Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Wal-Mart’s Urban Image

According to Reuters:

Cable channel BET and Wal-Mart announced a marketing alliance Tuesday that will provide Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores with exclusive companion DVDs that contain BET programming and content related to urban-oriented music and movie releases.

The DVDs will be packaged with the music and movie releases and sold as "BET Official" branded two-packs in BET-branded retail sections and at other merchandising displays throughout thousands of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club locations nationwide.
After hearing this we're now waiting for Wal-Mart to team up with Jay-Z for a "I've got 99 problems but low prices ain't one" campaign.

Seriously, this is yet another crafty move by Wal-Mart to gain exposure in the various urban communities that it wants to enter or expand in. Despite its previously documented problems with race discrimination, the mega-retailer believes that by sponsoring film festivals, scholarships and other minority-targeted programs it has a better chance of breaching places like New York City.

And according to a new treacly Time magazine article the strategy is partially working in Chicago:

In the past decade, the world's biggest retailer has been portrayed as a brutal giant, accused of wiping out small businesses, union busting, discrimination against female employees, employing illegal immigrants--not to mention the knock, vehemently disputed by the company, of being a low payer. But recently one of America's most embattled corporations has found an ally in one of America's most embattled demographics. No longer content to let its profits do the talking, Wal-Mart is trying to remake its image, in some measure with the aid of inner-city African Americans. The math is simple: Wal-Mart offers stores and jobs to poor black communities that are hemorrhaging both. Meanwhile, those communities extol the virtues of Wal-Mart, offering a buffer against the company's critics.
For a good critique of this piece check out JR on Daily Kos.

However, it remains to be seen whether the same success will be duplicated here in New York City. We have pointed out that Wal-Mart’s best shot in the 5 boroughs would be in a lower-income minority neighborhood but, unlike Chicago, a number of black and Hispanic elected officials here are against the store and there is less racial tension between minority New Yorkers and the labor movement.

Wal-Mart Wants to Monopolize Monopolization

Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott is not too fond when other companies steal Wal-Mart’s business model of attempted monopolization. In fact, he recently complained that Tesco, Wal-Mart’s British supermarket rival, has too high a market share at 30.5% and that the British government should investigate. The irony is that, in the United States, Wal-Mart’s share of the grocery market may reach that percentage or higher, according to certain analysts. As Rich Smith, of the Motley Fool points out:

Dueling surveys aside, there's a bigger issue to consider here: corporate hypocrisy. Wal-Mart is, after all, the world's biggest retailer, with all the pricing power and market-dominating potential that such a title implies. The company's annual turnover exceeds most nations' GDPs. In the grocery segment, Merrill Lynch(NYSE: MER) put Wal-Mart's U.S. market share at 15% in 2003, and at least one research report argues that the company is on track to control a 35% share of the U.S. grocery market by 2007. Yet here it is, whining that it's a helpless, hapless victim of big, bad Tesco?
It seems that even when it comes to monopolization, Wal-Mart isn't too fond of competition.

Wal-Mart, Health Care and the NY Post

Mary Campbell Gallagher, of BigCitiesBigBoxes, trenchantly responds to the New York Post’s editorial on Wal-Mart that we dissected on Monday. As Gallagher points out:

But wait. The Post also thinks New York's taxpayers can afford to subsidize Wal-Mart. "New York," the Post says, "leads the nation in Medicaid spending, at $45 billion a year. Supposedly impoverished Wal-Mart staff would never make up even a hint of a speck of a drop in New York's Medicaid bucket." So now the Post is trivializing New Yorkers' tax bills. Leaving aside the fact that Medicaid is only one form of public assistance, does the Post really think that cheaper groceries are more important than lower taxes? Was that supposed to be what the Post was arguing? I thought it started out to say that the unions' claims were false. Apparently not.
Read the whole thing.

NY Daily News Needs Public Editor

We have already published our comments on the Daily News story that focuses attention on Mayor Bloomberg's economic policies. As we pointed out the story's headline about "mixed messages" inhered to the column alone. The story itself was exclusively laudatory and failed to even point out a single negative aspect of the mayor's approach to policy making in this area.

Exacerbating this omission was the story's failure to even mention small business. We do know, however, that the reporter interviewed a number of representatives from the small business community. So what's going on down on 33rd Street?

The News has been running a series on the mayor's record in office as he runs for re-election. The paper's latest missive is about schools and it reads quite frankly as if it emerged fully grown from the mayor's political womb. The same can be said about the other so-called stories.

What is particularly egregious about this thinly masked electioneering in the guise of news is that it is clearly help that the mayor doesn't need. He has already spent over $10 million in TV advertising and a bundle more on radio ads and glossy targeted mailings. All of this free spending is reflected in the mayor's poll standings which show that the mayor would probably win a Democratic primary without a run-off.

All of which should give the editors at the News a desire for a greater degree of fairness not less. The economy is, in fact, a major weakness in the record of the Bloomberg administration. If the comments we made to their reporter had been allowed to see the light of day they would have reflected the grave dissatisfaction among small business owners with the mayor's policies.

In addition, how do you talk about the city's economy without any discussion of tax and regulatory policies which surveys recognize as the main variable in all economic growth but particularly for the productivity small businesses?

In addition, a report was issued yesterday that cited NYC as the only major city to experience a growth in its poverty rate. This dovetails nicely with Wayne Barrett's piece on Freddy Ferrer in this week's Village Voice. Barrett talks about the issue of structural poverty and how it's not getting the attention it deserves in this campaign.

What should we expect? The Bloomberg economic development folks are cruising along on $1 a year. All their plans involve mega-projects that displace smaller firms. The biggest fraud in the mayor's own commercials is the one where he is shown standing in front of a neighborhood store. As we have continually pointed out before this administration is easily the most anti-small business in the last thirty years.

Maybe its time for the News to adopt the Times' approach and hire a public editor. If they did we might be able to witness more balance and not see the kind of abject toadying during an election cycle that we are being bombarded with this week.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Doctoroff and the NYC Conflict of Interests Board

The entire mess at the BTM and the role played by Deputy Dan would seem to compel a reevaluation of the original ruling by the NYC Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), the one that told Doctoroff that Steve Ross' assumption of his $4 million loan to NYC 2012 didn't constitute a conflict because:

Mr. Ross' guarantee predates your city service [which it did by four days] and inasmuch as you do not, by virtue of his guarantee, have a business or financial relationship with Mr. Ross...
The last four years exposes this ruling as a sham.

In the first place, the Board failed to adequately evaluate the Deputy Mayor's ongoing relationship and commitment to NYC 2012; indeed the Committee continued to list Doctoroff as its founder on all of its communications, even after he had entered into public service. In addition, the Board itself recognized that Ross was "one of the most active members and fundraisers for NYC2012," a role he continued to play well into the Bloomberg mayoralty.

It should also be pointed out, as everyone would now acknowledge, that the goal of obtaining the Olympic bid was a primary economic development objective of the administration. As such, Doctoroff's relationship with Ross, or better yet, using the Board's term - his "association" (That sounds just like the Giuliani-inspired mob busting carting regulations) - must be viewed as ongoing and not "predating".

If it is, than it is incumbent on the COIB to re-examine its original ruling. The ruling clearly stated that its "no conflict" determination was based on Docoroff's own "representations." Even if it were given only the publicly disclosed information that is currently available, the Board has enough data to find that an ongoing conflict exists. Compounding the seriousness of the situation is that Doctoroff, after the Board's finding, had voluntarily announced he would recuse himself from dealings with Mr. Ross and Related, another representation that cannot hold up to even minimal scrutiny.

That this is true can be clearly gleaned from a look at the machinations surrounding the immaculate deception at the Bronx Terminal Market. The key issue here is the FOILed document showing that the city had already earmarked the BTM site for the Olympic Velodrome in 2002, a full year before the Related lease deal for the market was finalized (And right in the middle of the COIB's inquiry). The Terminal Market was targeted, and Related was engaged, precisely because of its envisioned role as an Olympic venue.

As Jesse Masyr, Related's own attorney points out in the Tom Robbins story of April, 13, 2004, "Deputy Mayor Doctoroff did reach out to Related in 2002 for their development thoughts on the market." Of course he would, they were still on the same team. It is also exactly why Related, despite some fluctuating misinformation emanating out of City Hall and EDC, was given the exclusive option to wheel and deal with the Buntzmans at the BTM.

Gotbaum and Eminent Domain

In a column that once again demonstrates how difficult it is to remain ideologically consistent about the issue of eminent domain, Robert George takes Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum to task for her support of Atlantic Yards. It seems that Gotbaum, in her public statements as well as in the debates, has taken an absolute position in opposition to the use of eminent domain.

All of which creates an obvious problem for her support of The FCRC project in Brooklyn. There are a number of interesting observations here. First is the alliance of the conservative George with the liberal Norman Siegel and Tish James. Secondly, the Gotbaum conundrum points to the dangers of taking an absolute "no way' position.

Is the taking of private property for anything but an obvious public use out-of-bounds? If not, are there policy guidelines that can be creatively crafted to allow the use of ED in certain circumstances? This is definitely the starting point for a spirited public debate. Our position, in support of the Atlantic Yards project, can be defended on a number of sound public interest rationales. The use of ED, however, does create complications. We do look forward to the upcoming debate around this issue and we're certainly not going to shy away from the conflicts it will generate.

BTM Deal: Blame Freddy?

In yesterday's NY Times Charles Bagli and Robin Shulman focus on the Bronx Terminal Market development and place some blame on Freddy Ferrer for not being more vocal in his opposition to the "sweetheart" nature of the deal. While we would agree that the whole stinking mess could benefit from some stingent criticism from the Democrats' leading mayoral candidiate it is fair to say that the entire piece is no more than a sidebar to the main story: the machinations of Deputy Mayor Doctoroff on behalf of his good friend Steve Ross.

Our definite impression in talking with the Times is that the paper has by no means finished with this unseemly topic. They are going to spend a great deal of time and attention on the deal itself and, hopefully, lay some serious blame on the real culprits: Bloomberg, Doctoroff, Ross and Buntzman. When they do, it will create the appropriate context for their criticism of Ferrer, someone who is no more than a bystander to the mayor's ten car pile-up off the Major Deegan at the BTM.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Evaluating the Mayor’s Economic Development Policies

In today’s Daily News, Dave Saltonstall examines Mayor Bloomberg’s economic development policies and, in general, gives the mayor high marks even though the story’s headline, “Message is Mixed,” promises a more critical evaluation. Clearly, a significant portion of the story got left out, probably because of space requirements.

At least we hope so since the mayor’s economic development record, particularly when it comes to small business, leaves a great deal to be desired. As we have mentioned previously, you simply cannot talk about this subject without analyzing municipal tax and regulatory policies. It is these areas that play the most significant role in either generating new economic activity or frustrating growth.

The mayor’s record tax increases, and his scorched earth regulation policies, have had a tremendously negative impact on the city’s small business community. More specifically, when economic development projects are planned there is an almost complete lack of concern for the small businesses that may be displaced or simply put out of businesses.

The BTM merchants are, of course, prime examples of this generalized callousness, a disregard that was baldly expressed by an infamous EDC missive to the merchants’ lawyers. That is not all, however. The great street furniture project dispossesses scores of small newsstand operators while turning the entire ball of wax over to one mega-vendor.

Upcoming is the battle over Willets Point where the mayor’s observation that “the land is too valuable for the businesses that are on it” should be seen as an apt expression of his economic development policies vis-à-vis small business.

Hopefully, the campaign ahead will tackle these very important issues. The mayor must be called on his disingenuous commercials, particularly the one showing him in front of a neighborhood store claiming that his policies are somehow geared to help those beleaguered storeowners when the exact opposite is the case.

Ex Post Factless

The New York Post ran an editorial yesterday blasting the Health Care Security act as well as the general notion that Wal-Mart burdens the public health care system. According to the paper:

What about that argument about workers' onerous Medicaid costs?

Well, it's true that only a bit more than half of Wal-Mart's workers take the company's health insurance.

But for many of those who don't, the reason is that they've already got coverage.
In all, about 80 percent of Wal-Mart's workers have some kind of insurance — either through Wal-Mart or, say, a spouse or parent.

As for any Wal-Mart workers on public assistance, the figures the unions use come exclusively from labor-friendly sources (like the staffers of pro-union House Democrats) and are completely unreliable.
A couple of things need to be pointed out. It’s supremely hypocritical for the editorialist to critique the “biased” data source used by those in the anti-Wal-Mart camp when he, in the previous sentence, uses information provided by Wal-Mart. In fact, the Post’s "spouse or parent" claim is an almost exact replica of a 2004 statement made by Bentonville-based spokesman Dan Fogelman:

But Fogleman said the total of employees with health insurance is 90 percent, because many get coverage through a spouse, a parent or a government program such as Medicare.
But wait, the editorial forgot to mention that the 80-90% claim made by Wal-Mart includes those on the public dole. Though these workers are technically covered, this fact directly contradicts the Post’s claim that the great majority of Wal-Mart workers are not being subsidized by taxpayers. Maybe the Post needs to look at its own bias to figure out how it glossed over an important piece of evidence.

The paper’s opinion piece also assumes those concerned about Wal-Mart’s impact on safety net programs are solely union members using “labor-friendly” data. The first part of the claim is ridiculous; there are a whole consortium of groups and individuals country-wide (including Republican lawmakers like City Councilman Jimmy Oddo) who have expressed concern about Wal-Mart’s burden on taxpayers. As for the assertion that data demonstrating Wal-Mart’s drain is completely biased how does the Post explain the various newspapers who have reported on the disproportionate number of Wal-Mart associates utilizing state medicare programs? Does it consider the Atlanta Journal and Constitution to be a “labor-friendly” source? How about the Wall Street Journal which reported in 2003:

Last year, average spending on health benefits for each of the company's roughly 500,000 covered employees was $3,500, almost 40% less than the average for all U.S. corporations and 30% less than the rest of the wholesale/retail industry, according to estimates by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, a unit of Marsh & McLennan Co."
We suggest that instead of misrepresenting quotes and making baseless attacks, the Post should look at the data showing Wal-Mart’s exploitation of tax-payer funded programs. Considering that the paper so often editorializes against government waste and high taxes, maybe it should critically examine how the big box from Bentonville contributes to these undesirable conditions.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Residents Rally on Yankee Stadium and the BTM

On a beautiful Saturday morning neighborhood residents and BTM merchants held their community forum in Mullaly Park in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. The forum focused its attention on the two mega-projects being planned for the area and the general tone of the gathering was anger at the lack of local participation in the development plans and the fears that, separately and in combination, the two projects will have a major negative impact on the community.

The gathering was graced by the unexpected presence of Maria del Carmen Arroyo, one of the two local council members who represents the impacted areas. Arroyo, to her credit, withstood withering criticism from some of the residents who feel abandoned by their elected officials. This heated exchange, entitled, "Vecinos Confrontan a Concejal" in El Diario, prompted the councilmember to suggest that the community work with her to mitigate the project's neighborhood impacts rather than simply attack her.

In regards to the Yankee Stadium deal, however, the local sentiment seemed to be that the proposed taking of neighborhood parkland could not be mitigated. In fact David Gratt, a local resident and leader of the group Friends of Yankee Stadium, went on to criticize community benefits agreements by pointing out that if a project is without any good for an area than it makes no sense to craft any CBA for the development.

As far as the BTM/Gateway project is concerned, Arroyo publicly pledged that she wanted to insure the survival of the merchants as a collective. In response, merchant leader Stanley Mayer thanked the councilmember for "saying publicly for the first time" that the market needed to be preserved.

Another interesting sidenote was the response El Diario reported from the Ferrer camp on the whole controversy. The paper reported that Ferrer supported the project at the BTM but felt that "greater transparency and openness was needed in the process." It will be interesting to see if the issue heats up as part of the stretch run in the Democratic primary campaign.

The Saturday event, which ended with a march on the Stadium, was well covered. Channel 4 did a very nice story as did NY 1, Hoy, Bronx 12 and Univision(Channel 41).

Friday, August 26, 2005

Community Forum about Yankee Stadium/Bronx Terminal Market Developments

On Saturday, August 27th at 10:00 a.m. a community forum will be held in Mullaly Park to educate members of the South Bronx community about two major development projects slated for the neighborhood: a new Yankee Stadium and a redeveloped Bronx Terminal Market. After the gathering, there will be a march to Yankee Stadium where participants will voice their concerns to the community and to those attending the afternoon Yankee game.

The meeting/march is sponsored by the Bronx Voices for Equal Inclusion (BVEI), a sub-committee of the Neighborhood Advisory Council, a diverse coalition of neighborhood residents and community leaders, who are demanding that the development process become more transparent, include more community input and address key concerns important to those who live and work in the South Bronx.

The full release can be found here
And the event flyer is here

The Flushing Jets?

Undaunted by some of the initial vocal criticism, Queens BP Helen Marshall renewed her calls to bring the Jets to an area in Flushing Meadow Park. Her case for the site rests on her belief that the area in question, The Fountain of the Planets, is an eye sore and won't be missed. As she said in today's Daily News:

I went to the site...It is really now just a bog, big pool of stagnant water with garbage thrown in
On the other hand the mayor was more circumspect about the taking of parkland:

The alienation of parkland is clearly going to be very controversial [except in the Bronx next to Yankee Stadium, it appears], and something that has to be looked into.
While this is going on, however, there is still no clear idea about the Jets' intentions.

What is cetrain is that if parkland is eventually alienated it will need to be replaced elsewhere. That brings us to Willets Point as the most likely target. If that is the case everyone should prepare for a major battle, one that will include area merchants, park advocates and eminent domain opponents from all over ths city.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Compensate the Newsstands: Dealers Get Court Support

In a ruling late Wednesday Supreme Court Judge Stallman ruled that the city cannot take the newsstands away from three hundred dealers without just compensation. There is a distinct possibility that this ruling could throw a monkey wrench into the city's awarding of its long-delayed street furniture contract. In addition, the New York City Newsstand Dealers Association, led by the inimitable Rob Bookman, estimates that such just compensation could cost the city up to $5 million dollars.

As we have outlined in our press release, the court's decision also gives the City Council the sole legal authority to decide how many newsstands will be forced out of business or relocated. As Bookman says:
We hope and expect that the Council will keep its word to protect these mom and pop owners and pass corrective legislation to keep them in business at their current historic locations
The court decision, covered nicely by NY 1, underscores the point we have constantly emphasized on this blog: the city is callous and cavalier when it comes to the interests of small businesses. That the court had to intervene to prevent an illegal taking only demonstrates that the mayor's rhetorical support for the little guy is empty election year palaver. The city, whether at the BTM or Willets Point, is all too willing to simply discard the property of small entrepreneurs in the pursuit of a greater good that always seems to involve the aggrandizement of a mega-rich real estate developer.

It's a Private Deal

The coverage of the Bronx Voices for Equal Inclusion press conference yesterday was extremely gratifying. We are particularly happy that Congressman Weiner lent his support to the merchants and the community. Weiner hit the nail on the head, slamming the project as a "sweetheart deal" crafted to favor Steve Ross, a good friend of the deputy mayor.

What tickled us, however, was the mayor's response. First the good news: we seem to be getting through the thick skins down at City Hall. As the Daily News reported, the mayor said:

There are a group of small businesses there, and we've got to find ways to help them
All of our efforts, including the extensive media outreach, seems to be pushing the folks down at the mayor's office to realize that they can't simply kick the merchants to the curb.

On the other hand in the NY Times story, the mayor falsely characterized the deal as a private transaction between the Buntzman family and Related. Elsewhere we have described this as the "immaculate deception." In the spirit of the current debate between science and religion over evolution we should perhaps re-label the deal, in honor of Fransisco Redi, as "spontaneous degeneration."

Clearly, the mayor and EDC's claims should be thoroughly investigated. We have already shown just how phony this claim is, and how the fingerprints of Deputy Dan are all over the entire deal. Now it is time for the mayor's opponents to demand an independent investigation. We believe that it will clearly show that this was the most public of private deals and, making a bad situation worse, a deal that rips off the taxpayers. The deal is, however, private in one sense: the whole thing was probably concocted over dinner between Dan and Steve (with the proverbial player to be named later).

Yankee Stadium/Bronx Terminal Market Coverage

The TV and print coverage of yesterday's community press conference on the proposed new Yankee Stadium and redeveloped Bronx Terminal Market was fantastic. A number of pieces also focused on the appearance of mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and his scathing comments about the deal that brought in Related to "revamp" the Terminal Market. Here is the rundown:

The New York Times

The Daily News

The New York Sun


El Diario


EFE Spanish newswire

NY 1 (video)

Bronx 12 (video, registration may be required)
Stories also ran last night on NBC 4, CBS 2, and Univision 41 and there is a great story on page 3 in today's Metro NY (no link).

We will have a more in depth analysis of some of these pieces shortly.

Mike Bloomberg, Bodeguero!

Politics often has a way of unintentionally bordering on the hilarious. So it is with the mayor's response to Gifford Miller's press conference on small business. The Speaker (and kudos to him), was attacking the Bloomberg administration's regulatory war on neighborhood stores and vowing to roll back the increased ECB fines that the agency recently promulgated.

The mayor, not known for his sense of humor, responded to the speaker's legislative initiative by telling a press gathering that he's supportive of small business because "I was a small businessman...I know what it's like to be struggling and try to make a payroll." This is kind of like an old man saying he understands toddlers because, you know, "I used to be a baby myself once."

The reality is the Mike Bloomberg has long ago forgotten what it's like to "make a payroll" and his administration has been characterized by favoritism to large enterprise and indifferent or hostile to small stores. Miller got it just right when he said, "Big-box stores and chain stores, coupled with a tough economy, are hammering away at our small businesses."

The mayoral comment that symbolizes just how out of touch Bloomberg is with the little guy came right after he pushed through the "bodega tax," an 1800% increase in the levy on cigarettes. When told that the bodegas were complaining about the hit they were taking, one that now amounts to over $250 million a year, the mayor said, "It's a minor economic issue".

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Press Conference Recap

The press conference organized by the Bronx Voices for Equal Inclusion was an unqualified success. Community members, elected officials such as Assemblyman Benjamin, organized labor and small business all came together to voice their various concerns about the proposed Yankee Stadium and Bronx Terminal Market projects. Congressman and mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner also stopped by to support the community and air his concerns about the Bronx Terminal Market development, a project that Mayor Bloomberg touts in his 5 borough economic plan.

A number of media outlets came including NY1, CBS, NBC, Bronx 12, the New York Times, Newsday, El Diario, Hoy, Metro and the Village Voice. The New York Post and New York Sun are also expected to have stories in tomorrow’s editions. We will link to them all tomorrow morning.

Also, here are some pictures from the rally:

BTM and Local Business

The Daily News story on today's press conference on the BTM development addresses the economic impacts of the project. In particular, how the consultants for the developer have argued, as we have discussed elsewhere, that a box store selling $1.4 million worth of food every week would not impact any supermarket in the Bronx or Northern Manhattan.

In response, the Related flack said that this conclusion was drawn from the fact that "Bronx residents make about half of their retail purchases each year outside the borough". This is complete nonsense, particularly for this community where only 24% of the residents own cars (The lowest rate in the city). It is, however, indicative of the meretricious nature of the liars for hire who are supposed to analyze these impacts.

Voices of the People

As Bill Egbert's curtain raiser in today's Daily News highlights, the South Bronx community is beginning to find its collective voice on the Terminal Market development as well as the contiguous Yankee Stadium project. The community, represented by the aptly named Bronx Voices for Equal Inclusion, held a very successful rally and press conference in front of the Bronx Courthouse today at 11:00 AM.

The community groups feel that they have been totally ignored and they have watched, askance, as the city has unceremoniously moved to evict the BTM businesses that have occupied the market for decades. There is a growing alarm that, "today the merchants, tomorrow the neighborhood". If the city feels it can get a "better and higher use" for the land it creates the discomforting feeling that the working class residents of the area may also become endangered species, if not from direct expulsion than from the equally compelling surge of rising land values.

As the News points out, the local community board sees the summer certification of the application for the development as a ploy to avoid the most scrupulous community review of the project's impacts. Chief among these concerned impacts is the increased traffic and attendant air quality. Their appears to be little confidence in the accuracy of the traffic evaluations being done by consultants hired by the Related Cos.

The community's worries are far from unfounded. At today's event the issue of traffic was addressed by Brian Ketcham, a traffic engineer who has worked for over thirty years in defense of local neighborhoods. Ketcham pointed out the following:

1) The developer has significantly underestimated the number of car and truck trips the project will generate;

2) A similar Gateway project in Brooklyn, half the size of this development, generates 28,000 trips on a typical weekday and 34,000 on Saturday. The propose BTM project will likely double these numbers;

3) The traffic consultants have low-balled the important trip estimate numbers, 3/4 below those suggested by the engineer's manual and 15% lower than the already proven low-balled numbers used for Gateway Estates in East New York;

4) The Major Deegan, already at capacity for most of the day, will be brought to a halt and the local streets, forced to accommodate the overflow, will be flooded;

5) Lastly, in comments sent to the Alliance, Ketcham said the following: "This is one of thee worst traffic analyses I have encountered"

Community Benefits

In today' News story a spokesman for Related is quoted saying: "We're committed to signing a Community Benefits Agreement". That's just fine and dandy but a CBA needs to be negotiated before any land use review is conducted, not after an approval is clearly on the horizon. Anyway, how come Related has yet to talk to any community groups including Bronx Voices for Equal Inclusion?

Bronx Voices for Equal Inclusion Press Conference

As a reminder, there will be a press conference today at 11:00 a.m. on the steps on the Bronx Court House where the Bronx Voices for Equal Inclusion (BVEI) will be joined by in solidarity by a number of groups including the Alliance. BVEI, a coalition of community leaders and residents will be voicing their concerns about the major development projects proposed for the South Bronx including the new Yankee Stadium and the redeveloped Bronx Terminal Market. The general feeling is that the community has been ignored, that the development process has been secretive and that there are specific impacts (traffic, asthma, gentrification) that need to be addressed.

The full release can be found here

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

What a Fine Mess!

Once again the issue of overzealous enforcement and the Bloomberg administration is making news. Yesterday over 100 street vendors rallied outside of City Hall to protest a new fine stucture that would escalate penalties for these merchants.

We have had our past differences with the vendors and their advocates. The differences lie in our belief that the prol.iferation of these street merchants puts an unfair competitive burden on store owners who are saddled with high costs of doing business. When it comes to regulation, however, we're all on the same side of the municipal barricade.

The harsh fact is that this mayoral administration has not only raised fines to unconsciously high levels it has also heightened enforcement activity to a fevered pitch. That is why we continue to label the mayor's pompous "five borough economic plan" as a "five borough small business elimination plan".

The Jets and the Park

The Times' Charles Bagli is reporting that the Jets will be meeting with Queens BP Helen Marshall in order to discuss plans to move the team back to NYC. As we have noted the team is interested in a portion of Flushing Meadow Park and that has set of a furor of recriminations and doubts. David Oats, the founder of the Queens Olympic Committee, is adamantly opposed to what he feels is the destruction of precious park land and a part of the 1964 World's Fair. Councilman John Lui, whose district includes Flushing Meadow Park, remarks that the project will be a "hard sell" and Ben Haber, president of the Civic Association of Kew Gardens Hills, feels that giving over heavily used park space would be "giveaway to billionaire sports club owners." Even the mayor is less than enthusiastic about pushing the plan.

The previously floated idea for a Jets stadium at Willets Point may be losing steam as well, say some Queens officials:

Many people thought that the team was looking at a ramshackle district of auto shops known as Willets Point, near Shea Stadium and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. But Queens officials say the Jets fear that it may take until 2009 or 2010 for the city to condemn the property, relocate the 150 businesses that are currently there and clean up the environment.
Even if the Jets stop eyeing Willets Point - and we're not going to let the assertions of anonymous Queens officials convince us of that just yet - we know that the city wants it redeveloped and the businesses there removed. It is imperative that whatever plan is eventually adopted for Willets Point protects and preserves the hundreds of small businesses that have been neglected for half a century and have provided New York with vital jobs and services.

Booty Capitalism and Wal-Mart

The New York Post is reporting today that the Reverand Al Sharpton will be part of a gathering that honors Wal-Mart for its support for "causes that are important to the customers and associates in the neighborhoods they serve" (press release from National Action Network). At the same time, however, Sharpton, according to the Post, insists that:

... he still opposes Wal-Mart because of what he calls its anti-labor practices, and vowed to continue to fight to block its expansion into New York
While we're glad to hear that vow from the Rev, we can't help but feel a bit nervous that he will be attending the award ceremony in Beverly Hills next month. It begins to look, and we hope we're wrong, suspiciously like a slippery slope. It would certainly appear that Wal-Mart is looking to target minority communities where, unfortunately, there is never a shortage of booty capitalists who are willing to put their own narrow self interest against the larger good of the community.

This is exactly the strategy that the retailer used in its successful site fight in Chicago. In that battle the aggrandizing forces in the community were pitted against labor and good government types and Wal-Mart prevailed.

In similar fashion we're hearing that Wal-Mart and its advance team, The Marino Organization, is meeting with activists in the African-American commnunity in order to explore a modus vivendi if the company locates a good site in Brooklyn. It will be interesting to see what comes from this potential partnership.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Bronx Residents Hold Press Conference and Community Wide Meeting to Address Three Major Redevelopments for the Southwest Bronx


Press Conference - On Wednesday, August 24, 2005, 11:00 AM, the Bronx Voices for Equal Inclusion (BVEI), a coalition of Bronx community leaders and residents, will hold a Press Conference on the steps of the Bronx Supreme Courthouse to address the proposed development of three major projects in the Bronx: The new Yankee Stadium; Bronx Terminal Market/Gateway Center, and Waterfront Projects.
At the Press Conference members of BVEI will voice specific concerns relating to these projects, including environmental/health, residents and merchants inconveniences/displacement, jobs and procurement opportunities for Bronx residents and general lack of transparency between developers and the public. BVEI members will present its position on these projects, and will express their desire to develop a Community Benefits Agreement that will address mitigation to these concerns.

Community Wide Meeting –On Saturday, August 27, 2005, 10:00 AM –12:00 PM, NAC/BVEI will host its second community-wide meeting to publicize community concerns and educate residents about the developments. A major goal of this event is to increase transparency and advocacy for a more community-focused development process.

The Community Meeting will be held at SCAN-NY, located in Mullaly Park, 40 East 164th Street and Jerome Avenue.

Wal-Mart Hard Sell in Big Apple

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting piece detailing the various roadblocks Wal-Mart is facing as it tries to enter New York City. The newest is the recently passed Health Care Security Act which mandates that grocery stores with over 35 employees pay their workers health insurance benefits comparable to those of unionized stores. Considering that the major cost in running a supermarket is labor, the bill seeks to level the playing field by preventing big box retailers from running unionized shops out of town with their paltry pay and benefits. As Paul Sonn of the Brennen Center remarked:

... look, we just don't want to compete around how little healthcare we can provide our workers. Around the country, Wal-Mart has been a leading firm putting pressure on [others]. It's not that they don't contribute at all; they just contribute at a lower level.
Read the whole thing.

Wal-Mart and One Stop Shopping

The Times story raises another important Wal-Mart issue. In her support of the entry of Wal-Mart, Annadale's Lisa Tortosa, pooh poohs the traffic argument by pointing out that a Wal-Mart might actually cut down on car trips:

At least with Wal-Mart you can go to one store like this to buy everything you need, instead of going to five stores. That might mean people actually drive around less.
What Ms. Tortosa is missing is the impact that the retail giant will have on local store owners (those other five stores). It is precisely this kind of saturation that has devastated downtown areas all over the country. It is also why the borough president's economic development argument, much like the mayor's own specious "five borough economic development plan," needs careful scrutiny. What's lost must be examined along with any putative gains.

At the same time, however, Tortosa is also wrong about the traffic argument considering the store will generate over one hundred thousand car trips a week. These shoppers will not be coming from Richmond Valley or Tottenville but from points north on the Island. New car trips will also be generated from Brooklynites attracted to the "low price" hype. In addition, the Lucent site can accommodate at least two or three more big box stores and, if Wal-Mart is built, they will come. If you live nearby say goodbye to your nice quiet neighborhood.

Wal-Mart on Staten Island

The upcoming fight over Wal-Mart on S.I. has gotten an elegant preview in today's NY Times, courtesy of Steve Greenhouse. Greenhouse's story highlights what we have been emphasizing all along: affection for the store does not necessarily translate into support for the building of the store at any particular location.

This point is underscored in the author's lead interview with one Sandra Como, a Staten Islander who shops at Wal-Mart in New Jersey (three miles away in Woodbridge). According to Como:

If it weren't for the traffic I'd be all for it...But I'd rather come here and not have the extra traffic on Staten Island.
The "Como perspective", we believe, is widespread on the South Shore. The traffic issue, however, is not the only one. As we have outlined in our "conservative case" against Wal-Mart there is a strong impulse in middle class and working class communities to preserve the quality of life in their homeowner neighborhoods.

This impulse, expressed by that Bronx philosopher Artie Felice, goes like this:

If you want a bargain get in your car and drive to the bargain. Never put the bargain in your neighborhood.
The Times lends some piquancy to this notion in its interview with a data entry clerk who, while living on the Island, clearly doesn't live in proximity to the site and is therefore enthusiastic about the possible SI store. South Shore residents will see this for what it is: many North Shore and Brooklyn residents, enthusiastic about Wal-Mart but with no concern for the life in Staten Island neighborhoods, flooding local roads to "drive to the bargain."

Dennis Dell'Angelo, president of one of the area's local civic associations, captures the South Shore point-of-view nicely:

We need this Wal-Mart like a hole in the head because on the South Shore of Staten Island we don't need any more retail whatsoever.
The Alliance feels that there will be a strong neighborhood backlash once the review process for the store begins early next year. This belief is captured in the Alliance's quote which ends the Times article:

The ultimate decision-making will reflect the site battle more than the generalized goodwill that Wal-Mart can create.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Complexity of ED

Once again ER Shipp has turned her attention to the issue of eminent domain. Writing in yesterday's Daily News she revisits the controversy surrounding the taking of property in order to make way for Central Park in the 19th century. The park, part of a "grand gentrification" scheme, led to the destruction of a number of thriving "settlements", one being a predominately African-American enclave called Seneca Village.

At the time the park was meant to be used by the "swells" and it only gradually transformed itself into "one of the most democratic havens in our midst". Clearly, the construction of the park was one of those grand ideas that today helps give this city the special grandeur that it enjoys today. The disappearance of Seneca Village has become just a historical footnote.

The way to look at this, however, is through the legal adage: "good cases make bad law". The citing of a couple of compelling examples of the salutary use of eminent domain should not be used to memorialize the policy. At the same time, they should alert us to the fact that we should also be cautious about creating absolute legal prohibitions.

In essence, we need to approach the crafting of eminent domain policy with an eye towards nuance. We should also do so, however, with a strong regard for private property rights. In fact this regard should be seen as a presumption and, when taking is seen as necessary, a maximum notion of compensation should be a concomitant (one that even sees the existing owners as co-developers).

Friday, August 19, 2005

Jets Jets Jets!

In a related matter to our previous comments,the Post is reporting this morning that the New Yor Jets are proposing that the city cede them 13 acres of Flushing Meadow park to build them a stadium. If that happens the team is also willing to move all of their operations into the city. The move is estimated to be worth around $35 million to the city.

In exchange the Jets have pledged to turn Willets Point into parkland after the businesses on the site are relocated. Obviously, the move would involve taking the private property of the businesses at the Point and, in addition to that determined opposition, will undoubtably spark opposition from the lovers of Flushing Meadow Park. Stay tuned indeed.


Crain's Insider is reporting today that Tish James' eminent domain bill is dead on arrival at the City Council. It all relates to jurisdiction and it is, according to Crain's, only the state that exercises the taking authority. While we're not quite sure that this is true, it seems to us that the appropriate posture of the Council in this matter is to hold informational hearings on all of the extant proposed legislation now circulating up in Albany. In this manner the public education process can move forward and, hopefully, help to jump start the state legislature from out of its normal lethargy.

BTM and the Democratic Primary

With the Q-Poll out and the fight for second place in the Democratic promary too close to call, we'll be looking to see which of the candidates takes the opportunity to jump on the BTM issue. We're anticipating a great deal of press coverage in the next week or so and the "Bloomdoggle" is ripe for political attack.

The most important point to emphasize is that the sweetheart deal, basically a giveaway to developer Steve Ross, is extremely similar to the shenenigans on the West Side. The initial attempt to allow the Jets to sole source a pittance for the railyards finds an almost exact parallel in the sole sourcing of the Market lease.

Whatever one feels about the value of the development iself (and we've made our position quite clear here), the way this deal was midwifed cries out not only for criticism but for a full fledged investigation of insider trading and conflict of interest. In many ways the lease deal "negotiated" with Related is eeringly similar to the corrupt arrangement given to the Buntzman family in the 1970s.

Some of our "one city, one standard folks", particularly those on the various editorial pages, need to take a close look at their biases. There are some who are quick to inveigh against affirmative action programs and so-called set asides, something you'll find us by and large ageeing with, yet when it comes to the favoritism of the old boys network, what we have labeled "patricianage", everyone seems to get lockjaw.

The BTM deal is pervasively corrupt. It is, however, the the kind of corruption that gets glossed over because the players are all fabulously wealthy. The fact that, in the process, an entire group of mnority wholesalers are unceremoniously kicked under the bus only adds to the overall eggregiousness. There is no doubt though that this deal is symbolic of the way this administration does economic development.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Fruit Stand Bill Passes

As we have been reporting the City Council has passed a fruit stand regulation bill with remarkable haste yesterday. The bill, opposed by the Korean-American Small Business Service Center as well as KAGRO (Korean grocers), would increase the regulatory power of the city in the issuance and renewal of so-called stoop stand permits.

Under the law, which we understand that the mayor will veto, the DOT will now have the obligation to conduct a pedestrian traffic study before any license approval. Under the bill's language the DOT will have to issue a report that will "contain the data used to reach its conclusions... and describe the methodology used to make its determination" (whew!).

There are a number of problems here, least of which is the potential expense to the store owners as well as the potential for bureaucratic bungling and delay. Clearly ther are anumber of neighborhoods in the city where congestion is getting out of hand. At the same time we believe that the current bill is too onerous and contains too much potential fo abuse.

The bill, passed by a 36-9 margin. has the potential to be vetoed and sustained if a few more councilmembers can be made aware of the problems in the legislation.

ED Legislation at the City Council

The New York Sun is reporting today that Councilmember Tish James has introduced a bill to ban the use of city money for any project that uses eminent domain to acquire property. The bill, clearly a response to the Atlantic Yards project, has 14 co-sponsors but does not yet have the support of Speaker Miller.

Since the AY project has a good deal of political backing it is likely that the current bill will have trouble garnering the kind of political support needed to pass it. As Councilmember Barron commented, "If those who support the Ratner project think that this will impact Ratner, they may not sign on".

The bill, drafted with the help of the Castle Coaltion, a national group based in Washington D.C., would still allow for some seizures of private property, such as when legitimate public uses like railroad right-aways or hospital construction are proposed. In addition, taking could also occur if property had been abandoned or had become a "public nuisance".

The Alliance has yet to examine the bill in detail but clearly a full public debate on the overall issue is healthy. Our position on the question, as we have previuosly pointed out, is still fluid and as always with any legislation, the devils in the details.

Health Care Act Passes

As expected the City Counci overwhelmingly passed the HCSA yesterday by a vote of 46-1. Frank Lombardi has a good story this morning and Winnie Hu(welcome back from maternity) also covers in this morning's Times. The mayor, claiming that a municipality doesn't have the authority to regulate health benefits is threatening a veto.

Whatever the outcome of any litigation on this issue, the passage of the bill sends an impotant message to the box store deadbeats who believe that the taxpayer should pick up the tab for the health benefits that these multi-billion dollar companies are too cheap to cover. The canard about raising the price of groceries is a smokescreen to cover the outrageous corporate welfare fraud. All conservatives especially should be alive to this issue.

What we need now is for AG Eliot Spitzer to do a full investigation of the number of Wal-Mart employees that are on the public dole. We suspect that the situation in NY state will resemble the scandalous discovery in so many other states that Wal-Mart leads the way in welfare sponging.

Wal-Mart Gets Liquored Up

In a front page story in yesterday's Wall Street Journal the paper is reporting on the newly aggressive campaign by Wal-Mart to pump up its liquor sales. The story focuses on the unique difficulties that the company is facing retailing a product that is strongly regulated by the states. Difficulties aside, the paper underscores the determination of the retail giant to increase its liquor sales in the next five years, from 1 billion dollars to 5 billion dollars.

The Journal predicts that Wal-Mart is likely to shake up the liquor industry in the same manner that they've been able to shake up other product markets. In this case the 3 tier distribution system that governs liquor is likely to be targeted by a company whose business model is built on by-passing local distribution networks in the name of greater efficiency. Clearly, this would pose a grave threat to a great many small to mid-sized distribution companies.

The larger message here, of course, is that Wal-Mart is doing what it always does. Its goal is to be a "one-stop store catering to almost all of its customers needs..." With Wal-Mart there is no retailer who can feel safe when the giant is looking to expand into an area.

Fear is beginning to take hold among package store owners. In Waltham, Mass. a group of liquor store operators have banded together to form a buying group in order to better compete with Goliath. As Tom Williams, the leader of the group says, "Look what they've done to other catagories- independent pharmacies, optical shops. They've crushed them"

This is all an object lesson for the liquor store owners of New York City: the handwriting is on the wall. There is simply no retail catagory that is safe from the Wal-Mart tentacles. As Tom Williams sees it, if we don't all come together and fight a great many stores of all kinds will be "crushed".

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Health Care Security Act

The City council will vote today, and we believe pass, the Health Care Security Act.The bill is an attempt to prevent companies like Wal-Mart from passing along their health care costs to the taxpayers. As we have been reporting, in state after state the retail giant leads the way in having its employees access the public health care system, thus forcing the public to pick up the tab for benefits that the world's most successful retailer should be paying itself.

What everyone should be aware of is just how significant this legislation can be. Wal-Mart's constant refrain is the catechism: "everyday low prices". The HCSA exposes this fraud for what it is: a subterfuge that hides how the tax payers are subsidizing the company's low prices at the expense of more decent employers. The HCSA simply levels the playing field so that competition can fairly take place on a level playing field.

There will be a press conference on the legislation at 12:00 today.We expect that the usual suspects will decry the Council's action. Will they, however, be equally as forceful in criticizing the behemoth for its willingness to have hundreds of thousands of its employees on the public dole? We don't think so.

Post Toasties

In what has become a particularly knee-jerk reaction in matters like this, the New York Post rails this morning against the Health Care Security Act a bill that would, by forcing recalcitrant employers to provide adequate health benefits to their workers, create a level playing field in NYC's grocery business. The editors do so, they say, in defense of lower grocery prices.

In mounting their attack on the bill the editors cite a report that says that Wal-Mart's entry into an area leads to a 15% reduction of the region's grocery prices. Ergo: anyone who supports the legislation is supporting higher food costs for Newyorkers.

As we have pointed out elsewhere the Post has a point. 60% of a supermarket's overhead resides in its labor costs. Wal-Mart, by lowballing its workers on base pay and too-often stiffing them on health benefits finds itself in a understandably competitive position. So if, using the Post's phrase, we rely on "Economics 101" we can readily understand why the retail giant's entry into groceries has led to the closure of 13,000, mostly unionuzed supermarkets in the last ten years.

What the Post leaves out, however, is egregious considering its conservative position on welfare. The fact that Wal-Mart doesn't adequtely take care of the health benefits of its workers leads to the situation of the company becoming the largest recipient of public health care benefits in this country. This is precisely the outrage that the HCSA seeks to rectify. There is no reason why New York's taxpayers should be subsidizing anyone's grocery bills.

Fruit Stand Bill Called the Pits

Mr. Sung Soo Kim, the leader of the Korean American Small Business Service Center (KASBSC), has called our attention to a bill that would increase the regulatory burden on the city's fruit stand owners. The bill(sorry we don't have the Intro number), is sponsored by Councilmember John Liu of Flushing. We have yet to review the bill's particulars but Kim argues that it would introduce similar land use review requirements as those imposed on mega stores.

We hold Mr. Kim and the KASBSC in high regard and if that group has a problem with the bill than the Council should take heed. Unfortunately, in an unusually swift action we are told that the bill will have a hearing in the morning and be voted on today at the full Council meeting. That kind of percipitous action is uncalled for and the Council should simply lay the bill over until September.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Goldman Sachs Shame

In yet another, typically ironic example, of his touted "five borough economic plan" the Bloomberg admnistration has literally dropped its fiscal pants in an effort to retain jobs at Goldman Sachs that weren't going anywhere in the first place. As Errol Louis' scathing column in the Daily News today points out, this Liberty Bonds giveaway, along with other goodies, is even more shameful than the ballyhooed West Side bonndoggle.

What this does effectively is to unmask the hypocrisy of the mayor's campaign rhetoric. The mayor, in his ads, is claiming that he has helped 10,000 small businesses. When we deconstruct this nonesense we find that he has opened some "centers" where government workers, of all people, will advise store owners how to be more profitable on the face of the mayor's own tax and regulatory policies.

While this basically symbolic aid is proffered to the folks in need, the big guys, who don't really need the help, get to take home actual cash subsidies. Goldman,hey didn't Andy Alper used to work there?, gets its billions and the poor merchants at the BTM, courtesy of the subsidized Steve Ross, get evicted. Sounds fair?

Bloomberg's Food Stamp Veto

In a fashion that is becoming all-too familiar Mayor Bloomberg vetoed three bills last month that would have expanded food stamp eligibility by easing, for needy New Yorkers, access to the federal program. It seems that the mayor only morphs into some kind of fiscal conservative if the issue in question will do some good to neighborhood businesses. These bill, which we're hoping the City Council will override tommorrow, will provide low income folks a little more buying power for their groceries, something that will give the city supermarkets, bodegas and green grocers a boost.

Major props to Concilmember Eric Gioia whose investigation into the program led to the passage of the bills in question. Gioia will be leading a rally and press conference today in frot of a Pathmark store at 42-02 Northern Blvd. in Long Island City today at 11:30 am.

Joining the councilmember today will be Paul Fernandez, president of the Nationa Supermarket Association, Jose Fernandez of the Bodega Association and Sung Soo KIm of the Korean Small Business Service Center. Our friends at Local 1500 of the UFCW are co-sponsoring the event along with Councilmember Gioia.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Bronx Mobilization on the Terminal Market

As more and more groups in the Bronx are made aware of the full nature of both the genesis and potential impact of the Gateway Mall they are beginning to react with outrage. Initially, most of the grassroots organizations were slow to react owing to a certain fatalistic attitude that there was little that could be done since this was a "done deal". However, as the media began to focus a jaundiced eye on the ill-treatment of the market merchants and the insider trading that sole-sourced the Related Companies into the market deal of the century, the community groups began to gradually find their collective voices.

Just recently Bronx Community Board #4 heard over 30 disgruntled community residents question the failure of the developer to even attempt any dialogue with the impacted neighborhoods. In addition, those at the emergency board hearing railed against the certification of the ULURP application in the summer recess period. This served to reinforce the community impression that the developer and its allies are trying to duck any meaningful review at the local level

All of this is leading to the build-up of an angry grass roots coalition that will publicly come together at a press conference on August 24th. We fully expect that dozens of local groups will join with market merchant, trade associations and organized labor to question the legitimacy, from inception, of the entire Gateway project. We also expect that these groups will be joined by an angry public health advocacy constituency that will begin to question the developers insufficient evaluation of the traffic and air quality impacts of the project.

Clearly, it won't be long before these diverse constituencies come together to legally challenge this Gateway abortion. An independent traffic analysis will soon begin and from that point we expect the whole house of cards to collapse from its own dishonest underpinnings.

Truth in Advertising: NYC Gets Jobbed

In an ad that is not only misleading, as today’s NY Sun editorial incisively points out, but is also factually incorrect, as Steve Malanga as already exposed, Mayor Bloomberg continues to tout his five borough economic development plan. If the so-called plan was a product it would have to be recalled as defective. As an advertisement, it should be subject to sanction under any truth in advertising statute.

We’ve already pointed out just how outrageous the mayor’s small business claims are but the Sun editorial really hits the mark by exposing, in comparison to smaller cities like Seattle who were also hard hit by 9/11, just how miniscule NY’s job gains are. In addition, it its most telling observation Seth Lipsky (no relation) and company rightly point out that the job growth in NYC has little to do with any actions of the municipal government.

In fact, an opposite conclusion could easily be drawn. The Sun, after citing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s point about businesses creating jobs, not politicians, states:

Businesses create jobs best when they're in cities and states that keep costs low through lower taxes, lower spending, and less regulation
This is exactly what the mayor has failed to do. He has passed record tax increases and, in a shameful example of disinformation, tries to peddle piddling rebates as tax relief. We would have expected a businessman to have a better handle on this but Bloomberg’s own business, somewhat like a Saudi Arabian oil well, seems immune to the standard rules that govern productivity.

In fact, the mayor, although a businessman himself, seems totally out of touch with those “lesser entities” who are forced to struggle when the business climate is inhospitable. That’s why the mayor, when he was asked about the impact of the so-called bodega tax – the 1800% cigarette tax increase from .08 cents to $1.50 a pack said that it was a “minor economic matter.”

Matt Lipsky Goes On Vacation

The indefatigable Matt Lipsky is taking a few days off so he's leaving the technical aspects of this blog in less capable hands. We wish him well and await his speedy return.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

A Picture's Worth

It seems that Related, thinking its Gateway Mall redevelopment plan is a done deal, has begun initial construction on the site. Not only is this a purposeful attempt to disrupt the market's business but it's also patently illegal for Related to begin any sort of building prior to city approvals. We're going to look into this further but in the mean time take a look at these telling pictures:

And here are some pictures of the market when it rains. Apparent is both Buntzman and the city's negligence in maintaining the market and the lunancy inherent in the fact that the merchants are currently paying over 10 times what Related is paying in rent.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Bronx Community Board 4 Piqued

As part of the ULURP process, Bronx Community Board 4 is charged with reviewing both the Terminal Market redevelopment as well as the plans for a new Yankee Stadium.
After attending an emergency session of the board’s Land Use/Housing committee we learned one thing: they are very, very upset.

Their first major concern is the way that the development process is moving forward. Committee chairwoman Mary Blassingame bluntly remarked that the Related Companies and the City were purposely circumventing the community by certifying the Gateway project certified in July. As a wan representative from the Department of City planning looked on, Ms. Blassingame and a number of people present pointed out the inherent injustice in trying to review in only a few weeks a project whose EIS is hundreds of pages long. Each respondent remarked that this time frame wasn’t an accident but the City's and the Related Companies’ way of skirting public review. A similar sentiment was echoed with the Yankee Stadium proposal due to the fact that the scoping hearing was so poorly advertised that even local elected officials and community board members did not even know it was taking place.

The lack of a true public process was not the only concern expressed at the meeting. Board members and community residents also had a number of specific issues with each project. There was a tremendous worry about the traffic impact of these two projects especially because each encouraged a drastic increase in the number of cars coming into the neighborhood. Considering that the South Bronx is known as “Asthma Alley” community members questioned the affect of this increased congestion on already dangerous air quality levels. With both Gateway and Yankee Stadium, people also questioned the developers’ traffic data and called for an independent review that reflected more than a corporation's self interest.

Other issues of concern were the loss of park land to the Yankee stadium project, the displacement of small businesses at the Terminal Market and around the stadium as well as the possibility that residents will be displaced either directly or indirectly through increased rents. All of these concerns have gone unanswered by the developers and for this reason it looks likely that the committee will vote down the Gateway project (which is up for review first) at their full meeting in September.

Councilman Oddo says no to Wal-Mart

In an interesting juxtaposition to Sager’s piece this morning the Crain’s Insider is reporting that Councilman James Oddo of Staten Island is poised to jump on the anti-Wal-Mart bandwagon. The impetus behind his move: Wal-Mart’s corporate welfare. As the Councilman says:

It’s the notion that I as a tax payer am underwriting part of the salary for Wal-Mart employees because they pay them a minimum salary but sign them up for every social program under the sun

As Anne Michaud of Crain’s points out, Oddo’s opposition to Wal-Mart, even though the two S.I. sites are outside his district, could seriously damage the chain’s chances there. Given the labor issues, the lack of unanimous political support on the Island will make it difficult for Wal-Mart to prevail at the City Council.

Cheap shot Wal-Mart

In a cheap shot at local area supermarkets Ryan Sager weighs in this morning about how the anti-Wal-Mart crowd is supposedly working to stop New Yorkers from getting low-priced groceries from a Wal-Mart supercenter. Once again, we find one of the retail giant’s supporters glossing over some facts about the predator that all city shoppers should be aware of.

In the first place Sager continues to remain in the dark about the importance of the ecology of this city’s neighborhoods. While he remains uninformed, however, New York’s neighborhood leaders are keenly aware of the “high cost of low prices.” This awareness was first brought home when the Alliance was successfully fighting to prevent a Pathmark shopping center from locating on Ditmars boulevard in Astoria. While we were working with the Astoria Heights Homeowners and Tenants Association and the United Concerned Citizens organization, the developer of the shopping center was putting full page ads in the local paper accusing Richard Lipsky personally of trying to block Astoria residents from having access to lower prices.

On a hot July evening, ten years ago, over 500 community members came out to denounce the shopping center. The community’s concern was that the project would erode the neighborhood’s quality of life by greatly increasing local traffic, encouraging transiency and crime and reduce the viability of the area’s local shopping centers.

Ryan, it’s the location

That shopping center was never build and it’s important to point out that the fight was never really about Pathmark (a company that Sager unfairly characterizes, along with Key Food and D’Agostino, as “flabby”). It was all about the inappropriateness of the size of that project in the location chosen by the developer.

We’ve made the same point about some of the propaganda coming from Wal-Mart’s pollsters. While the labor practices of the company and its retrograde social policies will always be a galvanizing issue, it will inevitably come down to a site fight when the company looks to build in this city.

Our guess is that large majorities of Staten Islanders who leave on the South Shore would, when polled, express generalized support for Wal-Mart. That generalized sentiment, however, will not translate into the same levels of support for a store there in Richmond Valley.

Labor Costs and the Price of Groceries

One other important point raised by Sager is that the correlation between labor costs and the prices of groceries. He raises a valid issue here, one that deserves the most open discussion. 60% of a supermarket’s overhead is in its labor costs so it stands to reason that if you can dramatically reduce these costs you can concomitantly lower the price of cheerios. There must be total transparency on this point. The lowering of labor costs means that workers will be paid less, and have fewer benefits at the same time they are losing the job protection and security that their union provides. In addition, and Sager should be extremely sensitive to this point, the fact that Wal-Mart is the leading promoter of corporate welfare in this country, forcing hundreds of thousands of its poorly compensated workers to access public health care benefits, means that lower grocery prices are being matched by higher health care costs and taxes for all New Yorkers.

Competition and Neighborhood Economies

Sager’s cheap shot at “flabby” local stores conceals that his notion of flab is the meat and potatoes that provide over 50,000 NYC supermarket workers with the ability to actually support a family. Even beyond this, however, is the fact that one of the flabby stores he singles out for opprobrium is Key Food, which isn’t a chain at all but a 200+ store co-op whose units are owned and run mainly by single proprietors.

These Key Food stores and the other independent supermarkets that are predominately minority-owned are the linchpin of neighborhood economies that have been resurrected by these risk-taking entrepreneurs from the devastation that affected this city thirty years ago. It is the successful revival of neighborhoods that has been a major variable in the dramatic reduction of crime in New York. People on the streets and neighbors shopping with neighbors is not some nostalgic vision but the actual description of vibrant commercial shopping areas. These strips bring more value to this city than the cheap sweatshop-produced goods that Wal-Mart imports.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

BJ’s at the Bronx Terminal Market

It has come to our attention that the Related Companies have a signed lease with BJ’s on the Bronx Terminal Market site. This, if true, contradicts everything that all the elected officials we’ve talked to have said. It is time for the truth to be told. It appears to us, however, that the community is being ignored, the elected officials are not being honestly informed, and the whole process, begun secretly and in a biased fashion, is continuing to stink up the Bronx.

Willets Point Jets

The News and Post are both reporting that Queens Borough President Helen Marshall is entreating the Jets to build a new stadium at Willets Point. In a letter to Jets President Jay Cross Marshall wrote:

A new stadium in America's most diverse borough would allow a New York team to return to where Joe Namath led it to victory in Super Bowl III. A new Jets Stadium would complement the new Shea Stadium and the spectacular U.S. Tennis Center and make the borough a regional sports mecca
Apparently Helen has scheduled a meeting with Cross on August 23rd to “discuss specific options” but the prevelant theory is that the Willets Point site, inconveniently occupied at this time, will be the target. We are particularly amused by the favorite depiction of the area as “long neglected.” Only in politics would the victims of neglect be singled out for obloquy and the developer’s bulldozer.

Here our suggestion: Why doesn’t the BP find a slightly run down area of Jamaica where the houses are not necessarily of the highest quality and do what the city of New London did? Imagine the rightful outcry here. So why is the displacement of small businesses who have been operating in an area for years no less objectionable?

Wal-Mart Spares no Expense

Wal-Mart Execs, acting as if they are running an exploratory political campaign, continued in their meetings with reporters and editors around the city. Yesterday the Daily News printed its third article in yet another of its neighborhood sections. Each of the articles, however, was lacking in any real news content and merely reiterated the same theme: Wal-Mart is looking at sites all over the city.

In the News pieces Wal-Mart also claims not to have any signed deals and that they are being unfairly maligned. Yada yada yada. The only new news: according to spokesperson Mia Masten:

We are amenable to either redeveloping or building from the ground up
Watch For the Booty Capitalists

Our own point-of-view is that Wal-Mart’s best opportunity is to find a site in and around a low-income community of color and, once designated, hook up with a community group and, a la Ratner, incentivize the relationship with a lucrative community benefits agreement.

The ultimate model for this was the East Harlem Pathmark deal that allowed the supermarket to enter the neighborhood over the opposition of local, mostly Hispanic, supermarket owners. The key ingredient here was the utilization of the Abyssinian Development Corporation as the project’s developer. In one stroke Pathmark’s potentially carpetbagger status was converted into a home court advantage because of its partnership with a local African-American powerhouse entity.

The one difference, of course, was the fact that Pathmark is a solidly unionized employer and had the backing of the labor forces. In spite of that, the Alliance came within one vote on the Manhattan Borough Board of denying the developer the land to build on. That one vote belonged to one of this city’s most noxious quislings: Guillermo Linares. Good old Guillermo, unable to get elected dog catcher anymore, has actually been resurrected by Mike Bloomberg, getting appointed as the Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs. The then-councilman thought that by supporting Pathmark he would become the heir apparent to Charley Rangel’s congressional seat. Guillermo, do you still believe what Charley and Ruth told you?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Fast is Over: Gateway and the End of the Bronx Famine

Unbeknownst to most of us there are tens of thousands of Bronx residents who have gone without food for, God knows how long. We are only aware of this because of the shocking information that has been provided by the consultants for the Gateway Mall.

What gives us such a jolt is the fact that the building of a warehouse club at the Gateway site (either a BJ’s, Costco or Sam’s Club according to the EIS), a store that will be 4 or 5 times the size of any food store in the Bronx and will generate around $1.4 million a week in food sales, will have absolutely no significant impact on any other supermarkets within a 3 mile radius of the site.

The only way this is remotely possible is if there are tens of thousands of Bronx residents who, having fasted for years, are now going to decide, thanks to the beneficence of the Related Companies and their mall, to finally eat. These famished citizens are obviously the folks who are going to feed their hunger by storming the BJ’s or Sam’s Club, and buy $60 million a year worth of food. Knowing this, all the other food retailers in the Bronx and Northern Manhattan can relax.

Obviously this is all nonsense. The club store will have a major impact on local stores and the project’s consultants are being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to obfuscate this undeniable fact.

Analyze Tax Benefits

We suggest everyone hark back to our discussion of accountable development. This Gateway project needs to be fully analyzed by independent evaluators who, not only know what they’re doing, but are concerned from an economic development point of view with an actual cost benefit analysis. This due diligence would include what the job gain and job loss will be, the quality of those jobs added and the return the city is getting for the tax breaks and low rent generously given to Related.

New York Magazine Jumps on Wal-Mart Bandwagaon

By now you might have seen the New York Magazine piece by John Heilemann on Wal-Mart’s plans for a New York City invasion. The article's paucity of substantive analysis on the broad-based nature of the opposition to the retail giant leaves it readers with little more than a lightweight culture criticism. It seems, in an ironic twist to be sure, that the magazine, home to the country’s richest readership and filled with nauseating paeans to the noveau riche, claims Wal-Mart’s critics are elitist snobs. You really have achieved something when you’re called elitist by New York Magazine.

Another tack taken by the author is that our Alliance belongs to a consortium of “nostalgists” because of our support for neighborhood retailers, as seen in our conservative case against Wal-Mart. To prove his point, this staunch proletarian ventured out of his Manhattan bunker and made a site visit to Rego Park where, on Queens Boulevard he found – don’t be shocked – chain stores!

This discovery apparently precipitated some kind of thought process that ended up by concluding that neighborhood retailing was dead, hence the nostalgist label. Ironically, the Manhattan voyager’s observations underscore his own West Side provincialism. Unaware no doubt that there are 186,000 mom-and-pop stores in hundreds of retail shopping strips Heilemann can only conclude that the neighborhood store is dead. Visitors to the Soviet Potampkin Villages in the 1930s had better insights than this.

What is definitely not surprising is the failure of the article to discuss the 1,000 predominately minority owned supermarkets that have risen in the last 30 years precisely when the national chains fled New York City. It is these stores that are providing quality food at reasonable prices (unlike the West Side) to neighborhoods that, until these independents came in, were simply abandoned. Now that’s a story to tell but don’t expect to see New York Magazine take any great interest.

Why Not Talk to Us?

What’s up with not even talking to us? If you’re going to do a piece that’s critical of the Alliance’s point of view why not contact us and get our reaction. Instead, having already developed its limited thesis, the article simply pulled a quote off of our website and proceeded to diminish its perspective without bothering to get a response. This kind of sloppy approach makes the final product what it is, a mélange of cutesy observations that lack substance and depth. In fact, the similarity between the article and the quality of Wal-Mart merchandise becomes more apparent with each paragraph you read.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Terminal Diagnosis

We’ve been taking a look at the EIS that was submitted on behalf of the Related Companies for its Gateway Mall at the Bronx Terminal Market. Just a cursory analysis of its purported socioeconomic impact section gives us a very good idea just why they are trying to bum rush the ULURP process. To put it kindly, the analysis is unadulterated crap and, if the traffic study is in any way like this section then God help the South Bronx.

Let’s take a peak:

1) According to the EIS, small neighborhood food stores won’t be impacted because these stores are “patronized by neighborhood residents who value the convenience … the high quality of goods and personal service…” (3-78).

This is nothing more than conventional wisdom and should be treated as a testable hypothesis, something which isn’t even considered by the consultants. In addition, while the assertion may be partially true it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is true in its entirety. What this means is that a large club store or supermarket may have impacts and those impacts need to be analyzed, a process that the EIS doesn’t feel is necessary.

It is also important to point out that many of the smaller specialty stores depend on the synergy created by the independent supermarkets who anchor local commercial strips. This brings us to the next assertion:

2) Larger supermarkets needn’t worry even though these stores “are likely to experience competitive pressure from a wholesale club or large chain supermarket…” There are a number of alleged reasons for this:

a. Sales will be diverted from other club stores in the areas surrounding the Bronx: “Therefore, some portion of sales at the Proposed Project’s wholesale club would represent sales that have been diverted from other wholesale clubs, not from local supermarkets” (3-80).

b. Local grocery stores are more convenient because the selection of goods would be greater and more varied than at a warehouse club: “Shoppers who prefer to have a wide assortment of items to choose from will continue to shop at area supermarkets” (3-82).

c. Local supermarkets are not critical to neighborhood shopping strips. In apparent response to the Alliance’s advocacy on this issue the consultants make two points:

i. Local supermarkets will not lose business from the food store(s) in the project

ii. Even if they do they’re not essential to neighborhood character

Consultants Provide no Empirical Data

In response to this section of the EIS we need to emphasize a number of points. First of all, the consultants simply make a number of untested statements without providing hard date as evidence. For instance, they do not survey store owners or their customers. They also fail to interview wholesale suppliers to determine whether certain stores within the trade area may be more vulnerable to the pressure of competition.

In addition, at no time do the consultants highlight the aggregate potential sales volume of its club store. For instance, our estimates in our analysis of the Brush Avenue BJ’s that went down to defeat this year predicted, based on industry estimates, that the store would do $60 million a year in food sales. In an attempt to finesse this issue, using neighborhood character, the consultants try to show that the larger stores are not generally anchors to local shopping strips.

To the extent to which this is true, however, this merely points out the weakness of the CEQR and the need to widen the scope of economic impact analysis that we’ve highlighted in our discussion of accountable development. How much of the $60 million will come from these unionized supermarkets? What will be the overall industry and employment impacts of the replacement of these unionized workers with a largely uninsured, non-union workforce. What will be the impact on the taxpayer when these workers must come to rely on the public health care system?

There’s Enough Business for those Stores

The other unsupported argument advanced in this section is that the areas where those other markets are located have enough local demand to withstand the competitive pressures of a box store at Gateway.

Once again we refer back to the original argument in this section that smaller local markets, appealing to neighborhood needs, will not be negatively impacted. Have the consultants looked the impact that larger supermarkets have had in other shopping center projects around the city? Are they aware that, in some cases, as many as five stores have closed when a regional chain store has opened?

The consultants also adopt a breezy, cavalier attitude towards the potential of indirect displacement. At not time do they bother to even speculate on a worst case scenario and the absence of any larger economic impact analysis that focused on the quality of the employment transfer leaves us with little confidence that an honest evaluation has even taken place. The big unanswered question is where will the $60 million in sales come from?

Traffic Issue Irony

One of the major defenses of Gateway on the traffic issue, made by Council member Arroyo, is that car and truck traffic will be less intrusive because the Gateway Mall is located near public transportation. Well, if that’s true someone should have told the consultants since a main argument they make is that local stores won’t be hurt too drastically “because the project site is not immediately proximate to public transit and that approximately 76% of household members in the 3 mile trade area do not have a vehicle available to them…” (3-80).

If this is true than then Gateway Mall will be attracting the bulk of its customers from outside the local neighborhoods and whatever the shopping values that will exist at the will not be easily available to local residents who will, nevertheless, have to accommodate the intense increase of vehicle and truck traffic through their already overburdened streets.

Our feeling is mixed on this. We believe that enough business will leak out from the neighborhood, especially the bulk weekend business that is so vital to neighborhood supermarkets to lead to the closing of a number of local stores. At the same time, and especially when we consider the food stamp and membership policies of BJ’s and Costco, we believe that the Gateway Mall will primarily exist as a destination for thousands of out-of-the-neighborhood shoppers so that, for the local community, the costs will greatly outweigh the benefits.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Gelinas Hits the Mark

Offering her usual sharp commentary in a sea of political polenta, Nicole Gelinas goes after the “temporary” nature of taxes under Lord Bloomberg. Her wrath is focused on the city’s personal income tax, something which most cities sensibly eschew.

Gelinas underscores the fact that this tax has the effect of retarding the city’s economic growth, something that Steve Malanga has already pointed out twice (the second time in a sharp rebuttal to Andrew Alper’s lame defense of the administration’s economic policy). Gelinas, picking up on the theme of her colleague at the Manhattan Institute, points out how this particular tax slows job growth:

More money for taxes means less money for investment — and fewer jobs for less affluent New Yorkers.
Spending: The Sacred Cow

Gelinas also underscores the reality of the city’s slow economic growth – in 2004 the national economy grew twice as fast as the overtaxed city’s. In doing so, she highlights the failure of the mayor along with the entire political elite, to do anything to keep down the the city’s spending.

The mayor in particular seems totally incapable of grasping this concept. Instead, extrapolating from his own business model, he sees New Yorkers as customers who need to be satisfied. As a result, his business model, melded to a liberal world view of benevolent government, has made it impossible for him to conceive of a government doing more by doing less; i.e. by allowing people and businesses to keep more of their money and invest it according to their own needs.

Which brings us back to our rant on non-partisan elections. The partisan primary system pushes candidates into pro-tax positions, often those that cater to the municipal unions that are so active and influential in Democratic primaries. A non-partisan election structure would at least create the opportunity for a more moderate, less tax-happy election process.