Thursday, August 31, 2006

Fake IDs

As we approach the Senate hearing on liquor licensing that will be held at the behest of Nick Spano it is useful for us to point out that there is a veritable industry engaged in devising newer and more sophisticated fraudulent IDs for youngsters who are intent to drink and violate the 21 laws. Recently, USA Today did an interesting story on the new levels of sophistication involved in this deception.

As one of the sub-heads in the story pointed out-"Smart licenses, smarter kids." Here's how the paper put it, "For authorities, busting the high-tech fake ID market often means outsmarting a generation that has outpaced them on computers." No matter what kind of licenses a state comes up with, some clever kid is duplicating it in a matter of months.

What is needed here, especially in an age of homeland security, is for the authorities to crackdown hard on this. Suspension of drivers licenses and criminal penalties are needed for this cottage industry to be brought under control. In addition, the scores of websites that advertise "bulletproof" IDs also need to be investigated and put out of business.

What we have here is far more serious than simply kids looking to get over and get drunk. We have a serious crisis that needs the full force of the law to be brought under control. Let's not simply target the storekeeper or clubowner who is being bamboozled. After all, if these IDs can fool law enforcement than a well meaning clubowner is at a distinct disadvantage.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Noise Code Problematic

As our friends at Gotham Gazette point out, the recently passed noise code poses problems for the city's night clubs. The major problem arises because of the indoor smoking ban that forces patrons out onto the street where their conversations carry in the night air. In addition, the constant opening and closing of the front door during egress and ingress raises the decibel levels in the surrounding neighborhood.

One of the things that the NYNA will be suggesting at the fall safety summit is that the city figure out a way to give the clubs some means to provide a restricted indoor smoking area for their customers. The constant street crowding, often with a preponderance of young ladies in the mix, also attracts young men-typically underage-who congregate along with the women.

This situation also highlights the need that NYNA has been outlining for the right to hire off-duty NYPD to patrol the streets and help control for potential trouble. This request has been turned down by the police brass.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Daniel Does Destroy: Goldstein Seeks End of Hoop Dreams

In today's NY Sun the paper reports on the behind the scenes negotiations it says are going on to downsize the Atlantic Yards project. Many of the critics, as well as some supporters such as Brooklyn BP Markowitz, have encouraged FCRC to decrease the development's density.

There are undoubtedly a number of well meaning critics who want to see development go forward but who are honestly concerned with the project's size and scope. And then there is DDD's enfant terrible Daniel Goldstein who clearly just wants the whole thing to die an ignoble death. As the Sun reports DG feels that FCRC needs to "change the 22 acre footprint" and consider "not building a basketball arena."

Goldstein also told the paper that a size reduction alone would not halt the "my way or the highway"opposition to the project. Even the linchpin of the development for so many in Brooklyn-the team and the arena- is something that this misanthrope wants to disappear. Which means that the best thing that could happen to Brooklyn would be for Goldstein to disappear from the footprint of the borough.

His opposition to the arena, something we are going to advertise far and wide throughout the borough, means that there are now thousands of newly minted volunteers who will be delighted to man the bulldozer when the legal green flag is waived to demolish this obstructionist's abode. He has now gone from being a legitimate critic to just some self-serving crank and a pest.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Lacking Probity

The NY Post continues its crusade for sobriety this morning when it "reports" on next week's hearing on New York's liquor laws that will be conducted by State Senator Nick Spano of Yonkers. It appears that the focus will be"on new ways to crack down on underage drinking, including whether to mandate training and licensing for all bouncers, servers and liquor license holders."

Isn't it wonderous how whenever a problem such as this arises the government ends up increasing licensing requirements and regulatory restrictions? Not a word from Spano about going after those youngsters who knowingly commit fraud in their pursuit of fake IDs.

The senator, an instant expert after a brief tour of Chelsea a few week's ago, witnessesd some drunk patrons in the street and concluded that there were liquor law violations "evidently going on inside of these clubs." We wonder how many kids from the senator's Yonkers home were at those same venues when the senator did his fact finding? We're waiting breathlessly for St. Nick to announce in Yonkers that he is going after those kids by toughening the penalties for possession of a fake ID.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Carrie Nation Returns

Pardon us for assuming that Carrie Nation had died in 1911. The anti-alcohol crusader has obviously returned in the reincarnated form of Council member Melinda Katz. As the NY Post reports this morning Katz has her hymnal ready (is the axe far behind?) and is poised to do battle with the night club industry.

Katz is looking for the city to get the authority to shutter clubs it deems a problem. "She said that the State Liquor Authority is understaffed and clueless about the needs of the city...'It's difficult for the SLA to truly assess when new bars are appropriate for certain areas-New York is a city of small neighborhoods,' she said." As Katz goes on to say, "...we should be the ones with the authority to shut places down."

In an unintended irony Katz claims that she's looking for ways to "make nightlife fun but safe." If so, than where is the over all understanding of how to protect and nurture the industry so that it can be fun? Where is the understanding of the unintentional consequences of vested authority on a city governed liquor authority?

On cue the Post follows up on the councilmember's observations with a quote from the co-chair of the licensing committee of Community Board #4. "If we said no, what we found in the past is the bars would get their license anyway, said Kevin Koffi...." Implicit here is that the community boards should have a virtual veto power over where a business could operate.

This, Ms. Katz, is a recipe for the certain demise of the industry and the fun you say that you want to preserve. The 500 foot law that limits 3 liquor licenses within a 500 foot radius, "unless there is a compelling public interest," is a joke in the heavily congested city that never sleeps. Yet the current SLA is reacting in a knee-jerk fashion already to the objections of the community boards, rejecting a liquor license to a four star chef on the Lower East Side because of CB #3' objections.

The money quote on all this comes from Mr. Koffi who ridicules the public interest exception for the 500 foot rule: "Attorneys would get around the 500-foot law by saying that the bar is in the public interest because it brings jobs and tax revenues, which is ridiculous...Any store does that." Absent the economic development argument, however, the public interest rationale would be in the exclusive purview of the anti-club community boards, folks with no concern for the preservation of the city's tax base. Which is more ridiculous.

Clearly all of this needs to be thrashed out in an atmosphere of mutual respect. If the shrill cries of the various Queens of Hearts don't cease, however, this fall's summit could quickly degenerate into an inquisition.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Return of the Mob Tax

In today's Crain's In$ider the newsletter reports on the effort by the carting industry to raise disposal fees. It says that the carters "...are making incremental progress toward getting the cap raised." In addition, the city has hired a consultant to determine what the impact a raise would have-presumably on the hapless businesses that have already experienced a doubling or even tripling of their disposal costs.

Our old friend David Biderman is at it again. This time, in his lobbying brief for his carting clients, he claims that 15% of carters have gone out of business in the past year and a half. If that's true than we need to look closely at all of the relevant variables. What we know for certain is that the rising carting fees have really hurt those retailers that generate "wet" food waste.

Which is why the Alliance has been strongly promoting food waste disposers, devices that would allow retailers to process organic garbage through the city's waste water treatment facilities. If this were to come to pass than we'd have no problem with the carters raising rates, since the most expensive garbage would be diverted. We wonder how Biderman feels about this possibility?

One thing does concern us in this whole discussion. Where are the council members who believe that helping businesses to save money is a legitimate goal of public policy? It appears to us that there is no one in either the council or the administration who places this concern in the forefront of the public discussion of food waste disposers. Perhaps the administration's consultant on carting cost increases will look at this.

Our conclusion is that the City Council should proceed with the passage of Intro 133 as part of a pilot study of what kind of positive solid waste and business impact the introduction of commercial food waste disposers will have on the city's retailers. It's not all about the waste water treatment plants and this discussion should be expanded.

Wal-Mart Walloped

In today's papers there is extensive coverage of the demise of Wal-Mart's plans to build a store on Staten Island. The NY Times' Steve Greenhouse, who covered the story last year and raised some of the initial community concerns, writes today that Wal-Mart pulled out because of "toxic chemicals" on the site. He quotes the Alliance's Richard Lipsky, "The only thing toxic on the site was the lack of public support that the store had."

In today's NY Sun, Dave Lombino, who has been tracking the peregrinations of the retail giant for the past two years, details the extent to which Wal-Mart lacked the political and community support needed to get the requisite zoning approvals. He quotes our two key allies, June Delaney of the Tottenville Civic Association and Dee Vandenberg of the Staten Island Taxpayers Association, to the effect that there was no way that this store would be accepted by the local community.

In fact, Delaney makes the point that we've been making all along on the Island that the fight here was not about whether the store was good or bad (many in Tottenville like it a great deal), but whether the Richmond Valley Road site made sense. As Dee told the Sun, "Any box store of that magnitude-we just don't have the infrastructure to support any more development of this kind on the Island..."

The NY Daily News also weighs in this morning and gives Tottenville's Delaney the props she deserves. As June told the paper, "I'm thrilled...The town of Tottenville put up a really good fight." The paper also reports that Councilmembers Oddo and McMahon expressed their happiness about the company's decision to pull out.

What didn't make sense, however, was Councilman Lanza's reticence to take credit for his role in the Walmonster's fate. As the News says, "Councilman Lanza...whose district includes the site, said he had concerns about the traffic but had not taken a position on whether the Wal-mart should be built." Which is certainly puzzling to all the folks in Tottenville who attended the community forum last October and heard the councilman's staffer clearly announce Lanza's opposition to a Wal-Mart on Richmond Valley Road.

In any case, this defeat makes it very clear that the road is really rough for the retail giant here in NYC. As RL told the Sun, "If they are unable to mange a site in Tottenville, it is hard to imagine any site in the city where they need approvals, where they will be able to locate."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Young Deconstructed

In a post on Slate Timothy Noah does a good job of defending those neighborhood retailers that Andrew Young defamed in his ham-handed defense of Wal-Mart's scorched earth policy. Noah points out that these store owners are definitely not exploiters but hardworking entrepreneurs trying hard to pursue the American dream.

AY Ay Ay Ay, Canta, No Llore

At yesterday's ESDC hearing on Atlantic Yards the opposition was blown out of the gym. The intensity, diversity and numbers told the story. Many thanks to Bergen Beach Youth, Flatbush Youth Brownsville Rec Center, Rich Kosik, Renan Ebeid, Rock Eisenberg and Irving Falk for their help in getting the athletic folks mobilized.

Crain's Focuses On NYNA Proposals

In today's Crain's In$ider the newsletter outlines some of the proposals made by the NYNA in response to Speaker Quinn's nightlife security agenda. In particular, the Association is pushing hard on a crackdown on young people who use fraudulent ID's and is renewing its request that the NYPD permit "paid detail" for nightclubs.

In addition, NYNA is looking to expand the fall security summit to include some other non-security issues that the group wants the city to consider. NYNA is looking to the adminstartion in the hope that it can generate a more collaborative relationship than has existed in the past.

Tottenville Wins: Wal-Mart Pulls the Plug-Again!

Crain's is reporting what we had been anticipating for a number of months, after rumors of conflict between Wal-Mart and its Staten Island developer surfaced; the giant retailer has once again pulled the plug on another NYC site. Wal-Mart and Tottenville was not a good match and Tottenville made that very clear last year in a well-attended forum where Councilman Lanza stood with his community to announce that he would oppose the site on Richmond Valley Road.

We just got word that the Staten Island Advance had this story on its front page yesterday as well. In the Advance piece the developer said that it terminated its lease because of ongoing problems with the environmental cleanup of the old Lucent site. As we had been told no one was excited about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a development that was unlikely to get a zoning approval.

This observation that the environmental remediation was a deal breaker was more or less confirmed by Wal-Mart when its spokesman told the Advance that, "The remediation program needed at the site has caused a change in the site's configuration to a point where it is no longer suitable for a Wal-Mart store." In addition, "There were also concerns about the time it would take Cedarwood {the developer} to make its way through the city's approval process-another uncertain route."

So, as we have been emphasizing, it becomes clear and clearer that any attempt to site the giant retailer in or around heavily congested residential area in NYC will end in failure as long as the site requires a zoning permit. The Crain's story underscores this point when it says that, "Retail brokers expect Wal-Mart to lease an 'as-of-right' location that would not need to be rezoned for commercial use."

The Tottenville victory came about through the united efforts of the Tottenville Civic Association, The Staten Island Taxpayers' Association, the UFCW, SI elected officials and the Alliance. It demonstrates what we have been saying all along about how communities with strong civic organizations and good ties to their elected officials, can successfully organize to stop the world's largest retailer.

Now we turn our full attention to the fight in Monsey, NY. We believe that the same traffic and quality of life issues that motivated Tottenville to oppose the Walmonster will have the same impact in Monsey. Our community meeting is scheduled for September 20th at the Spring Valley town hall.

BJ's Brushed Out

After trying twice to get zoning permission to build a warehouse store on Brush Avenue in the Bronx, BJ's Wholesale has finally thrown in the towel. As the NY Daily News reported this week the company has withdrawn its application and will no longer look to build at this Bronx site.

The withdrawal comes after we had been told on good authority that BJ's had been attempting to see if it could excavate the Brush Avenue location so that it could utilize a loophole in the city's zoning laws that allow stores that are "below grade" to avoid the square foot requirements for special use permits. That would have certainly set off a major battle since, as the News points out, the original application had been given a vigorous thumbs down.

BJ's did mange to sneak its way into the Gateway Mall development but was forced to agree to certain provisions, such as the acceptance of food stamps, that the Alliance had prodded the company on. These provisions mean that the company must change its business practices and needs to do so in all of its city locations.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fatter and Younger

In today's NY Post there is another disturbing story about the childhood obesity epidemic. This time, however, researchers have found that children as young as six months old are getting chubbier and are at risk for becoming obese.

One person who isn't surprised is Dr. Robert Bessler who heads up the obesity surgery department at Columbia. As he points out, "Obesity is the number 1 nutritional disease in the world..." {emphasis added}

The article also mentions the effort by Councilman Joel Rivera to use zoning to restrict the number of fast food outlets. All of this makes Rivera's Health Corps initiative that much more crucial. Young people need to become active health advocates in their communities in order to stem the obesity tide.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Food Wasted

In today's Crain's In$ider the newsletter reports on the deal between the Council and the mayor that calls for the city to commission a study to determine whether a pilot program is needed to determine the utility of food waste disposers. Crains observes that the council felt that this was the best it could get from the administration.

Which is not really the whole story on this issue. There was no compelling need for the council to negotiate any agreement with the mayor on food waste disposers, especially with the level of support in the body for Intro 133. There is also good reason for the council to proceed with its own pilot in order to document all of the potential solid waste benefits of the use of food waste disposers (something that the DEP will not be doing).

Given the DEP's publicly expressed hostility to the use of the device it makes no sense for the council to give the agency carte blanche. After all, in a letter to the sponsors of Intro 133 Commissioner Lloyd, obviously vying for a Noble Prize in Science, claimed that she had a more "scientific" method to study fwds than an empirically grounded pilot program. How will the agency sponsored study go beyond this expressed bias?

Keep in mind that the Council mandated commercial waste study not only never bothered to include an evaluation if fwds, it also concluded that the clustering of transfer stations in certain neighborhoods had no negatrive impact on those communities. The study was ignored by all in the adoption of the SWMP.

Which leaves us with the fact that the current SWMP is not a waste plan at all, in the sense that a city faced with a disposal crisis has a plan to reduce its disposal costs by reducing the amount of waste it exports. It is also a plan that is likely to not be able to be fully implemented because of numerous legal challenges.

In addition, we're still waiting for anyone at the council to support measures that reduce the cost of doing business for the city's retailers. That is one of the prime objectives of Intro 133. The tax generators, however, are clearly not as favored as the self-proclaimed environmentalists who have never contributed a penny to support the maintenance of city services.

Mike Clubs It Up

In today's NY Post the paper reports that Mayor Mike is coming to the defense of the night club industry and the decision by the Giuliani administration to push the industry into the Far West Side. As the mayor said, "If you're going to have a vibrant society, you want people on the street..."

At the same time the mayor also said that more enforcement of the noise code is necessary in addition to a crackdown on phony ID's. The key issue, of course, is finding the proper balance here. The one thing that the mayor didn't mention was the need for a more coordinated enforcement policy, one that linked the NYPD with the security teams employed by the clubs.

Still, the mayor's comments were a positive development given the level of negativity that has emerged from the council over the past few weeks. Hopefully, the proposed "Safety Summit" planned for the Fall will also be characterized by the same spirit.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Stale Young

The NY Sun comments editorially today on the Andy Young resignation from the Wal-Mart front group. It points out the history of Young with the Jewish community in his days as ambassador to the UN. It just goes to show that Young is more effective as an affront than as a front for anyone.

Stinking Compost

In today's NY Daily News there is an article about the problems facing the New York Organic Fertilizer Company. It appears that the company has been at war with the local community over the operation of its plant and Congressman Jose Serrano is looking for the State to close the facility.

Now we have been commenting quite a bit on the whole compost issue and it should be pointed out that this South Bronx firm is processing almost all of the city's biosolids, sludge from the waste water plants, into compost. All such facilities, however, create a degree of discomfort for their host communities.

That is why it is so difficult to do composting in heavily congested urban areas. Still, utilizing biosolids from the city's water treatment plants is preferable to aging and simmering putrescibles in an urban setting. That is why composting facilities (really landfills in impact) are located far away from population centers.

All of this data should be part of a pilot program and analysis that the City Council should do in its ongoing evaluation of how the city should deal with its food waste. The agreement reached between the council and the mayor's office on this issue (the study to determine the advisability of a pilot program) is pure flim-flam since the DEP has made it clear that they don't feel a pilot is the most "scientific" method to evaluate what to do with food waste (we're waiting for the seance).

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Club Security and Safety: The Need for an Equitable Solution

In all of the furor over the public safety issues surrounding New York City's night clubs the repeated emphasis has been on the faults of the clubs themselves. As the NYNA has been pointing out to whoever will listen, these safety concerns cannot be solved by an exclusive focus on the shortcomings of the various night life businesses.

Some of this is brought out in today's NY Post. The article underscores the extent to which the current situation in West Chelsea is a product of city policy. Here is the quote from the club manager who is the story's source: "If the Police Department had a plan to deal with this, it could have been OK-if from Day One they had a task force to work with each of the security teams from the clubs to deal with the underage drinking. But there was no plan. The chaos was all just allowed to happen."

As the manager goes on to point out, it was the city that wanted the clubs in this area. "It was there or nowhere after Mayor Giuliani decided to clean up Times Square and other neighborhoods...So the clubs were relegated to a ten block radius, then called West Chelsea."

The area in question was a wasteland of industrial buildings or with galleries that were only open during the daytime. In essence, the city set up its own night life district but did so without any comprehensive safety plan or economic development strategy to make sure that the forced relocation would be economically good for the clubs (something that was typical of the Giuliani administration-a strong concern with certain quality of life issues without any equal measure of concern with the needs of smaller businesses owners).

One last important observation from the Post's anonymous manager. He cites the fact that his club had 12 security guards and "violence rarely happens in the clubs-it happens in the streets." All because the city set up, serendipitously perhaps, "...a theme park-a strip mall for night clubs."

All of which means that any "Safety Summit" needs to get away from an overemphasis on the ills of clubs and pay more attention to the development of an overall club policy that meets the needs of public safety in a sensible manner. The fire and brimstone rhetoric needs to be shelved in favor of a more reasoned public policy approach.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Young and the Feckless

Andy Young is at it again. When he was chosen the head up a Wal-Mart front group our biggest concern was the retail giant's potential use of a "booty capitalist" strategy. We weren't even thinking about the anti-Jewish flap that forced Young to resign as Jimmy Carter's ambassador to the United Nations.

Well, perhaps we should have because it now becomes clear that the former aid to MLK harbors a good deal of racial animus towards an entire spectrum of ethnic groups. When questioned about the charge that Wal-Mart puts small neighborhood retailers at risk Young opined, Well I think they should; they ran the mom-and-pop stores out of my neighborhood...And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough."

The "they" in this case are not only the Jews (who moved to Florida) but the Koreans and now the Arabs. He left out the Dominicans who are more of a Northeast phenomenon. This is precisely the prejudiced mind set that animated some of the controversy over the building of a Pathmark store in East Harlem over ten years ago. It is also reminiscent of the Sharpton tirade over Freddy's Music Store on 125th Street ( the incident that ended in tragic deaths).

This attitude is precisely why we are so concerned with a booty capitalist strategy. For a host of historical reasons there is little latent support for neighborhood retailers in the traditional Black community. This is changing with the influx of Caribbean retailers in many areas of NYC. Without this support, however, there is at times more sympathy for the larger corporation coming in and offering goodies.

Any way Young is out and even such pro Wal-Mart folks as the editorialists at the NY Post are glad to see him leave. The dangers of the Wal-Mart offensive in communities of color remains and it is something that the entire anti Wal-Mart coalition is working hard to counteract.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Wal-Mart Hearing in the News

In today's Journal News the paper focuses on the two hearings that were held the other day on the proposed Wal-Mart in Monsey. The hearings looked at the environmental as well as the public safety impacts of the planned supercenter. As we have mentioned , the hearings were called by two county legislators who are opposing each other in a September primary to fill the Assemble seat vacated by Ryan Karben.

In response to the low price claims of the store, the Journal's Laura Incalcaterra reports, "...those opposed to the company's efforts said there were far more costs associated with Wal-Mart than just the sticker prices." Foremost among these costs are the traffic impacts along the Route 59 corridor, especially between Kennedy Drive and Rt. 306.

The paper also quotes our friend Abe Stauber who points out that the influx not only threatens pedestrian safety but also the "tranquility of religious observance" for the Orthodox community of Monsey. The paper also observes that the area is already overdeveloped, something that the Wal-Mart store will only exacerbate.

The News also quotes the remarks of Richard Lipsky on the potential impacts of the store on existing supermarkets and small businesses. This point was also underscored by Spring Valley town attorney Bruce Levine who expressed concern over the fate of the multi-million dollar Spring Valley downtown revitalization program.

The most telling testimony of the hearing was given by Brian Ketcham who pointed out that the store would generate minimally 1600 cars during peak hours of operation, and over 150 delivery trucks every day. This in an area where at least four key intersections are at an F level of service.

As the News concludes, and with which we agree, "You can bet that the battle-like those old movie marathons at the drive-in-will go on for a long, long time." We've just begun to fight this one.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Wal-Mart Politics

The two legislative hearings on Wal-Mart's proposed supercenter went off well last night in New City. All of the legislators appeared to be concerned that the Ramapo development was not being adequately examined. This was a point that Legislators Fried and Jaffee, opponents in the upcoming Democratic Assembly primary both agreed with.

In addition, there was a concern that the project would transcend the Ramapo catchment area and impinge on contiguous localities that will have no say about the project since the Ramapo Planning Board is the lead agency with exclusive purview over the development. Legislator Jaffee told the hearing that she was going to see if she could get the Rockland County planners and traffic experts involved so that there could be a more independent evaluation of Wal-Mart's impact.

What the unusual hearings indicated to us is that the issue of Wal-Mart is bigger than any narrowly conceived land use review. The Walmonster is a hot button political issue as today's NY Times underscores in its focus on the 2008 presidential campaign. What we plan to do is to politicize this Monsey site fight as much as possible so that the reticent supervisor of Ramapo gets the message.

Needed at the City Council: A More Pro-Business Perspective

In all of the hoopla over the passage of the "Bouncer Bill," now inappropriately named "Imette's Law," after the tragic death of Imette St. Guillen, there is one important thing missing: any real appreciation for all of the economic benefits that the city's nightlife industry brings to this city.

There is, of course, the ritualistic expression of wanting to protect those club owners who are "good citizens" but there is very little in the way of tangible policy that is directed at the larger need, what Richard Lipsky says in the NY Times this morning, "is to create a nurturing environment for the nightlife industry to grow and prosper."

That is why the NYNA is so concerned about the single focus on safety in the Speaker's proposed Fall summit. It is the apparent censorious attitude that bugs ths club owners, especially in the absence of any real appreciation of how much the industry contributes economically to the city.

In addition, it also appears that there is a strong tendency to take a serious societal issue-the prevalence of underage drinking-and lay blame on the night life businesses for its existence rather than focusing on some much more compelling social variables. That is why we got such a big kick out of the comments of State Senator Nick Spano (R-Yonkers) who was quoted in the NY Post this morning saying that he was "appalled" by the underage drinking he saw when he toured the Chelsea bar scene.

Memo to Spano: A lot of those kids are coming down from Yonkers and when they're not in the city they are doing some heavy drinking right in Yonkers. What we didn't see or hear from the elected officials is any initiative to criminalize the conduct of the young people themselves who are going out and knowingly purchasing fake ID's.

Which goes to our main point. It is always the store owner or in this case the bar and club owners who are targeted when these kinds of incidents occur. And it always ends up with these entrepreneurs being saddled with additional expensive red tape that is tangential at best to addressing the problems cited by the politicians in the first place.

That is why we need the City Council to expand the scope of the Fall Summit to include initiatives that would help those entrepreneurs in the nightlife industry to grow their businesses. There are too many Judge Roy Beans (look him up) among our electeds and not enough Adam Smiths.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wal-Mart Hearings in Rockland

In an unusual turn of events there will be two legislative hearings tonight at the Rockland County legislature on the impact of a proposed Wal-Mart in Monsey. The first hearing will be held before the Public Safety Committee, chaired by Legislator David Fried. The second is before the Environmental Committee that is headed up by Ellen Jaffee.

What makes this all the more compelling is that Fried and Jaffee are set to face off in a September 12th primary for the Democratic nod to replace the resigned Ryan Karben. What this demonstrates, however, is that the opposition against Wal-Mart cuts across political divides.

For instance Spring Valley attorney Bruce Levine, an ally of Jaffee's, is running for a seat in the legislature as a strong opponent of the Walmonster, yet Ramapo Supervisor St. Lawrence who supports Fried and opposes Jaffee appears to favor the retail development. If this sounds confusing it's only because it really is.

Clearly, Wal-Mart inspires political opposition all over and, in response, the company is fighting back. It is targeting those Democratic presidential candidates who have made the store a campaign issue. We expect that it will do the same in Monsey and in New York City.

Tonight's dueling hearings will feature the testimony of Brian Ketcham. BK will focus on the failure of the Wal-Mart consultants to do real world traffic analysis. Most of their work has been derivative, using the benchmarks established by the Institute of Traffic Engineers, figures that are outdated and don't come close to reflecting the actual numbers generated by a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Given the recognized traffic havoc on the Route 59 corridor the gross deficiencies of the W-M traffic data are truly deadly. As Ketcham will demonstrate, the heavy increase in cars and trucks to and from the project will seriously increase the number of traffic accidents as well as fatalities.

The hope here is that these hearings will be a prelude to the beginning of a grass roots effort in Ramapo to convince St. Lawrence to oppose the development. The key variable is the Orthodox community and its response to the Walmonster's threat to its quality of life will be key to the final outcome.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Doing the Mayor's Bidding

The Bloomberg administration had a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Gateway Mall on the gravesite of the BTM. We have said all we're going to say on this debacle of a land use process, and for all those who believe that the AY process would be better if it went through ULURP all you need to do is examine the Gateway application to get sobered up real quick.

That being said there is one issue that still needs to be resolved, and the presence of Speaker Quinn at yesterday's ceremony only makes the situation more compelling. That issue is the City Council's acquiescence in the argument, ratified by the ludicrous Judge Cahn, that normal land use powers given to the Council by the City Charter don't apply to the public markets.

As we have argued before the administration's position, if allowed to stand unchallenged, would mean that the mayor would have unbridled power to change even the actual use of any of the remaining public markets (as has been done with the now defunct BTM). This is the old Vietnam analogy of destroying the village in order to save it.

It's an untenable legal position but an even shakier political one. We're going to bring the case to the Council with all of the impacted workers and businesses from the public markets. Hopefully, we'll get posthumous vindication of the BTM merchant's original position.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Gay Activists Question Quinn's Crackdown on Clubs

Speaker Quinn's proposed legislation against night clubs that lack sufficient security measures has generated opposition in an unexpected quarter. As the NY Times reports this morning, there is concern in the gay community and among civil libertarians that the security cameras proposed by the speaker compromise the privacy of gay patrons, a number of whom who are not comfortable with the potential exposure.

The thing that concerns club owners is the relative ineffectiveness of cameras because, as NYNA counsel Rob Bookman points out, "security cameras do not prevent crime because there is no one on the other end monitoring what is going on. 'Our experience is that they don't make the clubs safer.'"

Which brings us to the larger issue her. As Bookman opined in yesterday's NY Daily News, "The night life industry is a critical component of the city's vital tourist industry. The nightclub industry gets more than 64 million patrons each year..."

This a business that generates hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues and employs thousands of people. It is crucial for the city's law makers to develop policies that not only ensure safety-something that is essential to the health of the industry-but also ones that help the clubs grow and prosper.

Unfortunately, as yesterday's editorial counterpoint by Councilmember Vallone underscores, there is an overemphasis on safety and not enough focus on nurturing business growth. To say, as Vallone does, that the industry is "out of control," is to overemphasize the criminal justice side of things. It also underrates the extent to which the problem of underage drinking is a societal issue and not just a club issue.

And on the issue of fake ID's, Isn't about time we did something about the young people who willfully break the law in order to bamboozle club owners? To make club owners exclusively responsible is both shortsighted as well as unfair. It is an entire cohort of youngster who are "out of control" more than the club owners that the Council is targeting.

Putting the Carting Before the Horse

There has been an ongoing dispute over the claims by Mark Green that he played a major role in rooting OC out of the commercial trash hauling business. In particular Randy Mastro, the Giuliani deputy who played a leading role in the passage of Local Law 42, has derided the Green claims.

While it is true that Green, as Consumer Affairs Commissioner under Mayor Dinkins, was the first to focus real attention on the issue of the mob control of private sanitation, he clearly was not the most instrumental in ridding the industry of its influence.

Then again, neither was Mayor Giuliani, in spite of all of the hoopla over the legislation he engineered that brought with it the vaunted Trade Waste Commission. By the time Local Law 42 was passed the mob cartel had already been broken-by DA Bob Morgenthau! The DA's undercover work took out all of the main players. As we have said, Morgenthau beat up the bad guys, Giuliani than went out and whipped up on the women and children.

If it weren't for the work of the Alliance the Giuliani administration, with the execrable Ed Ferguson in charge of the Commission, would have eliminated all of the mom-and-pop carters leaving only the national firms to pick up the garbage.

As it stands today, carting rates are at an all time high with local retailers longing for the halcyon days of the "mob tax." Lost in the nostalgic mists is the fact that LL 42 was one of the most anti-civil liberties bills ever passed in the city. After all, the "honesty, integrity and good character" clause was the recipe for a witch hunt against anyone the Giuliani folks even suspected of having had mob ties. The "associated" with bad guys clause was so broad that, under its aegis, the mayor himself would have been denied a carting license.

If we're going to look back on all of this than we should examine the entire episode and not just the press releases of the self-serving. If we do take a closer look we'll see just how ridiculous the Guiliani full page ads touting "Independence Day" (from the mob tax) really were.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Memo to AY Critics

One man's grass roots is another man's weeds. Wow, even Chris Smith thinks you are all toast. See all of you "Folk Song Army" folks at mid-court for the Nets tip-off.

Friday, August 11, 2006

DA Spota: Hero

The NY Times focuses today on the prosecutorial acumen of Suffolk County DA Thomas Spota. It was Spota who, alone among New York officials, actually did something to stem the tide of cigarette smuggling in the state.

In contrast to our timid (beware of Indian violence) Governor Pataki, Spota ran a nine month sting operation that broke up a black market operation that cost New York around $500 million in lost tax revenues. More ominously, the DA believes that $8 million that wasn't recovered had been shipped to terrorists in the Middle East. Last year another smuggling ring linked to Hezbollah was broken up in North Carolina.

As we have been commenting the confiscatory cigarette tax foisted on the city in 2002 is the direct culprit for the increased smuggling, This 1800% increase has cost city retailers $1 billion in lost revenue in the past four years. Most of these lost sales have been absorbed by a black market that is driven by tax-dodging Indian retailers like those DA Spota busted on the Island.

It does look, however, that more NY elected officials are starting to take all of this stuff seriously. In fact we have been told by AG Spitzer that he will close the Indian retail loophole that Pataki has refused to deal with. We can't wait.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Council Summitry

As we reported yesterday the City Council leadership has jumped on the issue of night club safety and has proposed a number of legislative/enforcement measures. Part of the Council's approach is to call for a "Safety Summit" in the fall.

As the NY Times reported it appears as if the Bloomberg administration is in accord with the Council's approach. Mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser told the paper that, "We will work with the City Council to draft legislation that will increase the use of technology to root out underage drinking...and hold establishments accountable when they break the law..."

All of this is quite breathtaking as well as disturbing. The night life industry is generating hundreds of millions of dollars a year for this city and the political response to a few tragic incidents is to look for ways to increase the regulatory burden without looking for complementary approaches that can help these businesses grow and expand.

It is, therefore, counterproductive to hold a "safety" summit. A summit should be held but its focus should be more global. It should look to focus attention on what the city and its police force needs to do to help club owners make their environments safer. Every time the PC opines on this subject it is to divert attention away from the NYPD's failures.

There are other cities with vibrant night life activity and their policies focus on celebrating and promoting these important businesses. The only time we hear elected officials talking about night life business in NYC it is to carp about its failings. At the rate the council is going there won't be an industry left that escapes its regulatory wrath. We're looking hard for the pro-business councilpersons and getting eyestrain for our efforts.

Smuggling Indictment

For the past four years the Alliance has been screaming about the black market in non-taxed cigarettes coming out of Indian tribes on Long Island. In yesterday's Newsday the paper reports that DA Spota in Suffolk County has taken some strong action. Spota's actions put the Pataki administration to shame.

The DA has, after a nine month undercover investigation, indicted a number of people for profiting from nontaxed cigarette smuggling. 50,000 cartons were recovered and it is estimated that the smuggling scheme has cost the city and state tens of millions of dollars every year.

Even more disturbing is the fear expressed by DA Spota that a percentage of the illegally gotten loot is being sent to terrorists in the Middle East. This is another point that that we have been making without getting any appropriate reactions from the Bloomberg administration. It seems more concerned with snuffing out the butts than in making sure that the lawbreakers don't profit from the black market- at the expense of city shopkeepers.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Rock Gets it Right

We have been trying to get across the point that the coming of the Nets to Brooklyn is a potential boon for the kids of the borough. Nothing we have said could be as eloquent as the words of Tilden HS coach Eric "Rock" Eisenberg. Thank you Rock for the insights.

Does NYC Like the Night Life?

Yesterday the Council Speaker unveiled a three point plan to keep New Yorkers safe after dark. The legislative initiative comes after a series of violent incidents that led to the death of two young women. Of the three points the one that makes most sense to us is Speaker Quinn's call for a "Night Life Safety Summit."

The Summit is essential because it will give the industry a real chance at explaining to city policy makers just how important the night life businesses are to the city's economy and image. For too long we have been hearing about the need for an array of punitive efforts aimed at restricting the industry's ability to operate.

What is needed is a recognition that the city needs to develop an approach that nurtures night clubs and makes the areas around the clubs safe for the patrons. The unfortunate death of Jennifer Moore came about because she and a friend were wandering around searching for their care that had been towed by the NYPD.

Does it make sense to tow cars from the deserted Far West Side in the middle of the night? Or is it a better policy to provide the street parking so that club goers can park near their destinations? Let's make the club areas patron and business friendly just like a number of other large cities do. This should be the focus of any summit.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Critical Excess

We're getting quite a kick out of the level of vitriol directed at our supporting comments favor of AY. What really amuses us is that most of these opponents have never successfully stopped anything in their entire lives. On the other hand, Richard Lipsky and the NRA have a long twenty five year history of stopping large-scale developments all over the city.

What the critics get confused on, however, is the purpose of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance. It is not Human Rights Watch but is designed to represent grass roots forces in land use battles. This does not mean that the NRA will always be on the anti-development side. What we do well is grass roots organizing, an ability that is represented by the fact that there are over 75 amateur athletic groups and countless more leaders in the sports community of Brooklyn that have signed on to support the AY project.

Yes, Richard Lipsky is retained by FCRC to represent its interests but wouldn't have done so if he didn't feel that the project's merits warranted it. This feeling emerged from the sheer level of passion and enthusiasm spontaneously exhibited by a diverse array of sports organizations in the borough.

RL got his start writing the definitive work on sports and politics in this country and knows better than most just how instrumental a role a sports can play in a community. So many of the critics, exhibiting a certain level of snobbery, have looked down on this plebian side of this development and, because of this manifest snobbery, missed the potential importance of the sports team for the community.

We emphasize potentially because it can only really occur if the team ownership is enlightened in this regard. Everything we have seen so far indicates that Bruce Ratner gets it. If FCRC and the Brooklyn Nets do not invest in the young people there will not be the kind of fan base that the franchise needs to succeed. It is enlightened self-interest not pure philanthropy, although BR is no slouch in this regard either.

So what do we have from all the critics? Name calling seems to be the hallmark of this opposition and the fish clearly stinks from the head. It all brings to mind the incident that William Buckley has talked about when he had the temerity to criticize Ayn Rand as a fascist. When the vitriolic and threatening letters came in Buckley observed that they "Dotted the i's and crossed the t's of my point."

So all the people who accuse Lipsky (or "Shilsky"-how clever) of being idiotic and morally bankrupt only mange to bring discredit upon what used to be a defensible and reasonable position, one that has long ago ceased to be anything like that because the shrillness of the opposition has sent reason to the showers.

Monday, August 07, 2006

NY Times Gets One Right

In yesterday's NY Times the paper came out strongly in support of the Atlantic Yards project. As the paper points out, "The opportunities it presents, and the nearly 7,000 apartment units it will provide a housing-starved city, outweigh the problems it would entail." The Times also points to the 2,200 units that will be geared to low, moderate and middle income New Yorkers.

The Times also singles out the bringing back of professional sports to Brooklyn, something that has been dear to our hearts and has been the focus of RL's work for FCRC. Not everyone agrees of course. In a letter posted on the DDD website a fellow from Park Slope wonders, "Why exactly is it important for Brooklyn to have a major sports team-when 25% of the population of the borough lives under the poverty level?"

This guy doesn't really get it. In the first place a new franchise, one that doesn't preexist in the city, will be a tremendous revenue generator for New York. In addition, the construction of the arena will generate thousands of jobs and mechanisms are in place to have job training for those in the neighborhood who need to be trained. This is all called economic development and it is through economic development that people do get a chance to find work.

As importantly, the Nets coming to Brooklyn does create a wonderful opportunity for the young people in the borough. This will not be a franchise that will ignore the kids in the neighborhoods. It will need these youngsters, and those dedicated adults like Coach Screen in Flatbush and Jocko Jackson in Brownsville, to build a successful foundation for the team.

That is why FCRC has collaborated with the youth teams and their leaders to form the Brooklyn Sports Alliance. Sports, if utilized properly, can become a powerful tool for young people who need hope and leadership and goals in order to succeed. The primary focus of the BSA will be to create the kind of opportunities so young people in Brooklyn will be able to develop the skills to succeed in life.

As for the questions about "meaningful" review we only have this to add: The AY project has been the most reviewed project in our memory. When opponents talk about better review in this regard what they generally mean is for more opportunities to dramatize their grievances.

So AY has been inspected to death and the critics have given us an exhaustive array of faults that they say make the project unworthy of support. They'll have another chance this month and later in September. After which all we'll be waiting for is that first shovel in the ground that will signal the coming of the Nets to Brooklyn.

Matt Lipsky Takes His Leave

As the Crain's In$ider reported on Friday the Neighborhood Retail Alliance's Matt Lipsky has left his post as communications director to go to Duke Law School in the fall. Needless to say he will be sorely missed on both a personal as well as a professional level.

Matt was not only solely responsible for the creation of this blog but was also the point man on so much of what the Alliance has done on the BTM, Wal-Mart in the city, food waste disposers and the formation of the Brooklyn Sports Alliance. He not only did this work with great skill but managed to add the kind of good will that and personal charm that he clearly got exclusively from his mother.

Good luck Matt!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Wal-Mart Meeting Tonight in the Bronx

On the heels of the pathbreaking decision of the Chicago City Council to set a floor for big box store wages, the NYC anti Wal-Mart coalition will be holding a town hall meeting tonight in the Bronx. As Crain's In$ider reports the meeting will be held at Our Lady of Refuge Church, 290 E. 196th Street, just east of the Grand Concourse.

It is expected that quite a few local legislators, clergy and labor leaders will be present to discuss how to replicate the Chicago success in NYC. For more information you can contact either Richard Lipsky (914-572-2865) or Pat Purcell (973-583-9651) of Local 1500 of the UFCW.

Of course not everyone is happy with the Chicogo vote. As usual, the NY Sun editorializes against the legislation because it believes that "Wal-Mart is actually a boon for lower income Americans..." This is the essence of the Wal-Mart debate: Is the store a "boon" or is it a direct threat to the overall salary and wages of working class Americans? We're happy that this debate has begun.

Retail Food Stores and Health

As we have been commentating, we believe that the city's supermarkets, green grocers and bodegas have an important role to play when it comes to encouraging New Yorkers to eat healthier foods. As Crain's In$ider is reporting this morning Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez has introduced the Bodegas as Catalysts for Health Living Act, a bill that would provide grants for bodegas to act as health educators for low income consumers. This is precisely the kind of policy approach that the city needs.

It stands in sharp contrast to the City Council's greenmarkets initiative. This approach, one that actually subsidizes the expansion of these outdoor fresh fruit outlets, directly competes with the local store owners in a community. If legislators feel that existing stores aren't providing folks with all of the good food that they need than it would be more useful-and equitable-to develop proposals that include store owners rather than ones that put them at risk.

This is a theme that the Alliance stressed in a meeting last week with EDC and folks from the mayor's office. There are major trends at work in this city that don't bode well for the continued survival of local supermarkets. We need the city to set up a task force to deal with these trends and healthier eating initiatives should be part of the focus.