running for the Hudson Yards bid-you should be willing to sacrifice something for the health of low income New Yorkers. Let's see if Bloonberg will be as forceful with Vornado and Related as he has been with the city's smallest food retailers.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Obama's Lesson

He who goes to Trinity Church sits in his own pew.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Congestion Tax's Last Gasp

With only two weeks left to go before the deadline for the state and city to give the green light to the mayor's congestion tax, things aren't looking rosy for the mayor and his traduced minions. In this morning's NY Daily News the paper's Juan Gonzales takes aim at the regressiveness of the entire concept: "Bloomberg calls it a bold effort to ease traffic and pollution and said it will raise hundreds of millions of dollars yearly for mass transit improvements. The plan's leading critic, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), labels it "class warfare at its worst." He says it's a huge new tax that "hits middle class residents of the outer boroughs while exempting far wealthier commuters from New Jersey." Despite fierce lobbying from Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, few lawmakers are eager to back a new tax just for the right to drive on certain city streets."

One point that bears repeating here is how the complexity of the camera/E-Z Pass/fine system will disproportionately wallop the less affluent: "Even worse, those who do not use E-ZPass must pay their tax to the city within 48 hours - or they will be slapped with a $65 penalty. The fines for just one infraction could go up to $140. Since lower-income people are less likely to subscribe to E-ZPass, the mayor's plan virtually guarantees millions of dollars in new fines to those drivers least able to afford them. Meanwhile, a black car limousine that takes some Wall Street executive to work in the morning will pay only $1 extra for driving into the congestion zone."

And that's not even pointing out how the truck tax of $21 dollars will hit the small distributors and independent contractors-without doing a thing to reduce congestion since these folks are still going to have to earn a living. So, given the fact that so much opposition exists is the plan truly dead?

Not if you believe Gonzales' analysis that the mayor could perhaps get the plan included in the state budget, and through this sleight-of-hand sneak the plan into effect. Here's his take: "WITH SO MUCH strong opposition, you'd expect Bloomberg's plan to be doomed, but the word in Albany is that City Hall might avoid a vote on congestion pricing and try to get a version of the plan slipped into the overall state budget. That would force legislators to oppose the whole budget to stop congestion pricing. The mayor could only pull off that maneuver if the big three in Albany - Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Gov. Paterson - allow it."

Perhaps. But we don't think that this will be done unless there's really something juicy in it for Speaker Silver-and we don't envision the mayor having anything of enough magnitude to trade. So we're left with the tinkerers; the people looking to get some traffic mitigation done in the absence of any grand scheme.

As Crains Insider reports this morning, "While the fate of congestion pricing, the central item in PlaNYC, hangs in the balance in the City Council and Albany, a more modest anti-congestion proposal from the plan is getting traction. Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, has sponsored a Don’t Block the Box bill that would allow traffic agents to treat the offense as a nonmoving violation. Not only can parking tickets be written more quickly (no need to get license and registration), 2,800 more traffic agents in the city can write them, Kavanagh says."

From the grandiose to the picayune; how the mighty have fallen. Can the bicycle brigade be far behind?

Housing for Monsey Wal-Mart Site

In a press conference held by Ramapo Supervisor Chris St. Lawrence to thank the Alliance and its labor and community allies for the successful effort to defeat Wal-Mart in Monsey, the supervisor announced that he was looking at putting housing in the vacant 27 acre site. As the Rockland Journal News reports: "Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence is promoting a mix of residential and retail development at a former drive-in theater in Monsey. The 22 acres was proposed as the site for a Wal-Mart Supercenter until two weeks ago when the developer pulled out, citing Ramapo's concerns about traffic and sewage disposal."

The press conference was attended by representatives of Locals 1262 and 464-A, the labor unions that provided the logistical and manpower support for the anti-Wal-Mart effort. If the Walmonster had been successful, it would have cost Rockland a lot of good union jobs. As the Journal News points out: "Richard Lipsky of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, who represented Monsey business owners in their opposition to Wal-Mart, said union jobs also had been preserved at the nearby Pathmark supermarket."

At the press conference, Assemblywoman Jaffee credited the stellar traffic work of the Alliance's Brian Ketcham. and it was the traffic issue above all else, that was the nail in the Wal-Mart coffin. As Chestnut Ridge Mayor Jerry Kobre told the News about any new development: "Obviously, whatever goes there should not attract a lot of traffic," Kobre said, "or put a burden on Route 59 or Old Nyack Turnpike."

Whatever does go into the site, however, will no longer threaten the small businesses, union jobs and community quality of life that a superstore would have. And all credit goes to the determined coalition that was brought together in this good fight.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mike Bloomberg-"No Future.."

In his last minute pitch for a congestion tax the mayor got, well, kind of hysterical. As the NY Sun reports: "Either you're going to do it or you're not. And if they're not, then I think we don't have a future," Mr. Bloomberg said." Count us in as part of the future shock crowd; frankly we can't see the desperate urgency as any more than the mayor trying to get his legacy burnished-in other words, it's all about him. We'll say more about this later today when we come back from our Wal-Mart victory press conference in Ramapo.

Afternoon Update

While it's good that Mayor Mike is demonstrating a high level of passion about something, we suspect that the urgency of all of this is affecting his judgment. A congestion tax is not, as the mayor argues, a visionary response to a serious problem; and clearly the failure to enact the tax is not foreclosing on a bright future.

And what's up with his Weiner rant? Here's his apoplectic response to Weiner's accusation that the congestion tax was a Bush strategy to transfer the cost of transportation from federal dollars to local user fees: "During a speech on congestion pricing, he attacked an opponent of the plan, Rep. Anthony Weiner of Queens, who has argued that the federal government would send less money to the city if it generated its own revenue through congestion pricing. The mayor described Mr. Weiner's warnings as "insanity."

Maybe Mike has invested a little too much emotional energy into this pipe dream; so much so that we worry about what will happen when the congestion plan implodes. And the more this drags on, the more it looks as if there's little chance it will pass-the new governor is holding back, not willing it seems to barter his capitol for the mayor's needs.

And trust us, the more the mayor keeps up his gloom and doom, the less likely any plan will be coming forth: "He warned of severe long-term consequences if the plan is not implemented, calling the alternatives to passing congestion pricing "calamitous," and said: "Without this, I don't see any opportunities for major mass transit improvements."

So it appears as if once again the mayor will have failed in his efforts to negotiate with his political equals; after failing to pre-sell the program with legislative leaders (and remember his press conference on the Gansevoort Recycling Center that spit in the face of Speaker Silver?), he then tried to Bogart everyone. Only at the 11th hour is the diplomacy that should have been present from the beginning being utilized. As the late Johnny Most used to say after a Sam Jones jump shot left his hand: "Too late!"

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sex, Lies and Politics

Oh good grief! This sex stuff is getting us so uncomfortable that an additional shower or two a day may well be in order. Now it's David Paterson's turn on the spit-with a joint press conference with his wife Michele Paige Paterson about the couple's infidelities. Here's how the NY Times sees it: "With his wife standing by his side, Mr. Paterson, 53, expressed regret for past mistakes but said he was coming forward to clear the air and avoid any “innuendo” or speculation that might arise. “I didn’t break the law,” he said, toward the end of his news conference, at the State Capitol in Albany."

For crying out loud, is this where we are headed? Will candidates from now on have to list all of their sexual partners before they announce for public office? It's one thing to break the law, but quite another to violate a private covenant; and it's about time that the media got its nose out from under the bedroom door.

David Paterson is facing some grave challenges; our economic situation is indeed precarious. And we're going to need a strong hand at the helm-with David having to perhaps re-evaluate some of his past political positions in these troubled times. As Bob McManus tells us in the NY post yesterday: "And think back to the inauguration of Hugh L. Carey, in 1975. Carey was, essentially, a hail-fellow-well-met machine pol from Brooklyn - of whom not much was expected. But when it counted, he transcended those expectations - did he ever! - and New York was saved from fiscal disaster. Carey, of course, had surrounded himself with high-caliber advisers and appointed a quality cabinet. In the crunch, that paid off. Paterson can do no less than that if he expects to weather the troubles now on his horizon."

So let's get away from the tawdry on on to the serious job of governing. Paterson needs to be scrutinized for his policy navigation not his marital indiscretions. The state faces some dire prospects and Errol Louis rightly worries that the governor's speech the other day failed to take on the reform mantle" "But months from now, after the last "good riddance" jokes about Spitzer have been told - and the final bucks raked in by America's best-known whore - New York will remain the most taxed state in the union, and Albany will still be a place where lobbyists, unions and corporate pitchmen wield far too much influence over who gets the sweet slices of the $124 billion budget cake."

We believe that David Paterson has the ability to transcend the expectations, and it is incumbent on the press to dramatize the policy issues and leave the kiss and tell stuff to the Hollywood gossip mongers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pass, Fail

In the latest dust up over educational policy, the Panel for Education Policy voted last night to approve the mayor's controversial plan to hold back eighth graders. As the NY Sun reports: "Middle-school students will have to pass two tests and four core subjects next year before they can move on to high school, under a new policy approved last night despite objections from two borough presidents and a crowd of rowdy parents who said they spoke on behalf of 5,000 city residents."

Now we're no fans of social promotion but our concern here is what the mayor's plan says about the success of the city's over all educational reform. As Norm Fruchter from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform commented in the Sun yesterday: "In his 2008 State of the City speech, Mr. Bloomberg argued that students in the third-, fifth-, and seventh-grade programs "rose to the challenge." But the mayor cited no evidence for this claim; indeed, no independent evidence exists. The school system contracted a national evaluation firm in 2004 to assess the effectiveness of its retention efforts, but findings are yet to be issued. Therefore this regime's latest effort to punish students before reforming their schools is based on no independent evidence that its previous retention programs have been successful."

And the data is even worse for black and Latino kids: "Worse, the racial achievement gap in reading among eighth-grade students has not closed during the Children First years; almost 70% of black and Latino eighth-graders are not reading at the New York State standard. According to the Department's own research, more than 60% of these students are likely to drop out in high school."

So, with educational reform high on the mayor's "judge me" agenda, what are we to make of all of this? Even with all of the flacks and incessant spinning on the educational issue, the facts remain bleak-a great deal of movement but no real progress. As Fruchter points out: "This new retention policy will not improve the skills of these poorly performing eighth-graders, or keep them from dropping out of high school. The chancellor estimates that some 18,000 eighth-graders currently are vulnerable to the proposed retention policy. Retaining and attempting to remediate those 18,000 students will not change pervasive and inadequate instructional practice in our system's middle schools. Another grade-level retention policy will not improve teacher and principal quality, or provide the range of personal supports that vulnerable middle school students need."

So shouldn't, as Fruchter says, the reform policies in the middle schools be allowed to work before this new retention policy was put into place? "If the Department of Education is indeed developing a plan to improve the city's middle schools, then why rush to implement a retention policy, especially one that is not backed up by research?"

All in all, another example of the failure of the Bloombergistas to do more than re-arrange the deck chairs on the DOE Titanic. We await the re-evaluation once the mayor vacates the bully pulpit.

More Deposits, No Returns

Crains Insider is reporting that the expanded bottle bill may get a greater impetus from the newly installed governor:

"As lieutenant governor, David Paterson gave a rousing speech this month to hundreds
of supporters of a bill to expand nickel deposits to noncarbonated beverages. Environmentalists read that as a sign that as governor, Paterson won’t drop the initiative as readily as predecessor Eliot Spitzer did during budget negotiations a year ago. Working in their favor is a deficit approaching $5 billion, which the Bigger, Better Bottle Bill would help close. But the bill is opposed by bottlers and food retailers and has been blocked for years by Senate Republicans."

So, once again the government is looking to place additional burdens on the city and state food and beverage retailers. What a shock! Isn't it time that the city examine the wisdom of maintaining dual recycling systems-an expensive curbside program; and a burdensome store-based one that now includes plastic bags.

A much better idea would be for the government to actually establish a network of redemption centers, with a deposit based collection system whose fees adequately supported the redemption work. Retailers would then be given a choice to opt into a system whose handling charges really supported the work; not like now where the 2 cent handling fee is only about half of what the actual collection costs are.

Which brings us to New York's C Licenses, the 450 independent beer and soda distributors also known throughout the state as beverage centers. These beverage outlets function as essential redemption points in the state's deposit collection system, but their existence is being threatened by pricing policies of franchised beer wholesalers who operate from state protected, territorially exclusive, monopolies.

Which is why the independents have been pushing for price protection in the form of two companion bills: S6752, introduced in the Senate by Dean Skelos; and A10216, introduced in the Assembly by Vito Lopez. The legislation would preserve the functional discounts that a wholesaler in a normal competitive market would expect, but which the C license doesn't get because of the fact that franchised wholesalers are insulated from competition.

If the legislation fails, than the 450 independents that are doing the bulk of much of the state's redemption work would be put on the brink of extinction; something that would be no good for the environment and a disaster for these small businesses that employ around 10,000 people all over the state (with a particular emphasis on the low income areas of our cities).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Red Faced in Fort Greene

Last week we did a post on a NY Daily News piece on supermarkets and green carts. In the commentary we took the reporter to task: "Well, well. Is this the same reporter who began her panegyric to peddlers with an interview of a resident of the Farragut Houses, the project that sits across from the vacant supermarket site? In that story Belankaya used the laments of the Farragut resident to dramatize the need for an additional 1500 fruit and vegetable peddlers on the streets of neighborhoods just like Fort Greene"

Well, well indeed; it appears that the project that sits across the street from the new development is Ingersoll not Farragut and we mischaracterized the reporter's acumen as well as her motives-for which we are sorry. We believe that the weaknesses of the green carts initiatives are so severe that we don't need to erroneously attack the reporter in order to demonstrate the policy's fallacies.

No More Mr. Nice Guy?

Last week we were asked by Azi to comment on incoming governor Davis Paterson's amiability: "According to lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who I spoke to this afternoon, that may change after he gets sworn in as governor on Monday. “In assuming the executive role, David Paterson’s perceived amiableness will likely undergo some transformation because it’s necessary, as an executive rather than as a legislator to establish that you have a firm control over the helm and you’re someone not to be trifled with," Lipsky said. "And I expect that he will do that."

Now we learn that Paterson is getting peeved about those folks who are quick to give others the impression that they are close confidants of our new head man. As Fred Dicker in the NY post tells us this morning: "David Paterson told friends over the weekend that he's tired of hearing about Democratic Party activists, lobbyists, and even some close personal friends telling favor seekers that they're able to influence the new governor, who'll be sworn in at 1 p.m. today, sources said."

That's a good start David. In a situation like this the greatest danger often comes from your friends, or at least your supposed friends; Paterson needs to establish quickly that he is his own man-and he is apparently doing just that: "One source claimed Paterson believes former state Comptroller - and unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate - Carl McCall and one-time Dinkins administration Deputy Mayor Bill Lynch, both of whom have told friends that they are advising Paterson, are among those improperly claiming special access to him."

As Paterson told Dicker: "It's fair to say I wasn't very happy when I heard about some of the people out there claiming to represent me when they only represent themselves," said Paterson. "I would urge anyone who hears from someone who claims to be my representative to use caution," he continued."

Meanwhile on the policy front, our old friend congestion pricing certainly hasn't been helped by the turmoil. As Dave Seifman tells us in the Post yesterday: "It is in extremis, but it is not dead," one source said. "It was an uphill fight to begin with, and with everything going on, it's basically not high on the agenda right now."

What a pity! And timing is everything in this business. It's a real shame that the Environmental Defense Fund's $500,000 advertising windfall may go to waste; but that's what happens when you win the lottery and just have to spend all that unused to cash before it burns a hole in your pocket. It looks as if everything may change on Day One.

Fort Greening: Supermarkets and Peddlers

In last week's NY Daily News Brooklyn section our intrepid cart fan Veronika Belankaya writes about the return of a supermarket to the Fort Green neighborhood where it had been demolished to make way for a new residential development: "A much-needed supermarket and pharmacy may finally return to Fort Greene in about a year, developer John Catsimatidis said Tuesday..."If we start digging in about a month or two, [the supermarket and drugstore] should be done within a year if the world doesn't fall apart with the real estate market," said Catsimatidis, whose development project includes four buildings with luxury condos."

Well, well. Is this the same reporter who began her panegyric to peddlers with an interview of a resident of the Farragut Houses, the project that sits across from the vacant supermarket site? In that story Belankaya used the laments of the Farragut resident to dramatize the need for an additional 1500 fruit and vegetable peddlers on the streets of neighborhoods just like Fort Green.

It was, as we said at the time, a set-up, since it focused on a neighborhood that had a decent local market for over twenty years. Here's the Belankaya narrative, judge for yourself: ""Twice a month, Fort Greene resident Alvira Gorham makes an expensive, hours-long pilgrimage for a basic necessity — food. Gorham takes two buses to a Brownsville supermarket and then spends $20 of her Social Security disability check on a cab to shuttle the groceries back to her apartment in the Farragut Houses. "We have nothing fresh here," said Gorham, 54. "We need someplace where we could shop and eat decently."

Now Ms. Gorham is right, she does need a decent place to shop for her groceries, but the use of her plight to subtly promote a cockamanie peddler push is dishonest. The neighborhood needs an affordable supermarket, and the real issue is how that objective can be achieved: "There are some concerns about which supermarket will replace the Associated, said Ingersoll Tenants Association President Ed Brown. "The residents in our neighborhood can't afford a Gristedes," he said."

Given the cost of new construction, however, can any new market in the Catsimatidis development be affordable for the Fort Green community? What we're seeing all over the city is that, in certain nabes, the rising cost of real estate is pricing out the local markets; while in others the low incomes of residents is seen by supermarket owners as a barrier to new development. This is the challenge that city policy makers are facing.

And the green carts invasion is no answer to the healthy food access question; at best it's a non sequitor, at worst it dampens the entrepreneurial impulse in low income areas. And the contribution of rich dilettantes like Laurie M. Tisch is certainly not welcome in this quarter.

It seems that, according to the NY Daily News, the wealthy Mrs. Tisch is donating $1.5 million to the fruity peddlers: "The $1.5 million donation from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund will pay for everything from designing the carts to helping vendors buy them once the city grants them a license. Although the carts have not yet been designed, Thomases said he expects they'll become a piece of city furniture that is easily recognized as a city trademark for healthy eating.
"The goal in the long run is that the carts will have a modern and appealing look that's comparable to the bus shelters," Thomases said."

Once again, we must respectfully disagree. Supermarkets are shutting very day it seems, and smaller produce outlets are being driven out as well; yet the most proactive policy is a retrograde increase in street peddlers. And by proceeding in this manner, the city is placing a heavy obligation on itself to come up with a meaningful supermarket retention and promotion policy.

In the absence of such a policy we can do without the grand gestures of Mrs. Tisch, and the sad irony that she has the same surname as the great retired Howard Tisch; a man who spent the better part of two decades protecting the rights of supermarkets in this city. You can't have a sustainable city when many neighborhoods are rapidly becoming "no store zones" for affordable food.

We're waiting to see how fast the city moves when one of its favored developers, Vornodao Realty and Trust, seeks to evict the Key Food store on Bruckner Boulevard in the South Bronx. Maybe Laurie Tisch can come up with the bucks to bridge the rent gap when Vornado seeks a new lease at $50 a foot?

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Domain of the Sun

In this morning's NY Sun, the paper focuses on the new governor's position on eminent domain; and sees problems ahead for developers: "If David Paterson as governor displays the opposition to eminent domain that he showed as a state senator, several high-profile development projects in New York City could be derailed or delayed, including a Columbia University expansion, the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, and the transformation of Willets Point in Queens."

Of course the Sun has taken a special interest in the issue and its speculation here could be seen to some extent as wishful thinking-particularly for Atlantic Yards where the development is already a way down the road. The Columbia and the Willets Point situations may, however, be something else altogether,

With the CU expansion, the key state decision revolves around the ESDC determination of whether the area is in fact "blighted." The process, though, has been tainted; with the consultant hired by the agency also being paid as the chief environmental advisor for the university. Given this, it appears to us that the position of our client-Nick Sprayregen and Tuck-it-Away-has been inordinately strengthened. As we flesh out the possibilities of doing a land swap, the university may be put under considerable more pressure to make a deal and absolve ESDC of the responsibility for condemnation.

With this possibility in mind, CU needs to become extremely proactive-don't forget that the one main CU political critic is State Senator Bill Perkins, the man who replaced David Paterson when he was elevated to the Lt. Governor's position. At the same time, however, Bill Lynch is also close to the governor; and we know the role that Lynch played in the recently concluded land use battle. All in all, an interesting set of circumstances-with uncertainty rising for CU.

In the case of Willets Point, a development that really is in its infancy, we have a situation where the new governor, should he decide to flex, can really play a positive role in protecting a great number of small businesses from eviction; and we would envision a more creative solution than any that the city would craft,-a city that believes in condemning and removal above all else.

In any case, the issue of ED will put David Paterson's previously articulated beliefs squarely front and center. We'll see to what extent they hold as the pressures of power force re-evaluation and accommodation.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Recycling the E-Recycling Law

As the NY Times is reporting today, the City Council, in a rare move, withdrew the recently passed electronic recycling bill and has decided to re-draft the measure in order to take the mayor's concerns about manufacturer mandates into consideration: "In an unusual move, the Council, after recalling the previously passed bill, immediately introduced a new bill that would establish the same recycling program while removing the original bill’s industry performance standards, which Mr. Bloomberg opposed."

Which is a good thing because the mayor had threatened to to put the law on ice by not implementing it if it passed over his veto-something that would have been self-defeating for those who want to see this kind of recycling go forward. The challenge ahead is to develop a compliance and collection methodology that will make sense; and unlike the plastic bag recycling bill, will actually work.

So the revised legislation will separate the bill into two parts: "Separating the issue into two bills, the mayor said, would allow the city to “move forward on the broad areas where we have reached consensus, instead of letting our differences stop all progress.” Now, however, as always-the devil will be in the details.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

NY Times' Monsey Journal

In this morning's NY Times the paper's Fernanda Santos does a nice synopsis of the (so-far) successful grass roots effort to defeat the proposed Wal-Mart super center in Monsey: "The news that the developer, and potentially Wal-Mart, had scrapped plans it had so diligently worked on gave observant Jews, who make up the bulk of the population here, reason to rejoice.
They had waged a modest yet unyielding campaign against the proposed store, which they feared would force too many outside influences into their insular world of Orthodox Judaism."

What the summary underscores is the extent to which the Monsey community, once activated, is not a force to be trifled with. As the Times points out: "The retailer made numerous attempts to woo the Jewish community. Company representatives met with rabbis and agreed to conceal the covers of celebrity magazines featuring photographs of scantly clad movie and television stars to avoid offending Jewish patrons. Wal-Mart also hired a firm to send mailings in Yiddish to local homes, asking residents to suggest ways the company could improve the area.
“A lot of us sent the mailing back to them with the words, ‘No, thanks,’ written at the top,” said a 36-year-old Hasidic man who has lived here for 18 years and who requested anonymity to keep with his religious tradition of modesty."

And then Monsey, with help from the Alliance, fought back: "Residents joined union workers for a rally in December 2006, and circulated petitions and ran ads in Yiddish and English every week for 32 weeks in a local newsletter, Community Connections. The ads warned of the additional traffic the store would attract and how it would expose their children to such unwelcome sights as bikinis and lingerie."

Ramapo Supervisor St. Lawrence, the key figure in any land use battle in the Town clearly got the message: "It also represented a political vindication of sorts for Christopher P. St. Lawrence, town supervisor of Ramapo, which encompasses Monsey, in the heart of Rockland County. He hung much of his re-election on a promise to keep the Wal-Mart out of Monsey. During his campaign, he mailed a flier to every home in Monsey, saying, “Supervisor St. Lawrence opposes the Monsey Wal-Mart.” Mr. St. Lawrence was elected to a fourth term in November."

The supervisor's successful re-election effort, needless to say, was no accident. Neither was his fervent support, which was generated in response to the community's persistent raising of its very serious concerns with Wal-Mart's potential harmful impacts: "Wal-Mart doesn’t vote for the supervisor,” said Rabbi Jacob Horowitz, one of Monsey’s most respected religious leaders. “The people vote for the supervisor. “We work very hard to raise our families the right way,” Rabbi Horowitz said. “And the supervisor understood that preserving our lifestyle is something that’s very important to us.”

That being said, it is also true that Monsey was not the kind of community that gets into these kinds of fights immediately with guns blazing; it's often afraid of the backlash from others who resent Monsey's organized political and community strength. The Alliance's role was to convince the Orthodox community that the methods used successfully in other Wal-Mart battles could work as well in Monsey: "These are not people who were schooled in the tactics of public protesting, or who even felt comfortable doing it,” said Richard Lipsky, a spokesman for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, a coalition of small-business groups that helped residents here wage their battle against Wal-Mart. “They never imagined they could beat a giant like Wal-Mart.”

So it looks like the Monsey battle has been a success; but the Wal-Mart folks, stung by defeat, have not quite thrown in the towel: "Philip H. Serghini, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said that the company had placed the plan “under review,” weighing the costs of pushing it forward against its potential benefits. To build here, Wal-Mart would have to overcome at least two obstacles: finding another developer and preparing a new environmental impact study. The town Planning Board rejected the one it received last June on the ground that the proposal to ease traffic on Route 59 with a combination of turning lanes and more traffic lights was inadequate."

If they decide to try again, the Monsey and the Alliance will be ready. Wal-Mart should, however, heed Rabbi Horowitz's words: “We were determined to make Wal-Mart uncomfortable because by making them uncomfortable, we thought they would eventually leave,” said Rabbi Horowitz, who is also the executive director of a social services agency here, the Community Outreach Center. “We’re very strong believers that everything comes from the Almighty,” he added. “I think the Almighty realized that for our children to grow up in a beautiful community, for our traditions to be preserved, we couldn't’t have a Wal-Mart.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Zoning Out Small Business

Whatever one thinks about the merits of the city's rezoning plan for 125th Street, one fact is incontrovertible: it's another officially sponsored death blow for small business from an administration that has made this policy approach its specialty. As the NY Post highlights, discussing yesterday's 14-2 vote at the CPC in favor of the plan: "On 125th Street, Shihulu Shange, 66, owner of the Record Shack, a Harlem institution for 46 years, echoed Bailey's words. "The black community is devastated," he said. "The plan doesn't count black people. Soon it will all be millionaires and the native people won't be able to live in their homes. This city is run by a billionaire who is insensitive to people's suffering. Soon there won't be any black-owned businesses."

Or any other small business at all; and if this keeps up there will be few small entrepreneurs left to take advantage of Speaker Quinn's magnanimous health insurance initiative for small business. What officials forget is that health benefits don't make up for the zoning, tax and regulatory policies that make it difficult for small firms to adequately provide for their employees.

But at least the speaker is doing something positive; which is more than we can say for the mayor and his team of wealthy dilettantes-from Doctoroff to Lieber and Burden, all from the rarefied air of finance and society-with zero rachmones for the struggling shop keeper or small distributor. They belong to Leona Helmsley school of contempt for the "little people."

And the litany of policy choices from this administration underscores the callous and indifferent mindset: Bronx Terminal Market, Yankee Stadium, Columbia expansion, 1800% cigarette (bodega) tax with no enforcement of the black market, whopping commercial real estate tax increase that raised the rents for all small stores by over 25%, regulatory proposal to deny stores due process for DCA fines, non-enforcement of the peddling laws with a law to increase peddling for produce vendors, menu labeling that will cost franchise operators millions in compliance costs, and finally the removal of hundreds of small and minority businesses from Willets Point (and thousands of workers) to make way for development.

All of the zoning changes are midwifed by New York's Burden, so the excoriation she received at yesterday's hearing is well-deserved: "When the vote was over, opponents booed and Michael Henry Adams, an architectural historian and author of "Harlem Lost & Found," began a diatribe against the commission's chairwoman, Amanda Burden. "You're a rich, rich, rich horrible person. You're destroying our communities. You're a rich, rich socialite. You're a rich, rich socialite. How dare you! You're destroying Harlem. You're getting rid of all the black people," he screamed.
He was ejected."

NYC is slowly being transformed and destroyed by folks with hedge fund mentalities and no feel for the uniqueness and diversity of the city's neighborhoods. As the NY Daily News reports about the Harlem plan: "Critics charge the plan would price longtime residents out of the neighborhood by allowing market-rate housing to be developed and would replace an iconic African-American locale with chain stores, hotels, luxury housing and high-rises."

So once again we are left to gape at the hubris of the mayor and his minions who, besotted by great wealth, actually believe they are insulated from the taint of special interests-all the while as they transform the city through deeding it to the very same interests they excoriate with blatant hypocrisy. As we've said before, the mayor isn't above these special interests, he's their apotheosis.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

The tug-of-war over the recently passed electronics recycling bill continues, as the mayor hunkers down in his opposition, refusing to implement the law because he feels that it unfairly burdens manufacturers. In today's NY Times, the paper focuses on the general complexity of the issue: "In New York City, finding an appropriate final resting place for aging computers, boom boxes and televisions can be an arduous task. An even more daunting obstacle might be educating their owners."

What the article underscores is that most folks have no idea what to do about their old electronics gadgets-and any law faces a daunting educational task: "Sabrina Brown, for example, has never heard of “e-waste” recycling. Ms. Brown, 20, a student from Richmond Hill, Queens, said she had three cellphones, an old laptop computer, an old television, two old radios and three old cameras sitting in her room. “I don’t know where to take them,” she said."

The Times does point out that there are venues that consumers can utilize to get rid of their stuff, but the methods and easy availability are challenging. Which means that whatever methodology finally get put into place must create a collection process that is efficient as well as economical; and manufacturers must play a key role.

Which leaves us puzzling over the mayor's staunch defense of manufacturers: "Mr. Bloomberg has expressed strong opposition to a bill passed by the City Council last month that would fine New Yorkers $100 for throwing electronics in the garbage and would require manufacturers to take back their products and those made by companies that are no longer in business. Mr. Bloomberg, who says the bill penalizes manufacturers for the behavior of consumers, is expected to veto the measure this week, but the bill may have enough support in Council to pass in an override or a compromise."

And the inconsistency of the City Council also raises some questions, since a recently passed plastic bag recycling measure mandated no role whatsoever for manufacturers; placing the burden instead on the city's retailers. All of which underscores the extent to which city policies ignore the impact on the profitability of local business, something that will no doubt play a role in the next election cycle.