Friday, July 30, 2010

Indian Cigarette Tax Enforcement: Any Day, Any Day

As City Hall is reporting, there is great skepticism in the state over whether Governor Paterson will actually begin enforcing the law-as per statute-on September the 1st: "Let the collections begin. Really. Maybe. Following through on the Paterson administration’s pledge to collect taxes on tobacco products sold on Indian reservations, the state Department of Taxation and Finance issued a memo Thursday formalizing the process touted the effort as a sign of the governor’s commitment to collecting the tax."

One law maker isn't too sure that the tax revenues will start to pour in as the kids get ready to go back to school: "But some legislators accused Paterson of continuing to blow smoke, not going far enough. “In the end we’re in no better shape then we were before,” said State Sen. Carl Kruger, a vocal proponent for cracking down on unstamped cigarettes sold on Indian reservations. “Rather than taking giant leaps, we’re taking baby steps.”

But while the state takes baby steps, the tax increase waited for no one-and went immediately into effect on the first of July. What this means to local retailers and their tax agent wholesale suppliers is a summer of wind sucking-with more buttlegging and black market activity taking away from their ability to do legitimate business. For the wholesalers who, because of the huge increase in the tax, and owing to the legal obligation that mandates that they have to pay the state up front for tax stamps, this means being out of pocket for tens of millions of additional dollars that they can ill afford in this tax evasion state.

We are hearing that one distributor upstate is being sold-and its 250 local jobs heading for Pennsylvania-while one of the state's largest wholesalers-with an additional 500 jobs-is also discussing a similar sale and move. In the interim, a measure that would give the stamp agents an additional 10 cents a pack for a handling fee remains stalled. For the bodegas, it means watching more and more cigarette sales taking place on the street-often right in front of their own stores.

And the state still meanders along-with Bad Faith Paterson vetoing a chapter amendment that would have required stamps on all packs of cigarettes being sold to the Indian reservations. The Capitol-City Hall's sister publication-details the betrayal: "On July 21, Gov. David Paterson vetoed a chapter amendment submitted by the Legislature that would require all cigarettes sold to Indian nations to bear a tax stamp. The measure also would have reversed the governor’s power to unilaterally negotiate with tribal leaders one on one, without legislative input. The governor was able to force lawmakers to grant him the expanded authority by embedding the provision in the same budget extender bill that raised taxes $1.60 per pack of cigarettes. In vetoing the Legislature’s attempt to take away those powers, Paterson spelled out his position clearly."

Why did the governor do this? The explanation-after 15 years of betrayal-is breathtaking: "Enacting such a measure would have a negative impact on the productive negotiations my administration has been engaged in with the leadership and representatives of the various Indian nations and tribes in New York,” the veto message reads."

In other words, a deal that will once again mean that enforcement will take a back seat to ass kissing the tribes-who, for their part, keep bogarting the pusillanimous governor: "Tribal leaders have also amped up their rhetoric, accusing some in the Legislature of using them as a scapegoat for the state’s budget woes. “We will never capitulate,” said Chief Harry Wallace of the Unkechaug Nation on Long Island. “They’ll have to kill us to compel that kind of capitulation.” Wallace, who operates a smoke shop on the Poospatuck reservation, dismissed accusations that unstamped Indian tobacco products account for much of the cigarette bootlegging in the state, saying a 2007 report showed that most of those unstamped products came from outside the state. “We are taking care of our own,” Wallace said. “Why do they hate us for that? Are we supposed to be in abject poverty, totally dependent on your largesse and your beneficence? Well, excuse my language, but fuck you.”

The question that remains, is whether the frightened governor can take his Depends off long enough to find the intestinal fortitude to respond to this kind of blatant disdain for the authority of the state. History teaches us to be suspect. We'll give Assemblyman Mike Benjamin, speaking to City Hall, the last word: "Assembly Member Michael Benjamin expressed skepticism that the administration will have all the pieces in place necessary to start enforcing the new law with negotiations with between various tribal leaders still ongoing.  “I’ll reserve judgment until we know how the Native Americans are going to respond,” Benjamin said. “They’re going to object to purchasing any kind of cigarettes that already have stamps on them.” He added, “So we have another five weeks to find out.”

Flushing as Poland: Party Like It's 1939

The full city council voted to approve the Flushing Commons project yesterday, with Gail Brewer and Brad Lander in the negative because of the project's lack of any affordable housing. The NY Times has the story: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg won a victory for his development agenda on Thursday when the City Council approved a plan to build hundreds of apartments and thousands of square feet of office and retail space in the heart of Flushing, Queens, one of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods...The Queens project, called Flushing Commons, faced hardly any questions from council members, in large part because the councilman who represents the area supported the plan."

And therein lies the real story of Flushing Commons-the existence of a Quisling leader in the heart of  the community. As we have said numerous times, we have waited thirty years to see a small business owner elected to the city council, only to have someone get elected who was unwilling to stand for the community that he comes from; and owes his success in this country to. The sad irony is further compounded by the fact that the member in question was such a willing front for a large retail and mixed use project that will do considerable damage to the small business owners who have brought Flushing back from its economic devastation of the 1970s.

Making matters even worse, is the fact that it was left to others on the council to try to pry some additional compensation funds out of the cold dead hands of the Bloombergistas-while, at the same time the member was trying to posture to the press that it was he who was standing up for the small business interests. As he said straight-faced to the NY Daily News yesterday: "Koo, who owns a pharmacy in downtown Flushing, said he walked out on negotiations with the city at one point on Monday when officials would not budge from the original $2 million pricetag for the assistance program. "I'm a small businessman," he said at yesterday's hearing. "I will not do anything to hurt small businesses in the area."

This is breathtaking in its dishonesty-and comes from an elected representative who refused to meet with the store owners for the past three months; and walked out of the land use hearing before opponents of the project had a chance to speak their piece. And his concerns aren't sitting well with those he purports to heart with great feeling. As the Times points out: "But Flushing’s Korean merchants, who opposed the project as a threat to their survival because of its scope and the disruption that construction would cause, condemned the vote. The project would include about 600 apartments, 420,000 square feet of commercial space, a hotel and a Y on a site where a municipal parking lot has stood for decades. The lot occupies five acres and is surrounded primarily by small businesses owned by Koreans, who, along with Chinese immigrants, rescued the neighborhood’s commercial center after the city’s financial crisis in the 1970s. The Korean business owners fear that the temporary loss of parking will lead many of their customers to shop elsewhere. “We are collateral damage to the mayor’s big development,” said Ikhwan Rim, co-president of the Union Street Small Business Association, which counts among its members most of the merchants around the site."

The anger is so intense that merchants don't want the member involved in the assistance discussion: "The Bloomberg administration has set aside $2.25 million to assist business owners affected by construction. The total was increased by $250,000 after a Council subcommittee delayed its vote on the proposal on Tuesday, hinting that some members were inclined to reject it. The money will pay for a marketing campaign to promote the business district and a program that would offer free or discounted parking to people who shop there. The city says it has also arranged for parking to replace spaces lost to construction. Some of the replacement spaces are close by, and others are about a 10-minute walk away."

Symbolizing the sell out-and adding the greatest insult to injury-was the Molotov-Ribbentrop style meeting that was held last night in Flushing-reminiscent of the 1939 deal between Germany and the Soviet Union to carve up Poland: "Mr. Koo and Mr. Bloomberg met Thursday night for a celebratory dinner at Ah Ree Soo, a Korean restaurant on Flushing’s Main Street. The gathering underscores the importance of the project, which the mayor characterized as “a major milestone in our efforts to position Flushing for long-term economic growth.”

Just as the German pursuit of lebensraum was in the best interests of Poland and Czechoslovakia. And as far as the long term growth of Flushing is concerned, the Flushing Commons project will position the real economic engine of the community-its vibrant Asian local business-for its demise; as the local road and transit infrastructure is challenged beyond its capacity: "Still, questions remain about the impact that Flushing Commons and a similar development proposed for Willets Point would have on the No. 7 subway line, which is stretched to near capacity during peak hours. There are no plans for improvements on the Queens end of the line, and there likely will be none for a while."

Since we've been dealing with sad ironies, we'll give the Quisling the last word: "The local councilman, Peter Koo, a Chinese immigrant who owns six drugstores in the area, said the goal was to “protect local merchants, who are so important to the community.”

Environmental Challenge

With the state senate hearing on the building of the Willets Point ramps off of the Van Wyck approaching next month Brian Ketcham, the veteran traffic guru for the Willets Point United, has issued a challenge to area environmental groups to stand up against the unsustainable over development being promoted by the Bloomberg administration-not only at Willets Point, but in scores of additional auto dependent projects in and around the Iron Triangle site.

One major environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, has already written to NYSDOT and the FHWA calling on the agencies to insure that an independent review is conducted under the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Other groups, including the League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund have come out publicly in support of the Willets Point development claiming, against all evidence, that the 9 million sq, ft. project would be a hallmark of sustainability.

In fact, Andrew Darrell, VP, Regional Director, Environmental Defense Fund and Marcia Bystryn, Executive Director, New York League of Conservation Voters both signed on to a letter of support for the Willets Point project that was circulated by "non-lobbyist" Claire Shulman and her bogus grass roots LDC. In part, the letter claimed, "This project offers perhaps the greatest return: the rehabilitation of a 60-acre brownfield which has been abused for decades into a sustainable 21st century LEED community."

Ketcham, however, has done an exhaustive examination of the environmental impact statement for the project-as well as of the companion traffic report for the ramps that was submitted by EDC to the state. His conclusions dramatize the extent to which Willets Point and these other Queens area projects-far from being models of sustainability will devastate local roads, the Van Wyck, and the fragile mass transit infrastructure-causing immense environmental damage in the process.

The Ketcham letter, then, challenges Bystryn and Darrell-along with the leaders of the Sierra Club and Transportation Alternatives-to take a stand once they have a chance to review the documentation that he provides. If they don't-and if they refuse to join with the NRDC in calling for an independent traffic study of the ramps-then the question will be raised as to whether these groups have enough independence themselves to continue to speak-without fear or favor-on behalf of the environment that they purport to to defend.

What follows is the full Ketcham letter to Marcia Bystryn:

Ms. Marcia Bystryn

Executive Director
League of Conservation Voters, NY
30 Broad Street - 30th Floor
New York, NY 10004

RE: Willets Point, 23 million square feet of new development, 144,000 new auto and truck trips and more than 160,000 new bus and subway trips all concentrated in north-central Queens

Dear Ms. Bystryn:

I am writing to alert you to concerns that I have-after an extensive traffic and transit analysis-about the massive development in and around downtown Flushing. Projects include the Flushing Commons in downtown Flushing and the Willets Point Development Plan, plus nearly 90 other developments some, like Sky View Parc at the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and College Point Boulevard. Total new development on the books right now exceeds 23 million square feet of various uses. I am attaching my recent report summarizing these land uses and illustrating the overall impact of this new development.

Together, the projects will daily generate another 144,000 car and truck trips to an area that has been characterized in both the Willets Point FGEIS and the Flushing Commons FEIS as gridlocked for much of the day. These projects will also generate another 92,000 daily subway trips and more than 70,000 daily bus trips, more than doubling the demand for transit service in downtown Flushing and at nearby bus and subway stops (only the Flushing 7 line services the area plus the LIRR Port Washington Branch, both at capacity during peak hours).

What should be of particular concern for folks who have made environmental and transit issues the focal point of their professional careers, is the complete contradiction between the professed goals of the Bloomberg sustainability PlaNYC 2030, and the facts on the ground generated by massive and unsustainable auto dependent development. Additional concerns should devolve from the unmistakable effort on the part of the consultants who have prepared the environmental reports to either mask or downgrade the real environmental dangers of these developments-both individually and cumulatively.

So, north-central Queens faces a serious problem. It cannot accommodate the transit trips estimated using data from the Willets Point FGEIS and the Flushing Commons FEIS. The environmental analyses have over-estimated transit use to under report auto impacts and related environmental damages assuming no one would catch this sleight of hand. Should all 23 million square feet of development be completed, it is likely much more car and truck traffic will be produced gridlocking an area up to three miles from the Willets Point site for much of the day on both weekdays and weekends.

No cumulative impact analysis has been undertaken for this development, a practical undertaking one would think even developers might be interested in. Plus there is clear evidence our city government-despite its much ballyhooed support for sustainable development- has been working hand in hand with developers to get these projects approved. Sadly, the current administration has, on the area’s largest project, the one with the greatest environmental impact, convinced some of you to endorse the plan as an example of sustainable development.

The massive project in question, the one that contributes about half the auto, truck and transit trips, is the Willets Point Development Plan. This project requires additional access to the Van Wyck Expressway south of Northern Boulevard to even work. And, herein is another problem: New York City has to justify these ramps to the Federal Highway Administration. They cannot do it, at least not without lying.

I have prepared simulation models of the Van Wyck ramps. They cannot work. The Van Wyck already has too much traffic to accommodate Willets Point traffic. The result is that nearly 2,000 cars and trucks will have to be accommodated on local streets during peak commuter hours causing huge traffic and environmental damages. Willets Point, at more than 11 million square feet, is an environmental catastrophe.

I am writing to inquire about your position on all this new development that poses huge environmental and socioeconomic impacts. I invite you to review the data I have collected and analyzed to determine whether your organization wants to take a position concerning the request by the Natural Resources Defense Council to the NYSDOT and the FHWA for an independent review of the proposed Van Wyck ramps under purview of the National Environmental Policy Act.

In addition, since what I have analyzed is the cumulative damage being wrought by the overdevelopment in question, would your organization be willing to come out and call for a moratorium on all new Queens development until an independent evaluation of the environmental impacts can be commissioned?

We all know that it is enticing to stand with elected officials when they are announcing plans that appear to be uniquely environmentally friendly. But as environmentalists, isn’t it more compelling to be able to speak truth to power when those plans turn out to be nothing but self-serving spin?

There is a state senate hearing on August 12th that will focus on the Willets Point ramps. It would be nice if your organization could join with NRDC and dozens of local civic groups in calling on state and federal regulators to not rely on the traffic reports submitted on behalf of EDC and, instead, ask for a truly independent analysis of what will undoubtedly be a massive impact on the environment.


Brian T. Ketcham, P.E.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Sorry Charlie, Only the Best Tuna..."

We all remember-at least those of us who are old enough, and Charlie Rangel certainly is-the Starkist Charlie the Tuna ads-the ones where poor Charlie is thrown back into the sea with the tag line: "Only the best tuna is good enough for Starkist." Now we are having a reprise of those good old days with the Democrats in the Starkist role-looking to throw Charlie back into the sea. The NY Times picks up the latest: "The House ethics committee laid out 13 charges of House rules violations against Representative Charles B. Rangel on Thursday, and began the process for a public trial on the charges. The move came after Mr. Rangel, a veteran congressman, failed to reach a settlement to avoid the rare and potentially embarrassing proceeding before the committee gathered at 1 p.m."

And House Dems are really worried: "With Democrats worried that they might lose control of the House during elections this fall, many party officials urged Mr. Rangel to spare them the public ordeal of a trial. Three Democratic members have called for his resignation and dozens have returned his campaign contributions. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has declined to speak out in support of Mr. Rangel, who has been a friend and ally for years, saying only that the ethics process should be allowed to run its course."

And what's the bill of particulars for the trial that Rangel will have to sit through? The NY Post has the details, and they aren't pretty: "House investigators accused veteran New York Rep. Charles Rangel of 13 violations of congressional ethics standards on Thursday, throwing a cloud over his four-decade political career and raising worries for fellow Democrats about the fall elections.The allegations — which include failure to report rental income from vacation property in the Dominican Republic and to report more than $600,000 in assets on his congressional financial disclosure statements — came as lawyers for Rangel and the House ethics committee worked on a plea deal."

But not all Democrats are ready to give Rangel the heave ho-and Council Speaker Quinn gave Charlie a loving shout out: "You know Congressman Rangel is somebody with whom I've worked since I was elected speaker, before that when I was Health Committee chair. He worked with me on a number of different issues, particularly around needs and concerns at Harlem Hospital. He's somebody who I believe is an outstanding New Yorker, who has done a lot to help the city. Obviously, this is the chapter he would prefer not to be a part of his political career, but I have a lot of tremendous respect and gratitude to Charlie Rangel for the work he has done for our city, and wish him and his family only the best."

As my Hispanic friends would say, "Pajaros de las mismas plumas." Roughing up your girl friend is heinous, (and it isn't appropriate in any way), but apparently raping and pillaging the tax payers is a lesser offense in Quinn World. Rangel needs to exit stage left before he gets unceremoniously dumped back into the Harlem River like poor Charlie Tuna.

Sweet and Sour

The NY Daily News is reporting on the Flushing Commons pot sweetener that we commented on yesterday: "A day before the City Council is set to vote on the controversial Flushing Commons project, the city has made a multimillion dollar concession to help area merchants. The city announced Wednesday that it will nearly triple its assistance plan - from $2.25 million to $6 million - to aid downtown Flushing businesses during construction of the 5-acre housing and retail complex. "This will go a long way to try and ease their pain," said Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Hollis), who made the announcement at a Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee hearing. "This meant a lot to us - to protect those small businesses during construction," he said."

Unfortunately, despite Weprin's real earnest concern for the merchants, most shopkeepers were not buying that the remediation would do much good-with Union Street head Ikwan Rim telling us that this is a dagger in his heart  that no amount of mitigation will help change. The most important concession, however, involves parking: "Maybe most significant is the $3 million that will go toward a program to alleviate parking issues while the development is built atop a 1,100-space municipal parking lot. Participating merchants will be able to provide customers with free or discounted parking during construction. The city will also cap parking rates in the complex's new 1,600-spot garage for five years after construction is completed."

The parking issue has been front and center-to the chagrin of Streetsblog, where the efforts of Council member Halloran in this regard were ridiculed: "Most people who testified, however, believed 1,600 parking spaces would be unacceptably few. Without the ability to park all day at the municipal lot, said one Union Street merchant through a translator, "I have to give up my job. I don't want to lose my job and I oppose this project." Her sentiment was repeated over and over again. Elected officials responded by calling for more and cheaper parking, seemingly unaware that their position would take a toll on housing affordability, transit service, street safety, and the bottom lines of many businesses. Council Member Dan Halloran, who represents a neighboring district, identified himself as a Republican normally inclined to support new development, but found himself an outspoken opponent of the parking plan for Flushing Commons. "It would seem to me that if you put in 620 new units of people living there and thousands of square feet of businesses," argued Halloran, "saying there's 500 more spots quickly gets eaten up."

What the blog is arguing here doesn't make much sense: "Basic concepts, like the fact that adding more parking will exacerbate Flushing's grinding congestion, not alleviate it, or that free parking is bad for business, simply haven't begun to penetrate the consciousness of most council members, who wield final authority over major land use decisions. Sustainable transportation advocates have a long way to go in educating our legislators about how parking really works."

What's missing here, is an awareness by the blog that it is the Flushing Commons project itself-with its 570,000 sq. ft. of additional retail and commercial space-that doesn't make sense. The parking issue devolves from the fact that the muni lot is servicing these local small businesses-whose customers are driving to shop at the rate of 70%. Streetsblog may abhor this fact, but it is an economic engine for Flushing nonetheless. The parking being provided, however, will be eaten up by the development itself.

This doesn't stop the blog from actually considering developer TDC as a model for sustainable development: "The irony here is that the project's developer, TDC Development President Michael Meyer, quotes parking guru Donald Shoup and understands the connection between parking policy and broader transportation goals. When the committee members fretted about the traffic that the project would generate, Meyer reminded them of "the congestion that overproduction [of parking] would create." In defending the amount of parking at Flushing Commons, Meyer explained that under the proposed pricing scheme, which would charge less for long-term stays than short-term parking, more customers would get to use each space over the course of the day. Meyer is the kind of developer whom a city interested in using parking policy as a lever for sustainability could work with."

How silly-an an indication just how theory and practice bump into each other with the latter taking a beating. Flushing Commons, as we have pointed out, assigns half of its end users to the transit system-when the system is being overloaded and will be unable to accommodate these new riders. The parking issue is a side issue to this elephant in the room, and after all of the Streetsblog obsession with it, the realization comes to it with this epiphany: "Over the life of this project, a potent mix of motorist demands, political bluster, and policy ineptitude have combined to produce a proposal that contradicts the core principles of PlaNYC, all under the approving gaze of Mayor Bloomberg. And it may get even worse."

And it certainly will-but too much parking isn't why it will. A fraudulent review process that fails to consider transit capacity will be seen, when the dust settles, as the ultimate villain-and no amount of remorse money will change any of this.


The news is not good on the educational testing front-at least not for those who staked their reputations on the previous scores that are now exposed as fraudulent. As the NY Times reports this morning: "New York State education officials, admitting that the state’s annual tests were not properly measuring student proficiency, released results Wednesday showing that more than half of New York City students were failing to meet state standards in reading, at a time when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg boasted that more that more than two-thirds of city’s students were reading at grade level."

How bad was the latest round? Leave it to the NY Post to dramatize the abrupt about face: "City test scores for reading and math released today show student proficiency nose-dived after state education officials made the statewide exams harder. Only 42 percent of third-through-eighth graders passed this year’s reading exams compared to 69 percent the previous year – a 39 percent decline. In math, the decline in students passing was even greater with just 54 percent of students passing this year’s test compared to 82 percent last year, a 51 percent drop."

Ah, what a difference a year makes. Remember all of the hoo ha last year over the need, the absolute compelling need, to maintain mayoral control of the schools? Sure you do. The need devolved from the fact, the absolute and compelling fact, that there was a Bloomberg educational miracle that needed to be preserved. And it was the Post-along with the NY Daily News-that not only trumpeted this fraudulent concept ad nauseum, but actually xeroxed Bloomberg press releases that shouted out this bogus message.

Here's the Post's editorial from today-appropriately titled, "Truth in Testing." "State education bosses Merryl Tisch and David Steiner promised a jarring dose of truth-telling when they re leased this year's student-assessment scores. Yesterday, it seems, they delivered. Thanks to a harder-to-fudge test and more realistic cutoff scores, the proportion of statewide third- through eighth-graders deemed proficient this year in English dropped to 53 percent -- down from 77 percent in 2009. Math proficiency plummeted about as much, to 61 percent from 86 percent. These numbers represent a critical first step toward a credible classroom-performance-testing regime; without such benchmarks, no meaningful education reform is possible."

Can we get an enthusiastic, "Duh!" And the paper goes on to say-apparently with a straight face: "Bogus scores, after all, are a godsend for adults looking to duck responsibility for student performance, or lack thereof -- even as lying to kids about their progress does them no favors." Quite prescient of the paper, no?

Oh, there is, as the professors might say, a lacuna in the Post's astute analysis of the dangers inherent in bogus scores-that gap is the sometimes elephant, one time donkey in the room, Mayor Mike Bloomberg; a man who not only ducked responsibility, but who spent millions of re-election dollars trumpeting the phony test scores. And this is the guy who's grading restaurants? But the Post manages to avoid mentioning the mayor and the chancellor's role in the test scam-along with its own collusion.

Others are less forgetful-or kind: "Some critics said the new standards -- which include harder, less predictable tests and the raising of scores needed to earn passing grades -- reveal that the city Department of Education's longtime boasts of raising student proficiency is just an illusion and that its classrooms have become test-prep academies. "These test results seriously damage the credibility of the DOE and its policies," said José Gonzalez, a parent leader with the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice."

And the editorialists at the Post recognize the self serving nature of the push for test score inflation-particularly because of the racial diivide in the results: "And the report seems honestly to address New York's racial achievement gap, whose supposedly dramatic decline in recent years was the cause of much establishment self-congratulation. Turns out, it's easy to narrow a gap when everyone's converging at 100 percent proficient. In reality, white students still lead black students by 30 points in proficiency in both math and reading -- exactly what the gap was four years ago. Then again, political pressure to "close" that gap is one of the forces that certainly will conspire to re-inflate scores. And New York City teachers will be pushing hard to pump up the numbers irrespective of actual performance, because they qualify for bonuses if their schools make enough "progress" on state tests."

So, the fact that teachers and administrators will get bonuses if test scores rise, is a reason for being scrupulous about the exam content; but the even more compelling fact that a man who based his entire mayoral success on educational improvement would benefit from the fraud, is left unmentioned by the Post? And what about the students and parents that were defrauded?

The WSJ reports on this: "Erasing years of academic progress, state education officials on Wednesday acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of children had been misled into believing they were proficient in English and math, when in fact they were not." All of which calls for, not a simple turning of the page,as Chancellor Tisch suggests, but a full bore investigation of the fraud-who did it, who knew about it, and who, when they did know about it, stood around with a thumb up their sphincter.

We'll give Diane Ravitch the last word: "Diane Ravitch, an assistant U.S. education secretary during the first Bush administration and now a frequent critic of reform efforts in New York and across the country, went a step further. She praised the state's education commissioner for his "courageous, very brave and bold move," but added that "accountability means you find out who did it and have an investigation."

Flushing Merchants Flushed With Anger and Disappointment

As we discussed yesterday, the deal that was brokered on behalf of the local merchants to mitigate the potential negative impact of the Flushing Commons development, did nothing to reduce the size and scope of the project-leaving merchants to feel that the measures amount to little more than lipstick on a pig, Compounding the feeling, is the fact the council negotiators didn't involve any of the business owners in the negotiations.

As a result, the Flushing Coalition members are deciding what their next course of action might be. Crain's covers the story: "A few changes were implemented in the plan, including an increase in small business assistance and a cap on rates for parking, but the details of those plans were not officially released. While the changes were designed to mitigate the impact of Flushing Commons on the community and local merchants, not everyone has been won over. The Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development, the group of local businesses opposing the project, remain skeptical, according to Richard Lipsky, who represents the group. “What our next steps are is unclear,” said Mr. Lipsky, adding that local businesses are also concerned that the three-year construction phase will create chaos, and the project’s mass which will create gridlock. “We haven’t had a chance to evaluate it, but from initial talks dissatisfaction still remains,” he said."

Also at issue, is the nature of the assistance package-something of a mystery since none of those small business folks on the ground had any hand in its crafting. First order of business, it seems to us, is establishing some lines of communication with the impacted small store owners who have been avoided like the plague by the local council member. No shopkeeper has any degree of trust in Council member Koo's good faith-how could they if they weren't even granted the courtesy of even a perfunctory meeting?

And while Koo and his staff want to take credit for the assistance add-ons, an example perhaps of the free rider principle in operation, it was the work of others who did the heavy lifting: "We are pleased with the negotiations and that we were able to get more for small businesses and parking caps,” said James McClelland, chief of staff for Peter Koo, the area's city councilmember, who supports Flushing Commons but had expressed concerns over traffic and parking. Initially, Mr. Koo’s office said that the city Economic Development Corp. has set aside $2 million for small business assistance."

And if Koo is viewed with, charitably, great skepticism, then EDC is seen by the store owners as the Great Satan-if this agency is running the assistance show, the merchants will be looking at assistance that will benefit some sole sourced consultant more than any local shop owner. The $6 million dollars-amounting to less than $60 per month per business-needs to be administrated at least partially by a consortium of the business owners themselves. But the plan's negative features and impact remains as real today as they ever were before the cosmetics were introduced.

As we told the Politicker: "What our next steps are is unclear," said Mr. Lipsky, adding that local businesses are also concerned that the three-year construction phase will create chaos, and the project's mass which will create gridlock. "We haven't had a chance to evaluate it, but from initial talks dissatisfaction still remains," he said." The next step is up in the air, but the mood is certainly ugly.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mrs. Mayor Bloomberg

Greg David has a commentary (no link) in Crain's indicating that Diana Taylor-the mayor's companion-might make a run at succeeding her honey. And Davis seems to feel that she just might get some traction: "But missing from the discussion so far is the political context. There will be enormous interest in a Taylor candidacy for mayor because the moderate elements in the city--especially in the business community--will be desperate for an alternative to the predictable Democrats lining up to run. Consider the list: Speaker Christine Quinn, defeated candidate Bill Thompson, Congressman Anthony Weiner, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio and Comptroller John Liu, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Anyone in that list make your heart go pitter-patter?"

But David doesn't examine the question of whether there will be a strong case of Bloomberg fatigue in 2013-and as far as getting the support of  so-called moderate elements, he posits the, "business community," as its apotheosis. But there's a lot more to this moderate element than the big real estate moguls that Bloomberg has been catering to for the past two terms-and that's beside the fact that Taylor would inherit all of the mayor's negatives without the commensurate fortune to project her own countervailing image.

And from our view, the enthusiasm for the mayor and  his policies is stretched pretty thin in the outer boroughs-and the support the mayor garnered in those precincts was due to the fortune he spent, as well as owing to the lame nature of his opponent. And yet he still only managed to win by a few percentage points.

Make no mistake a bout it, the mayor has all but abandoned the city's small businesses-and the Flushing Commons project that is a direct assault on the Chinese and Korean shopkeepers, is just the latest example of Bloomberg's disdain for the neighborhoods. And let's not forget that Bloomberg's PLaNYC 2030 is being mocked on a daily basis by all of his auto-dependent mega development-something that Taylor will be forced to defend.

So, in our view Taylor, absent $100 million to lavish on the electoral process, will be hard pressed to mount a credible campaign-and if she raises a huge chunk of money from, well, the monied interests, she won't be able to fall back on the Bloomberg excuse that it's her own dough. And since when do we have some version of the divine right of kings? All in all, no one's gonna be pitter patting for her candidacy, an effort that we believe won't be Taylor-made for the next election cycle

UnCommon Flushing

The city council's zoning and franchises subcommittee, after some intense behind the scenes negotiations related to the plight of Flushing's small businesses, approved the Flushing Commons development today-but not before tripling the assistance package that is designed to mitigate the project's impact, particularly on the shops  at Union Street.

The assistance package-negotiated without the active participation of the merchants themselves-calls for $6 million to be allocated for the following mitigations: $2.2 million for marketing and advertising; $3 million for parking validation, and to keep a rate cap in place for five years (not two) post construction; $200,000 in general assistance to the local merchants; and a $500,000 revolving loan fund. How useful any of this will be in actually mitigating the project''s impact on existing Flushing business is not clear at this time since the details of the assistance package have yet to be revealed.

That being said, the overall size and scope of the development remains the same, and the traffic and parking impacts remain unaddressed in any meaningful way-and, as a consequence, the REDO coalition of community and civic groups are not too pleased. The Flushing Coalition, which mounted its campaign in the short span of two and a half months, will be evaluating the mitigations and deciding the next course of action in the coming days ahead-but there is a real concern about working with the local council member who so actively opposed their interests and refused to sit down with them at  any point in the process.

This unfortunate fact raises questions about the efficacy of the developing process that needs to be put in place to help the locals survive this development. Peter Koo needs to find a way to help build a bridge to Korean shop keepers who feel that he has abandoned their needs. He needs to do this as much for himself as for the merchants for whom Flushing Commons spells disaster.

But whatever transpires with Flushing Commons-the development that is poised to receive council approval tomorrow-the project underscores the depth of the mayor's anti-small business agenda; and if not for council members such as Mark Weprin, Leroy Comrie, and Margaret Chin, there wouldn't even have been the increase in assistance that was eventually negotiated. The fact remains, however, that Flushing Commons is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg-with Willets Point and an additional 20 million sq, ft. of development ready to demonstrate the complete hypocrisy of PlaNYC 2030.

With fraudulent environmental reviews from the full array of these projects assigning huge amounts of trips to the mass transit that is at or over capacity (in order to downplay street, road, and highway impacts), the Bloomberg chickens will continue to come home to roost long after the mayor thankfully leaves office-when he likely is comfortably ensconced in his Bermuda mansion. It is very New York in a very three card monte way.

These inconvenient truths highlight the need for the elected officials of Queens County to wake themselves from their business as usual slumber. If a concerted effort isn't launched against poorly planned over development, it is these elected officials that will be forced  to explain why they didn't act when the handwriting was on the wall-and it was written in easy to read block letters.


A belated and deserved shout out to Dan Halloran

In our haste to comment on the Flushing Commons negotiation-and to credit those who stepped up for the local merchants and residents-we neglected to mention the fact that Council member Halloran was engaged and vocal on behalf of the community; probably more than any other elected official. In his brief time at the council, Halloran has shown a real concern for the interests of both homeowners (read tax payers) and small businesses. It goes without saying that if Dan represented Flushing, the development would look very different than the one that passed the city council subcommittee to day

Willets Point Ramps: Beyond NY State

The process for the approval of construction of the Willets Point ramps is, owing to the intervention of Willets Point United, a long and winding road-with the action of NYSDOT-whatever that is-being just the first step. The real challenge will come when the AMR, or ramp report, is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act.

Here's what we believe is in store for the suspect AMR:

It’s likely that NYCEDC, NYSDOT and FHWA are all in active communication about the AMR-thus when NYSEDC formally submits it, it’s essentially pre-approved. The last thing NYCEDC wants is an open fight with either NYSDOT or FHWA. Right now NYSEDC is likely in the process of negotiating with NYSDOT and FHWA about what an acceptable AMR would say. There is a decent chance that FHWA will approve the AMR shortly after receiving it.

However, that is a much different matter than approving the ramp. FHWA concedes that the ramp approval is subject to NEPA, and does not enjoy the benefit of a categorical exclusion. At a minimum, FHWA will have to prepare a public an environmental assessment -- a detailed document about the project and its impact. Notice of the availability of the environmental assessment is published in the newspaper, and then there is a comment period -- normally 30 days. 23 CFR 771.119(f). FHWA can decide to hold a public hearing on the environmental assessment. 23 CFR 771.111(h)(iii). When we hear that the environmental assessment has been released, will be pressing for a public hearing.

After the environmental assessment is released, and after considering any public comments, the FHWA will decide whether to require a full environmental impact statement. FHWA can act on the ramp approval only after the NEPA process has ended -- either with a finding of no significant impact (the federal equivalent of a SEQRA negative declaration), or an EIS and a findings statement. At this time, should the determination be adverse top WPU's interests, it is possible that a lawsuit could be commenced to prevent the green light being given for the ramps.

In this process, the actions of the local transit officials will be given great scrutiny, and if WPU is able to convincingly highlight any collusion-or shoddy data submission by EDC-than the chances for a full EIS being required are enhanced. The grass roots work being done by WPU-in tandem with the incisive critiques of Brian Ketcham-is laying the groundwork for generating a high level of support for the highest level of Federal scrutiny.

WPU will, at the same time, try to dovetail this support and data so that the call for an independent EIS is echoed by a number of local elected officials. This is the road map, and if the plan falls into place, it will be some time before ramps will be constructed off of the Van Wyck-if ever.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Willets Point Ramp Questions-And the Need for Sunlight

With a promised hearing on the Willets Point ramp construction scheduled for next month, it is appropriate to look at where the proposal stands going into the hearing. It should be recalled that in order to build these ramps, a ramp report called an AMR is required by the applicant-in this case the NYC EDC. All through last year EDC's consultant AKRF, and its traffic subcontractor UBS, were working assiduously to garner a fast approval from the two oversight agencies-NYSDOT, and the FHWA. Owing to a series of e-mails that Willets Point United has obtained from DOT (under duress) through freedom of information, we are beginning to get a picture that the approval process was continuing swimmingly-and the agencies in question were getting ready to sign off on the AMR.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum-and the jest involved the intervention of WPU and its ace traffic consultant Brian Ketcham. After Ketcham got through analyzing the AMR--and comparing it to the original traffic report submitted by EDC in its land use application to City Planning-the report that looked so princely, was transformed into a frog; and the draft AMR was sent back to the drawing board. That was in February.

But let us digress for a moment here and make some salient points about the approval process-and what it says about proper due diligence in the public interest. In the first place, as the e-mails highlight, the normal third party vettor for these kinds of submissions to DOT is none other than our old friend AKRF. What a pity it was, however, that AKRF was unavailable for this rigorous duty since it was also the lead consultant to the submitter-EDC.

This turns out to be, as the lawyers are wont to say, a difference without distinction. Because if the DOT's favorite sun was the "consigliere" for the applicant than it was apparently presumed by DOT that the work submitted-and evaluated in-house-was beyond reproach. On the part of NYSDOT, the tone of the emails indicates an expectation and predisposition to approve some version of the proposed ramps, and to do so in compliance with NYCEDC’s schedule. There is no discussion of the possibility that the ramps will not merit approval, or that the ramps and the associated development will hinder the operation of the Van Wyck Expressway.

And the FHWA? The federal oversight agency also seemed unseemly eager to short circuit any lengthy review-and one of its minions said he, “did some digging” to assess whether it can approve the AMR at the local FHWA office, thereby helping NYCEDC by shortening the approval process by many months versus sending the AMR to FHWA headquarters in Washington, DC for approval there."

Phil Eng of NYSDOT emerges from this correspondence as a particularly eager accomplice of-not the mission to protect the public-but EDC's timeline for a quick approval. Here's a sample of Eng's exchanges:

* Philip Eng (NYSDOT) promised an expedited review of the draft AMR. See email dated 9/11/2009 at 4:02PM, forwarding other email dated 9/11/2009: “On August 5, 2009, a draft copy of the Access Modification Report (AMR) for the referenced project was sent to your office for review and comments. Please provide the status of the comments. A copy of the original transmittal memo is attached to this e-mail. The memo states the Regional Director P. Eng promised an expedited review of the report.”

* Phillip Eng (NYSDOT) is concerned with accommodating NYCEDC’s approval schedule. See email dated 9/24/2009 at 1:39PM, forwarding email dated 8/19/2009 at 11:55AM: “Ian, Where do we stand on the AMR and the schedule we have in place to meet EDC's timeline needs? Thanks.”

* Phillip Eng (NYSDOT) is again concerned with accommodating NYCEDC’s approval schedule. See email dated 9/24/2009 at 1:39PM, forwarding email dated 9/23/2009 at 11:38AM: “The scheduled [sic] showed that we wanted to submit comments to EDC by 9/15. Did we?”

* Philip Eng (NYSDOT) again prompts underlings to complete analyses of the draft AMR. See email dated 10/15/2009 at 9:26AM: “How is the schedule? Have we sent comments to EDC yet? The schedule shows them resubmitting the AMR to us by 11/1. Thanks.”

In all of the e-mails we have examined, there was only one discouraging word noted. One keen agency staffer asked: "Does this report supplement and is harmonious with any EDC impact statements for Willets Point? And: Are Citifield events factored in the traffic studies as well as future commercial developments in College Point?” 

The reply email, if any, has not been provided to WPU. But, even in the absence of such a reply, we know that the staffer's question was never seriously addressed because it was only when Ketcham did what the DOT staffer asked that the dead cat was let out of the DOT/EDC bag job. All of which raises enormously serious questions for the legislative oversight hearing-and beyond to the federal approval process.

In the short term-and this situation keeps rearing its ugly head on project after project-we are witnessing how the monopoly status of one consultant, as Norm Siegel demonstrated in the Columbia situation, corrupts the possibility for an open, honest, and transparent environmental review process. In the long run-and keep in mind the fact that the collusion is ongoing since DOT has shut Ketcham and WPU out from its re-review of the AMR-the collusive nature of the process dramatizes the compelling need, as NRDC has requested, for an independent review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

In a subsequent post we will outline what the federal guidelines under NEPA entail-and what should be done to insure that the fix isn't in. More and more civic groups-along with NRDC-have called for independent review, one that doesn't let the applicant EDC choose its favored (wholly owned subsidiary) consultant. This is a goal that should be endorsed by all civic, environmental, and good government groups-and every single elected official in Queens. Whether that actually happens-and the pols stand up for transparency and propriety-remains to be seen. As always, we will be giving them the opportunity to fail.

Diogenes Self-Immolated: EDC Supplies Matches

We all know-or should know-the story of Diogenes and his search for the one honest man. What we now no for certain is that the fellow isn't employed by the NYC Economic Development Corporation. Yesterday the NY Daily News reported on the potential for the Flushing Commons project to have a negative economic impact on the area's small businesses: "AS THE controversial Flushing Commons development inches closer to a vote in the City Council, shopkeepers and elected officials alike are waiting for the city to reveal the details of a business assistance program that could make or break local retailers. The $2 million plan is meant to aid local merchants during construction of the 5-acre complex of condos and stores. Locals fear that won't be enough to help them cope with the three-year construction and its aftermath. "We need to be able to compensate and make sure these businesses survive the transition," said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone)."

The paper went on to report on the study commissioned by the Flushing Coalition and prepared by  the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development.: "A group of skeptical locals - the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development - recently commissioned its own study to fact check the city's Environmental Impact Statement. "We wanted to do an economic study so we could determine what made sense for a business assistance program," said coalition member Jim Gerson. The main discrepancy between the two analyses is that the city counted 970 storefronts within a 1/2-mile radius of the project and the other, prepared by Hunter College, tallied 2,100 businesses. "If you use the 2,100 figure, that $2 million would amount to only $26 a month for each business over the construction period," said Brian Paul, a fellow at the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development."

EDC's response? Sheer derision, and the opportunity, once again, for the agency's chief stand up comedian to strut his stuff: "EDC officials discounted the Hunter College study. "Our EIS was conducted by experienced consultants over the course of several years and followed a rigorous and approved methodology," said David Lombino, an agency spokesman. The Hunter College report "was written by a group of graduate students in a matter of weeks, and significantly misrepresents aspects of the EIS," he said."

We love the, "rigorous and approved methodology," rhetoric-just like the method to the agency's madness next door at Willets Point; where two contradictory traffic reports were prepared for the same project. But why go next door? This rigorous methodology was on display right in the current EIS for Flushing Commons where the, "experienced consultants," detailed how there would be either 120,000 sq. ft. of  national destination retail; or only 36,000 sq. ft.-depending on which section of the voluminous document you happened to pick up.

So rigor and honesty, when paired with EDC, is the oxymoronic equivalent to military intelligence-and Lombino's response underscores the old admonition of I. F. Stone never to believe an official government hand out (remember Izzy, David? You know, when you used to be a reporter). But let's let Tom Angotti respond to EDC's calumny.

Writing in the comments section of the Daily news, Dr. Angotti shoots back: "The City's Economic Development Corporation as represented by Mr. Lombino apparently has not consulted the Hunter College report which they dismiss. The title page notes that it was prepared not by a bunch of students but by myself (Professor of Urban Planning at Hunter College) and Hunter College Fellow Brian Paul, who did most of the work under my direction. The fact that EDC consultants spent years and couldn't even get the number of local businesses right raises the question about who the amateurs are. Those of us familiar with the work of EDC's consultant, AKRF, are not surprised at the size of their mistakes and the equally inflated size of their bills to the taxpayers. The fact that we could turn up such a basic error in such a short time with limited resources should be disturbing. The number of businesses affects so much of the rest of AKRF's conclusions in the EIS and thus calls into question the entire study."

Indeed it does, as does the story last week that the News reported on detailing the plight of neighborhood stores on one of the city's busiest commercial strips: "For many Queens small businesses, their neighbors are shuttered gray gates, stripped awnings and "For Rent" signs, a new study has found. An alarming number of stores along 10 of the borough's busiest commercial strips is vacant - an average of 12%, or 206 closed stores. "If you want to take the economic temperature of our city the best thing to do is take a look at how our shopping strips are doing," Rep. Anthony Weiner, who commissioned the study, said Monday at a news conference in front of three closed shops along Jamaica Ave. in Woodhaven."

This under-reported story is what the EDC legacy under Mike Bloomberg will look like-and why Flushing Commons is such an outrage. Instead of promoting and nurturing these businesses, EDC pursues policies that further endanger their viability. That they do so in Flushing, where economic activity is drawn back into NYC by the unique nature of this core Asian business district, only underscores the gross malfeasance of  the entire cohort of economic development pretenders down at William Street.

And while the local small businesses are gasping for air-and revenue-EDC is caught hoarding funds, as the NY Times reports today: "Bowing to pressure from auditors, the organization that oversees economic development in New York City has agreed to hand over more than $20 million in rental payments each year to the city. The group, the Economic Development Corporation, had previously resisted giving up the money, which it earns by leasing space in Times Square. But after Comptroller John C. Liu released a stinging audit of the corporation’s financial methods in April, officials re-examined the practice. In explaining the reversal, the corporation said it was responding to Mr. Liu’s report — one of the first major salvos of his tenure as comptroller — as well as the dire economic circumstances facing the city."

Just a honest mistake-like not being able to find how many shops there are at Flushing's own mini ground zero. Maybe Lombino shouldn't be so quick to rag on the so-called incompetency of Hunters, "graduate students." At least Tom Angotti's crew fulfilled their contract and gave the city council a honest accounting of the economic impact of the Flushing Commons project.

And today the Zoning and Franchise Committee will cast the important initial vote on the project-the entire small business community is watching. If the council fails to mitigate the project's impact, than the subsequent deluge will become a dishonest joint legacy.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Straphangers Questions Flushing Commons

Responding to the questions that were raised by Brian Ketcham of the Flushing Coalition concerning the impact of Flushing Commons on mass transit, the Straphangers Campaign has sent off the following letter to the mayor, the city council speaker, and the chair of the MTA:

Hon. Michael Bloomberg Hon. Christine Quinn Jay Walder

Mayor Speaker, New York City Council Chair, MTA
City Hall City Hall 347 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10007 New York, New York 10007 New York, New York 10017

Re: Flushing Commons and Transit

Dear Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn and Chairman Walder:

I write to express my concern about the possible impact of the Flushing Commons project – along with other planned Flushing-area developments – on the 7 subway line and the numerous buses serving the downtown Flushing area.

My concern is simple: When taken in context with other planned development, the project may well generate tens of thousands of new riders on an already staggering transit system operating near capacity.

I have been contacted by Brian Ketcham, a traffic engineer who is currently consulting with community groups and businesses raising concerns about the project. While I have not conducted an independent review of his detailed analysis, it troubles me greatly. I have known Brian for more than 25 years and have much respect for his analyses.

At a minimum, his numbers raise alarm bells that should be addressed either through considering lowering the density of these projects or through mitigations.

Mr. Ketcham studies new development that might be completed by 2017 as reported in the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) for the Willets Point Development Plan and in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Flushing Commons project. He finds:“… [added] subway trips could total more than 92,000 on weekdays and bus trips more than 70,000. …the estimated auto and truck trips, more than 144,000 that might be generated by more than 90 new projects identified in the environmental impact statements referenced above.”

Looking at the afternoon rush-peak hour for subways, he finds that in 2017 some 9,020 would be generated by these developments. For buses, it would be 6,772. Can the7 Flushing line absorb all these riders? According to the MTA in mid-2007, the average passenger load as a percentage of train capacity was 83% on the 7 line. In addition, the line cannot currently add any more trains at rush hour. This is why the MTA is planning to embark on an expensive project to computerized signals on the 7. My understanding is that this will only allow a few additional trains to be added to the line.

I do not have similar numbers for buses. But given the present day tumult and long lines – coupled with Mr. Ketcham’s estimate of 144,000 more vehicular traffic and 70,000 more bus trips – that’s a recipe for gridlock and poor bus service.

Hence, I am worried.

I would appreciate a response to the issues I have raised in this letter.


Gene Russianoff

Staff Attorney
We await their response-and the city council revisions that are purportedly being worked on as we speak. But clearly, if nothing is to mitigate this development, Bloomberg's entire notion of sustainability-along with Chair Burden;'s catechism to it-will fly right out the window. The people who will pay the price are the train and bus riders of Flushing-as well as all of the voters who cast their ballots for the current council member, but will be forced to experience a painful bout of buyer's remorse.

Trafficing in Decit on Flushing Commons

Today Brian Ketcham, the traffic consultant for the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development released a report on the projected mass transit impact of the Flushing Commons development-along with the compounded impact of Willets Point and other projects in the pipeline in and around the Flushing area. Here is the Ketcham letter to the MTA's William Wheeler, raising the transit capacity issue.

Mr. William Wheeler

Director of Special Project Development & Planning

Metropolitan Transportation Authority

347 Madison Avenue

New York, New York 10017

RE: Transit Trips Generated by New Development in and around Downtown Flushing

Dear Mr. Wheeler:

More than 23 million square feet of new development is planned for locations in and around downtown Flushing, Queens, including Flushing Commons, Willets Point, the College Point Police Academy and nearly 90 more projects totaling nearly ten million square feet.

Extrapolating from the FEIS for each project, the enclosed report shows that new development scheduled for 2017 totals more than 23 million square feet and could produce more than 90,000 more weekday subway trips and 70,000 more bus trips. This would more than double bus and subway ridership in this area. It could also place a huge demand on the LIRR.

I am writing to inquire about the capacity for the bus lines and the Flushing No. 7 subway line in and around downtown Flushing, Queens and whether or not additional capacity is planned to service the LIRR.

Should transit not be able to accommodate so many trips, traffic would be even worse than estimated. People would switch to their cars, adding many more than the 140,000 daily car and truck, a 25% increase in background traffic on a roadway system already over capacity during peak hours.

How does the MTA plan to accommodate this increase in the demand for bus and subway services? Can the LIRR handle any of this increased demand?

Key actions are pending on two projects, Flushing Commons and the Willets Point ramps, that will contribute more than half the impacts reported above. It is important that decision makers know your intentions to accommodate this growth. Your assistance in answering the questions raised in this inquiry is essential to their making an informed decision. Thanks very much for your help


But the compelling additional question here, is why hasn't EDC and the City Planning Commission (a misnomer, no?) investigated any of this-after all, they are lead agencies in the Bloomberg Era of Sustainability. Let's not forget the congratulatory statement issued by CPC Chair Burden after her crew approved the Flushing Commons Project: "The concept for the Flushing Commons project emerged from a community visioning and planning process that was initiated early in the Bloomberg Administration, which noted the void in the center of Flushing created by the large municipal parking lot,” said City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden in a statement. “This proposal is a prime example of the Administration's commitment to create economic opportunities throughout the five boroughs, and it exemplifies sustainable, transit-oriented development that capitalizes on Flushing's exceptional subway, bus and commuter rail access.”

Really? Let's take a look at the facts-because, as we know, facts can be very inconvenient things. As the Ketcham report dramatizes:

"This report estimates the number of bus and subway trips that could be generated by new development in and around downtown Flushing. It is based on new development that might be completed by 2017 reported in the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) for the Willets Point Development Plan and in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Flushing Commons project. Table 1 below summarizes the results. It shows subway trips could total more than 92,000 on weekdays and bus trips more than 70,000. Table 1 also reports the estimated auto and truck trips, more than 144,000 that might be generated by more than 90 new projects identified in the environmental impact statements referenced above...

Both Willets Point and Flushing Commons under report traffic impacts and rely on approximately half their trips to be accommodated by mass transit. Neither project bothers to estimate whether or not the Flushing No. 7 subway line can accommodate such traffic although both projects admit they will need a huge increase in bus capacity to accommodate their assumed impacts. It is clear that, without an economic miracle, the MTA will be unable to even provide more buses let alone a huge increase in subway service....

It is clear that without an increase in transit capacity more people will be forced to drive into and through downtown Flushing and along the expressways encircling Flushing, expressways that the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council recently reported will grow increasingly congested over the next two decades without 23 million square feet of new development in and around downtown Flushing.

It is also clear that New York City’s decision makers have not considered the problem of cumulative impacts seriously nor have they initiated the studies required to determine how much of future development can be accommodated and the existing road and transit systems. Perhaps it is time to put a moratorium on new development until this question has been answered and the Flushing community can be assured new auto and transit trips can be accommodated?"

And, as  the evidence of EDC's-and CPC's-sleight-of-hand grows, doesn't the broohaha over community benefits agreements seem silly? The real concern for communities that are being forced to bear the brunt of this overdevelopment, is the lack of honesty and transparency by those city agencies supposedly responsible for providing the guiding data for these myriad of projects. Flushing Commons shines a light on the deceptive practices of irresponsible city planners and economic development officials.


Crain's is running an interesting piece on what it describes as the birth of a new urban model for development-and focuses on Battery Park City as its paragon: "Today, Battery Park City boasts more than 12,000 residents, 10.8 million square feet of office space—including the headquarters of American Express, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs— three schools, 35 acres of parks and a 1.2-mile riverfront esplanade. It's also a place where people want to work and live. “In Battery Park City, you're in a small town with neighbors who know each other and lots of parks,” says Anthony Notaro Jr., a community leader who moved there a dozen years ago. “You have every amenity you could imagine. There is nothing else like it in New York.”

But, just how much is this successful-and rather serendipitously planned development seen as a model for other projects planned in the city?  "Now, with major mixed-use development projects looming on the horizon—from the rail yards on the West Side of Manhattan to Willets Point in Queens to Atlantic Yards and Coney Island in Brooklyn—Battery Park City is also being viewed by planners as a potential model for crafting sustainable communities from scratch."

Battery Park City and Willets Point, perfect together? Here's Crain's on Willets Point:

"Area: 62 acres near Citi Field in Queens

Goals: Hotel, convention center, a school, 5,500 mixed-income residential units, eight acres of public spaces, community amenities and 1.7 million square feet of retail."

Now there has been a great deal of prattling on about how the Willets Point development will somehow become the culmination of Mike Bloomberg's 20130 vision of sustainable development-and much of the prattling is unmoored from any sense of what kind of impact the project-as it is currently envisioned-will have on the immediate surrounding neighborhoods; as well as on Queens County as a whole.
Just a cursory look at what is planned for the site-and a concomitant look at the site itself-should instill a note of caution to anyone with sustainable development dreams (and that includes some misguided-and perhaps deluded with some incentives-environmental groups that rushed to the mayor;'s side to sing praises to the EDC-driven new Willets Point vision).

Now for a reality check. Willets Point, unlike, say, Battery Park City, isn't a nice short walk from not only the city's financial sector, but to as many mass transit options as any Transportation Alternatives aficionado could ever want. Willets Point is relatively isolated, and the major mass transit option-as we have been writing about in respect to the Flushing Commons project-is the already overcrowded 7 Line. The same goes for the myriad bus lines that move in and out of the Flushing transit hub.

Now, according to the Willets Point EIS-which will have to stand in for a definitive document until something a bit more accurate can be commissioned-the development will generate around 80,000 car and truck trips a day onto the already gridlocked intersections that plague the surrounding communities of Corona, East Elmhurst and Flushing. Now keep in mind boys and girls that this 80,000 trip estimate devolves from a methodology that projects almost half of all the Willets Point activity will be somehow effected through the use of the aforementioned over-capacitied train and buses.

The three card monte scammers at AKRF-through the active collusion of its subcontractor Eng Wang Taub-came to this conclusion by the use of a neat methodological sleight of hand: basing the car trip generation on the assertion that only around 70% of Queens residents own cars (and not the over 90% that NYMTC concludes). You get it? Garbage in, garbage out.

But let's for the moment-and for argumment's sake-say that AKRF/EDC are right. Where the hell are all these transit riders supposed to go. Perhaps Sadik-Kahn is prescient in her promotion of bicycle lanes because, at least as far as Flushing and Willets Point are concerned, that may be the only decent alternative-although it is a rather long and difficult ride into Manhattan. But what if they are wrong, and there assignment of this mysterious 50% to mass transit is a man-made mirage?

If that's the case, than the 80,000 Willets Point car and truck trips a day that the EIS projects, is a drastic under count-and the entire current EDC analysis used to justify building ramps off of the Van Wyck is constructed on a foundation of quicksand. This and other points will be the subject of state senate hearings that will be held on August 12th. But the point we're making, is that the project has never been properly vetted for its environmental impacts, and its reviews for this impact-from both the city council and the NYSDOT-are prime examples of the corruption of the land use application procedures.

So, in our view, the state senate needs to not only look at the tarnished ramp review process-and the shifting and bogus documentation used to support their construction-but also call in the MTA to testify as to the ability of the mass transit infrastructure to handle all of the ridership that is projected for, not only Willets Point, but for Flushing Commons, Sky View Parc, and on and on. This kind of evaluation will expose the entire sustainability vision of the mayor's as a chimera.

But one last point, if you will. As Crain's tells us, Willets Point will contain 1.7 million square feet of retail. Unlike Battery Park, whose retail services an exclusively local clientele, the Willets Point retail will encompass the city's largest auto-dependent shopping mall. Here's why so much traffic will be generated, and why any comparisons to lower Manhattan are simply whack.

When honestly analyzed-and leaving aside the inconvenient truth that all of this is going forward with the absconding of other folks' private property-Willets Point is a development that is simply unsustainable-and if it's part of any new vision of urban development, it is a vision that would find a warm welcome in the laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein.

Rangel, Espada, and Due Process

Over the weekend, Charlie Rangel made the following point-courtesy of the NY Daily News: "Embattled Rep. Charles Rangel said Saturday it would be unpatriotic to resign rather than fight his pending ethics charges - despite a call that he do so to save the Democratic party. "Well, it wouldn't be the American thing to do \[to step aside\]. I think I owe it to the process to find out first what the investigative committee finds out," Rangel told reporters after speaking at Harlem Hospital."

And then Rangel, who we are obviously not a big fan of, spoke about his right to defend himself against charges that are, at this moment merely allegations: "He responded, "I really never heard of that concept that if someone accuses you of something, why don't you just step aside so you don't embarrass anybody and admit to something that you don't believe is true."

We agree with the congressman, but pause to note just how differently his situation is being treated in comparison to that of State Senator Espada-whose sins are-as with Rangel-in the same category as unproven allegations. Calls for his ouster from the Democratic Party for allegations of wrongdoing?

So, the Rangel investigation and trial should proceed-and if it embarrasses the Democrats than it is a dilemma of their own making. It was, after all, Speaker Pelosi who swept into office saying, "Maybe it will take a woman to clean up the House." Given that the Rangel mess is simply Exhibit 1 of the proliferation of ethics scandals under the Dems, "maybe not."

But Rangel has served for a very long time-too long in our view. And his tenure is as good an argument for term limits as we could imagine. Clearly, he became enamored of his own self-importance and was transformed into the same kind of arrogant character that was epitomized by the late Leona Helmsley, who infamously declared that, "only the little people pay taxes."

That doesn't mean he should be unceremoniously pushed out just because it might hurt the party's chances in November. Like Espada, he deserves the right to self defense; we just wish that the standards were being applied evenly, rather than selectively.

Hundreds Turn Out in the Heat to Protest Flushing Commons

Hundreds of local small business owners and residents turned out in the 100+ heat on Saturday to voice their opposition to the Flushing Commons development. Keynoted by former council member and state senate candidate Tony Avella-and ably organized by Jo-Ann Yoo of AAFE-the rally featured an appearance by Yonhgwa Ha, president of the Korean-American Association of Greater New York. Speaker after speaker drove home the point that the development, as presently configured, poses a clear and present danger to the thousands of Asian-owned small businesses in downtown Flushing.

As usual, SJ Jung of the Minkwon Center energized the crowd with his exhortations about how the muni lot belongs to the people-and how the Korean shop keepers and revitalized Flushing when it threatened to be turned into a ghost town 25 years ago-a point that was reiterated by a representative of the Mitchel-Linden Civic Association. The Coalition's two leaders, Ikwan Rim and Jim Gerson, blasted the project for its fatal flaws in regards to traffic, parking, and adverse economic impact.

NY1 has a good story on Saturday's rally: "Nearly a hundred small business owners marched on downtown Flushing's largest municipal parking lot Sunday. A proposal to sell the land to a private developer could be approved by the City Council in a few days. The plan is to transform the lot into an $850 million mixed-use development with residential and retail space. But merchants say losing the parking spaces will cripple their businesses."

As the Flushing Commons project goes down to the land use wire at the city council, it is believed that Council member Margaret Chin has been designated to help negotiate a compromise that will help to preserve the vital small business niche-particularly the 200+ stores on Union Street, directly opposite to the site. As usual, the ULURP clock is not hospitable to the kind of negotiations that, if EDC were doing a proper due diligence, should have taken place prior to the project's certification.

Still, there has been a great deal of behind the sc enes negotiations over the size, scope, and composition of the project-underscoring just how successful the Flushing Coalition has been at dramatizing the flaws in the development. So, while NY1 reports that, "Sources say the proposal will likely pass with an overwhelming margin," the exact nature of what the council will be voting on this week remains unclear.
But what is clear is that the turnout on Saturday underscores the depth of local concern. The Queens Chronicle captured some of this last week:"Jim Gerson, who owns a building in the affected area, spoke as a member of the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development. Many in the group are Korean merchants with businesses along Union Street. Gerson thinks the project “will devastate our community, create unmitigated gridlock” and cause businesses to fail. One of those shops is owned by Ikwan Rim, a jeweler. He believes new parking the city will provide is at least a 20-minute walk and will discourage shoppers from doing business along Union Street. Rim noted there are 300 small businesses in the area and fears for his and their survival. Gerson criticized the planned parking, saying 2,000 spaces should be included, and believes the plan should have less retail and commercial space and less density."

Offering a contrarian point of view to the Chronicle was one Terence Park, an erstwhile candidate for public office who is running for district leader from the 22 AD, part b. Park, whose website claims that he, "knows Flushing, its people, its infinite variety—the work we need to do to strengthen and polish our community," told the paper: "90 percent of Koreans favor the Flushing Commons development. “Store owners on Union Street are looking after their interest,” Park said. “We are working with them.”

It will be interesting to see how well Mr. Park does with attracting that 90% he claims supports Flushing Commons-and we will soon see how well he really knows Flushing. But it is now up to the Council, as the final vote approaches, to try to make a silk's purse facsimile out of the Flushing Commons sow's ear. There are, however so many problems with the development, that the council's task may be insurmountable. We'll soon see.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Gillibrand Honors Rangel's Korean War Service-Hearts Tammy Wynette

In the face of accusations that he committed multiple ethics violations-including gloming on to additional rent stabilized apartments that might have been welcomed by some income challenged Harlem residents-accidental senator Kirsten Gillibrand is standing by her man. As Liz reports: " At a stop in Western New York this morning, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she still plans to attend a fund-raising event/80th Birthday soirée with embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel. “He’s done a great deal of good for this country not only through his military service, but as the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee he’s done enormous amount of great public service for our state and I intend to attend.”

But what's her position on the, "embattled," Pedro Espada? Well, it is none other than her former staffer Gus Rivera (or whatever name he's going by today) who is making the challenge to Espada-can't imagine that it would be the case if it were Rangel, do you? But if Charlie Rangel's war service, and his great job of raising the country's incredibly high debt levels as chair of Ways and Means-and not the wrath of angry African-American voters-is what is moves Gillibrand, than surely the fact that Espada has provided health care to hundreds of thousands of poor South Bronx residents will soon bring a fulsome endorsement of this party pariah. No?

So, why the double standard? And what about Malcolm Smith and Greg Meeks. Will Gillibrand weigh in on these embattled pols as well? What we see from this political mutation is the kind of malleability once thought to only be possible for Gumby. Put simply, Gillibrand is a woman whose views and allegiances are ruled totally by expedience.

Muslims in NYC: Then and Now

The controversy over the building of a mosque near ground zero has a great deal more heat than light-with some opponents making aspersions before all of the facts are in; while defenders shriek about tolerance and bigotry, tarnishing all of the opponents with a nasty broad brush. What's missing, in our view, is a comprehensive examination of just who are the folks behind the building of this particular mosque-and recent history dictates that this is simply appropriate caution.

But the rather nasty recent turn of events in the Islamic universe-let's say from about the time of the Iranian revolution in 1979-is being ignored by some folks who love to castigate presumed bigotry while wearing a smug and patronizing crown of tolerance. Such is the case of one Edward Curtis who, writing in today's NY Daily News, gives us an extensive history lesson about the place of Muslims in NYC's past: "Rick Lazio, the gubernatorial candidate from Suffolk County, doesn't like it. Sarah Palin, though not exactly a New Yorker, has resoundingly "refudiated" it. More importantly, plenty of ordinary citizens vocally oppose the establishment of a Muslim community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site.But no matter how offensive their presence may be to some people, Muslims have always been a part of lower Manhattan's past. In fact, Islam in New York began near Ground Zero. From an historical perspective, there could hardly be a better place for a mosque."

Curtis, after affording the former Alaska governor an elocution lesson, goes on to try to make the case that a certain history trumps current events: "For most of American history, Muslims have come to New York seeking freedom and opportunity - like every other group of immigrants. In 1847, for example, sailor and slave Mahommah Baquaqua escaped from the Brazilian ship Lembranca, docked in Manhattan. He went on to co-write one of most important African-American memoirs of the 1800s. "The Biography of Mahommah G. Baquaqua" poignantly describes the moment when, confined to a cell in the bow of his ship, Baquaqua broke down the door, bowed to his master's wife, and ran away. Once on the docks, he managed to utter the only English word he knew: "free." What could be more quintessentially American than that?"

But Cutris' forces of reaction are blind to this poignant story of immigrants and religious freedom: "Of course, this history of Islam in lower Manhattan means little to the families of 9/11 victims who are protesting the proposed center. Far more troubling than their protest is how readily some political groups have used this issue to advance their own anti-Muslim agendas. Comments by Lazio and Palin are mere drops in an ocean of right-wing vitriol."

No doubt there are some that do have, what Curtis terms, "ant-Muslim bigotry"-but opposition to the building of the mosque is not by any means an ipso facto case of blatant intolerance. And, of course, what Curtis purposefully elides is the fact that, whatever the history, a current-and some would say dominant-strain of Islam is a good distance from the anodyne Muslim immigrants of the past. Why ignore this reality in the name of some foolish political correctness?

The contrary view is well expressed in a NY Post Op-ed by Andrew Bostom-an expert on jihadism  and someone who examined the man behind the Ground Zero mosque: "Imam Feisal Rauf, the central figure in the coterie planning a huge mosque just off Ground Zero, is a full-throated champion of the very same Muslim theologians and jurists identified in a landmark NYPD report as central to promoting the Islamic religious bigotry that fuels modern jihad terrorism. This fact alone should compel Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg to withdraw their support for the proposed mosque."

Imagine that-and we're not talking about some Muslim version of Fred Rogers; someone who, if Bostom is correct, you'd probably not like to see in any neighborhood, let alone one where such sacrilege took place. The fact is that, owing to the hijacking of Islam by fascist elements, there is a compelling need to labor diligently before automatically genuflecting to religious tolerance when an issue like the mosque surfaces. And, as Paul Berman has written-here and here-radical Islam has a number of faces, but the most dangerous of these is  the one with the kindly tolerant mask that hides a sharia supporting reformism that, while less immediately threatening than the most extreme variant of Islamism, seeks to achieve the same result.

Bostom makes the case in regards to Rauf: "At least two of Imam Rauf's books, a 2000 treatise on Islamic law and his 2004 "What's Right with Islam," laud the implementation of sharia -- including within America -- and the "rejuvenating" Islamic religious spirit of Ibn Taymiyyah and al-Wahhab. He also lionizes as two ostensible "modernists" Jamal al-Dinal-Afghani (d. 1897), and his student Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905). In fact, both defended the Wahhabis, praised the salutary influence of Ibn Taymiyyah and promoted the pretense that sha ria -- despite its permanent advocacy of jihad and dehumanizing injunctions on non-Muslims and women -- was somehow compatible with Western concepts of human rights, as in our own Bill of Rights."

So, in spite of the historiography of Curtis-and the smarmy dhimmi spoutings of Mike Bloomberg-there should be a real concern with who Rauf is and what is ultimate goals are. The concern should devolve from the understanding that Islamism is a political ideology that incorporates-or co-opts-Islam for radically anti-democratic goals.

If Bostom's investigatory reporting is accurate, the decision of Rauf to build "his" mosque this close to Islamism's greatest triumph is, as the Marxist say, no accident. It is also a blasphemy against the martyrdom of-not the 12 fanatic terrorists-but the over 3,000 New Yorkers who gave their life to this evil cause.

Small Business Congress Assails Flushing Commons-Rally on Saturday

(The following post was written by Steve Barrison, the executive vice president of the Small Business Congress)

It is impossible to be supportive of small business, as just about everyone in NYC government claims, and at the same time be supportive of Flushing Commons. This project hurts small business. Can anyone in the City Council look in the mirror and say with a straight face, that over 2,000 retail small businesses in the immediate area of the proposed development will not have to compete with the 300,000 square feet of retail national chain stores coming to the new Flushing Commons? And that 630 luxury apartments, a 250 room hotel, large new YMCA and the claimed Rockefeller Center in Flushing, all will not require any additional parking, and at the same time, believe that small businesses will not be hurt by the several years’ loss of the parking lot. DO they expect people to walk roughly half a mile or so in 95 degree heat or freezing in the winter to shop at their stores? LOL. Or use a shuttle like Boro BP Marshall exclaimed, just like attending the Olympics!

YEA! Just like going to a once in a lifetime multi hour event - "the Olympics!" Now that is comedy. But I suppose she is close. After all, walking or hiking a half mile for a quick local business drop in, for what is now maybe a block or two at most with the big muni parking lot right there, will in itself, without that public parking lot, become its own "Olympic event!" We have a crisis in NYC, that biggest elephant in the room the city has ever seen, but we will only afford our small businesses with empty praise, but do nothing more than talk about them! That is the loss of over 1 million small business jobs during the present and previous city administrations. With over 170,000 evictions and about 162,000 bankruptcies or just going under small businesses, with each one employing 5-7! Do the math!

These muni lots should never be sold again. Each one sold in the long run is a loser for the citizens of NYC and makes no sound financial sense except for the immediate balance sheet, but is plain crazy for the long term monetary future and stability of NYC! Many muni lots have been sold already and the only one benefiting is the developers and the new tenants on that property. The surrounding businesses and community have suffered with greatly reduced sales. The time has come for the City Council to stand up and say, NO MORE SELLING these prime locations needed for serving the public for transit and community shopping main streets!

However, if the City were to lease for development, these remaining publicly owned parking lots for say, 100 years, with all kinds of requirements for more parking for the future, in addition to what is there now and to be run as a muni lot, with muni rates forever, we as a city could get from the new development the same benefit for jobs and construction and also get: rent, taxes, revenue and serve the local community and small businesses, as our civic duty as a city should, so that these valuable locations can continue to help serve mass transit and the local shopping strips on our main streets. All this creates a positive revenue stream for our city! It Creates jobs, prevents hurting existing small business, generates revenue and at the end of 100 years we still have the valuable prime property!

Flushing Rally Saturday

Union Street Small Business Association

For Immediate Release

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Contact: Jo-Ann Yoo, 718-496-7290


Flushing, Queens: On July 27, 2010, the entire New York City Council is expected to vote on whether or not to approve the redevelopment of Flushing Commons, a project being spearheaded by New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The proposed $850 million Flushing Commons project would take away the biggest parking lot in Flushing to build luxury housing. The parking lot is heavily used by thousands of residents and customers who patronize the small businesses in Downtown Flushing. Once the parking lot is gone, the very small businesses that made Flushing a regional economic hub will be destroyed.

Over a hundred concerned Flushing residents will be joined by elected officials, community leaders, and small business owners at a rally to voice community concerns before the proposed vote along with a series of requests to the EDC and the New York City Council that will help protect the Union Street small businesses.

WHO: Elected Officials, Community Leaders, Small Business Owners, and Flushing Residents

WHAT: Rally to Save Flushing Small Businesses

WHERE: Lippman Plaza, Flushing, Queens (Main Street & Roosevelt Avenue)

WHEN: Saturday, July 24, 2010 at 3:00PM