Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bill Due

The NY Daily News is reporting that Mayor Bloomberg wants Governor Paterson to veto a fire officer training bill-and there's an important back story that the News is not honing in on: "Mayor Bloomberg is imploring Gov. Paterson to douse an FDNY training bill that he says would burn taxpayers for nearly $30 million. The Legislature-approved proposal, now sitting on Paterson's desk, would force the city to give all FDNY officers 80 additional hours of rigorous training in new building codes that were instituted in the wake of the tragic 2007 blaze at the former Deutsche Bank building."

The context for all this is, of course, that deadly bank fire-and the manner in which the city scapegoated the officers while letting the really culpable, like one Deputy Dan Doctoroff, totally scape: "The union that represents the officers says the bill will also save their members from career-ending mistakes like those that led to demotions or discipline for seven fire officers in the wake of the Deutsche Bank tragedy. "Our members were directly held responsible for not [enforcing] this rule, which was buried in the books," said Edward Bowles, the treasurer for the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. The new code changes are extensive, he said, and involve too much material to expect officers to learn the revisions by themselves. "If they want to hold us accountable, then train us," he said. "If they don't want to train us, they cannot hold us accountable."

This is the story that the Voice's Wayne Barrett reported on-with little follow up for the than Bloomberg enamored press. As we have commented: "The Voice's cover story this week, "Bloomberg's Biggest Scandal--the Deutsche Bank Fire--Should Be His Downfall" -- examined the determination of top city officials, including Bloomberg's longtime top deputy Dan Doctoroff, to ignore the risk of installing Bovis Lend Lease and its prime subcontractor Galt at the demolition site of the bank building. Doctoroff brushed aside warnings from the city's investigations department about Galt in deference to Bovis' reckless desire to hire the mob-tainted firm."

But Doctorof, a man that defecates ambrosia in the mayor's eye, had handy fall guys to take the blame: "And the city's actions in only targeting the fire officers-but not the agency head-is equally shameful. As the Times pointed out in June: "Seven Fire Department officers were censured on Wednesday for failing to ensure timely inspections before a fatal fire at the former Deutsche Bank building in August 2007. The punishment, far more lenient than could have been meted out, nevertheless drew immediate criticism from union officials, who said department brass had not emphasized the inspectional rule and had rarely enforced it."

And it is precisely those rules that the officer's union wants to insure that its members are trained to know, understand, and follow-as they said back at the time: ""But union officials said that singling anyone out for punishment was misguided because the seven men were as hard-pressed as any of their colleagues to follow the rule in question — one that requires basic inspections at all high-rise buildings, being built or demolished, every 15 days. The union said the rule was widely disregarded. One union official criticized Mr. Scoppetta and the Bloomberg administration, saying that if the 15-day rule were widely known, it should have been known at all levels and in the city government. Failure to make the rule a priority — in the face of a building boom over the last 15 years in Manhattan — rested with the departmental brass, who had been held blameless to date, union officials said."
But now the Bloombergistas are having an Emily Litella moment-telling us to forget its own past culpability and scapegoating because the city is underfunded. As the News points out: "It's a substantial expense at a time when we just asked the Fire Department to cut $118 million out of their budget," said Bloomberg lobbyist Micah Lasher. "This is about the worst time to impose a $30 million unfunded mandate."

Mayor Mike's own statement is hubris squared-and counts on the press' amnesia about the past events: "The FDNY is the entity most qualified to assess and address fire officer training, and it must be able to continue to serve New Yorkers free of unnecessary, unfunded and unfeasible mandates," Bloomberg wrote in a July letter to Paterson. The mayor said the officers don't need such extensive code training because their primary job is to fight fires - while thorough building inspections are done by trained civilians."

Of course, when a rule that is obscure, and the rank and file ignorance of it leads to tragedy, there's always the little guy primed and ready for crucifixion in an administration whose motto is: Governance is never having to say your sorry. In our view, if there is less money to go around, public safety shouldn't even be on the list for this profligate municipal governmment.

Signs of Trouble

The NY Daily News is reporting that the federal government doesn't like the font on city street signs-and is insisting that we alter every single one of them: "The city will change the lettering on every single street sign - at an estimated cost of about $27.5 million - because the feds don't like the font. Street names will change from all capital letters to a combination of upper and lower case on roads across the country thanks to the pricey federal regulation, officials said Wednesday. By 2018, MADISON AVE. will become Madison Ave. and will be printed in a font called Clearview, the city Department of Transportation says."

As one would expect, this kind of bureaucratic intrusion is on sound and rational principles: "The Federal Highway Administration says the switch will improve safety because drivers identify the words more quickly when they're displayed that way - and can sooner return their eyes to the road...The changes are among many in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices that regularly changes to improve road safety, highway administration spokesman Doug Hecox said. The mixed upper- and lowercase rule was adopted in 2003, but municipalities were given until 2018 to comply completely, Hecox said."

What do the folks think? As you also would expect, regular drivers aren't thrilled: "Still, several city residents were OUTRAGED. "That's ridiculous," said James Sullivan, 34, a bike messenger from Queens. "They might as well just burn the damn money."Construction worker Joseph Cain, 49, of Manhattan, reacted with sarcasm, saying, "I see my tax dollars are hard at work." The city has about 250,000 signs, and it costs about $110 to replace one, the DOT says. Officials said the new signs will have improved reflectivity and clarity for nighttime drivers."

But, in our view, this traffic contretemps is a wonderful object lesson into how the expansion of government-on all levels-becomes an expensive intrusion into the way in which we live our lives. This is a reality that small businesses have had to live with forever-or at least from the time that the first municipality hired the first government worker and called him an, "inspector."

And it has only gotten worse as government has become more intrusive. Imagine how a local deli feels that it has to post around thirty different signs, each at the behest of a different city agency. Than imagine how you would feel when the vaunted inspector comes in and fines you $1500 for failing to post said sign, "prominently." Take it a step further-this time in the case of cigarette signs that graphically warn folks about the dangers of smoking in stores that legally sell smokes.; forcing store owners to speak against their own commercial interests.

And so it goes. As government expands its reach-kind of like Johnny Cash's Cadillac, "one piece at a time"-it adds more, "inspectors," who now do more than come into your store. They come into your home and examine how you are living-enforcing regulations designed to improve your health so that you don't cost the health system too much money.

And all these inspectors cost money-and since they all belong to a public employee union, they end up costing us money we can't afford way past the time they leave government employ to retire on their lucrative pensions. If you get uneasy with these costs-and your rising tax bill necessitated by the need to fund the expanding government waste line-you are comforted by lectures about, "social justice," and "selfishness."

That folks, is exactly what is happening in this country-it isn't only the unsupportable debt and government bloat; but the expansion of the government into the most intimate interstices of our everyday lives. Slowly, but inexorably, everything will become the purview of government-and for each intrusion their will be an expensive inspector enforcing the spinach-like mandate (eat it, it's good for you!).

Which gets us right to the paragon of this phenomenon: ObamaCare: "Don’t bother trying to count up the number of agencies, boards and commissions created under the new health care law. Estimating the number is “impossible,” a recent Congressional Research Service report says, and a true count “unknowable.”...It seems clear that Congress just authorized a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, one that can expand on its own and make determinations far outside of the boundaries Democrats promised during the ObamaCare debate.  And if that’s true, then it is equally true that the claims made on the cost of administering ObamaCare had no real basis in fact.  How can one estimate a cost for a bureaucracy that is entirely undefined in size and scope?"

So, the changing of the city's traffic signs because of the bureaucratic mandate to improve the safety of our lives is, well, simply a sign of the times-a perfect symbol of what we can expect as the government Leviathan seeks to regulate almost everything in the private sphere. And if there are any liberal libertarians left in the Democratic Party they need to wake up. Never was the ironic observation of Ronald Reagen more prescient than in our current moment: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Developmentally Challenged

We have been writing about the defects in the city's land use review process-and singled out Intro 314, a bill that would create more transparency in the review, particularly in the area of economic development. Now City Hall Newspaper focuses in on the legislation and its intent: "Recent bruising battles over large-scale development projects in New York have spurred some politicians to call for an overhaul in the way the city grows. Weeks after the Bloomberg administration’s most recent coup—the approval of the new Domino Sugar Factory highrise development in northern Brooklyn—Council Members Steve Levin, Gale Brewer and Oliver Koppell introduced legislation that would make the preapproval process for development more comprehensive and, theoretically, slower. The bill would require city agencies to provide the Council and community boards with details on the projects’ potential environmental impacts and plans to mitigate them before a development could be approved by Council."

And nothing could underscore why this is a compelling need than the manner in which NYC EDC snookered the local Flushing community board and the community surrounding the development at Flushing Commons. In this case, EDC quickly certified a completely different project than the one that had been negotiated with former council member John Liu, and without any discussions with the community stakeholders advanced the plan through the ULURP process.

What Flushing Commons demonstrated was the extent to which the current review procedures are flawed-and how a ULURP process fails to address the kinds of issues that Intro 314 seeks to redress. As City Hall points out: "Levin said that large-scale rezonings and developments were much harder to vote down after going through the City Planning Commission. He and his mentor, Assembly Member Vito Lopez, had initially opposed the Domino plan, but in the end had cut a deal, lowering the height of the proposed building and forcing a promise of more affordable housing units in exchange for his vote. “In a place like Williamsburg, this development over the past 10 years has had a cumulative effect, and if we’re able to have some further checks and balances, then we could have foreseen some of the challenges that we’re facing today in terms of infrastructure,” Levin said."

Translation: development needs to be more thoroughly vetted so that a project's impact on things such as roads, mass transit and schools can be properly evaluated-something that, as we have pointed out, Comptroller John Lui's public benefits task force also looks to address: "What the task force is proposing is that an independent consultant be made integral to reviewing the development plans-and this consultant would be an advisor to the community stakeholders and the local community board.If implemented, this would mean a predevelopment phase that would allow for a more complete vetting of the project's impact-as well as a greater opportunity to create community coalitions as stakeholders in the land use process. In the consultant, what you would have in theory is a person who can see the development through the eyes of the local community that will be forced to live with whatever impacts the development would have on the surrounding neighborhoods."

Complementary with what Intro 314 wants to do as well-as City Hall highlights: “The bill is not intended to stymie development,” said Koppell, who cosponsored it. “The intention is just to understand the impact on the community of major developments before they’re approved,” adding that the bill had grown out of concern over major developments approved without such foresight."

In our own observations to the newspaper, we make the point: "If the environmental mitigation bill passes and if the comptroller’s office task force recommendations are implemented, it could slow the mayor’s agenda, all but ending the possibility he’d be able to accomplish the massive projects of his third term. That could be good for the mayor who hadn’t foreseen the deleterious effects of projects like Willets Point and the empty condos along the Brooklyn waterfront created by his re-zonings, Lipsky said. “He sees things in terms of collateral benefits,” Lipsky said, “but never in terms of collateral damages.”

And City Hall rightfully sees all of this as a push back to the council's rather supine relationship with the city's chief executive: "After nine years of swift development and “yes” votes from the City Council on nearly all Bloomberg-sponsored rezonings and large-scale developments, a pushback has begun. The first inklings came late last year, when plans for redeveloping the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory were rebuffed by the City Council and community activists. The upward trajectory of the mayor’s development agenda across all boroughs seemed to be slowing."

So, with Intro 314 and the comptroller's report coinciding, we have begun what should be a more intense debate over economic development policy-and if the speaker is reluctant to play, shall we say, a progressive role, than Lui will be staking out a community friendly position that will only accrue to his ultimate political benefit-and at the speaker's expense, we may add.

Walmart: Who's That Masked Man?

We missed this WSJ story last week, but couldn't help but chuckle at how the poor Walmonster is miffed about the nature of its opposition: "Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is fighting back against a longtime corporate-sabotage campaign undertaken by grocery competitors to slow its growth. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer recently asked judges to require its opponents to disclose who is footing the legal bills in four out of the dozens of California lawsuits against Wal-Mart that have helped delay the company's expansion."

Corporate sabotage? Is that how the Journal wants to characterize grass roots coalitions against the predations of this retail giant? But, when it comes to corporate speech, the Journal is all in for corporate umbrella groups with compellingly innocuous names-and so are we; but at least we are consistent, and as we have said, there are many good reasons to dislike Walmart.

The folks who are opposed to the metastasizing retailer are legion-and include community organizations, labor unions, competing retailers and environmentalists-not to mention the small business community that gets bulldozed by the Walmonster's steamroller tactics (to mix metaphors): "Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is fighting back against a longtime corporate-sabotage campaign undertaken by grocery competitors to slow its growth. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer recently asked judges to require its opponents to disclose who is footing the legal bills in four out of the dozens of California lawsuits against Wal-Mart that have helped delay the company's expansion."

Well, as one of those masked men, we are delighted that the Bentonville Behemoth has its panties in a knot-and the nature of the coalitions that oppose the stores incursions into neighborhoods matters little in court where the legal issues are what they are. The work of the Saint Corporation on behalf of the Walmart opponents is meritorious (if a tad more expensive than our own John's Bargain Store rates): "Pat Fox, president of Saint, acknowledged his firm was hired to organize opposition to hundreds of Wal-Mart projects, but he declined to name his clients. "The work we do helps to level the playing field as regular citizens try to fight back against the world's largest retailer and the impact of big-box development in their communities," Mr. Fox said."

Which brings us to the Gateway bait-and switch in East NY. If Walmart is looking for dishonest representation, it needs look no farther than its developer champion Related; who unequivocally told Councilmember Barron that there was no plan for a Walmonster in the expansion of the original Gateway Mall-and how many times are we going to have to warn the council and its leader (supposedly 100% against Walmart) that they can't accede to large retail oriented mega zoning changes without a restrictive covenants against certain bad actors?

Willets Point and Flushing Commons, once they have been re-zoned, are free to tenant their sites with whatever retailers they want-and the council can simply pound salt. And as far as Gateway is concerned, get ready for a mother of all battles-since Related has an agreement in principle to lease 180,000 square feet! to Walmart. If Quinn is a serious opponent, and not simply a poseur, than she needs to really step up her game-and just as Senator Sampson's crew gave back the Walmart money, so should Quinn refund any Related contribution; as a sign of good faith.

Walmart is preparing for a Normandy Beach kind of assault on NYC and the opponents of this corporate bacillus need to really get their act together. Now more than ever, united we stand, and divided we fall, is the motto of the day.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sick Policy

It's not that often that we find ourselves siding with Kathy Wylde and the NYC Partnership-but on the issue of paid sick leave we certainly do. The WSJ has the story on the legislation, and the Partnership's study of the impact of the policy: "A new business-backed study pegs the price tag of a proposed city law requiring paid sick leave for all workers at $789 million a year, kicking into high gear a debate over how much the legislation would cost employers and how many people it would help.The Ernst & Young study—commissioned by the Partnership for New York City, the city's leading business group and an opponent of the bill—estimates 375,000 workers in the city, or 12% of the work force, do not have paid sick leave. That contrasts with estimates from supporters, who say 1.3 million workers lack the benefit."

Now don't get us wrong, we're not big fans of paid studies, wherever they derive their funds from; but in the case of paid sick leave, there is a compelling need to examine the collateral damages of yet another costly mandate on business-and in a severe recession no less: "The bill would require businesses to provide employees up to 72 hours, or nine days, a year of sick leave. For business with fewer than 20 workers, the maximum number of paid sick leave hours would be 40, or five days. Under the bill, sick leave could be used for an employee's own mental or physical illness or for attending to the illness of a spouse, child, parent, grandparent or domestic partner."

With small stores and other firms going bankrupt at record levels, does anyone know what kind of impact this would have on the ability of those businesses to keep their current employees, and hire new ones? The Bloombergistas have this right: "Mayor Michael Bloomberg has major problems with the bill as currently drafted because he "has serious concerns about unfunded mandates on businesses at a time when we're still feeling the effects of a national recession," said Andrew Brent, a mayoral spokesman."

The Ernst and Young study points to the bill's small business impacts: "The largest burden would fall on employers with hourly workers or those who make tips, and on smaller businesses. For small businesses, payroll costs would rise 0.31%; for retail, 0.4%; for hospitality and restaurants, 0.71%; for construction, 1.28%." And, unless the council wants to repeal the basic laws of economics, the results of the bill would mean less revenue  to hire more workers-or hard decisions on letting go some of the existing workers.

Speaker Quinn is right as well: "Clearly the idea of helping people get paid sick leave is something that sounds great and has merit," Ms. Quinn said. "You have to balance that against the impact on small businesses." Now, the fact is that the study is sponsored by folks who normally don't give a rat's ass about the little guy-and, as usual, the small business owner is being trotted out for use as a sympathetic marionette. The same goes for the speaker who, while posing as a small business advocate, continues to be a managing partner of the Partnership.

That doesn't take away, however, from the real negative impacts of the legislation-and the hellish road that's being paved here with all those good intentions: "The results of our survey show that this legislation triggers a boatload of unintended consequences that would be toughest on small businesses and nonprofits, the beleaguered construction industry, and could threaten the jobs of the most vulnerable employees who are its supposed beneficiaries," said Kathryn Wylde, the partnership's president."

Bill sponsor Gale Brewer disagrees, but there is a need for the proponents of the initiative to be alive to its potential harm: "I believe it's a lot less expensive than what they're predicting, and there are a lot more workers involved," Ms. Brewer said. "It's a family-friendly legislation." Not to the family whose bread winner is laid off because of an extra, and unaffordable, mandate.

We'll give restaurant spokesman Rob Bookman and Kathy Wylde the last word duet: "Robert Bookman, legislative counsel to the New York State Restaurant Association, said the study substantiates small business owners' fears about the financial impact of the bill. He said the study's finding that just 12% of the city's work force doesn't have paid sick leave "shows that there is no big crisis, no big problem."

"Ms. Wylde said the payroll increase is roughly equivalent to the 0.34% payroll tax imposed on all employers in 2009 to help fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. That tax has been panned by business. "It's a significant new burden on some of the most vulnerable businesses and sectors of the economy," she said."

Where's Sharpton?

Usually as omnipresent as Waldo, the Reverend Al Sharpton has become something of a recluse when it comes to controversy surrounding pressing racial issues-as we have commented on before. Now, according to Liz, he was absent when Black leaders from Central Brooklyn went toe to toe with Mike Bloomberg on some of those very same issues: "Mayor Bloomberg had a sit-down this afternoon at Gracie Mansion with the black elected leaders of Central Brooklyn – the first meeting of its kind in the wake of the 2009 election, in which former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson came far closer than expected to ousting the (now three-term) billionaire."

What was on the plate? A litany of complaints: "There were three main topics of discussion: Public education and the recent “test score debacle” (as my source put it), the “lack of diversity as it relates to the mayor’s administration” and the FDNY, and MWBE contracts. (Said the source: “The MWBE numbers under Rudoph Giuliani were better than they are under Michael Bloomberg.”)"

Paging Reverend Al, paging Reverend Al. With apologies to Tom Lehrer: "Ah, once he was a fiery racialist spirit; but now when he speaks he must clear it. Second fiddle's a hard part you know, when Mike Bloomberg won't even give you a bow."

The harsh reality is that Al Sharpton-like some cop he would have excoriated in the good old days-is totally on the pad. Why he even missed the Cuomo leadership pow wow in Harlem. In Harlem! Here's why: "The Rev. Al Sharpton was one of the expected major black leaders at the meeting with Andrew Cuomo and Bill Thompson, Carl McCall and others this morning, but he didn't come.I asked his spokeswoman, Rachel Noerdlinger, who told me that Sharpton was taking part in the Education Nation summit and that given his involvement in education issues, it posed a conflict."

Case closed. Al couldn't come, the Mayor wouldn't let him take the day off.

For a fuller understanding of the Bloomberg-Sharpton relationship we refer you to Karl Marx's essay: "The Power of Money."

"That which is for me through the medium of money – that for which I can pay (i.e., which money can buy) – that am I myself, the possessor of the money. The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness – its deterrent power – is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has power over the clever not more clever than the clever? Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?"

Not For Everyone Else's Profit

Steve Malanga does a good job outlining what is at stake in the upcoming election cycle-and he does so, by demonstrating why the big government problems we face aren't just down in Washington D.C. In doing so, Malanga links the burgeoning not for profit sector-something he pioneered in pointing out over 16 years ago for Crain's-with the public sector unions; and in the process, underscores why the political battles on the state level are as significant as the federal Tea Party driven fight.

Here's Malanga's thesis statement: "The Tea Party movement may have arisen to protest rising deficits and increasing federal control of everything from health care to the auto industry -- but the big-government coalition it's fighting wasn't born in Washington. The federal agenda that the movement is now battling to overturn originated in state capitals like Albany, Trenton and Sacramento."

The battle will not be an easy one because the forces on the other side are engaged and have deep pockets-courtesy of the shlubs who pay the taxes: "This agenda has been promoted with growing success in the last 50 years by a self-interested coalition of public-sector unions and social-advocacy groups that benefit from bigger government, higher taxes and more public control of the economy. Merely "taking back" Congress on Election Day won't stop the relentless rise of this coalition, which has at its disposal enormous resources."

So, while there is some optimism on the national level, the localized fights are much more uphill-especially in NY State where the WFP is still driving the big government agenda. New York Magazine takes a rather sanguine and incurious look at the party's operation (with an accompanying Socialist realism picture of a smiling Dan Cantor): "Most days of the year, money triumphs over all things in our society,” Cantor says, beginning the pep talk. “Except on Election Day, when we’re all citizens and we get to vote. There are two conceptions wrestling with each other in America right now: The tea party is saying government is a waste, or evil, even. Our view is that government will be as good as we make it, by electing people who stand for a certain set of values we all share about decency and equality and opportunity."

But, of course, Cantor bowdlerizes the Tea Party critique of government-as he elides the key questions of size and affordability. What can Cantor cogently say, without opting for assisted suicide, about pension obligations that, if not addressed, will sink New York into a morass of debt?

He can say tax the rich suckers even more-and he does; but when it comes to the party's survival, he willingly tosses principles aside, and signs onto the Cuomo pledge that no one believes the party will adhere to: "Just days earlier, however, the WFP was staring down the barrel of a (figurative) gun held by Andrew Cuomo. Political third parties in New York are required to get 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election every four years to maintain a ballot line. The WFP wanted to endorse Cuomo, the Democrat and favorite, in order to rack up the necessary votes in November; Cuomo wouldn’t accept the endorsement unless the WFP swallowed his budget-cutting agenda, a plan that could chop the pay and pensions of the unionized public employees who make up the WFP membership. Backing the WFP further into a corner was a recently concluded federal investigation of its business practices. The party blinked."

But this marriage of convenience says as much  about Cuomo as it does about the WFP. How hard will AC push his planned shrinkage with the Working Families as his bedfellow? And Cuomo is swimming upstream against  the currents churned by the WFP and his own party. Malanga underscores the point: "By the early 1990s, in fact, a fifth of all New York City Council members and 15 percent of state legislators had come out of the social-service world. They could be counted on to advocate for higher taxes and more money for government services. Over time, these activists partnered with another growing force in local government that shared their affinity for bigger government -- public-sector unions."

But it has been the public sector unions who have led the way-causing California to teeter on the precipice of bankruptcy; and NY following the Golden State into insolvency Here's Malanga's money quote:

"One example: In 1970s California, the most influential groups in state politics were the private-industry associations of the trial lawyers, insurance companies, doctors and hospitals. But by the mid-1980s, the biggest donors to political campaigns and spenders of lobbying dollars in Sacramento were public-sector unions for teachers, state employees, police, firefighters and prison guards.

The rise of these groups coincided with a growing public-sector ability to win big pay and benefit raises, including pension benefits. One startling result: Today, states and cities face an estimated $3 trillion in unfunded pension and retiree-health benefits for public employees -- a burden that will squeeze budgets for decades."

So all of  Dan Cantor's hokum about government being as good as we make it, masks the hard reality that there can be no good government that is so large that it taxes the ability of a free market economy to support it. And if the local state issues aren't addressed-and we have praised Cuomo for his rhetoric on this issue-then the locality will not survive in its present condition-and the exodus of tax payers to less burdensome jurisdictions will exacerbate the income divide that Cantor claims to be jousting against.

The bill will soon be coming do-and the local grasshopper mentality that was aided and abetted by stimulus spending has rewarded a profligacy that simply postpones the inevitable: "The big-government coalition heavily supported candidate Obama for president, and he has rewarded them. The various stimulus packages of the last year and a half have included hundreds of billions of dollars to preserve state and local government jobs. Much of this aid came with huge strings attached: Local governments that took the money committed to not cutting their program spending or reducing their workforce."

So, for those of us who feel that the handwriting is on the wall, and that a giant scythe is going to be needed to reduce the scope of Leviathan, there is a long hard slog ahead. This November may auger a new beginning, but any changes that are started in this tsunami ahead better be bolstered by a strong willed and determined electorate. The coming battle isn't for the faint of heart.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Indians Bite Off the Hand That Feeds them

As the NY Post is reporting the Indians in NY State, bellyaching about the effort to enforce the cigarette tax law, are crying all the way to the welfare bank: "Bargain-priced butts, cheap gas and gambling casinos get all the attention, but life on an Indian reservation includes other lifestyle elements that are as foreign as the Wild West to most New Yorkers. Step onto an Indian reservation and you're leaving the United States and entering a sovereign nation that includes free health care, a tribal justice system with its own courts, jails and police -- and even separate license plates and passports."

Not to mention that they're exempt from NY State sales tax as well. And are you worried about the cost of ObamaCare? Not if you're an Indian: "Native Americans who live on reservations are also entitled to free health care from the federal government, thanks to treaties their forefather's signed with the United States shortly after the Revolutionary War. The nation's courts have repeatedly found those treaties included an obligation by the federal government to provide health care."

Now no one is saying that the history of Native Americans in this country is any kind of bed of roses-but, that being said, it's over a hundred and fifty years, and if we can elect our first African American president we can certainly integrate Native Americans into the larger society. That would mean, however, eliminating the anachronistic relationships created by outdated treaties-and foster a dependency on the one hand, and an unfair advantage on the other.

But there are many who gain from this unfair advantage-and the thriving buttleging business, when coupled with gas sales on the reservations, is making a lot of Individual Indians rich (and others who may be Indians in Name Only). Here's how this privilege looks: "New York has seven federally recognized tribes -- including the upstate Seneca Nation, which is suing to stop the state from slapping a $4.35-a-pack tax on cigarettes sold to non-Indian smokers. "It's not the cigarettes. It's the symbol that this is yet again another effort to exterminate us and put us on our backs economically," said Robert Odawi Porter, a lawyer and member of the Seneca Nation. "We've been fighting with the colonists for years -- beaver pelts, gravel, salt, land and now the cigarettes."

Oh, good grief! Beaver pelts? When's the last time you heard this being brought up in a political debate? Seriously, when the exploiters talk the language of victimization you know the world is upside down-and when we hear, "extermination," as folks are operating an illegal business enterprise worth hundreds of millions of dollars, we are dumbstruck by the hubris. If anyone should be talking about extermination, it is the thousands of small retailers-and their tobacco suppliers-who have literally been smoked out by this tax scamming Indian rip-off.

And just to add a bit of perspective on all this, the Post has another news story right below the Indian saga-and it deals with the travail of small business in the age of ObamaCare: "Hundreds of struggling small-business owners have appealed to state regulators, demanding a rollback of double-digit health-insurance premium hikes that they're calling "criminal," The Post has learned...Defending the hikes, Leslie Moran of the New York Health Plan Association said that aside from medical inflation, Gov. Paterson and the Legislature raised health-care taxes last year, and federal health-care reform has added costly new benefits, starting immediately."

Not something the Seneca scammers have to be concerned with, as they have their cake and eat it under a treaty system that has long outlived both its equity and its usefulness. But maybe Jim Calvin and NYACS, along with the Bodega Association and the Newsstand Dealers, can declare war on the United States; after all, it pays to lose a war to Uncle Sam-just ask the Senecas.

Walmart's Small Business Impact: The Need for Review

With debate raging over whether it is a good idea for Wal-Mart to locate at the Gateway Mall, it is a good idea to take a look at the academic study that was done on the first Chicago Walmonster. Here's the underlying rationale: "However, Wal-Mart’s big city urban expansion plans have roused strong local political opposition. As of October 2007, there were only two big-city Wal-Mart’s among the
three largest cities, one in Los Angeles and one in Chicago (Wal-Mart Store Locator, 2008). New York City has not yet allowed any Wal-Mart stores within its city limits (Jones 2007). These economic policy debates have centered on Wal-Mart’s impact on local jobs and wages, as well as consumer prices and community retail development needs."

The big question here is, what kind of impact will the retail giant have on the viability of neighborhood shopping, as well as the overall impact of Wal-Mart on employment? Studies by Professor Ken Stone on the rural and suburban Wal-Marts indicate that there is a serious zero-sum game at work:

"Stone’s results show clear evidence of a very large localized and specialized Wal-Mart impact causing: a) PF declines in all non-General Merchandise sectors except for Home Furnishings and Eat and Drink in Wal-Mart towns, b) generally larger PF declines in all retail categories with the exception of “Food” (not sold by Wal-Mart during this period) in non-Wal-Mart towns, c) Across all categories, a five year 6.0% increase in the PF for total sales in Wal-Mart towns versus a -10.4% decline in Non-Wal-Mart towns, d) Larger market share losses for non-Wal-Mart towns that were within 20 miles of Wal-Mart towns than for non-Wal-Mart towns that were farther away, e) An estimated 23% decline in the number of retail stores in Iowa, based on PF losses by store category and average sales per store by retail category in 19932, and f) In addition to this large substitution effect, an overall decline in the value of retail sales, over the 1983 to 1993 period in Iowa." (PF indicates "pull factor")

Stone's study of Iowa has been replicated, with similar results found in other areas: "Stone has generalized his work to rural communities (1997) and shown similar results for Wal-Mart Supercenters in Mississippi (Stone, Artz and Myles 2002). Other regional studies of Wal-Mart’s impact (all looking at rural areas) have come to similar conclusion."

Since there are so few urban stores, there is of course less data to use to determine what the impact might be in the more dense city environment-hence the study in question. But Stone's work is suggestive-and in particular, the extent to which the economies of scale and the concomitant cannibalization of existing retail sales, lead to a net loss of employment in an area when the Walmonster comes a calling: "

And it appears that Chicago isn't much different then Ames, Iowa: "Our analyses of data on taxable sales in Wal-Mart’s home and adjacent zip codes are consistent with the hypothesis that Wal-Mart’s sales displace a significant amount of sales from its home zip code. There is some evidence that Wal-Mart’s sales also reduce sales in some adjacent zip codes, but this effect seems to be small and

Inevitably, this means store closings and bankruptcies; at a time when they are already at an all time high in NYC. Using Dunn and Bradstreet data, the Chicago academics found this dismal picture: "Using the D&B data, we find additional evidence that proximity to Wal-Mart may have increased the probability that a businesses closed during the first year of Wal-Mart’s operation. This evidence is consistent with and, in fact, stronger than the results from our own survey. We also find some evidence that being in an SIC code that directly competes with Wal-Mart increased the probability that area businesses failed."

As the study concludes-as we have pointed out in other big box site fights-oasis in one area, desert everywhere else: "Thus far, our study of Chicago’s West Side Wal-Mart has provided preliminary evidence that, in an urban setting, proximity to Wal-Mart is associated with a higher probability of going out of business for local retail establishments."

What does this do the job creation? The employment factor is directly related to the economies of scale that Wal-Mart utilizes-a key source of its profitability. But there isn't enough data for any determination on this issue from the Chicago store: "We have not yet fully explored Wal-Mart’s impact on local employment. Is the Wal-Mart adding to the overall number of jobs in the area, simply replacing other forms of local employment, or actually contributing to an overall decline in the number of jobs? Neumark, Zhang, and Ciccarella (2007) found that every Wal-Mart worker replaces at least 1.4 non-Wal-Mart workers."

The results of the Chicago Wal-Mart study provides us with a cautionary tale. For all those who promote the Walmonster in the name of economic development, these results indicate that the retail giant-unlike almost any other retailer-generates the kind of collateral damages that yield a net loss for the host community. And this analysis doesn't take into consideration what Stacy Mitchell calls, "the big box swindle;" the fact that these box stores like Wal-Mart generate much fewer local dollars than do the local competitors that they so often replace.

But even if you are a skeptic about the nature of this net loss, the fact remains that a box store like Wal-Mart is unique-and its impact should be studied before it is allowed to enter into any market area.Which brings us the potential Gateway Wal-Mart in East New York.

The fact that an environmental review was conducted and the application for the mall's expansion was approved, does not negate that any analysis that was done, sans Wal-Mart, is fatally flawed-and offers little insight, on both a socio-economic as well as an environmental level, as to the impacts that the mall's expansion will have on the local community and neighboring ones. Before any final determination of whether the Walmonster is to be allowed into East New York, a full and comprehensive study should be a minimal precondition.

Vegetative State

With the war on fast food-you know trans fat banning, farmers' market promoting, and menu labeling-you'd think that most New Yorkers (and Americans as a whole) would be getting the message that it is healthier if they eat their vegetables. As it turns out, not so much-as the NY Times laments: "Despite two decades of public health initiatives, stricter government dietary guidelines, record growth of farmers’ markets and the ease of products like salad in a bag, Americans still aren’t eating enough vegetables. This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a comprehensive nationwide behavioral study of fruit and vegetable consumption. Only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day, it concluded. (And no, that does not include French fries.)"

All of the professional hectoring has been, it certainly seems, a waste of breathe-and as far as Mother Bloomberg is concerned, it would have been more cost effective and productive if he had pushed his busybodies over at the DOH to actually address its core mission; to wit, the rising rodent and bed bug infestation in NYC that has proliferated while the nannies were scheming to get rid of your french fries and other junk foods.

Who would have guessed that the lecturing of public health experts and loons from groups like Center for Science in the Public Interest would trigger opposite results from what was intended? Time to reboot: "The amount of vegetables Americans eat is less than half of what public health officials had hoped. Worse, it has barely budged since 2000. “It is disappointing,” said Dr. Jennifer Foltz, a pediatrician who helped compile the report. She, like other public health officials dedicated to improving the American diet, concedes that perhaps simply telling people to eat more vegetables isn’t working."

What's a nanny to do? It seems that our current lifestyles aren't conducive to healthy vegetating: "The nation has long had a complicated relationship with vegetables. People know that vegetables can improve health. But they’re a lot of work. In refrigerators all over the country, produce often dies a slow, limp death because life becomes too busy. “The moment you have something fresh you have to schedule your life around using it,” Mr. Balzer said. In the wrong hands, vegetables can taste terrible. And compared with a lot of food at the supermarket, they’re a relatively expensive way to fill a belly. “Before we want health, we want taste, we want convenience and we want low cost,” Mr. Balzer said."

And the big bad food industry? It's doing its damnedest to try to get the folks to eat their veggies-and business is booming, but only for a certain population segment: "The food industry has tried to make eating vegetables easier. Sales of convenience vegetables, like packages of cut broccoli designed to go right into the microwave, are growing. Washed, ready-to-eat bagged salads are a $3-billion-a-year business...To be sure, vegetables are making strides in certain circles. Women, as well as people who are older and more educated and have higher incomes, tend to eat more vegetables, said Dr. Foltz, the pediatrician who worked on the C.D.C. report."

So, once again, income and class are the key underlying variables-in spite of all of the "Fresh Initiatives," that are metastasizing all over the country: "The vegetable even has the first lady, Michelle Obama, on its side. She planted an organic garden on the White House lawn and talks up vegetables as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign against childhood obesity. The government keeps trying, too, to get its message across. It now recommends four and a half cups of fruits and vegetables (that’s nine servings) for people who eat 2,000 calories a day. Some public health advocates have argued that when the guidelines are updated later this year, they should be made even clearer. One proposal is to make Americans think about it visually, filling half the plate or bowl with vegetables."

But new strategies are needed-and the canard that local supermarkets and bodegas in low income neighborhoods were conspiring against the health of their customers needs to be set aside for the falsehood that it is. The demand side of the equation hasn't been activated-case closed: "But clear guidance probably isn’t enough. Health officials now concede that convincing a nation that shuns vegetables means making vegetables more affordable and more available. “We have to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” Dr. Foltz said. And the choices need to become ingrained."

What this says to us, is that the mindset of those like Dr. Frieden and Dr. Farley-our Bobsey Twins of public health in NYC-is off kilter with reality. And Frieden in particular once told us that it was simply too difficult to change motivation-implying that coercion and taxation was a better route. (kind of scary in the age of national health care) The two doctors represent an elitist world view-symbolized by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

Kerry, frustrated by the rising tide of popular discontent, summed it up thusly: "We have an electorate that doesn’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what’s happening,”  When you believe that the folks are plain dumb, coercion becomes the optimum mode of public policy-and Frieden is a charter member of the People are Dumb Society.

But, if class status is the largest factor in vegetable eating, then it might make sense to start trimming the government fat that these health bureaucrats represent; lowering the government's waste line may help muscle up a private sector economy that will allow more folks to raise their standards of living. Or more simply, just butt out. But the more the costs of health care are socialized, the greater the imperative that behavior will need to be controlled-and that is, in our view, a greater danger to our health than the refusal to eat broccoli.

Beheading With Bigotry's Double Edged Sword

It appears that despite all of the mayor's best efforts at inculcating tolerance into bigoted New Yorkers, bias is still unbound in the Big Apple-as the latest Q-Poll on the GZM dramatizes: "The latest Q poll on the Park51 project shows 80% of voters feel that the developers have the right to build the proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero -- but 67% say they should voluntarily move it somewhere else."

Those 33% of New Yorkers who feel that the site is appropriate-aside from the few socialists loons who will never fail to come out in full castigation of what most Americans believe and hold dear-almost certainly do so because of  of a true belief in the high principle of tolerance. But, on examination, this tolerance is a rather slim reed-it certainly isn't proffered to those who might be offended by siting a mosque next to an atrocity scene committed in the name of the same religion of those who would seek to pray at the religious site.

Even worse, it is a tolerance that tolerates the intolerance of the very same religion that boldly seeks to situate itself at the Ground Zero site-and not, mind you, with some modest prayer facility, but a 15 foot iconic structure; or, as we use to say after sinking a jumper over the outstretched hand of some hapless defender back in our balling days: "In your face, sucker!"

But the problem goes deeper than the uproar over Imam Rauf's mosque. It can be seen in some relief by the reactions of so many Americans to the possibility that some no name pastor wants to burn a Koran-the cries arose from all over the land, and the president, so eloquent in his defense of freedom of speech, left the Bill of Rights home when it came to the potential Koran burning.

Mark Steyn makes a telling point: "Aside from all that, this obscure church’s website has been shut down, its insurance policy has been canceled, its mortgage has been called in by its bankers. Why? As Diana West wrote, why was it necessary or even seemly to make this pastor a non-person? Another one of Obama's famous "teaching moments"? In this case teaching us that Islamic law now applies to all? Only a couple of weeks ago, the President, at his most condescendingly ineffectual, presumed to lecture his moronic subjects about the First Amendment rights of Imam Rauf. Where's the condescending lecture on Pastor Jones' First Amendment rights? "

The egregious double standard in regards to all things Islam, poses a direct threat to those sacred rights that seem only to apply when the issue involved is well within some kind of liberal comfort zone-and any critique of Islam, and its often barbaric manifestations, is an occasion most foul. Steyn again:

"When someone destroys a bible, US government officials don’t line up to attack him. President Obama bowed lower than a fawning maitre d’ before the King of Saudi Arabia, a man whose regime destroys bibles as a matter of state policy, and a man whose depraved religious police forces schoolgirls fleeing from a burning building back into the flames to die because they’d committed the sin of trying to escape without wearing their head scarves. If you show a representation of Mohammed, European commissioners and foreign ministers line up to denounce you. If you show a representation of Jesus Christ immersed in your own urine, you get a government grant for producing a widely admired work of art. Likewise, if you write a play about Jesus having gay sex with Judas Iscariot.

So just to clarify the ground rules, if you insult Christ, the media report the issue as freedom of expression: A healthy society has to have bold, brave, transgressive artists willing to question and challenge our assumptions, etc. But, if it’s Mohammed, the issue is no longer freedom of expression but the need for "respect" and "sensitivity" toward Islam, and all those bold brave transgressive artists don’t have a thing to say about it."

And then there is poor Molly Norris, the Seattle cartoonist who has been forced into her own version of the witness protection program because of her draw Mohammad cartoon day. When the day arrived for her usual cartoon to appear, the Seattle Weekly told her readers, "You may have noticed that Molly Norris' comic is not in the paper this week. That's because there is no more Molly."

Where was the outcry? Remember all of the rabbis, priests and ministers who stood up to protest the Koran burning? Why didn't these same folks reach out to Muslim imams and join hands in protest of this offense against a basic American first amendment freedom? And where indeed was President Obama? James Taranto weighs in on the thundering silence:

"Where is President Obama? Last month, speaking to a mostly Muslim audience at the White House, the president strongly defended the right of another imam held up as a moderate to build a mosque adjacent to Ground Zero. The next day, and again at a press conference last week, Obama said he was merely standing up for the First Amendment. As far as we recall, it's the only time Barack Obama has ever stood up for anybody's First Amendment rights.

Now Molly Norris, an American citizen, is forced into hiding because she exercised her right to free speech. Will President Obama say a word on her behalf? Does he believe in the First Amendment for anyone other than Muslims?"

The NY Post does weigh in: "Outrageously, her terrifying ordeal has been met with a silence on the part of First Amendment purists and her fellow journalists. The folks, that is, who tie themselves in knots apologizing to Muslims for the bigotry that they've allegedly endured. So where are her colleagues? The Washington Examiner asked the American Society of News Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists for a statement of support for Norris. None was forthcoming. US Muslim groups are deathly -- tellingly -- quiet. As is most of the media. The story has barely been covered -- in stark contrast to the hyperventilation produced by the wacky Florida pastor who threatened to burn a Koran."

Now we should remind one and all, that the man behind the fatwa against Molly Norris is Anwar al-Alwaki, the imam in Yemen who is waging war against his country from that safe haven. And it is instructive to know that he too was once considered a, "moderate." As Taranto points out: "In October 2001, by the way, the New York Times described al-Alwlaki, who then ran a mosque in Virginia, as someone who "is held up as a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West." How's that working out?"

If we are not going to defend our precious rights against the assault of hateful Islamists, how long can these rights be maintained? Steyn makes this ominous point: "As I said in America Alone, multiculturalism seems to operate to the same even-handedness as the old Cold War joke in which the American tells the Soviet guy that "in my country everyone is free to criticize the President", and the Soviet guy replies, "Same here. In my country everyone is free to criticize your President." Under one-way multiculturalism, the Muslim world is free to revere Islam and belittle the west's inheritance, and, likewise, the western world is free to revere Islam and belittle the west’s inheritance. If one has to choose, on balance Islam’s loathing of other cultures seems psychologically less damaging than western liberals' loathing of their own."

And lurking just below this high minded discourse is the cowardice that animates much of the Islamic Protection League's principles: "It is a basic rule of life that if you reward bad behavior, you get more of it. Every time Muslims either commit violence or threaten it, we reward them by capitulating. Indeed, President Obama, Justice Breyer, General Petraeus, and all the rest are now telling Islam, you don’t have to kill anyone, you don’t even have to threaten to kill anyone. We’ll be your enforcers. We’ll demand that the most footling and insignificant of our own citizens submit to the universal jurisdiction of Islam. So Obama and Breyer are now the “good cop” to the crazies’ "bad cop". Ooh, no, you can’t say anything about Islam, because my friend here gets a little excitable, and you really don’t want to get him worked up. The same people who tell us "Islam is a religion of peace" then turn around and tell us you have to be quiet, you have to shut up because otherwise these guys will go bananas and kill a bunch of people."

It was Lenin who coined that reliable useful idiots phrase-but to paraphrase another example of his wit and wisdom-the progressives will donate to the Islamists the rope that they will hang us all with.

Friday, September 24, 2010

CB #7's Kelty: All Bark But No Bite

As we expected, the barking being done by CB 7's Gene Kelty about Flushing Commons turned out to be meaningless-and frankly we weren't surprised that the former fire marshal resorted to self-immolation, since he has been huffing and puffing to no avail for years; while at the same time fronting for the kind of development that will severely hurt the community he allegedly represents.

The Flushing Times has the story: "The $800 million Flushing Commons development project has cleared its final bureaucratic hurdle after nearly a decade of planning. The Queens Borough Board voted Monday evening to approve the city’s plans to sell the downtown Flushing land where the project is slated to be built to its developer, TDC Development. The vote was unanimous but came with a healthy does of chastising by City Council members and Eugene Kelty, chairman of Community Board 7, which did extensive work to address community concerns regarding the project."

EDC must be laughing their collective asses off-and their contrition is risible: "Carolee Fink, the EDC’s project manager for Flushing Commons, apologized to Kelty after the meeting and told him the agency would move to quickly fulfill his request." These are the kinds of promissory notes that are best suited for being utilized to replace a used roll of Charmin.

But here's Kelty in a comical high dudgeon: "“The Community Board has tried to work hard to make sure the project was modified as best it could be ... The EDC needs to follow through with the letters, the community needs to be satisfied and the EDC needs to continue to work with [Councilman] Peter Koo [R-Flushing],” Council Land Use Committee Chairman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said. Kelty said at CB 7’s Sept. 13 meeting that he would only vote to support the project Monday if the city, the developer and other groups drafted letters indicating that they would address remaining concerns CB 7 had about the proposal. In the end, Kelty said he nearly voted no for the project because of these issues but that he and his other executive board members decided that it was best to vote in favor since most concerns had been addressed."

But one-upping the comical Kelty is the befuddled Queens BP who was also ignored in the city council deliberations-the two of them underscore just why all of the discussed changes in the city's land use review law are really no substitute for strong-even just conscious and breathing-political leadership. Without that-and Board 7 (along with the hapless Koo of course) exhibits the no nothingness of so many of these community Potemkin Villages-no amount of reform of ULURP will mean much.

Mitigating Circumstances

We have been commenting on the failure of the city's land use review procedure for its reliance on the consultants selected by either EDC or the developer of a particular project. What results from this blatant conflict of interest, is the total downplaying of a develoopment's environmental imapct-and hence a failure to gauge the kind of infrastructure improvements (roads and mass taransit) that would be necessary to mitigate a project's deleterious impacts.

This was particularly egregious in the case of Flushing Commons-where the consultant arbitrarily assigned half of the new trip generation to mass transit without any concomitant examination of whether the Flushing transit infrastructure could handle the massive influx (not even considering the effect of a similar slight of hand maneuver by the same consultant for Willets Point).

This scamming of the environmental review process is why we are supportive of the Comptroller Task Force on Project Benefits. The preliminary report calls for an imdependent consultant who would in essence represent the community's interest. As we said last week: "What the task force is proposing is that an independent consultant be made integral to reviewing the development plans-and this consultant would be an advisor to the community stakeholders and the local community board. If implemented, this would mean a predevelopment phase that would allow for a more complete vetting of the project's impact-as well as a greater opportunity to create community coalitions as stakeholders in the land use process. In the consultant, what you would have in theory is a person who can see the development through the eyes of the local community that will be forced to live with whatever impacts the development would have on the surrounding neighborhoods."

And now, some council members are also expressing their concern with the issue of collateral damages and mitigation. Intro 314, sponsored by memebrs Brewer, Koppell and Levin, seeks to address this issue head on. As the legislation proposes:

"The Council finds that New York City has undergone and will continue to undergo an extraordinary amount of construction and development, and that much of this development has proceeded without accompanying improvements in infrastructure and services. In order to create communities with adequate infrastructure and support, city agencies need to assess and report to the public through local community boards and the affected Council Member specific mitigations noted within an Environmental Impact Statement where one was prepared for a development project, and whether and how each relevant agency plans to implement such mitigation measures."

So, in the case of Flushing Commons, some agency-and we're not sure whether the MTA is included here, but it should be-would be forced to explain how the thousands of extra mass transit riders, and the pedestrians on the over crowded Flushing streets, would be accomodated. And so we get the following mandate:

"The department of transportation shall establish minimum neighborhood service standards which shall include, but not be limited to, the acceptable average distance to the closest public transportation from a city resident’s home to a bus stop or subway station, and the acceptable frequency of each such mode of transportation during peak and off-peak hours, an acceptable flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic based on an examination of vehicular and pedestrian traffic patterns in order to identify and alleviate vehicular and pedestrian congestion and access to alternative transportation methods, such as, but not limited to, authorized bicycle lanes. The department of transportation shall periodically review and, as necessary, revise such minimum neighborhood service standards."

The Bloomberg administration proceeds pell mell with developement schemes that are simply unsustainable-and one weakness in the council bill is that it too is limited by the case-by-case development process; a process that doesn't account for cumulative impacts that a sane planning process would examine. But Intro 314 does offer the following perscription that could potentially address this cumulative development issue: 

"No later then February 28 of each year, the department of city planning shall submit to the city council a report describing for each project approved by the department of city planning any adverse environmental impacts of each such project that were identified in any environmental impact statement prepared in conjunction with such project, what measures are required to be taken to mitigate those impacts, when each such mitigation measure is required to be initiated and the duration of each such mitigation measure. Such report also shall include for each such project for the first five years for which each mitigation measure is required to be implemented, what actions have been and will be undertaken with respect to each such mitigation measure."

Intro 314, much like the Comptroller's recommendation, lays out a challenge to Speaker Quinn. Both ideas would have the benefit of allowing for a more comprehensive and equitable land use review-one that will aid local communities in protecting the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Quinn's opposition, however, will place her squarely in the corner of the city's big real estate sector-perhaps not the best place to find oneself when 2013 comes along.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sprayregen Goes a Supreme Courting

Nick Sprayregen and his attorney Norman Siegel have writ of certiorari with the US Supreme Court challenging the NY Court of Appeals decision that upheld the ESDC's eminent domain action against Sprayregen's property. As the brief says:




Put simply, Sprayregen believes that the NY court erred in its application of the SC guidelines in the Kelo case-and he emphasizes in particular the bad faith and favoritism that we have discussed on this blog-with the collusion of the consultants being case one of a fix being in for the benefit of Columbia University. In the second instance, Sprayregen is directly challenging the total lack of due process in the eminent domain procedure laws of NYS-laws that afford the property owners zero due process to argue against the state's use of the eminent domain right.

In essence Sprayregen is arguing that the Columbia expansion-and the ESDC collusion in it-exhibit exactly the kind of private transfer that Judge Stevens said Kelo was designed to prevent. As Siegel argues:



So now Sprayregen and the Singh family waits and hopes that the US SC takes up this case-but in the interim, is there any possibility that this use of eminent domain on behalf of Columbia, and also in the even more massive Willets Point development, will become fodder for the political campaign for governor? It certainly is a potential issue that could well serve to differentiate the two gubernatorial candidates.

Soylent Green

In the science fiction work, Soylent Green, a dystopian future is graphically depicted; but that's nothing to the dystopian present highlighted by Mark Green-someone who famously has his finger on the public pulse. It seems that Green, much like WAPO's Eugene Robinson, believes that the Tea Party movement represents the gross stupidity of Republican primary voters: "While these Tea Party candidates basically ran and won as Howard Beale yelling "We're Mad as Hell," the Republican base has an even more telling slogan, "We're Stupid as Hell."

But if the polls are correct-and Democrats are headed to an historic defeat-than it is the entire electorate, and not just brain dead Republicans who are, in the words of Mel Brooks, "revolting." The Green rant is quite instructive, and underscores the same elite contempt for the masses that seems to animate the sinking president in his more candid moments.

Green, however, is always entertainingly demagogic, but his contemptuous broad brushing of millions of Americans reminds us just why, come so many Novembers, he was unceremoniously sent packing by the same folks he obviously holds little respect for. One amusing aspect of his geshrie did get us to thinking: "We've seen versions of such outbreaks before in our history - the Salem Witch Trials, the Know-Nothing Party, America-Firsters, and Birchers and McCarthyites in the '50s implying that Eisenhower was disloyal. More recently, GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater in 1964 famously declared,with Tea Party-like prescience, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" - and got creamed that November. Like locusts awakening after a half century slumber, they're back! Not as a laughable Bircher fringe talking about flouride in our water as a communist plot but radicals who appear to be taking over a major party."

This undoubtedly goes over well among that dwindling cohort of Times readers, but isn't his caricature of so many voters illuminating why Democrats might be in for such a big beating? Where is any recognition that the popular uprising is, at least in some significant ways, a rational reactions to the excesses of the same folks that Green feels are so intellectually superior-the Ivy League elitists like Larry Summer (and the president himself) who ignominiously departs at the end of the year with an economic record that is embarrassing.

Green's view, however, is pandemic among Democrats-and threatens to devolve into the kind of irrational intemperate outbursts like the one emitted by Ohio's Democratic Party chair. Frustrated by the same voter  irrational stupidity that so disturbs Green, Chris Redfern loses it, and drops a series of F-bombs that will only further compromise the already slim chances his party has in the upcoming election.

But there is one particular passage in the Green rant that stands out more than any other-and dramatizes the bias that will come back to bite the Greens of the world on the ass this November: "Journalist poohbahs like a Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times have to stop pretending that for every wacko on the Right there's one on the Left. Truth is not a mid-point between race-baiters and rationalists, between Fox and MSNBC, between Sharron Angle and Barney Frank. It's ok to objectively distinguish between the mainstream and the extreme."

The hubris here is breathtaking-even without mentioning that no one watches MSNBC, or that Keith Olberman can't be catalogued in a rational category that anyone should be comfortable with. And the comparison between Angle and Frank seals the deal for us. Angle has said some, well, interesting things; but arguably, Frank had his finger on the detonator for the subprime mortgage bomb that has sent the American economy reeling. In promoting all of that irresponsibility, Barney Frank has done great damage to this country-and any comparison to Sharon Angle is doing the woman an injustice.

But Mark lives in his own self righteous intellectual bubble-and we are here to warn him that the locusts are coming and his bubble will soon be burst. He would be better off treating the anger and outrage of the American people with a modicum of respect. His disparagement of those folks who have a right to be angry brings to mind the observation of Coach John Wooden-someone who understood the pitfalls of intellectual arrogance: "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts."

Till NYC Freezes Over

Greg David has an interesting take on the latest hiring freeze imposed by the austere Mayor Mike:

Earlier this week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg imposed a hiring freeze and warned that the city's budget deficit means he will be forced to reduce the work force. The unions rushed to denounce the move, arguing their members were already overstretched and that vital city services would suffer. The media, with the exception of Crain's, took their cue from the unions and portrayed it as a choice between higher taxes and service cuts.

Of course, the city must erase $3.3 billion gap in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. But the administration's move is less about next year than about the long-term burden the city faces from soaring costs for pensions and retiree health care. The real issue that the media needs to focus on is that this is a struggle between the Bloomberg administration and the unions over the cost of city workers."

And the cost of public pensions is moving front and center-as it is all over the country: "In the Crain's story, based on a breakfast Tuesday sponsored by the Citizens Budget Commission, Deputy Mayor Steven Goldsmith noted that $7 billion of next year's budget will go pension costs and another $7 billion will pay for retiree health costs. That's 20% of the entire budget. Those figures are projected to soar in future years. The Legislature approved a less costly pension plan for state workers last year, but it wouldn't institute a similar one for the city because of union opposition."
This is a recipe for insolvency, and the picture being painted is one of a stalwart Mike Bloomberg (the ant of the fable), facing off against the profligate public employee unions (the designated grasshopper). Of course, this narrative is misleading since it was none other than Mayor Mike who kept adding government workers and ignoring pension reform for most of these past eight years.
Nicole Gelinas has been belling this hypocritical cat-as we pointed out earlier this year: "Sure, the mayor has been able to balance the books through three years' worth of fiscal crises. But beneath the balancing tricks lurk scary, permanent gaps: Like Greece, we permanently spend more than we take in. And the gap looks to grow wider. In fiscal year 2009 (which started in July 2008), New York spent 6.1 percent more than it took in via tax collections and other recurring local revenues -- a $2.5 billion gap. In 2010, the city spent 5.2 percent more -- $2.2 billion. For the new year, 2011 -- which starts this July -- the city will spend 7.6 percent more than it takes in, or $3.3 billion. By 2014, we'll cross an important line, with an 11.3 percent gap. Like Greece did, we're approaching scary double digits."

And here's why: "Plus, the city-funded workforce has grown by more than 12,000 people in the last three years - so even the 4,556 job cuts that Bloomberg projects won't bring us back to 2005." Yet Bloomberg still gets high marks for fiscal probity from the chattering classes her-a shining example of epistemic closure.

The Times Union's Capitol Confidential lays out the bleak picture: "So much for the myth about underpaid New York City teachers and administrators.They make up a third of the retirees in the Empire Center’s SeeThroughNY database of New York City retirees but comprise 99 percent of those whose retirements are above $100,000 annually." And it was, of course, right at the DOE where Scrooge McMayor went on his spending binge.

 Which brings us to the Bloomberg endorsement of AG Cuomo-and note the emphasis on fiscal discipline. Daily Politics has the story: "We've got complex challenges ahead. I think everybody knows that. Reforming Medicaid, which is bankrupting us. Making state education funding fair and effective. Rightsizing government. And most urgently, putting the state's finances back on solid ground. If we don't do that, all of the programs that we have come to enjoy, whether it is keeping our streets safe, educating our kids, helping those less fortunate, all of those programs will suffer if we don't get this state's fiscal situation on solid ground..."
Rightsizing government? Is this a do what I say, not what I do moment? And no mention at all about public pensions. An oversight perhaps? But we did get a kick out of the Paladino campaign response-one that dramatizes why Crazy Carl is such a genuine threat:
"Michael Bloomberg's endorsement of Andrew Cu0mo is a dog bites man story. Of course two of the biggest backers of the Ground Zero Mosque are joining hands against Carl, a staunch opponent of this insult to the American people. We knew it would chafe the Mayor-for-Life when Carl Paladino announced eight-year term limits as a vital plank in his anti-corruption agenda.

"His Royal Highness opposes the will of the people on the Mosque and subverted the will of the people on term limits, so it's no surprise Bloomberg is missing the point on this important election and climbing into the same royal coach as Prince Andrew. One upside to this: the two can stop passing Grey Poupon back and forth from their limousines. It's holding up traffic on Park Avenue."

This promises to be a real barn burner, but beneath the theatrics lies a real serious bill come do for NY State-and both Cuomo and Paladino are going to have to level with the voters about some common sense solutions to the upcoming meltdown. Chris Christie has started to do this in New Jersey, but New York-both city and state-is still being governed by an exceptionalism that the Paladino rise is taking direct aim against. And in our view, nothing less than a political sea change will make this dire situation remediable.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Q-ing Up Cuomo

The shocking Q-Poll that was released this morning, must be vibrating electrically in the Cuomo camp-and it means that the Rose Garden strategy may not have been the best approach to this year's electorate. Paladino, in our view, has been helped by the marginalization effort of the media-and the attempts to label him crazy may actually backfire because the voters appear to have a yen for crazy this year.

At the same time, if played properly, this wake up call might be a good thing for Democrats if it generates real fear and loathing in the party's rank and file. Up until now-with an apparent coronation in the works, and a nominee that hasn't been warm and fuzzy with anyone-the projected turnout for November couldn't have been too high. But fear is a great motivator, and if it does the trick the energy may work out well for the down ballot senate candidates.

That being said, we believe that the Paladino threat is for real-and the campaign's idea to hand out, "Albany Slugger," baseball bats will resonate with many voters. If this poll proves that it isn't an outlier, than Cuomo's decision to embrace the WFP may, in hindsight, prove to have been the wrong move and the wrong message for these times.

Which gets us to the Bloomberg endorsement-and the mayor's statement of support elides a key issue that is roiling voters from coast to coast-the size and scope of government, and the taxes needed to support it. Here's a partial clip of the mayor's endorsement:

"I look forward to working with him to advance his fiscal and economic growth agenda, focusing on upgrading and expanding our city and state infrastructure, including completing major rebuilding and transportation projects, in order to create jobs and build a foundation for our economic future."

"We need a governor who knows that the partisan politics of the past cannot be the way of the future. Andrew Cuomo has made the focus of his campaign to build a coalition for reform that transcends party labels and brings together Democrats, Republicans and independents together behind his agenda and I am proud to stand with him in that effort.”

To us, this demonstrates how out of touch the mayor is-and it remains to be seen if an endorsement from a tax hiking, personal freedom-intruding, elitist billionaire will be helpful-or quite the opposite. Here's the Bloomberg money quote that underscores our point:  "New Yorkers are angry with Albany, and I think for good reason, but anger is not a governing strategy.”

But the thing is, Mike has no idea why the voters are angry-and, in our view, it doesn't begin and end with Pedro Espada and Hiram Monseratte. But for Bloomberg to really get this, it would entail a degree of self awareness that the mayor has yet to demonstrate to any great degree.

So, as Daily Politics has said, "It's On." And if covering politics is like covering a prize fight, than it looks as if this match will go the full 15 rounds.

Wal-Mart's Stealth Plan for New York

The Observer (and welcome Matt Chabon) is reporting on the renewed effort by Wal-Mart to penetrate, with smaller stores, the last frontier-New York City's neighborhoods: "Among the laments for the Death of New York is the disappearance of many of the mom-and-pops that once lined the city's streets. As bank branches and pharmacies and Marc Jacobses have descended on the city, the small-time merchants have fallen prey. Now they may be facing their biggest threat yet, as Walmart tries once again to plant its bottom-dollar flag in the city. And this time the world's largest retailer just might succeed."

And why's that? According to the Observer, the Walmonster has been educated by its successful effort to build in the Second City: "If the company follows the same model it did to finally crack Chicago, perhaps Walmarts could soon be as prevalent as Duane Reades, or at the very least Traders Joe."

Here's how it succeeded there: "Three things helped Walmart succeed against opposition from labor unions and liberal alderman in the Second City. First, it argued it was creating desperately needed jobs (albeit ones of debatable quality or compensation), which means the downturn is probably the perfect time for its latest move. Second, the retailer hitched its store to a larger development on the outskirts of the city, which gave it the ability to claim it was creating not only jobs for the economically depressed Far South Side but also much needed affordable housing and services in a veritable food desert. This also gave the project the imprimatur of a developer with local political connections and clout. Third, and perhaps most crucially, Walmart pitted the construction unions, who were desperate to build the store, against the retail unions, who feared the impact it might have on its members and the city at large."

Well, there's a reason why they call Chicago the Second City-and being sold a bill of goods by the Walmonster underscores how different it is from the Big Apple. The Observer admits this dissimilarity: "Whether this success can be duplicated here in the five boroughs remains to be seen. Consider that no less a developer than the Related Companies, with the backing of the construction unions and the mayor, recently failed with its plans to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory. Granted, that project lacked a Walmart, but it still had a non-union grocery store that was opposed by the community and the retail unions, a defense that will no doubt be mounted once again when Walmart makes its plans clear. But unlike Kingsbridge, Walmart need not be tied to a single location. The company may well find a councilman more sympathetic to a new store, especially a smaller one, in a more desperate corner of the city. And it can probably expect the support of the mayor."

A few thoughts here. In the first place, the key variable will always be the zoning status-and size plays into this. If Wal-Mart can find an as of right location for any store then size doesn't matter. On the issue of a location that will need a special use permit-and any store over 10,000 square feet in an M-Zone will need such a permit-we don't believe that the support of a local council member will prove to be insurmountable by the anti Wal-mart forces; at least not if the opposition of Speaker Quinn remains as strong as it is today.

And the defeat of the Armory plan-sans Wal-Mart-surely isn't a harbinger of any successful foray by Wal-Mart into the city, since it was never clear (in spite of what the Observer says) just what large food retailer was going to tenant the Armory site. If Wal-Mart had been proposed for Kingsbridge, there wouldn't even have been a fight-it would have been an immediate non-starter.

That being said, it looks as if the retail giant is getting serious-and we are prepared, as the Observer points out, to meet it head on: "The Neighborhood Retail Alliance has already expressed dismay at the news: "So, while the more virulent manifestation of the Wal-Mart disease may rear its ugly head—in the form of a supercenter—at the Gateway Mall in East New York, the generalized illness appears ready to metastasize into NYC's neighborhoods." The group has vowed to mount a vigorous challenge to the new plans, as they have before."

There are some of our fellow anti-Wal-Mart stakeholders who don't see Gateway as a real future Wal-Mart location; but having done this work for three decades my only advice is, to be forewarned, is to be forearmed; and any dilatory behavior could have serious negative consequences. If the Gateway site actually does materialize, allowing Wal-Mart to get up a head of steam could prove to be deadly.

But the battle seems about to be engaged, and if all of the anti-Wal-Mart forces remain coalescent, the Walmonster will soon realize, to paraphrase the Wizard of Oz, they're not in Kansas (or Chicago) anymore.