Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bronx Terminal Market: RIP

As Metro reports, today is the last day of operation for the Bronx Terminal Market whose wholesalers are being replaced by the Gateway Mall. This turn of events is the culmination of a spirited though unsuccessful battle on behalf of the BTM and it saddens us that many of these establishments, after being split up and offered inadequate compensation, may go out of business.

Reporter Patrick Arden talks to a couple of the merchants who are doing their best to relocate but are uncertain about whether they can survive apart from the other vendors. Complicating matters is that in the Bronx especially, space is quite limited:

“We didn’t find enough space in the Bronx,” said Ricardo Duarte, who started Cuba Tropical 28 years ago with his son, Omar. “Now we’ll have 30,000 square feet — and no parking.” He laughed ruefully, and then his eyes misted over. He’s had to move part of his operation to New Jersey.
Stanley Mayer, the head of the merchants association, has found space nearby and we hope his optimistic prediction turn out to be true:

“It’s not over yet,” he added. “You won’t know until some time goes by to see if it’s going to work. A year from now, we’ll all know. If everybody’s still in business, I guess we’re OK.”

ED in the Yards

We have been commenting extensively about the complexities of the entire eminent domain question. Much of the debate over last summer's SC Kelo decision centered around the court's expansive definition of what constitutes a "public use."

Those who disagreed with Kelo generally felt that public use should be more narrowly construed to mean things like schools, roads or bridges. In general, the higher court left this decision in the hands of local political authorities and many critics felt this created a dangerous situation because local politics is often dominated by real estate interests.

Our position has always been less absolutist than that of the severest critics of Kelo. Our position has been that great care needs to be exercised when property is taken and the greatest degree of transparency must be present when development entails the use of ED.

Which brings us to the Atlantic Yards controversy. Does the exercise of the eminent domain option so that FCRC can take other peoples' property to build an arena and 7,000 units of housing constitute public use?

In today's NY Times the paper reports that opponents of the plan have suffered another legal setback in their efforts to derail the project. Undaunted one of the unsuccessful lawyers tells the Times that "We believe in the moral correctness of our case, and are confident that this decision will inspire the public's vigilance and scrutiny to grow even stronger..." Where does morality really lie here, if it lies here at all?

While it is quite true that the Alliance's Richard Lipsky is retained by FCRC to help build support for the project in the sports communities of Brooklyn it is also true that the debate over public use needs to be evaluated on its own merits. Does providing affordable housing for thousands of Brooklyn residents constitute as much a public use as any road?

Will putting thousands of New Yorkers to work be a defendable public benefit? How about creating a not-for-profit alliance to promote youth sports in the borough? One can see just how nuanced this whole public use clause can become.

In fact in this month's libertarian Reason magazine Justice Alex Kozinski, considered to be somewhat of a libertarian himself, underscores this very point when he tells his interviewer, "So if the city thinks there should be a private business instead of a private house, it has to make that decision. If you want to decide on your own, you can go live in a forest."

Kozinski goes on to point out that even the so-called public roads are built for the convenience of millions of private vehicles: "What matters is that it makes it easier for other people to get from point A to point B using their private vehicles for private purposes.You could say 'but its my house and my private purpose is more important than your private purpose.' But we live in a society."

So it all comes down to politics. We elect our mayors and our councilpersons and we need to hold them accountable. If we're unable to do so-whether at the BTM or AY-than we need to do a better job of organizing and educating. And if FCRC does the kind of grass roots outreach that galvanizes large swaths of Brooklynites, well, that's poltics in the big city. The Alliance has suffered some devastating defeats and we try to never let today's defeat spoil tomorrow's victory. Be better organized, do better media outreach, get a stronger coalition in place. Most of all, learn from your mistakes so you don't repeat them.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Support for Atlantic Yards

In today's NY Daily News, Errol Louis takes a shot against a group of Brooklyn celebrity notables who've added their names to a "Develop-Don't Destroy" advisory board. DDD is the leading opponent of the Atlantic Yards project. Heath Ledger's wife Michelle Williams is singled out by Errol for her lament that "Heath and I moved to Brooklyn for light and space and air."

There are a number of legitimate reasons to oppose the development, foremost among them is the use of eminent domain to oust long time homeowners. There are, however, even more compelling reasons to support the project, a development that will create 7,000 units of housing and thousands of part time and full time jobs.

From the Alliance's perspective the most salient reason to join hands with FCRC, Build and Acorn is the bringing of the Nets to Brooklyn with a brand new arena. When the Alliance's Richard Lipsky was an up and comer plying his basketball wares all over the city, Brooklyn was a mecca for all BBall pilgrims. It still is, and the love for the game is beyond what even we would have imagined when we first began to evaluate the AY proposal.

The Brooklyn Nets are going to galvanize the entire borough and the team and its ownership is going to play a major role in working along with the youth leaders of Brooklyn in their tireless and unacknowledged efforts on behalf of the kids. That is why the support has been so unequivocal from these community folks.

All over Brooklyn the support has come in for the newly created Brooklyn Sports Alliance. Leaders such as Carlton Screen from the Flatbush Youth Association, Joe Murphy from the Brooklyn Saints, Rich Kosik from Books-N-Ball, Jocko Jackson from the Brownsville Recreation Center, Jim Dolan from the Police Athletic League and Reginald Murray from the Brooklyn Rams-just to name a few- have already donated their time and energies to helping get the BSA started.

They know a good thing for the young people of Brooklyn because many of them have devoted their time and efforts to the kids for the better part of three decades. They are being joined by the coaches of Brooklyn. Already the BSA has had over forty coaches and athletic directors pledge their support and cooperation. People such as Coach Rock Eisenberg of Tilden, AD Renan Ebeid of Lincoln, Coach Saunders of Banneker, Coach Seltzberg of Grady, Coach Nash of Bishop Ford and Coach Shavon Glover, one of the leaders of girls basketball in the PSAL, have rolled up their sleeves to work with and advise the BSA on how best to help the youth athletic efforts in Brooklyn.

As we have said, the BSA is not just about generating support for AY. It is about forging a long term relationship between the Nets and the kids of Brooklyn with the goal of using sports to promote, in Rich Kosik's phrase, a "game plan for life." Sports can be a positive influence on the development of healthy and decent young people. This is especially true when the activities are guided by strong, morally upright community leaders. In the end their can be no better example of sustainable development than this.

Moynihan Station

In yesterday's NY Times editorial the paper more or less kvells over the design for the new Moynihan Station. For those of you who aren't Yiddish speakers this means that they really like the plans to create a new modern train station on Eighth Avenue.

They do, however, make one interesting observation on the development that bears repeating. They point out that the original proposal, "a grand public plan with a minor private component" has been transformed into "an enormous private development with a significant public component."

What this means is that the two developers, our favorite real estate companies-Related and Vornado-will be getting an "extraordinary boon" (along with previous persona non grata at City Hall, James Dolan of MSG). Isn't it quite interesting how these two firms seem to have a monopoly on merit when it comes to Deputy Dan Doctoroff and ESDC?

Which brings us to the competition over the Willets Point development. We've already observed that Vornado has pulled out, but isn't it possible that they've removed themselves temporarily only to resurface later as partners with the folks at Related? When does the clamor for integrity in government extend to the fiefdom of EDC?

Congestion on RT. 59: Wal-Mart Watch

As we have been commenting, the proposal to build a 216,000 sq. ft. Wal-Mart in Monsey is going to complicate the severe traffic conditions that already exist on the Rt. 59 corridor. What has also concerned us is the ad hoc manner in which planning is done in Rockland County. Since all projects are the responsibility of each town and village it becomes impossible to plan comprehensively for the region.

This complicated planning mess is illustrated by a story in Sunday's Rockland Journal News. It seems that the town of Airmont, right on the Ramapo border and just a short run up from the site of the proposed Wal-Mart, is poised to approve another strip mall on the corner of 59 and Airmont Road. According to the paper, citing county and state figures, "Nearly 30,000 vehicles approach the intersection daily on North Airmont Road, and 18,200 travel between the corner and downtown Suffern..."

All of which demonstrates just how problematic it is to plan. In essence each separate jurisdiction looks at a project in a vacuum without any real consideration for its impact on surrounding communities. In addition, most environmental reviews are narrowly focused, never deviating away from a relatively narrow radius around a proposed development.

The final scoping session for the Wal-Mart in Monsey is on June 13th. Early indications are that the Ramapo officials are aware of some of our concerns and those raised by Brian Ketcham, the Alliance's traffic consultant. In the weeks and months ahead we will be reaching out to the local communities to make them fully aware of the myriad problems created by a Walmonster.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Bid Adieu?

The Crain's Insider is reporting this morning that State Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings, the judge who threw out the award of a 15 acre site in Hunts Point to Baldor's Foods, "may order sweeping changes in the way EDC operates..." The result could very well lead to a ruling that would "specify how EDC is to handle future bids."

For all of us who have marveled at the nimble nature of the EDC bidding process this prospect promotes nothing but anticipatory glee. Anything that creates a degree of transparency and fairness in the awarding of land use contracts is only to the good.

Not that we think any ruling will be earth shattering. These processes tend to revert to form through altered channels once a new direction is mandated. What would be really revolutionary would be the creation of a COIB that actually acted in an independent manner. In fact maybe the City Council, instead of firing pop guns at lobbyists, could look into the Deputy Dan/Steve Ross decision of the COIB as a first step towards making the agency truly independent.

Vornado Doesn't Get the Point

In yesterday's NY Sun Dave Lombino reports that mega real estate developer Vornado has withdrawn from the Willets Point competition. The reasons aren't quite clear since the realtor refrained from commenting on the story, but according to sources "high costs for land acquisition and environmental remediation make it a difficult project to build and finance."

These aren't the only reasons, however. A major source of consternation is the fact that EDC is trying to get all of the applicants to submit proposals and after they do the agency is planning to take One good idea from Column A and One from Column B and so on. After cherry picking all of the best concepts EDC plans to award the development to one firm with all of the other companies' good ideas served up on a silver platter for the winning bidder.

From a development standpoint there is one giant hurdle-EDC's desire to rezone the property prior to the selection of a developer. We just can't see the City Council accepting this kind of sight unseen maneuver. The only way that the council can have an impact is if a designated developer with a plan comes before it for an approval. Rezoning without these in place appears to us to be a non-starter.

L.I. Indians on Warpath

In yesterday's Newsday the paper is reporting on the effort by two Long Island Indian tribes to form a coalition to protect "a vital source of our economic activity..." The activity in question just happens to be the illegal avoidance of paying taxes on the sale of cigarettes sold to non-Indians.

The representatives of the two tribes in question argue that an "overwhelming majority" of New Yorkers "supprt our ability to become self sufficient..." We wonder what New Yorkers would say if they knew that this whole scam was costing tax payers in the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost revenue.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Trouble in the Night

The latest furor over a bad apple bouncer at a New York City night club has predictably triggered the call for new legislation. As the NY Sun reports this morning Speaker Quinn and Council Public Safety Chair Peter Vallone Jr. are proposing a law that would "use the city's Nuisance Abatement Law to punish bars that hire criminal bouncers-a role that the State Liquor Authority has had from its inception."

Without being too flippant we've often found that it is the new law that is often more of a nuisance than the malady it seeks to address. And by the way, even though we've never been great friends of the tort lawyers we do think that the civil liability penalties for clubs that hire drug addicts or homicidal maniacs is a strong enough deterrent, along with a more vigilant police enforcement policy.

The complaints about the Authority amount to little more than a non sequitur when it comes to the issue of a trigger happy bouncer. To rag on the SLA only misconstrues its function in the course of a feel good breast beating about the evils of indiscriminate shooting of innocent clubbers. Our friend Rob Bookman gets it right: "I think there are enough laws on the books to deal with the bad apples."

Lobbying and Its Discontents

We're often put in the unenviable position of having to defend the work that we do. Lobbying, and the saga of Jack Abromoff is the latest example, is not an activity that people rate right up there with heart surgery or fire fighting. We do, however, think that lobbying has gotten a bad rap.

Part of this bad rap comes from the fact that most people tend to want to view politics in some kind of idealized, Hallmark card way. In this view elected officials should be folks imbued with the public good whose only concern is the overall welfare of the citizenry. Inevitably this view founders on the reality of politics and when it does, cynicism disillusion and discontent follows.

The reality of politics is the often messy tussle of various so-called special interests, something we have commented on before. It is not only messy it is also no place for the faint hearted. When public policy is at stake there are winners and losers. The allocation of scarce resources provokes a great deal of vicious in-fighting among competing interests.

What is often missing in the public commentary about this process is the observation that almost all of the competing interests have some degree of merit. For every policy winner who gets legislation passed or a contract let there is some amount of public benefit that accrues. The developer who wins an RFP gets to build a project that provides jobs and homes and amenities that benefit a larger public constituency.

Quite often the special interest is a union that represents the interests of thousands of workers. What's "special" to some observers is a public interest to others. The genius of the democratic system is the way in which it allows all of these interests to interplay in the over all policy dance that ends up with what we believe is the best approximation of what the public good stands for.

Which brings us to yesterday's City Council lobbying reform, legislation that Richard Lipsky describes in today's Newsday as "a bill {that} overestimates the impact that lobbying has..." Perhaps a better word in this context would be "mischaracterizes" rather than overestimates.

It goes back to the heart of our original observation that people tend to want to see the political process as "pure" and when it proves to be something different we get the kind of moral impulse that is inherent in the lobbying package passed yesterday. As Lipsky points out the impulse behind lobbying reform tends to ignore the fact that "lobbyists often push issues that genuinely lead to better public policy for New Yorkers..." Our final point here is that Machiavelli got a bad rap as well.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wal-Mart Affront

In today's Crain's Insider the newsletter reports on the effort that Wal-Mart has launched to coopt the "booty capitalists" that we have been telling one and all about. The title of the Crain's post is "Wal-Mart Front?"

The front in question is the New York State Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and this group is being called out by the established NYS Federation of Hispanic Chambers, a group that actually represents real Hispanic businesses and has existed for decades. As Crain's points out, mirroring our own take on the booty kissing, the Walmonster is looking to replicate its success in Chicago where it used minority contractors to make its first store opening an issue of minority empowerment.

Ominously, Crain's says that Wal-Mart has joined six chambers in the city in its quest to cultivate (purchase?) legitimacy. We expect that there will be an expanded outreach by the company as it continues to scout out locations for stores.

A Wal-Mart Eminent Domain Twist

A small town in California aptly named Hercules is threatening to use eminent domain in order to acquire property Wal-Mart wants to build on. The City Council has already twice defeated the proposal and the general sentiment is anti-Wal-Mart but this hasn’t stopped the world's largest retailer from continuously trying to subvert the town’s wishes. Explaining why they are considering such a drastic measure, a Hercules resident remarks:

"We want something good to take that place," said Jeffra Cook, a Hercules resident since 1988. "There aren't a lot of good stories about Wal-Mart."
Citing destruction of small business and increased traffic, residents of this 24,000 person town don’t want to see their small town way of life destroyed by Wal-Mart. While threatening the use of eminent domain is definitely extreme, it’s a reasonable reaction to a company that doesn’t understand no. As a Wal-Mart Watch spokesman points out, considering Wal-Mart’s history, the Hercules’ decision to protect itself in this manner isn’t that drastic:

But Wal-Mart has been at least as successful at imposing its will on communities that are less than thrilled to host one of its stores, said Nu Wexler, a spokesman for the activist group Wal-Mart Watch.

In one instance, the company even raised the specter of eminent domain to get a store built in Florida, he said.

"Wal-Mart does not hesitate to employ scorched earth tactics to break into communities that don't welcome them," he said.

Wal-Mart tops local police calls

Via Wake Up Wal-Mart, a local sheriff in Washington State finds that Wal-Mart generates the highest number of calls to his police force. According to an article in the Columbian:

Wal-Mart isn't just the number-one retailer in the universe. It also leads
the way in calls for help to local police.

No west-county property generates more calls-for-service to the Clark County Sheriff's Office than Wal-Mart on Northeast Highway 99, according to a sheriff's report.
Local residents are already concerned about a new Wal-Mart recently approved in the area; these crime statistics are only going to increase their concerns. The sheriff report also tabulates the number of man hours devoted to law enforcement at Wal-Mart and the results are astounding:

After factoring in the multiple officers, multiple vehicles, paperwork and transportation to-jail time required for felonies and other serious calls, the sheriff's office estimates devoting 936 hours last year to law enforcement at the Hazel Dell Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Durst, Disposers and the DEP

The battle over the city's SWMP has been narrowly focused on the issue of the siting of new marine transfer stations. The thornier issue of waste reduction has been less salient, understandably so from the mayor's standpoint since there is little in the draft plan that offers much in this key area.

As we have been arguing all along, the use of food waste disposers is the only realistic methodology that can reduce waste in the most economical and environmentally effective manner. As it turns out the Alliance has a new ally in this waste reduction fight, an unlikely one given our usual set cohort of belligerents. The ally is the Durst Organization.

Durst is concerned about the siting of a commercial transfer station on the river at 59th Street in Manhattan. Aside from the fact that it has expensive property rights in the area the organization makes a number of good points about the inappropriateness of the site and the existence of a better location near the rail yards a mile south.

Of course what is most heartening to us is the support the company gives to the expanded use, in both the residential and commercial sectors, of food waste disposers. This support, given in City Council testimony and a more comprehensive report that accompanies it, lays out a number of important arguments that mirror the Alliance's position on disposers and waste reduction.

What gives the report heightened credibility is the fact that it was drafted by former sanitation commissioner Brendan Sexton who brings to the task an expertise and understanding of the issues from the perspective of an insider. Brendan not only has been in the middle of the garbage disposal issue he is also someone with a sensitivity to the tendency of city agencies to obfuscate on controversial policy matters.

His take on the disposer issue is instructive and can't be dismissed lightly. In the first place he argues that the expanded use of residential disposers, particularly in Manhattan, can save the city hundreds of millions of dollars a ear in disposal costs (18.5% of the city's garbage is now food waste). Importantly, he underscores the public health benefits of disposer use and the impracticality of composting in a hi-rise apartment environment.

Sexton also points out, and given the hysteria from some quarters you'd be shocked to discover this, that FWDs "are ubiquitous and many large cities-including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, Columbus (OH), and Denver, to name a few-mandate their use..." In fact Sexton is so confidence about the efficacy of their use that he advocates incentivizing their installation much like the city has done with low-flow toilets.

What About the Nitrogen?

The great bugaboo on the use of disposers is the danger that nitrogen effluent poses for some of our surrounding waterways. Now Professor Robert Ham has debunked some of the alarmism on this issue but Sexton also effectively addresses this issue. He cites the DEP's own report on the subject and demonstrates that the costs are greatly exaggerated by the agency.

In addition, he also points out that the costs cannot be analyzed without a simultaneous evaluation of the benefits of disposer use. As he says, "While additional costs may well be incurred by DEP in order to handle increased liquefied food waste, this must be properly weighed against the enormous costs the City and its tax payers will incur handling the same material as solid waste."

Most importantly, however, Sexton calls on the city to conduct a "rigorous, transparent and independent study," one that takes into consideration not only costs but also savings. This is precisely what we have suggested on the commercial side and it is integral to Intro 133.

Sexton underscores many of our arguments about the utility of commercial disposers but there is one point he makes that is central to our concerns about the public discussion of this issue and the lack of candor in some of the statements that have been issued by DEP.

The agency has said that it would cost billions to retrofit the waste water system to accomodate disposers. In a letter written by the former DEP commissioner it is stated that in order to handle the nitrogen loading from commercial disposers "an entirely different technology" would be required at an estimated cost of between $4 and $10 billion.

Sexton's take on this is instructive: "We find curious Mr. Ward's suggestion that somehow current goals can be met by retrofitting but that any substantial additional nitrogen loads would suddenly require a completely different technology costing billions; perhaps upon a serious and transparent review, the situation would not prove to be 'all or nothing' in the way that Mr. Ward suggests." Indeed!

Monday, May 22, 2006

More Hokey Pokey

The South Bronx is looking for a "Get Out of Jail Free Card." As we have been commenting, and as the NY Times reported on yesterday, the jail bait and switch maneuver by Deputy Dan and EDC has foisted a new corrections facility on a community that has had more of its share.

When the BTM/House of D sleight-of-hand was accomplished to make the world safe for Steve Ross and Related it was never publicly stated that the Bronx would be needing additional jail space to make up for the demolition of the old jail. After all, especially with a $400 million price tag for a new jail, wouldn't it have been more cost effective to rehab the existing facility?

In addition, doesn't this new reality raise more questions about the BTM-House of D swap? Shouldn't new questions be raised about simply swapping these properties {without any appraisals of their relative worth} so Related could build a mall? If the tax payers are now being stuck with a huge bill for a new jail that the surrounding neighbors of Oak Point don't want shouldn't some of this cost be borne by the Related freeloaders?

What's missing in the Times story is any comment from the council members who supported the original Gateway deal. There are copious comments from all of the community leaders but none from the council woman who not only represents the area but who was also one of the leaders in the House of D charade and the BTM demolition.

The last word on all of this goes to Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx. She complains about the infusion of public money for the Yankees and Gateway and say, "The city's response is, 'Oh, we're going to spend $400 million here, too, but we're going to use it to put you guys in prison'...They need to recognize the irony of that."

Wal-Mart Warning for Monsey

In new study done by Stephan Goetz of Penn State University on the correlation between Walmartization and poverty rates (posted on Wal-MartWatch) there is one observation that is particularly germane for the good people of Monsey, New York. It is the impact of the displacement of local businesses by the Walmonster.

Here is the money quote: "In conclusion, the costs to communities in terms of labor replacement and higher poverty need to be weighed against the benefits of lower prices and greater shopping convenience. Similarly, once local businesses have been driven out, the possibilities of monopolies or ologopolies emerging in retailing...needs to be considered carefully by public policymakers." (emphasis added)

This is a message we've been sending to the good people of Monsey, a community where there is a high level of entrepreneurship that is important to the maintainance and support of communal institutions. The cost of the displacement of these local retailers must be weighed very carefully.

Protecting the Public Markets and Doing the Hokey Pokey

The controversy surrounding the eviction of the BTM merchants and the approval of the Gateway Mall refuses to go away. We were chatting with Councilmember Palma the other day about the proposal to build a new $370 million jail in Hunts Point and it becomes clearer by the minute that the transfer of the House of Detention to Related was a massive fraud.

According to Palma there is no way that the Bronx delegation would have approved the Gateway deal if it had known about the jail bait and switch. It was, according to her, bad enough that the House of D was basically given away without any bid competition. To now find out that the city is going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to replace the correction facility only adds more fuel to the scandalous fire.

Which brings us back to the original issue that was litigated: The right of the city to ignore basic provisions of the Charter that deal with the disposition of city property because of the imagined "market exception." Not so imagined, however, because of the inane ruling by a formerly respected jurist named Cahn.

If the judge's ruling is allowed to stand than the businesses and workers in the public markets face a greater risk than the one posed by Rudy Guiliani's putative attempt to rid these markets of the influence of organized crime. Put simply, Cahn's legal ruling is so expansive in its interpretation of the so-called power of the Commissioner of Small Business Services that it would seem to obviate the need for Local Law 28, the legislation that put the markets under a vast network of city oversight in 1997.

Clearly Guiliani and his deputy Randy Mastro didn't think so. After all, no one ever accused the former mayor of reticence when it came to an expansive interpretation of mayoral authority. If he felt it necessary to codify his new market regulations than you can be confident that this so-called market exception is a chimera, a sheer fantasy of Jesse James Masyr, Related and Deputy Dan.

What needs to be done? A coalition of the vulnerable needs to be set up to address the travesty of the Cahn job. Locals 342 and 202 need to join with the Hunts Point meat and produce companies and their cohort in the other public markets.

Legislation needs to be introduced at the City Council that exposes the fallacy of this illegal power grab and clarifies the limits of the mayor's power when it comes to the public markets. If this is not done than we can expect that the mayor will find other opportunities to act arbitrarily and capriciously when it comes to regulating the businesses and thousands of workers in the city's public wholesale markets.

As far as the jail bait controversy is concerned, it provides the Council with yet another opportunity to investigate the actions and improper conflicts of the city's deputy mayor for economic development. Everyone gets righteously upset when an elected official puts his hand down the pants of an intern. We need the same level of righteous anger when economic development officials screw hard working small businesses because of personal relationships with developers.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Wal-Mart Watch: Close the "Below Grade" Loophole

We have already discussed the ingenuity of Jesse James Masyr when it comes to exploiting loopholes in the NYC zoning laws. The major loophole we have highlighted is the one that allows a developer to avoid the need to obtain a "special permit" for a food or department store larger than 10,000 feet in an industrial zone by building the store a certain number of feet below the street level.

This is an exception that makes absolutely no sense since there is nothing about below grade that should allow for the obviation of an environmental review. Yet it exists and it is used. The Pathmark on Waters Place in the Bronx and the Stop-and-Shop on Grand Avenue in Maspeth are two of the most salient examples of the loophole in action.

Now we are hearing that Masyr and Related are thinking of using it to build a BJ's warehouse store that the City Council gave a thumbs down to in February of last year. Even more ominous, if the loophole is not closed we can expect that some crafty developer will use it to bring in Wal-Mart and avoid any ULURP death knell.


When we first heard the news that Rockland assemblyman Ryan Karben had resigned we anticipated the worst. Of all the electeds we know Ryan is perhaps the least likely (with one major exception who will remain nameless) to just suddenly resign. No, there had to be be a firing squad poised to execute and, as it turns out, there undoubtedly was.

All of which got us thinking about the late great Harold Lasswell whose book, Psychopathology and Politics, explains the process by which "private emotions are displaced onto public objects." Clearly politics attracts a number of otherwise disfunctional personality types who are attracted to the public adulation.

Still it is quite sad to see a capable and talented young man go down in flames, destroyed by the very demons that probably pushed him into the political arena in the first place. Here's hoping that he can reconstruct his life and get the kind of help that will enable him to sort out his own needs in a more low-key arena.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Garbage Costs Spiral

The NY Times is reporting today on the sanitation budget hearing that was held yesterday before Mike McMahon's City Council committee. Commissioner Doherty testified and it now appears that the cost of closing the Fresh Kills landfill is now going to exceed $1.4 billion. Just another example of how these original cost estimates need to be taken with a grain of salt.

In this regard it is important to highlight that none of the city's estimates when it comes to the construction of waste transfer stations and the resulting garbage exports can be taken at face value. The city's SWMP will inevitably be a fiscal black hole and the primary reasons are the dependence on an export-landfill methodology and the failure to devise a credible waste reduction plan.

What mystifies us, however, is the uncritical support for the plan coming from the local environmental lobby. The Times points out that, "Environmentalists support the plan because it emphasizes recycling and seeks to haul more garbage by barge and rail than by truck..." This is a complete fantasy, at least in regards to the recycling issue.

How many times do we need to point out that the "Emperor's New Clothes" has nothing on the mayor's recycling proposals. Put simply, there is no concrete proposal to increase the city's recycling efforts. All we have gotten is the typical jawboning that amounts to little more than feel good BS.

Which is why the Alliance's advocacy of food waste disposers makes so much sense on so many different levels. Whether we're talking about waste reduction, increased recycling, reduced truck traffic or improved public health, the use of FWDs can play a critical role. That is why we're confident that Intro 133 will be moved in the coming short term. It just makes sense to try this approach on an experimental level and, hopefully, expand it into a key waste disposal methodology.

Where, Oh Where, Has My Wal-Mart Gone?

This week's Crain's New York Business has a piece ("Wal-Mart's Long Search"$) on the difficulties that Wal-Mart is encountering trying to find an adequate space for a store in New York City. As the company says, "We're interested in New York, and we're looking at all possible options."

The article doesn't really break any new ground and reiterates an observation that we've made in the past that the best site would be an as-of-right location that didn't have to go through land use review. This is easier said than done. In addition, it is likely that the first store would only sell dry goods and not groceries because, unlike the Crain's take, such a move would allow them to avoid, or at least minimize, the UFCW's opposition while settling for a smaller, easier to locate, building at the same time.

Clearly, however, developers are scared of getting the Wal-Mart version of tar baby. As Jesse James Masyr points out Wal-Mart "adds a level of political hysteria to the project..." In response to its critics the Walmonster is trying to woo minority groups and small businesses. But, as Crain's points out and we agree, "Still, the overtures may not be enough to help the company find a suitable site in New York."

Willets Point Showdown

In yesterday's NY Times, old friend Terry Pristin focused on the controversial plans to redevelop Willets Point. As we have said in the past we believe that this will be a major battleground over the use of eminent domain. The city's position is that the Point is the ideal area to use ED. Deputy Dan told the Times, "In some ways, this is the most compelling case for eminent domain...It has nothing to do with uses. It has to do with intolerable conditions."

Clearly, however, the local businesses disagree and have hired Peter Vallone to defend their interests. Just how the former speaker is going to do this remains a mystery to us. Peter is the consummate deal maker and is no street fighter. In addition, his perceived closeness to the mayor doesn't seem to be the kind of weapon that would be suitable to the stand and fight crowd.

Nevertheless the city has issued its RFP and has given eight firms the right to respond. Most of the heavy hitters are involved and the city sees the area as ripe for a hotel and convention center as well as major retailers. Housing is considered optional but area officials like Councilman Monseratte are going to insist on an affordable housing component.

The real controversy will revolve over what to do about the existing businesses. As the recently release Hunter College report done by Professor Tom Angotti underscores, "these businesses form a cluster that would be hard to duplicate elsewhere." Where have we heard this argument before? The BTM merchants made the same case but it fell on deaf ears.

What's different at the Point is the sheer volume of existing business and the aggressive leadership of Monseratte. The city and EDC would be wise to consult here and not try to dictate. Knowing the councilman as well as we do we're sure that he is going to insist on a balance of equities. This is particularly true since the Angotti study estimates that roughly 80% of the work force is Hispanic.

Willets Point should provide for the proper opportunity to debate the issue of ED and the resolution of the controversy should be done in the context of crafting a more nuanced ED policy. What this means is that a balance needs to be reached, one that acknowledges and preserves much of the neighborhood economy while looking forward to developing new economic opportunities as well.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Caveat Vendor

Crain's Insider is reporting this morning that City Councilman Alan Gerson is going to propose recommendations "to rein in street vendors." The councilman calls the current situation "vendor anarchy" and we agree.

Gerson is likely to propose a task force to "simplify rule-making and enforcement which are split among at least four city agencies." The Alliance has been active on one aspect of this out-of-control situation but we welcome Gerson's attention to the overall problem. His comments this morning are on point: "The current rules are not being enforced, in part because some of them are not easy to enforce."

That being said, the fiasco with fruit vendors needs to be addressed with an immediate legislative remedy. We will be meeting with the speaker and council staff shortly and are hopeful that this will happen soon.

Mastro and the Merchants

In today's NY Daily News the paper reports that merchants at the Hunts Point market are planning to bid on the site that the city had, according to Judge Billings, improperly awarded to Baldor's Foods. Judge Billings plans to force EDC to issue a new RFP for the 15 acre city-owned site.

As we commented yesterday, the Alliance was skeptical that the city's "sham bidding process" had anything to do with a desire on their part to accommodate the BTM merchants. In a post we did last year we pointed out that the site had been deemed unsuitable by the merchants prior to the mayor's press conference announcing the Baldor's move.

We did, however, have a conversation with Randy Mastro, the attorney for the Hunts Point wholesalers. Randy is convinced that the city saw the Baldor's site as an alternative for the BTM merchants and a way out of the public relations nightmare that the Alliance had created for the city. Perhaps, but if so it only increases our disrespect for the way that EDC conducted the entire BTM business.

Mastro also was quite candid in his disdain for the judge's ruling on the BTM. He told us that it made no sense for the city to have the power, under the "market exception," to in effect eliminate the facility that the power applied to. In addition, he agreed with our assessment that, under the logic of Judge Cahn's ruling, Rudy Guiliani and Randy Mastro didn't need to get to the council to pass Local Law 28 (The public markets measure), because the inherent powers already existed.

All of which seems to point toward the need for the City Council to address the travesty of Judge Cahn's ruling. The ruling, if left standing, makes a mockery of the City Charter and puts all of the public market businesses and workers at risk.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

BTM Merchants Win!

In what amounts to the ultimate irony a judge ruled yesterday that a bidding process that awarded a Hunts Point site to Baldor's Foods was invalid because the city had in essence rigged the bid in favor of Baldor's in order to solve its political snafu with the BTM merchants. So the merchants who fought long and hard, yet unsuccessfully, to remain in the BTM now get to be the source of at least one legal victory.

As the NY Sun reports this morning Randy Mastro, the lawyer for the Hunts Point Produce Cooperative, had argued that the whole bid process was a sham: "The city conducted a sham competition, when it had in mind all along that it wanted to steer the property to Baldor." Now we have no doubt that the process was rigged, just as the awarding of the BTM site was to Related, yet we seriously doubt that the reason for the collusion was the plight of the BTM merchants, as much as our agreement with the premise would credit the work that the Alliance did on the merchants behalf.

To agree would be to acknowledge that the city at any point gave a tinker's dam about the plight of the merchants. The reality is it never did and EDC was upfront about its lack of concern. We believe that the "offer" of the abandoned Baldor's site was strictly an afterthought since the city never had any prior discussions with the merchants prior to the Baldor's relocation announcement.

That is why the comment by merchant rep Stanley Mayer in the NY Times this morning is right on point. "Mr. Mayer said that almost all the merchants knew where they were going but none of them planned to move to the Baldor's building. 'It's beyond ironic,' he said."

Hats off, however, to Mastro and to Judge Lucy Adams Billings who saw the collusion and moved to put a stop to it. Maybe Judge Cahn should take a new look at his travesty of a legal ruling that ceded the BTM to Related. There's as much chance of that happening as finding Judge Crater.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Rockland Planning Problems and Wal-Mart

As yesterday's Rockland Journal News points out the nature of county governance in Rockland makes proper planning extremely difficult. The reason is that a comprehensive plan runs up against New York State law that "gives towns and villages-and not counties-the authority over planning and zoning."

Yet Rockland legislative chair Harriet Cornell is moving forward with a county plan be cause she sees overdevelopment and concomitant traffic as key issues. Cornell believes that the new county effort and the work of the towns and villages is "complementary" and not "competitive." "She also said that more elected officials, and appointed town and village planning and zoning board members, were interested in better planning."

All of which is very nice sounding but altogether too theoretical. Case in point: Wal-Mart in Monsey. Here is a huge regional center that will impact all of the towns and villages in a ten mile area but only the town of Ramapo will get to review and act on the proposal. This certainly doesn't sit well with neighboring Spring Valley. And we're sure that Airmont and Suffern would welcome the opportunity to weigh in on the development, particularly on the manner in which the Walmonster will impact their communities.

What needs to be done is for the legislature itself to convene hearings on the environmental, economic and social impact of this huge retail project. It needs especially to use its own resources to evaluate the Wal-Mart proposal and, if necessary, develop some safeguards to prevent the development from wrecking local communities and small businesses. This is too big a deal for just one town to be given full authority to approve or disapprove.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Wal-Mart on Staten Island: A Bridge Too Far?

In an article in yesterday's Staten Island Advance Councilman Mike McMahon recounts being stuck for two hours on the Goethals Bridge. He said that he used this experience to come to a position of opposition to the NASCAR development. Our point has been that there needs to be a moratorium on large regional developments on the Island until major reconstruction of the road infrastructure is completed.

What this means is that the idea of putting a Wal-Mart in Totenville needs to be scotched until the road improvements move beyond just a wish-list phase. We're betting that all of the councilmembers on the Island will agree and the Walmonster will be forced to relocate once again.

Bureaucratic Expertise

The hearing yesterday at the City Council's Small Business Committee on two bills that would create a level of due process fairness went extremely well and we send special kudos to Chairmen David Yassky and the bills' sponsor, Councilman Jim Gennaro. Gennaro in particular since we have had our differences with him over the pilot program for garbage grinders. What Jim showed yesterday that he does have a strong concern for the city's shopkeepers.

The hearing did get a small amount of coverage in the NY Post today and the paper focused on the "loony laws" that the city has on the books (like the law that says you can't wash the sidewalk with a hose). We've always said that the city code is confusing, out-of-date and needs to be overhauled. That being said, we need to insure that all aspects of the regulatory process get reformed, since shopkeepers are being fleeced from enforcement on the street right on to adjudication at ECB.

Bloomberg's Rebuttal

As we expected Mayor Bloomberg, undeterred by the legislative turn down of the Governor's cig tax hike proposal, has quietly gotten state law makers to introduce his 50 cent a pack boost to the city's current cigarette levy. As the NY Post reports this morning the increase would raise the price of a pack to $7.50.

As per usual the city is citing the claimed health benefits of the tax hike and, in the process, ignoring evidence from all over the country that declining rates of smoking show no correlation to state tax rates. What is, however, beyond dispute is the effect that the increases have on area store owners. In 2002, the city increase led to a sales loss of over $250 million to local bodegas, newsstands and green grocers.

What is missing is any degree of recognition by the city that the tax has led to drastic business losses and the concomitant increase in cigarette smuggling. The city's enforcement effort has been woeful yet the DCA continues to vigorously monitor legitimate stores ignoring street sales.

Enough already. There should be no cigarette tax hikes until the city and state start to (a) enforce the law against Indian retailers and; (b) start to vigorously interdict the smugglers. IN addition, Bloomberg should immediately join with John Castimatidis in his lawsuit against Indian retailers.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Small Business Going Bananas

The Crain’s Insider ($) reports today on our efforts to reign in and better regulate fruit and vegetable street vendors. We are in the process of drafting the legislation and will hopefully have a hearing shortly.

One of the reasons that the peddler issue is so nettlesome to legitimate store owners is that they also under constant attack from the Department of Consumer Affairs and the fine-collecting Environmental Control Board (ECB). We’ve already commented that the ECB is basically a kangaroo court where small businesses are assumed guilty, given the highest possible fines and therefore often don’t show up because they already know that protesting is useless.

As a response to this small business concern, 2 bills are being introduced – 64-a and 66-a – that clarify the ECB’s authority. There will be a press conference today at 9:30 where Councilman and Small Business Committee chair David Yassky, the Alliance and other small business groups will push for adoption of these measures. Though there are many other issues that need addressing, making sure that the ECB cannot use mom and pop businesses as their regulatory cash cows is an important step to improving the city’s business climate.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

BJ's Dishes Dirt?

What's this we're hearing? It appears that our friends at BJ's, aided and abetted by the sly one himself, Mr. Jesse James Masyr, are contemplating making an end run around the city's zoning laws. The focus is once again Brush Avenue in the Bronx, where last year the City Council, in a unanimous vote at the Land Use Committee, the body turned down a zoning request to build a 150,000 sq. ft box store for the chain.

Since then a number of events have transpired. In the first place some Bronx council members have had second thought$ about the wisdom of bringing the non-union store to the borough. At the same time the election of Jimmy Vacca, an opponent of BJ's, to represent the area where the site is located has complicated the chain's desire to locate at the Brush Avenue site.

Enter the always scheming Mr. Masyr. Jesse is the master of the "below grade" ploy, the exploitation of a loophole in the city's zoning text that allows a builder to avoid the need for a special permit if the building in question is built at a certain number of feet below grade. He accomplished this for a supermarket in the Bronx as well as one for Queens.

Of course the loophole makes no sense since the environmental impacts of the project are not altered if the elevation of the building is lowered. Yet the loophole exists and now we have heard that BJ's has been investigating the removal of millions of pounds of dirt from the Brush Avenue site in order to avoid ULURP for the box store.

Now iot's one thing if you find a below grade area and can utilize this existing anomoly to avoid the zoning laws. It is, at least it appears to us, that it is quite a different order of things entirely when you excavate a site in order to become below grade. This is literally driving a bulldozer through the zoning loophole.

It does, however, throw down a challenge to Councilman Vacca and the leadership of the City Council. The Related Company is in constant need of good will from the council in its myriad development projects. The council leadership should not let this situation fester for a moment longer than is necessary.

It should be made chrystal clear to Jesse James Masyr and his Related cohorts that this ploy will not be tolerated. The Brush Avenue site was deemed inappropriate once before and no amount of dirt digging should be allowed to alter the facts already on the ground.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It Ain't Easy Being Green

It appears that Gristedes' John Castimatidis isn't the only one upset by the greenmarket proliferation. It now has come out that the greenmarket that was approved by Community Board #8 on the East Side has been torpedoed due to the opposition of retailer Eli Zabar.

As the NY Post reports this morning Eli Zabar's opposition to the proposed and approved greenmarket on the playground of PS 6 has led to its demise. In the Post's inimitable phraseology, the greenmarket "bought the farm."

The plug was pulled because the market sponsors were afraid that the site was going to be picketed and the sponsors didn't want "growers to be subjected to that sort of behavior." For his part Zabar, just like Castimatidis and Morty Sloan Nick D'Agostino and the folks at Food Emporium, didn't want the city streets used-free of charge-to compete with tax paying businesses.

Maybe now the City Council will begin to understand the importance of nurturing and not harming neighborhood retailers. In particular we will be looking to see if we can get the council to enact legislation that significantly restricts the activities of the legion of fruit and vegetable peddlers who have metastasized all over Manhattan,

Alper to Leave

EDC is losing its top official, with Andy Alper announcing his departure from city government yesterday. As far as the Alliance is concerned, our "appraisal", it is addition by subtraction (Shakespeare's line comes to mind: "Nothing became him so much as his leaving"). Once again the city reached into the ranks of big business to find someone to craft its economic development policy and the results were predictable.

Perhaps the low point of Alper's tenure was his handling of the BTM fiasco. When the City Council held its original oversight meeting it was determined that EDC had failed to appraise the value of the House of Detention when it decided to "swap" it for another piece of property controlled by the Related Company.

Not only that. It also came out months later that EDC failed to disclose that the Bronx jail was going to have to be replaced, at a cost of over $300 million. So the original deal, bad to begin with, was actually hundreds of millions of dollars worse.

Which is why we got a kick out of the mayor's comments about the Alper exit: "Andy restructured and professionalized EDC..." Apparently he just forgot to add appraisers to his real estate division.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Tribal Truth

In what has to be a not to be believed situation, the New York State's Indian tribes are "fuming" over the recently filed lawsuit by the convenience store association. The suit would force the governor to actually enforce the law on collecting taxes on all retail outlets that sell cigarettes.

According to a report in today's NY Post Lance Gumbs, a smoke shop owner and member of the Shinnecock Indian nation on Long Island, says that the suit, if successful, would put the tribal shop out of business. "We would shut down" he said; "If our cigarettes are taxed, people will have no incentive to come here, and will go to 7-Eleven."

Well gee whiz! You mean that the folks aren't flocking to the tribal outlets because of their marketing expertise? It seems that the level playing field is exactly what the tribes are afraid of. That shouldn't be any reason for insulating them from the law.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Oddo Boy!

Kudos to Staten Island councilman and Republican minority leader James Oddo for his spirited defense of his borough against the NASCAR invasion in yesterday's NY Daily News. His opposition was based on the still unaddressed traffic nightmare that would only be exacerbated by the introduction of a race track that would "bring 90,000 people and predicate its traffic plan on moving 25,000 fans in 8,400 vehicles. Then add 1,000 buses and 635 RVs."

Oddo goes on to ridicule the adding of an additional 620,000-square-foot retail center adjacent to the stadium saying, "A strip mall on steroids is not the kind of economic development we need." As Oddo points out, echoing our comments on accountable development, "There is pride in every job, but Island residents need full-time, well-paid jobs that allow them to work and live in the borough."

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Will Shelly Like to Boogie?

Friday's legislative hearing on a bill that Shelly Silver has introduced to cut down on the proliferation of bars and clubs in certain Manhattan neighborhoods was well-attended and boisterous. As the NY Times reported, the hearing "brought out scores of anxious business owners who oppose the measure and an even larger number of residents desperately seeking relief from what they say is a plague of noisy nightlife establishments and their inebriated clientele."

We believe that both parties have strong points but the legislative remedy, as Silver himself acknowledged, "is draconian." One of the bill's biggest problems, as we have pointed out before, is that it would effectively shutdown the expansion of the industry in certain areas, even those neighborhoods where complaints have been minimal. As one restauranteur said, "This law is punitive...It's going to hurt so many mom and pop entrepreneurs."

There is no doubt that some neighborhoods are under seige but the answer may lie with enforcement rather than blanket legislation. The Alliance knows since we have often worked with neighborhoods to rid the community of late night menaces. In Brooklyn we helped evict Ram Caterers that was operating late into the night out of a synogogue on Ocean Parkway. Existing law needs to be, and can be, vigorously enforced if a bar or club is unduly disturbing a neighborhood.

In addition, as the Times points out, if a community gets together it can force the State Liquor Authority to turn down an exemption to the so-called 500 foot law. Once again, the Alliance did just that in Chelsea as we stopped a club from opening on 17th Street next to Shadow Studios six years ago. As the SLA told the Times, "...when it comes to exemptions challenged by the community, it often sides with opponents. Daniel Boyle, the authority's chairman said that so far this year in Manhattan, the agency had rejected 7 of 10 applicants who faced local opposition.

A proper balance needs to be struck between neighborhoods seeking some peace and quiet and a bill that, in the words of Christyne Nichols, president of NYC and Company, "could drastically hinder our ability to bring future business for New York City." It is definitely time for statesmanship.

Friday, May 05, 2006

NYC's Planned Shrinkage

It seems to us at the Alliance that the city has a plan to reduce the number 0f supermarkets and other food retailers in town. We say this because there has been absolutely no effort to cut down on the wave of food peddlers that are brazenly setting up directly in front of the city's supermarkets and grocery stores. In the process, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being siphoned away from tax paying retailers.

The latest in a series of fiascos took place yesterday on the corner of 115th Street and Broadway. In an attempt to do something to protect his business Morton Williams, owner of the adjacent MortonWilliams Associated Supermarket, place a "first amendment" table right in the spot that a persistent fruit peddler has staked out in an attempt to intercept the traffic that the market itself generates.

What did the peddler do? Why he called the police and along came Officer Harper who told the store manager to remove his table because "this vendor has a permit for 115th Street and Broadway." In the process the officer, acting on what impulse we have no idea, violated two sections of the municipal code.

There is no food vending license in the City of New York that is site-specific. In addition, in any area where vending is permitted first amendment vendors have an absolute right to set up shop on the street. What motivated Officer Harper? It certainly wasn't a respect for the law.

There's a larger issue here. It is the total disrespect that too many of our elected officials have for hard-working, tax paying, store owners. This is the mindset that encourages out-of-town farmers to come into the city to take business away from neighborhood retailers.

In fact Community Board #4 in Manhattan has just approved a farmer's market for Tenth Avenue right around the corner from a Food Emporium. Board members told the store rep that the market would increase Food Emporium's business! Clearly economics is not the Board's strong suit but our greater worry is the cavalier disregard for the city's tax base. When all the supermarkets are gone from Hell's Kitchen will the Board pass a resolution calling on the city to incentivize their return?

The romanticizing of the food peddler needs to stop. We have been busy working with members of the City Council in the drafting of legislation that would put these folks under a stricter regulatory structure. The city needs to act on this quickly and, if there is a concern for getting people to eat in a more healthy manner, than it's important to create a partnership between the food stores and the public sector to address the issue.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Post: Mike Needs to Calm Down on Eminent Domain

The NY Post editorializes today on the mayor’s recent policy statement on eminent domain saying that while eminent domain is needed in certain instances the mayor’s unsubtle viewpoint is unwarranted. This piggybacks on our comments yesterday.

Wal-Mart: A Crime Magnet

A shocking new report has been released by and it shows the tremendous impact Wal-Mart has on crime rates. The researches picked 551 Wal-Marts and requested the police records for those locations. Here’s a summary of what they found:

In 2004, at just those 551 Wal-Mart stores, police were called to respond to over 148,331 police incidents, including over 2,900 reports of serious or violent crimes:

1,145 Assaults
153 Sex Crimes
23 Kidnappings (or Attempts)
9 Rapes (or Attempts)
4 Homicides (or Attempts)

Based on this sample, nationally in 2004, we estimate police responded to nearly 1 million reported police incidents at Wal-Mart stores costing American taxpayers $77 million.
This is a topic we’ve commented on previously and believe is quite salient for site fights throughout New York. Communities are rightfully concerned that Wal-Mart will increase their crime rates and distract police departments from attending to other important matters. Making matters worse, not only is the public’s safety level decreased but the additional attention paid to the world’s largest retailer ends up costing the tax payer.

According to the report, police chiefs across the country are starting to realize that Wal-Mart is quite a burden:

In South Strabane, PA: Police Chief Don Zofchak met with Wal-Mart officials in 2004 trying to reduce their calls to the police. "Frankly, it was unbearable…. I've got 26 square miles and God knows how many other businesses to deal with. Their requests or demands for service, proportionally, were overwhelming." [Pittsburgh Post Gazette, March 27, 2005]

North Lebanon, PA: Police Chief Kim Wolfe said that, "If we had known the number of calls [from Wal-Mart], we probably would have considered an increase in officers…. We just had no idea what it would be like. It doesn't matter what time of the day or night; we get calls there." [The Lebanon Daily News, January 27, 2005]
The worst part about all of this is that Wal-Mart knew the severity of this problem – especially in its parking lots – but has done relatively little to remedy the situation. Since the mid 1990s, internal memos have constantly highlighted the crime problem and possible fixes such as roving parking lot patrols but:

From 1994 to 2000, Wal-Mart had only increased the percentage of stores having such patrols from 11 to 17 percent. (Judge J. Starcher, Concurring Opinion in Jane Doe v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc, No. 26012, December 13, 2001 and Good Morning America, August 2000.)
There's more on Wal-Mart's knowledge of the crime problem and its lackluster response here.

As Wal-Mart tries to enter into New York City and expand in places like Monsey, NY the fact that these stores are such a crime magnets will definitely be an issue that we will emphasize. While traffic and labor concerns are often the most visible, this quality of life concern will definitely resonate with those who value neighborhood security and will resent that publicly-funded police departments are being overwhelmed by one store.

Subsidize Greenmarkets?

In a tour of Brooklyn on Wednesday Speaker Quinn announced a proposal to subsidize greenmarkets by allocating $81,000 "to encourage more people to use their food stamps at farmer's markets." The money, according to yesterday's NY Times, would be used to equip farmers "with handheld scanners to read electronic food stamp cards."

As the Times reports "few farmers have scanners, which cost about $1,000 each." Of course they don't. They also don't pay any rent and compete against the local markets that are paying not only rent but also a whole slew of taxes that pay the salaries of elected officials who feel it's OK to subsidize the competition of tax paying retailers.

The Speaker's position, meritorious in the abstract, is that it is important that "all New Yorkers have access to fresh nutritious food." We agree and we'd point out that, for the most part, local supermarkets are doing a good job in this area. The approach of the city's DOH is also an acceptable one-create educational and outreach programs so stores in low income neighborhoods, as well as their customers, understand the importance of stocking healthy foods.

Subsidizing non-tax paying peddlers is not the best approach to this health issue. We hope that the Speaker will realize this and devise a beter approach to addressing healthier eating.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Uptown-Down for the Count

In a quite unexpected move, "a rare nod to community opposition", the Bloomberg administration has killed the plans for the huge Uptown development in East Harlem. The project was designed to be a $1 billion development, "overwhelming the community with four 25 to 30 story residential towers sitting on top of a large commercial retail complex." This was a project that the Alliance opposed especially due to the 700,000 sq. ft. of undesignated retail space that could have easily housed a Wal-Mart or BJ’s.

Now, however, the deal is dead and EDC is set to issue a new RFP for the site, one that has "more affordable housing, commercial space for local businesses, and ways to avoid traffic congestion and air pollution." We're glad to see that the community's concerns have been listened to on this. We recall vividly the huge crowd that came out last year to the original scoping session. Any new plan should adhere more closely to the neighborhood's perspective.

Mayor Mike: Eminently Unqualified

The furor over the use of eminent domain flared up yesterday as Mayor Mike Bloomberg weighed in strongly in support of public taking. In the mayor's view, "You would never build any big thing any place in any big city in this country if you didn't have the power of eminent domain."

Whew! That's quite an overstatement and places the debate-inappropriately we might add-into an all or nothing situation that mischaracterizes many of our concerns about the use of the tactic. The issue is complex and deserves to be treated to a much more reasoned debate than what the mayor offered yesterday.

When the mayor says that there are some lawmakers who do not "appreciate the crucial importance of eminent domain to our ability to shape our future" we could, with even greater rectitude, say that the mayor doesn't have the slightest sympathy to those who would be displaced. We are dead certain that it would never be the mayor forced out from his ancestral home since property always flows from the less well-off to the more privileged.

In addition, what's up with the Times Square mantra? In trying to justify the importance of ED the mayor points to the revitalization of the area and says, as the NY Sun reports this morning, "Times Square was really the poster child for a seedy, dangerous, unattractive, porno-laced place...Because of eminent domin and some forward-looking people in this city, they turnred it into a place where 24 hours a day you're safe on the street."

Quite simply, this is revisionist history. It was Disney, Guiliani and the changing fortunes of real estate that emerged from the former mayor's administration that turned around the Deuce. It happened organically through market forces.

The key issue here is the use of "blight" to justify the use of ED. Under the current definitions the word has totally lost all of its original meaning. As the Institute for Justice's Dana Berliner says, "New York's blight definition is a joke." Perhaps the only thing that couldn't be included under this elastic rubric is the mayor's 79th Street townhouse.

Clearly, as we have argued before, public policy on this issue needs to be fine-tuned. As the Sun editorializes this morning on the Columbia University ED issue, the ED process as currently constituted is unfair to existing property owners, even though "The university makes some compelling arguments." A better and fairer policy and process needs to be crafted.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fair Share Health Care

The good folks over at the Drum Major Institute (DMI) have been focusing on the issue of health care, specifically on the need to address corporations who, by offering few or no benefits, shift this cost to taxpayers. Highlighting the recently passed law in Maryland and New York State’s attempt to replicate the legislation, Amy Taub, a DMI fellow blogs:

All [the bill] does is require big employers to pay a certain amount for their employees health care, equivalent to what the average large employer already pays in the state. This will bring health insurance to more people wherever it is implemented. But just as significantly, it draws the line at a business model in which large, profitable employers, who could afford to provide health insurance to their employees but instead choose to fatten their bottom line by foisting health care costs onto the public (via Medicaid and emergency room treatment) and onto employees themselves.
The DMI will be hosting a breakfast on Monday May 8th at 8:15 a.m. at the Harvard Club where the issue will be discussed further. Speakers will include Maryland Senator Lawlah, who authored the first “Fair Share” Health Care bill, State Senator Diane Savino, the sponsor of the New York version of Maryland’s legislation and John Catsimatidis, CEO of Gristedes Supermarket. A panel discussion will follow with commentary by Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party and Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of New York Jobs with Justice.

Major Development Recap

In light of Columbia University’s attempt to expand into Manhattanville, the Columbia Spectator examines three major developments, the Bronx Terminal Market, Willets Point and the New Yankee Stadium, that highlight various economic development issues. It’s definitely worth a look.

Helping Grind Asthma to a Halt

In today's NY Daily News, on World Asthma Day, Errol Louis takes off on the city's lackluster effort against disease. He points out that the EPA has only one event scheduled for the entire state in spite of the fact that we are in the midst of an asthma epidemic that afflicts 300,000 school-age children in NYC.

In addition he also mentions the fact that New York's air quality was ranked dead last by the federal agency and is, "chock-full of chemicals and particles that trigger asthma attacks." Louis feels that it is time for "big ideas" since we are "choking to death on smog."

In calling for an ambitious assault on asthma EL focuses on the issue that the Alliance has been harping on for the past three years: the control of food waste. He approvingly cites the Alliance's efforts to get DEP permission to install commercial food waste disposers (FWDs) in the city's supermarkets, restaurants and bodegas; "an alternative to our current practice of storing garbage in dumpsters, where rats and roaches feast on it."

In doing so Louis endorses Intro 133, a bill that seeks to establish a pilot program for FWDs. As he says, "We should let the store owners try a three-year pilot program with the grinders and see how many garbage-filled trucks they can get off the streets."

When the city of Philadelphia mandated FWDs it did so for reasons of public health. The fact that the use of these devices will also lead to significant waste reduction and a lessening of the city's dependence on exporting garbage, only adds to the importance of testing out their efficacy. It is only through such a test that we will be able to determine how accurate are the wailings of the grinder opponents.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Demolition Derby

The NY Times has taken note of the dust-up on Staten Island over the plans to build a NASCAR track and, oh yes, 620,000 sq. ft. of retail space as well. As the paper reports "Until last week, the project, which would cost up to $600 million in private funds and take until 2010 to be completed, seemed to be inching forward."

What happened last week was unusual, even for New York. At a DCP meeting on the Island a rowdy crowd of thousands turned up and the meeting degenerated into a shouting match, with a union official getting physical with Councilman Andrew Lanza. Maybe we should say that the project has started to "inch" backwards (even with the former SI BP being paid thousands of dollars a month to lobby for the development).

The key point here is that the "traffic nightmare" on Staten Island must be addressed first before any major new projects are approved. This means that deals such as NASCAR and Wal-Mart need to be shelved until the Island's road infrastructure is improved.

Immigration Mis-cast

The Alliance has always been in the forefront of the defense of immigrants and their contribution to the economic success of NYC. How could we not be? Immigrant entrepreneurs have played a major role in the economic revitalization of this city.

That being said we are not by any means unqualified supporters of today's May Day rally. In the first place it lacks honesty to call this a rally for "immigrants", as yesterday's story in the NY Daily News described it. These are folks who came here illegally and flouted our country's laws in the process. It is not "anti-immigrant" to point this out.

We applaud all of these hard workers at the same time that we believe that we need to put strict guidelines in place to ensure an orderly and safe process for those wishing to come here. Totally open borders at any time are a danger to a country's security, but especially now.

In addition, while most of those coming here are law-abiding enough aren't to warrant much greater scrutiny. Just ask the family of Mary Nagle, our neighbor in New City who was brutally murdered by an illegal immigrant from Guatemala.

It is by now a truism to say that the US was built by immigrants. The advocacy of an orderly process and border security doesn't make anyone anti-immigrant. Those who would label in this fashion have a radically different view of this country, and if this view became the majority one this country as we know it would cease to exist.

No one has an unalienable right to come here. It is and should be a privilege. So the Alliance, itself made up of many immigrant entrepreneurs, welcomes those who want to work hard and contribute to this country's continued success. Sneaking in and subsequently marching for ones "rights" will not endear the marchers and advance their cause.

Kickin' Wal-Mart's Booty Capitalists

It seems that are warnings about Wal-Mart and the booty capitalists are right on the money. Over the weekend in Albany at the "Somos El Futuro" conference a so-called coalition of Hispanic business groups underwrote a reception for lawmakers. The group, "Coalition of Statewide Hispanic Chambers of Commerce" unlike its name implies, is actually a Wal-Mart front.

The real group that represents Hispanic business interests in the state is called, "New York State Federation of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce." As Al Placeras, the Federation's president said in an e-mail sent out to DC 37 and to his many other supporters, "We have an expression for this flim flam in Spanish. 'Yo conosco bacalao, aunque venga disfraso.'"

Placeras has asked the union for help in exposing this sham and we are calling on all of our friends in the labor movement, as well as in the anti-Wal-Mart coalition, to join with the Federation in doing so. The booty capitalists need to exposed pronto!