In yesterday's Crain's web edition, commentator Greg Davis purports to set the record straight on Willets Point with an article inaptly titled. "Important Truths about Willets Point." As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once remarked, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own set of facts. So, in the service of a bit of cognitive dissonance for David-someone who has demonstrated little concern or regard for any one's constitutional property rights in NYC-we offer a rebuttal.
What was particularly irksome in the David piece was his lack of interest in understanding just what it is that opponents of the Willets Point development have been arguing-something that would have been accomplished with a simple phone call to us with his questions. By not doing so, however, he makes some rather basic errors of fact.
He begins by asserting that today's eminent domain hearing is the, "end game." "It may appear Wednesday at a public hearing that there is considerable opposition to the Bloomberg administration's plan to clean up and redevelop the hazard waste site known as Willets Point, Queens. Don't be deceived. Tomorrow is the end game of a decades-long effort to made Willets Point a generator of jobs and business activity. Also don't forget that the last-ditch efforts of the few holdout businesses have extracted a steep cost: preventing the city's economy from being as prosperous as it could be.
Where to begin? As we have pointed out, the term,"holdout businesses" is simply a canard and a calumny that thoroughly distorts reality. Shame on you Greg! You can't be holding out if the city has never even given you an offer. And if there has been no offers proffered, how can these, "holdouts," be preventing anything? If there's been a delay here it is because of the city's own malfeasance and missteps.
In addition, to say there are a few businesses left is also to do violence to the truth-since there is a large majority of businesses who have not sold their property: "The opposition has been greatly overstated. In a 2007 survey, Hunter College researchers found exactly one resident in the area. At the time, there were 225 businesses, mostly auto parts and repair business. They employed 1,300 people. Most of the major businesses in the area have reached agreements with the city to relocate elsewhere, mostly to nearby College Point. The numbers of remaining businesses and workers is much smaller today."
Well, some twenty odd businesses have negotiated sales with the city-sweetheart deals, in our view-which means that over 85% of the businesses, land owned and/or tenanted, remain. Not our definition of a few at all. So what the city has tried to do is to pay through the nose for the big guys so it could be free to beat up on the woman and children left standing-but, so far, it hasn't worked out as planned.
But if the "holdouts' haven't prevented the development from proceeding, what has been the holdup? Here David remains totally confused-mangling the environmental issues in one dismissive sentence: "Meanwhile, opponents keep inventing strategies to derail the city. For a while, it was the idea that planned highway ramps somehow violated the environmental impact statement. A judge dismissed the claim summarily.
This is flat out wrong. Willets Point United brought an Article 78 lawsuit that challenged the city's SEQR review of the development-saying that the ULURP process was premature since the crucial ramps off of the Van Wyck had yet to be approved. Judge Madden ruled for the city based on the alocution-a sworn affidavit-of then Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber that the city would not do what it has started to do today: condemn any one's property before the ramps were approved. In other words, there was no harm, no foul for the aggrieved property owners because they would be able to challenge the ramp approval before having to worry about condemnation.
But the city has gone back on its word. Why? Because we have demonstrated that the traffic data submitted to the state was insufficient-fraudulent in our view. It has been over 15 months since that application was essentially bitch slapped by State DOT. This, Greg, is the holdup-and the critique we made of the city's shoddy environmental data was no invention since the state responded by utilizing the information to send EDC back to the drawing board.
Facts are stubborn things, no? The only party doing any inventing has been the EDC consultants-dummying data that proved to be inadequate. Faced with being stymied at the regulatory level, EDC decided that it would go back on its word to the court-and in all of its testimony to the city council-and begin development without a ramp approval that it claimed was essential. It is in fact, then, EDC's so-called Phase I that is the mother of all inventions-a totally new version of the Willets Point project that needs a supplemental EIS, and can't go forward without it This is the grounds for the lawsuit that WPU will file.
David also errs by saying that the opposition to Willets Point development has been overstated. It only appears that way since the relatively small band of little guys has put an effective monkey wrench into the EDC pipe dreams. In reality, the support-however misguided-has been widespread among the political class. But by refusing to truly engage with the opposition's cogent argument, what else does David have left but ad hominen attacks and mischaracterization?
David, like the blind squirrel, does find one nugget of truth, but relegates it to an almost throw away line at the end: "There are questions about Willets Point--how much can the financially strapped city invest in the cleanup, and what will the interest of private sector developers be in building the housing and commercial space the city envisions?"
Gee, Greg, perhaps we should examine this with 2011 eyes to determine feasibility-before commencing a condemnation proceeding that could lead the City of New York straight down the garden path-to New London and its fiscal fiasco post Kelo. Having introduced this nugget of wisdom, however, David shrinks back from following it to its logical conclusion-caution, not full speed ahead.
As a result, he concludes with the following: "But those are not reasons to give up and leave Willets Point as it is. Whatever happens will be better than what exists today and will create jobs and help diversify the economy."
Not having the financial wherewithal to successfully complete the development of Willets Point is no reason to give up? It's OK for David to advocate taking away people's property based on sheer speculation? Nothing could demonstrate his lack of appreciation for constitutional property rights than that conclusion.
One last reflection-on Greg David's genuflection to Mike Bloomberg: "Only Mayor Michael Bloomberg has gotten this far, which says a lot about the backbone of this administration." Not really. It is more an expression of the mayor's edifice complex, and his insouciance about any possible negative impact that his chainsaw malling of the city has wrought. And his disregard, as evidenced by EDC's extra-legal maneuvering, for honesty, integrity, and the rule of law.
The Willets Point project was midwifed in illegality by the hiring of Claire Shulman's astroturf LDC. It proceeded apace through the invidious offering of boucoup bucks to large property owners-folks represented by Peter Vallone, whose latest claim to fame was his three time endorsement of the mayor. Nothing to see there. It then moved on to fraudulent traffic submissions to NYS DOT, and now to violating sworn court testimony.
This, friends, isn't an example of backbone. It is a manifestation of a bullying administration with little regard for either legal niceties or the fate of small property owners-revealing in the process that the man who has claimed to be above special interest is, in reality, their apotheosis-a classless example of class interest.