Saturday, June 30, 2007

Congestion Tax: Got You Coming and Going

The more the details of the mayor's congestion tax scheme are revealed the less appetizing the whole idea becomes. This can be seen clearly from this morning's piece in the NY Times. What the Times reveals is the fact that the new tax will not only target incoming motorists but will also be applied to folks who live in the congestion zone who want to visit their aunt in the Bronx, or shop for groceries up at Fairway on 129th Street.

As the Times points out, this aspect of the plan "has not been widely mentioned... {and}... It might seem that anyone taking a car out of the congestion zone ought to be rewarded instead of penalized, but officials disagreed" There's a good reason for the lack of candor, it runs against the advertised rationale that the plan is designed to cut traffic, "chiefly by persuading people from the other boroughs and beyond to leave their cars behind..."

This lack of candor is no accident because, as the Times indicates, "But city officials also appear aware of the political sensitivity of the plan, and are counting on support from people residing inside of the zone, who would be expected to benefit from the drop in traffic." And what happens when people are told of this feature of the plan? They are no longer knee-jerk supporters of the idea: "'I don't think it's fair,' said Jose Hernandez, 60, a parking lot attendant who lives on West 57th Street, 'I've got family uptown, and my son lives in the Bronx.'"

What else aren't we being told? All of which makes it clear that this scheme needs a full, thorough, and independent review-and not a "wham!, bam!, thank you ma'am" approach that the mayor and his minions seem to favor in all things large and small.

Columbia, ESDC-AKRF'd Up

In what may become a watershed decision, Judge Shirley Werner Kornreich ruled that the Empire State Development Corporation must hand over confidential documents and correspondence to opponents of the Columbia expansion plan. As the NY Times reports this morning, the judge made her ruling "because of an appearance of collusion between the state and Columbia."

The main issue, one that we have commented on before, is the fact that the consulting firm AKRF is employed by Columbia to give the environmental impact of the university's expansion the most favorable gloss, while at the same time working for ESDC as a consultant in order to "determine" whether the area Columbia wants to seize is really "blighted." As we said previously, this is the equivalent of a take home exam that the student gets to mark herself; and it raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the entire process.

Now we have commented previously about the serious weaknesses in the city's land use review process, and in particular the worthiness of the so-called environmental consulting work that is done on behalf of developers. The good folks at the Manhattan Institute, no knee-jerk opponents of development, have cogently alerted us to the unhealthy collaboration between developers, their environmental consultants, and the review agencies that are supposed to do the proper due diligence of the data that is submitted on behalf of development projects.

The key analysis in the Institute report was the observation that no one wants to go on record "blowing the whistle" if something in the data submitted doesn't ring true. Therefore, the review process often becomes a charade and, unless the opponents have the resources to fight-like those in West Harlem-communities are never adequately informed about the real impacts of development.

The untoward situation up at Columbia, however, goes way beyond the generic inadequacy of ULURP. In this case, all pretense of fairness has been tossed out the window and the foxes haven't even bothered to dress up as chickens. As Justice Kornreich says, "'A.K.R.F, presumably, seeks to succeed in securing an outcome that its client, Columbia, would favor.'"

In some ways ESDC, Columbia and AKRF have done us all a favor and, through their blatant disregard for any semblance of pretense, clearly demonstrated the phony nature of the UURP process in this city. Now the only thing that needs to be done here is for the consultants to be recused; and for the entire ULURP process to be suspended until a clearer understanding of the interrelationships between the parties is fully revealed.

The failure of the city to do this would seem to us to imperil the project in the litigation that will almost certainly occur should the expansion be approved by the city. In any case, as Norm Siegal points out in the Times this morning the entire project reeks of collusion: "'The easiest way to put it is that you can't serve two masters...The government has the power to condemn my clients' property. But the process should be neutral and objective, and when you find out that the government has retained Columbia's consultant, it can't be neutral anymore.'"

Friday, June 29, 2007

Everyone, Even the Mayor, Needs a Good Editor

Crain's In$ider is reporting today that the Assembly is looking to modify the mayor's congestion tax plan. As the newsletter says, "State assembly members are talking about trying to force changes to Mayor Mike Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan before giving it their approval."

Among the changes supposedly in the works are; (1) An alteration and narrowing of the zone; (2) A reduction of the hours that the tax would be applied; and, (3) A modification of the current allowance that allows New Jersey drivers to deduct their congestion tax from the tolls they pay crossing the Hudson.

Crain's observes that all of these potential changes could lead to a showdown with the mayor, who said Wednesday that the legislature shouldn't be "micromanaging" the city's plan-another example of the arrogance emanating out of city hall. The fact is that the plan is deeply flawed and needs to be altered, something that would have been done had the mayor brought the whole idea to the legislature early on. That would, however, been out of character for the "my way or the highway mayor."

So instead, the mayor and Deputy Dan exhibit their lack of political acumen and any chance of success has been diminished because of it. Our feeling in all of this was that the mayor was the best friend that opponents of his plan could hope to have. It remains to be determined if he can use his muscle to overcome his lack of skills in the legislative process.


Mayor Mike has reverted to his old arrogance. You might remember that when bodegas had protested the 1800% cigarette tax hike- a tax that costs them $250 million a year in lost revenue, Bloomberg described their worries as simply, "a minor economic issue."

Now, as the NY Post and the NY Daily News both are reporting, the mayor is back to his old patrician tricks in dismissing New Yorker' concerns with subway overcrowding as "a minor inconvenience." As one rider told the Post, the mayor must be "commuting from another planet." The News simply asks, "Hey Mike Bloomberg, what train are you riding?"

So, as we have come to expect, the mayor is clueless when it comes to the plight of the average New Yorker. But, as we see this morning, the mayor is not alone. The NY Daily News joins with the clueless mayor in its editorial on subway overcrowding-coming to exactly the wrong conclusions from TA president Roberts' report on the overcapacity in many of the city's most utilized lines.

Instead of arguing that the severe overcrowding should merit a delay in the implementation of a congestion tax that would add an additional 100,000 new riders to the system, the News says that the Roberts report, "...explains why the Legislature must enact congestion pricing." Really? The city does need a financial plan to devise the appropriate methods for the construction of the new infrastructure that the system needs. No one has bothered to evaluate just why the mayor's plan is the best one to accomplish these needed goals.

Instead, the mayor's big on trying to bogart everyone with his, "I'm rich and I know better mentality." All of this putative platform building for a run for national office will, however, flounder once people realize that Bloomberg's elitist worldview is out-of-touch with their real world concerns.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Philosophical Exposure on Congestion Tax

As we have been saying all along, the underlying philosophy of the congestion taxers is to continue to raise the cost of living and doing business in this city-all in the name of what is misconceived as good public policy. Those who entertain this point of view, and have done so for years before Kermit the Mayor came on board, are congenitally anti-auto-and by extension have no concern for the impacts that their schemes will have on the businesses of the city.

This underlying rationale is exposed in today's NY Sun in an article that looks at the possibility of a "free" subway system. The fantasy in question, is the brainchild of our old buddy George Haikalis, a man we last encountered in the AirTrain fight with the Port Authority. What Haikalis envisions, and the concept is contained in a report of his Institute for Rational Mobility, is a $16 toll on all bridges and tunnels.

Which is exactly where we are heading with the mayor's plan because, just like the case of the London tax, it is only a matter of time before the insatiable appetite of the MTA need to be re-fed. What's amusing is the response of Gene Russianoff, who described the idea as a "platonic ideal." Which reminds us of the late philosopher Karl Popper who rightly saw in Platonism the seeds of totalitarianism.

None of these folks give a rat ass about how any of this will impact the city's economy. It is amusing, in a perverse sort of way, however, to see the business scions in league with this philosophy. We really don't see this as a meeting of the minds, but rather as symptomatic of the toady effect that the mayor has on these neutered folks-When the mayor says jump, they simply say, "How High?"

Congestion Truckulence

There's an interesting piece in this week's Queens Courier on the impact that the mayor's congestion tax would have on the city's distribution businesses. This is a theme that we have been stressing but it bears the re-emphasis.

In the Courier story the paper gets a response to the mayor's plan from the Fresh Direct company, the firm that delivers groceries into many Manhattan neighborhoods. What the FD folks underscored was that the $21 dollar truck fee would have almost zero impact on congestion: "Ultimately, charges for trucks delivering into Manhattan, whether to residential homes or to retail locations, will be shouldered by city residents...the only effect on fees for commercial vehicles will be higher prices for New Yorkers."

Now Fresh Direct is a well financed company with relatively deep pockets. There are, however, thousands of smaller distributors and contractors who will be burdened if not crippled by this new tax; another reason why the whole plan needs a cost-benefit analysis.

Subway Crowding Dismissed

In what has become expected from the "tin eared" mayor, Mike Bloomberg ridiculed the idea that the subways, already at capacity or above on many of its key lines, couldn't accommodate the extra 100,000 or so additional riders that might get diverted if his congestion tax were implemented. As the NY Post reports this morning, the faux plebe mayor told the less fortunate gathered for a Crain's breakfast; "So you stand next to people. Get real. This is New York. What's wrong with that?"

But as Councilman David Weprin told the NY Daily News, "He doesn't take it from Queens...The F Train on 179th Street is so overcrowded from Queens into Manhattan-it's ridiculous." But the clueless chief executive continues to do his best Chico Marx imitation: "Who are you going to believe, me or you own lying eyes?" The mayor kept questioning where the capacity figures came from, and at the press conference that opponents held outside of city hall yesterday Committee spokesperson Walter McCaffrey told reporters, "You know those are the statistics of the MTA..."

Which brings us to the red herring that proponents of the congestion plan have begun to emphasize more in their desperation to get more of the tax payers money-the fare increase. Key advocate for this point of view is the Straphangers Gener Russianoff. As he told Metro, the need to keep the fare in line made the mayor's congestion plan a "no brainer."

It always is for the tax and spend crowd, but this congestion scheme is desperately in need of a good accountant. There have been so many claims for the congestion plan that it would be useful for some legislative review process to put all of the numbers-the claims and counter-claims-to the test. Who will pay the most, and who will be cut a break because their tolls will defray the congestion fee? If the money is used to keep the fare down, how much will actually be left to build more infrastructure? And finally, if it makes sense to tax more for these purposes, then is it fair for middle class commuters to shoulder the greater share of the responsibility?

One thing's for sure. The mayor, just judging on his comments about subway crowding, is no reliable source of information, nor can he be considered an honest broker for this deal. As the NY Post editorializes this morning, the mayor has once again compromised his credibility: "We've tentatively backed that plan. But let's face it: it's no quick or surefire cure to Gotham's transit ills. New Yorkers need to know that motorists who give up their cars will have a civilized alternative to get in and out of Manhattan."

And who can believe anything that a dysfunctional MTA has to say, Just one day after saying that. "There's no room at the inn," TA head Roberts-finally getting the right talking points-"backpeddled-saying that 100,000 ex-motorists would not add significantly to transit ridership." As the Post says, the mayor's "let-them-eat-MetroCards" attitude will get him fried on the third rail; just where his scheme and a unreliable MTA belongs.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pressing Congestion

The Committee for a Congestion Tax-Free NYC will be holding a press conference today at 11:00 AM on the steps of City Hall. Joining the group, made up of scores of local civic and small business groups, will be a number of city and state law makers who are concerned about the impact that a congestion tax would have on middle class commuters from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx-as well as small distributors and contractors who make a living within the CBD.

The law makers, led by State Senator Carl Kruger and Assemblyman Rory Lancman-along with council members Melinda Katz, David Weprin, Vinnie Gentile, Mike Nelson and Tony Avella-are deeply concerned, and press reports confirm these fears, that the current transit infrastructure is unable to handle the additional 90,000 or so riders who will be forced to shift to the trains and buses should the tax be adopted.

In addition, law makers are worried that the full consequences of the plan-its costs as well as its benefits-have not been adequately evaluated since the proposal has not undergone any independent review. Also, proponents of the plan such as the Straphangers Gene Russianoff are arguing that the money generated will be essential for keeping the fare at the current $2.

There is, however, only a finite amount of money here, and with the mayor championing expansion of services and Russianoff promoting the fare subsidy, it's hard to see how the tax could accomplish both tasks. In the end it is simply a tax, and any expanded transit service would only be available for the grandchildren of the current riders.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Congestion Plan Getting IRTible

Well, well. It now appears that the expected overload that will occur on the city's subways should the mayor's congestion plan go into effect, will cause a burden that the current system will not be able to handle. Don't take our word for this, or put it with the normal doom and gloom that critics are wont to employ, just ask the head of the Transit Authority.

As the NY Times is reporting this morning, Howard Roberts the TA head, is telling one and all that his system is overloaded and will be so for the foreseeable future: "' From my point of view this is scary...This is scary in the sense that right now, on a lot of these lines, we're several years and a big construction project away from being able to provide what I consider adequate service. We're constrained.'"

As Roberts went on to say, "'There's no room at the inn.'" Clearly, the cart of congestion pricing has been placed before the horse of transit improvement, and has many riders tell us the system needs more trains. To make the logical leap from that assumption to the support of the $600 million a year congestion tax makes little sense. Yet, this is precisely what the mayor and his minions continue to do-yesterday down in Washington making a show for the federal dollars that no one knows will ever be forthcoming.

The mass transit overcrowding in New York has reached critical proportions. Roberts tells the NY Daily News that, "'To the extent that people are diverted to the subway system and they want to ride the nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and E (lines), it's bad news.'" Now the mayor's spokesman says that the city agrees with this assessment and that is why it is promoting its tax scheme.

If that's the case then we need to ask whether it makes sense to impose an expensive, complicated-and unfair-tax system in order to improve the city's mass transit infrastructure? And, do we need to impose the tax years before riders will be able to see any relief? Certainly, as the NY Sun reports this morning, we shouldn't be seeing the mayor's folks putting contracts out to bid for a plan that hasn't been approved.

All of which means that the mayor's rush to enact this plan is unwise and should be rejected. This entire process has been characterized by an almost total suspension of disbelief among editorial writers and so-called good government groups. The mayor has harnessed the anti-motorist sentiment of much of the environmental community and, in the dishonest name of clean air, looks to whack middle class and working class New Yorkers with yet another tax on living in the city.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Columbia's Wreckage

In today's NY Post the paper reports on the ongoing battle waged by Columbia against its neighbors as it seeks to expand its campus into West Harlem. In today's story the focus is on a small auto mechanic who has been moved by the university and is complaining because he sees the handwriting on the wall: there will be no place for minority businesses when and if the university expands westward.

The Post story also reports on the strong comments on eminent domain from CB#9 chair Reyes-Montblanc. He tells the paper that, "'They won't get one square inch under eminent domain...If the area seems distressed and unoccupied, it's because it belongs to Columbia. They own it and they emptied it out.'"

The ED situation is complicated by the fact that the firm doing the "blight" study for the state, AKRF, is also retained by the university for its environmental review-a conflict of interest that has been brought to the attention of the courts and awaits a ruling shortly. Reyes-Montblanc also chastised the university for its proposed eviction of 132 residential units on the west side of Broadway-something that the university said they have an "unequivocal commitment" to resolving."

There ism, however, nothing unequivocal in the Columbia plan except the university's unbridled pursuit of its own self-interest. If that weren't so then Columbia would be announcing plans foe hundreds of new units of affordable housing for a community that is desperate to stave off further gentrification. Unfortunately, that's a commitment that the university doesn't have the integrity to make.

Behind the Times

The NY Times editorial board continues to misconstrue issues, as they also continue in exhibiting a gross disrespect for the tax paying citizens of the city (while simultaneously enjoying lavish tax breaks for the new Times headquarters). The editorial today on congestion pricing is a case in point. It urges law makers to hurry back to Albany next month and approve the mayor's plan, or else risk losing millions in federal aid.

This, as we have pointed out, is simply not true. There not only is no deadline, there is likely no federal money either: it is all a chimera conjured up by a starry eyed mayor who has miraculously turned green before our very eyes. The Times compounds its errors by alleging that approval of the mayor's plan would prevent the transit fare from increasing, "maybe as much as 50 percent." Maybe the Times will next tell us that the congestion tax scheme will be a cure for ED as well.

Fortunately, not every one listens to the salons at the Times. In today's NY Sun, Councilman David Weprin lashes out at the mayor's plan, and underscores the hypocritical use of poor children and asthma as a selling point: "What I find equally disingenuous about the proposal is the argument that congestion pricing would be good for the environment. In fact, it does nothing to address the prevalence of background pollutants found with greater frequency in areas such as Long Island City, East Harlem, Bed-Stuy, the South Bronx, and Jamaica."

The Post's Fred Dicker puts this story into the proper perspective when he points out that Governor Spitzer, failing to exercise proper due diligence over the mayor's plan, "has turned his administration into an extension of city hall" (something that the Times has been doing for the past five years). All of which makes making a deal harder to envision next month.

Is Wal-Mart Kosher?

In today's NY Times, the paper has a front page story in the Metro Section that focuses in on the growing opposition to Wal-Mart in the Orthodox Jewish community of Monsey. As the story points out, the Alliance has been "the small business advocacy group...that has helped organize Monsey's anti-Wal-Mart movement..." And two years since the giant retailer has unveiled its plan, "opposition persists."

What the Times story highlights is the fact that the normal reasons for opposing the Walmonster are also present in the Monsey situation-traffic, crime, harm to small business, and anti-labor policies. What makes the Monsey situation somewhat unique is the way these issues are filtered through a religious prism.

Monsey's religious residents are concerned that the giant store will undermine their community's quality of life-a walk-to-shop environment that is characterized by strong religious sentiments. As Yossi Weinberger told the Times, "The reason a lot of us came to Monsey is because we wanted to raise our families ia a safe place, away from the influences of the outside world..."

The Times also points out that a single elderly resident (our beloved Mrs. Marshansky), moved by the threat of Wal-Mart, gathered a thousand petitions against the store in only four days; "Around the same time, religious school administrators distributed fliers to students and their parents under the headline 'Be Aware.'" The paper goes on to point out that articles and advertisements against Wal-Mart have been running in the local Jewish press.

It is also important to point out that one of the Alliance's staunchest allies, Joseph Kizelnick, is featured on the front picture and represents the vibrant local retail economy that will be threatened with extinction should Wal-Mart's effort to build a super center in Monsey be successful. As Kizelnick told the Times, "...if we get together as a group, as a community, we can win this battle."

And it is beginning to look like it just might be possible to do just that. The traffic analysis of the Alliance's Brian Ketcham, work that predicts that the store would add 16,000 additional vehicles on the average weekday, is beginning to sink in with the town of Ramapo. Supervisor St. Lawrence's comments to the Times illustrate this point: "My concern is with traffic, and for a regional store like the one being proposed, we need a regional solution, and that's not something you can solve with a few stoplights."

This is as close as St. Lawrence has come to indicate that the town may be moving to vote down the proposed super center. The voting strength of the Orthodox community is noted: "The community is considered a powerful voting bloc, so in an election year, officials have been careful not to alienate its members" (St. Lawrence is up for re-election this year).

It should be noted, however, that the African-American mayor of Spring Valley also opposes Wal-Mart, as does the Working Families Party and the locals of the UFCW. This is a large coalition against the Walmonster and we're hopeful that the electeds of the Town of Ramapo will recognize this and do the right thing: send Wal-Mart packing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Need to Fight Fat

The NY Post has a disturbing story this morning on the obesity epidemic that threatens NYC children. The threat is particularly acute in the Bronx where, "25 percent of Bronx elementary school students are considered obese and more than 42 percent are overweight." This translates into about half of all of the children in the borough being super sized by a combination of unhealthy eating and the lack of exercise.

Clearly, something needs to be done here: "As BP Carrion says, "It doesn't take a health expert to realize that unless we get these kids exercising and on the right nutritional track now, we are going to be dealing with this issue 20 years from now when they are obese adults." And one elected official is doing just that. As we have been commenting all along, Joel Rivera, in collaboration with Dr. Mehmet Oz's Health Corps, is trying to reverse this frightening trend.

Rivera's obesity initiative received over three million dollars from the council budget, with the Health Corps getting over two million of the appropriation. The purpose of the HC is to create a sea change in health attitudes among the city's young people. The program targets high school kids because its goal is to create health activists who will become advocates for change in their communities.

In this way, the HC can become an important catalyst for school-based as well as community-based health initiatives. Often these other health programs are missing the kind of activist mindset that will energize participation at the local level. This hearts and minds side of the equation is the necessary complement to larger policy initiatives. We are happy to be part of this effort.

The High Cost of Congestion

Brian Kates has an interesting piece in this morning's NY Daily News on the lavish support that the mayor's plan is getting from multiple sources. Proponents of the congestion tax argue that the plan will be a financial boon for restaurants, construction, taxi drivers and ferries; "And many people-including lobbyists, public relations gurus and lawyers-are already walking away with piles of cash."

Still, it is clear that the ultimate bill for the lobbying effort in support of the proposed tax scheme will run into the millions of dollars-outspending opponents by better than 15-1. The NYC Partnership, "has spent $1 million to research and promote the plan," while the Metropolitan Taxi Board has been spending $10,000 a month for the past two years for lobbying fees in support of congestion pricing. Add to this, Pat Lynch's $15,000/month from the Environmental Defense Fund and $300,000 spent by traditional outsiders like Transportation Alternatives, and we have the most unusual array of political bedfellows shilling for the congestion tax.

But, as the chart in the News shows (not seen in the electronic edition), the clear losers if this plan were to go into effect would be the middle class commuters from the outer boroughs who will be paying the full congestion tax freight, while their well-heeled fellow commuters from the suburbs will be getting the toll-based discount. In addition, as the chart points out, small contractors and distributors who must come into the CBD to do business will be taxed unfairly-since the new toll will not keep their trucks from the roads they need to travel in order to simply stay in business.

But Kates misses the even larger "riches" that the mayor's plan is generating. As we have pointed out already, the mayor is running a veritable smorgasbord of municipal goodies for those electeds who join with him in support of the plan-and many of these folks represent districts whose residents are strongly opposed to the new tax. If and when this pork barrel auction is exposed, there will be a lot of politicians with a little more than just egg on their faces.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Community Rallies Against Columbia

With the certification of the Columbia expansion plan accomplished, the next battle venue will be at the local community board. It will be at CB#9 where the university can expect a fierce opposition from a community that, feeling disenfranchised from the start, is furious over the summer certification of the Columbia land use plan.

Some of this emotion can be evinced in the recent article in Indymedia that highlights the community's sense that it is being railroaded. Reporting on the recent protest in front of City Planning, the paper cites community protester Tom Klappner; "We'll just stand here until you arrest us." The larger group began chanting, "127th Street-Not for sale. 128th Street-Not for sale."

All of the vitriol stems from the arrogance of a supposedly progressive institution using their political muscle to bogart legitimate community interests. The summer certification simply underscored what the community knew all along: Columbia's self-interest is the ultimate bottom line; and the concern that its professoriat shows for the less fortunate is purely a cover for the less savory reality that it serves to hide.

This is the kind of blatant hypocrisy that an English author once referred to when he called such progressive thinkers "herbivores."
In short, for the herbivores, or gentle ruminants, who look out from the lush pastures which are there natural station in life with eyes full of sorrow for less fortunate creatures, guiltily conscious of their advantages, though not usually ceasing to eat the grass.

Congestion Contention Unresolved

As Newsday is reporting today, with the close of the current legislative session, it remains unclear just where the mayor's proposal to tax motorists going into the CBD is going. Speaking on his radio show yesterday, Blomberg "remained optimistic," yet all that we are hearing from Speaker Silver seems to indicate that his skepticism about the mayor's plan remains unabated.

In particular, as Silver told the Daily News, he has "lingering questions about the plan, including the disproportionate impact it would have on drivers entering Manhattan from Brooklyn and other boroughs." Shelly pointed out that it is precisely those less affluent borough residents who would be paying the full $8 dollar a day tax; while the more well-off commuters coming in from, let's say, New Jersey, would have the tax deducted from their daily toll.

In talking with a number of city council members who remain opposed to the mayor's plan we're hearing two discordant themes. In the first place, there are a number of law makers who have seen the mayoral push for a congestion tax as an opportunity to mimic Monty Hall in "Let's Make a Deal." As some members have said, the willingness of the mayor to hold a public auction and the number of eager council participants means that there is less of a clamor for proper legislative oversight-a persistent theme with this council.

The lack of council oversight was raised in a conversation with Brooklyn council member Vinnie Gentile. The council member asked us why some restaurant owner needed to go through an entire environmental review if he wanted to put a couple of extra tables out in front of his eatery; yet somehow a vast mayoral taxing and driving scheme, ostensibly aimed at creating a cleaner environment, needed no EIS or council oversight. Not even a home rule message?

Which brings us back to the possible return of the legislature in mid-July. If the serious questions about the disparate impacts and over all environmental effectiveness of the mayor's plan have not been properly addressed-not to mention the problematic nature of the availability of federal funds-than there is no reason to move this proposal forward; certainly not with the undue hast that the mayor has been urging.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Congestive Traffic Failure-II

Taking a page out of our original post on the topic, the NY Post headlined today-"Congestive Failure-Shelly Slams Mike," signally the breakdown of negotiations on the mayor's ambitious plan to tax motorists driving below 86Th Street in Manhattan. In the Post article Silver harshly lashed out at the mayor's efforts, chiding him for "trying to ram the plan through while ignoring anybody else's view."

Silver went on to say that the mayor "insists he is the city," and never properly vetted the plan by taking it to the City Council for review. In addition, Shelly denied to the Post that he had ever signed off on the governor's proposal to set up a congestion commission to devise and implement the congestion pricing scheme; "'I did not agree to that,' Silver said."

In spite of yesterday's failure, Governor Spitzer vowed to keep pressing for a mid-July deal in order to "make New York eligible" for $500 million in federal transportation money. Billy Hammond reports that "all sides are holding out hope" that a deal can be reached. Yet, it appears to us that this likelihood has been made dimmer by the mayor's dramatic party switching.

As the NY Daily News reports this morning, "This was probably not Mayor Bloomberg's idea of bipartisanship when he quit the Republican party: Lawmakers on both sides think it could make it tougher for New York to win federal dollars." Congressman Serrano said it best when, commenting on the president and his party's likely reaction to the mayor's defection he remarked; "Why would they want to help him?"

The prospects of any deal being reached in July are also exacerbated by the apparent bad blood being exhibited between Joe Bruno and the governor. The accusations being tossed don't allow for the kind of atmosphere that is conducive to deal making. Add Shelly into the mix and the situation is truly challenging.

With all of the deadline desperation removed from the equation, however, isn't it time to set up an appropriate framework for reviewing the mayor's plan? The submission of the proposal to a full environmental review would be a good first step. In our view, the more the plan gets scrutinized the more average New Yorkers are going to see it for what it is: a taxing scheme that is an unnecessary burden, one whose transportation goals could be accomplished in a less intrusive yet more effective manner.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Poor Choices

The mayor's poverty prevention initiative, as Nicole Gelinas writes cogently in this morning's NY Post, is a bureaucratic disaster that's just waiting to happen. The mayor wants to actually pay folks to behave better. As Gelinas observes, "The city's 'Center for Economic Opportunity' will pay people $20 per adult and $20 per child each month to take advantage of Medicaid."

Leaving aside the philosophical merits of this experiment for a moment, can anyone envision what it would take to monitor these proposed behavioral incentives? Just when the welfare rolls are diminishing, Bloomberg is ready to introduce a multi-billion dollar cash transfer nexus that is going to make all of the folks over at DC 37 absolutely orgasmic. Think of the thousands of workers this will necessitate. The potential for fraud will be nigh unimaginable.

And now for the philosophical message. Gelinas once again puts her finger on the essence of the problem. The mayor's program actually singles out the poor people who are behaving badly for a municipal reward. What about the thousands of poor folks who are behaving well? Will they be eligible as well for a cash benefit? And how will we distinguish among all of these folks? What societal message are we sending to those the kids who are currently going to school, using their library cards and taking their tests?

As we have commented before, this initiative fits in to the patronizing and elitist mindset that the mayor has become famous for. His menu labeling regulation-the posting of calorie counts at fast food restaurants-devolves from the inherent belief that those folks can't be expected to act well in their own interest without the help of their betters. This comes dangerously close to the colonial "white man's burden" philosophy.

As public policy it is an unmitigated disaster waiting to happen. It will, if implemented as a governmental program when this pilot ends, erode personal responsibility and once again make the government handout the expected benchmark of political participation for the city's poor. And this guy wants to be president?

Columbia Compromised

In yesterday's Crain's In$ider the newsletter reported on the fact that when the CPC certified the Columbia expansion plan this week, they also certified the CB's 197-A plan, a "community-friendly alternative..." Crain's, however, remarks on the fact the this alternative vision would severely truncate the university's expansion effort and gives it little chance therefore of being adopted.

Well, while its true that the community's plan would only give the university about 13% of the acreage it says that it needs for expansion, it is also true that a compromise proposal could incorporate aspects of both plans. There is no compelling reason, absent avarice, to simply turn the entire 18 acre parcel over to Columbia.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mayor's Autocracy Fought

As the NY Post is reporting today, the opposition to the mayor's congestion tax seems to be stiffening in the assembly. As the Post says, "Assembly Democrats met privately late Monday for nearly three hours to discuss the issue...The overwhelming sentiment was that no deal on congestion pricing would get done..."

In fact, the opposition is so intense that the general feeling coming out of the caucus meeting was that the congestion tax, "is likely dead for good," since so many members vehemently oppose the measure "on principle." This large contingent sees the tax as simply "class warfare against the middle class." Speaker Silver's take here is that congestion can be alleviated without resort to the mayor's tax plan.

Opponents of the concept are not, however, resting on any assumption that this deal is dead. Today, a contingent of Queens civic groups, led by the indomitable Corey Bearak, are joining with Councilman David Weprin at 11:00 AM to march from the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall for a press conference denouncing the congestion tax. More of these protests will follow to insure that the mayor's scheme doesn't re-emerge, in Freddy Kruger-like fashion, in a special session in July.

Fast Food Regs-Not so Fast

The lawsuit that was recently brought against the Department of Health's silly and expensive menu labeling regulation, has led the NYC DOH to postpone implementation of its rule until October. As the NY Times reports this morning; "The lawsuit, filed last week by the New York State Restaurant Association, contends that the regulation conflicts with federal nutritional labeling laws..."

And not only that. The requirement that the 2300 fast food outlets that had already been providing customers with nutritional information in the city should now post calorie contents of their offerings right up on their menus and menu boards, is not based on any public health evidence that the regulation would have any impact on healthier customer choice.

It is all part of a big brother mentality that believes that fast food customers aren't smart enough to make healthy choices without the government's heavy-handed intervention. In effect, as the suit contends, the health department is conducting a large-scale social science experiment to see if the posting of calories will lead to healthier eating. It is doing so, however, by forcing the fast food franchisees of the city-and only these operators (since the other 90% of the restaurants are exempt)-to spend tens of millions of dollars so the city can run its public health experiment.

All of which is sad, because Councilman Joel Rivera has introduced legislation that would allow for the collaboration between the industry and the city in developing better methods for getting nutritional information to fast food customers. The DOH and council leadership has resisted this compromise effort, the lawsuit is the inevitable result of the city's unwillingness to be reasonable. Now the resolution of the issue goes into the courts, instead of the political arena where it could have been resolved if the city had not been so intransigent.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Columbia's ULURP Begins

As Sewell Chan is reporting in today's City Room post, the City Planning Commission has certified the application by Columbia to expand its campus into West Harlem. Chan highlights the areas of disagreement between the university, its community critics and the area's community board. Chief among these concerns is Columbia's use of eminent domain to eject local businesses from the impacted neighborhood.

The community board now has 60 days to consider the plan after CPC rejected the community's call for further delay so that CB#9 wouldn't have to act on this application in the summer while many people are away. CPC spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff told the Times that a two week delay had already been granted which, considering that the final disposition would be pushed to the middle of August, amounts to little more than ice in the winter (or heat in the summer). This issue will certainly heat up in the next few weeks as Columbia prepares to bring its act to the community board.

Willets Point: A Pig in a Poke

Clearly, the development of Willets Point is not something that will proceed smoothly under the current EDC scenario. As we have been pointing out, the City Council would be crazy to allow the administration to ULURP the area and throw out all of the businesses, without any developer in place.

At last week's council hearings, this skepticism was voiced by anumber of key council members. It will be interesting to see just how strongly the council remains once the mayor's key ally across city hall weighs in on all of this.

London Assumptions Falling Down

Just as the congestion taxing scheme appears headed for a postponement, comes a fascinating piece in the NY Post on the impacts of the congestion idea on the city of London. It's not that the Post article finds universal condemnation from Londoners, it's that the plan has some far reaching implications-some of them unpleasant- that many New Yorkers may not be prepared to deal with.

In particular, there is a clear indication, as we have been warning, that the plan will seriously hurt small businesses who need to deliver to, or service customers in, the congestion zone: "But while most have sought ways to avoid having to pay, some-like contractors and deliverymen-have had no choice. 'I spend two hundred pounds {about $400} a week on it, 'said Paul Bowles, who runs a custom window installation business. 'You have to roll that onto your clients...'"

What is remarkable here is that the city of London has never bothered to do any kind of economic impact analysis on the congestion tax plan. And of course the mayor, in his full court press for the New York version, abjures any real in-depth evaluation of any of the potential negative consequences of the plan.

Yet without this kind of analysis it is difficult to make any accurate judgements about the benefits of the mayor's grand scheme-for without a cost ledger, the real impact of the idea simply cannot be judged. And when we add to this, the phony enviro-asthma posturing of Mayor Mike, we should all be glad that Shelly Silver, along with New Jersey Governor Corzine, is exercising caution.

Which brings us to the larger issue of mayoral motivation. As the plan moves inexorably forward (in spite of the public's deep skepticism-see new Q-Poll); with a momentum resulting from the tremendous confluence of political power and money, it is important to step back and contemplate where this born-again environmental tsunami is coming from. Our answer is quite simple: this is all part of a unique special interest crusade. That special interest is enveloped in the mayor's hubris; an arrogance that is pushing him to promote a concept that will be useful in marketing Team Bloomberg on the national stage.

Choking on the Mayor's Rationale

We have been commenting all along now about the hypocrisy involved in the mayor's use of the asthma bogeyman as a method of selling his congestion tax. You simply can't have any credibility on this issue if, on the one hand, you make the linkage between cars and asthma while, on the other hand, you continue to promote shopping centers and box stores in areas where high incidences of the disease are found.

This hypocritical stance is brought out this morning in Andrew Wolf's incisive column in today's NY Sun. Wolf, however, takes the issue a step further by questioning the "junk science" behind the asthma-auto pollution nexus. He rightfully points out that scientists have underscored the fact that the etiology of asthma is found in insect and rodent infestation and not from auto emissions. This doesn't mean that auto-induced pollution is good for you, just that the asthma fear mongering is not something that Dr. Bloomberg should be doing.

But Wolf, taking up our initial point here, also makes the point that Bloomberg's use of this scare tactic contradicts the mayor's economic development efforts-something that Wolf supports unreservedly: "By buying into similar arguments, the mayor undermines his own initiatives." Which only serves to further highlight the degree to which the mayor's new found greenness is pure bunk; and is designed to create an appealing national narrative in the furtherance of Bloomberg's own political ambitions.

Monday, June 18, 2007


The City Planning Commission is preparing to certify the Columbia expansion plan this morning at its regularly scheduled meeting over at 22 Reade Street. There will be a 12 Noon press conference/protest by the Coalition to Preserve Community (the other CPC) which strongly opposes the university's effort. The certification of the plan comes after the timing of the move was protested by members of the community, as well as by CB #9 chair, Jordi Reyes-Montblanc.

What this June certification date means is that the final community board disposition of the project will be timed for some time in August, a timing that the community sees as purposeful and designed to minimize opposition at the neighborhood level. What remains true here is that the university, renowned for its "progressive values," is moving forward with its plan, paying Bill Lynch $40,000 a month to do the bogarting; and doing it against the wishes of the members of the community board and the neighborhood activists of CPC.

All of this is being done without any proposal to provide affordable housing to a community that has experienced significant displacement as a result of gentrification, a process that will inevitably be exacerbated by the Columbia plan. The threat is severe enough to prompt BP Stringer to propose a zoning plan of his own to counteract the impact of the university's expansion. The Stringer plan has been endorsed by Congressman Rangel as well.

As we have said before, while the Stringer plan is a worthy gesture, it misdirected: the real focus should be on the Columbia plan itself, and not just the after shock. Which is why the university should be forced to include a significant affordable housing component in its plan, one that also allows existing businesses to stay in the neighborhood that they have employed local residents for the past three decades. Until the plan is modified, it should be resisted by all of the area's elected officials.

Composite Error

There is a great riposte attributed to Karl Marx, a man who rather famously loathed all of his fellow socialists who pretended to emulate his self-acknowledged greatness. Observing the effort of the French socialist Proudhon to compile a comprehensive treatise of socialist theory, Marx remarked; "Proudhon seeks synthesis, but all he achieves is composite error."

It now appears that the state senate, looking for synthesis, is about to-if successful in its efforts to craft a compromise bill on congestion taxing-achieve composite error. If the report coming from the indefatigable Liz Benjamin is true, the senate has proposed a compromise that would sunset the "pilot" in three years, and create a new "congestion board" that would replace the SMART Authority that would have given the mayor complete control over all of the money.

All of which is lauded by Senator Marty Golden, a man we've known for over twenty years and, until now, have never known him to be as gullible as he is appearing on this issue. For him to call this a "great bill" is a slap in the face of his Bay Ridge constituents-and the rest of South Brooklyn as well. We can usually count on Golden to stand strong on tax subterfuges like the congestion plan, and can only wonder at what has prompted the about face.

In any case, the compromise is by no means a done deal, even with Malcolm Smith promising to deliver 12 votes from his caucus. The real question here, as Liz points out, is how many votes Bruno can deliver from the majority. And of course, where Shelly stands on the bill remains unknown.

Richard Brodsky, one of the mayor's staunchest critics in the assembly on the issue, told the Daily News that, "You never rule anything out...But the problem is the fundamental defects in the plan haven't been worked out." One being the fact that it is a $600 million a year tax (not including the residential parking fees that have yet to be set) that hasn't even been shown to be efficacious at accomplishing its main supposed goal: reducing congestion and pollution.

One final note here. The NY Sun is reporting that Speaker Quinn, silent on this issue up until now, will be stumping for the mayor's plan while he is away in California. It will be interesting to see how the Quinn-Weiner battle plays out in all of this; and if the Manhattan speaker, supporting a tax on Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island residents, will be able to resonate any kind of appeal outside of a rather narrow range of voters.

Voice of the People: Congestion Tax

The NY Daily News continued its crusade yesterday in behalf of the mayor's congestion tax. In its lead editorial the paper took critics of the congestion tax to task for their failure to come up with any alternative ideas. As it opined: "If there's a smarter way to tackle congestion...we haven't heard it from the naysayers in the legislature."

Let's take a moment to analyze this position. For the past two months-not really a great deal of time to evaluate a grandiose $600 million a year scheme-various elected officials have been asked to support a complex and radically innovative plan that will heavily tax their constituents. They've been asked within the context of what amounts to little more than a policy bum's rush-with the mayor trying to panic everyone to act swiftly before a federal windfall is no longer available to the city (A windfall that is $100 million less than a single year's tax collection under the mayor's plan).

The complex plan is being reviewed and legislators are now being asked by the News to put up an alternative to the mayor's scheme or simply shut up and go along with the plan that they have found to be flawed. This is not a tenable position; and it is why the entire plan needs to be subjected to a full environmental review? Within the context of a review there will be opportunity to devise alternatives to the mayor's taxing proposal.

Demonstrating its lack of responsible journalistic oversight, the News goes on to cite the poll that was done by the supporters of the mayor's plan as proof that, "most New Yorkers support the plan when fully informed about how it works..." This is sheer nonsense. The Queens Civic Congress, a grass roots umbrella group that represents scores of local community groups, has just picked up additional support from the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Space, as well as CAGE (Citizens Against Graffit Everywhere), which means that the grass roots belong to the opponents of the mayor's plan-and we've just begun to organize.

We can get a real glimpse of the voice of the people in yesterday's NY Post, where letter writers inundated that paper with criticisms of its support for the Bloomberg's tax. Most of the respondents hit upon the theme that the pricing scheme was simply another way for the city to take away hard earned money from its citizens.Given the fact that New York's tax burden has reached a record high, you'd think the folks at the Daily News would be a bit less eager for another levy-no matter how worthy the alleged cause.

Universally, the Post letter writers expressed complete skepticism over the assertion that the money raised would even go to mass transit; As one savvy New Yorker wrote:"This will be just like when they said that lottery proceeds were going to help the schools...Whose pockets are going to get lined with this new tax on an already overtaxed city?"

And another New Yorker really hit it square when he told the paper; "Only in New York would people believe that the money generated from the commuter tax will be spent responsibly on improving mass transit." He goes on the correctly call the tax measure a "feel good" effort that "only works in people's minds."

With the numerous and serious kinds of questions that the Bloomberg tax raises, and the all speed ahead approach from the mayor's side, it is quite funny to see the Daily News criticizing the legislature for giving the scheme a "quickie" hearing. Hey, wake up there on 33rd Street. Was the legislature given more time for proper deliberation? The time frame here is all because of the mayor's inappropriate pushing of a plan that has not been given proper due diligence.

Put simply, the mayor's plan is a flawed approach that raises more environmental and fiscal issues than it answers. Will congestion be significantly reduced by the $8 and $21 tax? Will those taxes rise if the congestion remains at or about current levels? Can congestion be reduced in a comparable way without taxing certain New Yorkers $600 million a year? What guarantees exist that transportation infrastructure will be upgraded significantly enough, and in a reasonable period of time? What about the "hot spots" that exist in other parts of the city where asthma rates are really much higher than in the CBD?

So the News is right. This plan deserves more than a "quickie" hearing." However, we trust the letter writers to the NY Post a lot more than the bien pensants of the permanent government; and a mayor who wants to use a "feel good" measure to boost his national political ambitions.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Restaurants Sue DOH

As Crain's is reporting, the New York State Restaurant Association is suing the NYC Board of Health and the DOH in order to prevent the implementation of "Regulation 81.50," the rule that would require certain restaurants (only the 10% that are chains) to post calorie information on their menus and menu boards. The suit, filed in United States District Court, seeks a restraining order on the city's enforcement of the regulation-a hearing is scheduled for June, 27th.

The legal basis of the suit is twofold: in the first place, arguing preemption, the lawyers at Arnold and Porter say that the federal Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) gives exclusive authority to the FDA to regulate the purveying of any nutritional information at "away-from-home" food outlets. Secondly, the suit argues that the rule's rigid requirement violates the free speech rights of the businesses effected, since it compels the fast food outlets to convey a nutritional message that they feel is both misleading and erroneous.

In arguing preemption, the suit contends that only the FDA has the legal authority to implement rules for the dissemination of nutritional information at restaurants. It further points out that the FDA has expressly encouraged a flexibility in the approaches taken by restaurants since, "there is no one 'right way' to communicate this information."

The law suit recreates the arguments that the industry first brought in December when the rule was first promulgated. In particular, it was emphasized at the time, that the narrow focus on calories and the restriction of the regulation to only those restaurants that actually provide nutritional information to their customers, would not enable the city to accomplish its stated goal of reducing obesity.

In addition, it was pointed out that the DOH had absolutely no evidence that calorie posting would be efficacious and lead consumers to make better nutritional choices. As the law suit points out, "In fact, the Department of Health acknowledges that it has no idea whether Section 81.50 would have any effect on health...In response to one of the public comments that it received, questioning whether the Regulation would achieve its stated goal, the Department of Health acknowledged that 'the health impact of calorie labeling will be evaluated...'"

In essence, as the suit argues, the city is attempting a "social experiment" to determine whether the alleged benefits of calorie posting will be borne out in the real world. DOH's ex post fact efficacy study underscores this point; and even the studies that it relies on to "demonstrate" why calorie posting should be tried only indicate that there may be "potential health benefits."

All of the public health authorities (and even the researchers that the city relies on) point out that calorie posting has limitations; yet the DOH's initiative will quell a more comprehensive nutritional information dissemination in favor of a rigid "one size fits all" regulation that will likely confuse much more than it will educate. Meanwhile, if left unimpeded, the regulation will cost NYC businesses over $40 million in compliance costs.

Which is why the legislative initiative of Council Health Chair Joel Rivera made the most sense. The bill, which would replace regulation by legislation-a more appropriate method for something this extreme, would allow restaurants a greater flexibility in getting nutrition facts to their customers, and would also create a methodology whereby restaurants that aren't included in the DOH edict could begin to develop methods to inform their patrons on health.

The Rivera bill, however, was not even accorded a hearing. In essence the Council through its inaction is ceding legislative authority to an unelected board of health. For this and other reasons that we have outlined, the lawsuit by the industry is a welcome breathe of fresh air in a stifling political climate for local businesses.

Bloomberg: "Show Me The--What Money?

In what has been the biggest political bum's rush in recent memory-the attempt to ramrod a $600 million a year tax plan through the state legislature in a few weeks with little scrutiny-we are now being treated to the spectacle of what looks more like a charade. As the NY Post reported yesterday, it appears that the $500 million in federal funds that the mayor has been touting in his push for congestion taxing, may be nothing but a chimera.

All of the uncertainty has come from the skepticism shown by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFasio, chair of a powerful transportation subcommittee, that the $500 million is even available for NYC. DeFasio wrote the the mayor a questioned, "the expectation that the federal government would ever deliver those funds." Well, we questioned it all along, never understanding why people suspended their disbelief over the eagerness of the Bush administration to help this city.

All of which is making Shelly Silver look pretty good for his desire to exercise a degree of caution-and some due diligence-over the mayor's plan. This is a complex proposal that cries out for a great deal of scrutiny; it is certainly not a policy that should be fast tracked because of the urgent need to take some federal handout-especially when there's no iron clad guarantee that the hand will be out when the city puts its tax in place.

In addition, we need to have the press act more vigilantly in regards to this proposal-in particular, a more thorough review of the mayor's methods and motives. After all, this is a billionaire mayor who has been lauded for being above the so-called special interests, and the normal morass of backroom political dealings. We know for a fact, however, that the mayor has been wheeling and dealing like an old ward boss in order to entice every last assemblyman and state senator to come out in support of the tax.

Which, by the way, is not something that we have any moral objection to. It is something that deserves scrutiny because it puts the mayor in a totally different light; and when seen in the context of his complete about face on environmental issues, the whole dramatic production deserves to be gone over with a fine tooth comb (Especially when we see our real estate scions lip-locked with the grunges from the environmental justice groups).

Put simply, Kermit the mayor has, through his shopping center and box store building (not to mention his proposal to put a football stadium in the Far West Side of Manhattan), added tens of thousands of tons of CO2 emissions into the city. Now, are we to believe that the mayor has gotten religion all of a sudden? That the outcasts of the environmental movement are now to be given favored spots at the mayoral banquet?

Which brings us directly to motive. The mayor is building an environmental and public health platform in preparation for running for national office. On paper, and with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend, this traffic reduction scheme will look like a winner. It simply doesn't matter whether it works well, or is efficient at accomplishing its stated goals of cleaning our air. When the dust settles on all of this, the mayor's quixotic national quest will be long over; and New Yorkers, in spite of what the NY Post inexplicably says, will still be paying for its folly- unless wiser heads prevail.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Queens Pols Congested Over Tax

The rising level of opposition to the mayor's congestion tax plan has found its strongest expression among Queens electeds. As the Queens Courier highlights in an editorial this week, "Not so fast Mayor Mike," calling on the mayor to slow down "and address all of the problems, pitfalls and nasty scenarios of your congestion pricing plan for Manhattan."

Leading the Queens charge is Assemblyman Rory Lancman who told the Courier that "it is somewhat irresponsible on the mayor's part to drop this radical, comprehensive and complicated plan on the legislature's desk two weeks before the end of the session." Lancman also points out that we don't need a congestion tax to fix the city's traffic mess.

The editorial concludes with the observation that; "The plan raises so many questions and provides few answers. Administration and enforcement will be a nightmare." The paper than asks its reader to call 311 and tell the mayor what he can do with his congestion tax.

The Queens Chronicle also has an interesting article on the controversy. In it, the paper cites the fact that only two Queens electeds support the mayor's plan. The article quotes Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette that, "He fears that the enactment of congestion pricing will wreak havoc in residential areas and transportation hubs." Audrey Pheffer from Far Rockaway said that the plan would hurt small businesses: "She said that the toll on small businesses could devastate the city's economy."

All of which should be seen as a warning to Bronx BP Carrion who, toadying to the mayor's whims, has just come out in favor of the plan. This after he failed to unequivocally oppose the auto-dependent Wal-Mart, and after he supported the asthma-rich Gateway Mall on the grave site of the old Bronx Terminal Market. Adolfo better watch his back-the Diaz family may be coming after him, and Brooklyn and Queens voters aren't going to respond kindly to his lack of concerns for their interests.

Atlantic Yards Lessons

There is an instructive editorial in this week's Brooklyn Eagle that looks at what opponents of the Atlantic Yards project did wrong in their effort to stop the development in its tracks. As editor Dennis Holt points out, "The Atlantic Yards project, now in its fourth year, has engendered deep emotions, more so than any project in my time. Sometimes emotions are fake,but not in this case. The problem is that the emotions got in the way of common sense three years ago when the project first surfaced

As Holt highlights, the emotions ran raw and an absolutist-"No Way"- mentality was rampant. So much so that, "the kind of discourse that should have happened never took place until far too late in the process." In addition, as Holt observes, "The whole form and feeling of the 'other side' got out of hand."

What was missing in all of this was an honest broker who could represent the community interests. The reason for the absence was that the mood in the community that coalesced around Develop Don't Destroy wasn't looking for any compromise that would have allowed the Nets to come to Brooklyn-the linchpin of the entire development.

So at the end of this long process, the opponents have their fruitless lawsuits, but little else. Knowing Bruce Ratner as well as I do (since I work for him on this development), I know that he was ready to listen to anyone who was willing to be reasonable. On the other hand, if you believe in all of your heart that a project will never be in the community's benefit, then you can't be reasonably expected to negotiate a community benefits agreement.

That's fair enough; but if a project is moving forward with broad support you risk it all by simply placing your body in the path of an oncoming train. It might feel both righteous and heroic, but in the end its a futile romantic gesture.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Take Out the Papers and the Trash Plan

It now looks as if the mayor's trash plan will itself be shipped out to a landfill, as the legislature held firm in its opposition to the placing of a recycling facility in an area designated as park land on the West Side of Manhattan. As the NY Sun reports today, "Bloomberg's Trash Plan Sinks in Albany."

Which is exactly what we predicted over a year ago when we said that the plan, built as it was on a house of cards that depended on approvals for two controversial facilities, was doomed to failure. What no one has looked at, however, is the fact that the mayor's "comprehensive" trash removal plan doesn't have a single realistic method for reducing the amount of garbage that is exported. At the end of the day, all the plan does is distribute the pain rather than accomplishing the more significant reduction in trash exports

From Congestion to Political Gridlock

From the very beginning of the congestion tax fight we have been emphasizing the fact that the grandiose plan of the mayor's needed to be subjected to careful deliberation. The reason for our warning devolved from the far-reaching, yet not fully examined, impacts that the plan would have-not only on traffic, but on the city's economy as well. Given these concerns, we felt that it was incumbent of elected officials to demand that the proposal be given a full environmental as well a socio-economic analysis.

Instead we witnessed an unprecedented rush to embrace the plan-from business people with no previously acknowledged concerns about the environment, to politicians who appeared to be more interested in currying support from the mayor than in examining the impact of a congestion tax. The one sole major political figure that stood out against this stampede was Speaker Shelly Silver.

Silver's opposition, derided on the editorial pages as "obstructionism," was grounded on many of the principle objections that opponents of the congestion tax had been raising. The most important concern in our mind was Shelly's insistence that the plan not move forward without a more thorough review. Given their leader's strong stand, the Assembly's Democratic caucus began to rally against the rush to judgement.

In an article in today's NY Post, it now appears that the opposition has coalesced and the Assembly appears ready to put the entire idea on the slow track. At a meeting of the body's Steering Committee, the concerns expressed by the members were too great to allow the mayor's plan to go forward in its "current form."

The concerns expressed ran the gamut, with Ruben Diaz the most eloquent in his defense of the average New Yorkers: "...people feel uncomfortable charging hard working middle-class families extra dollars to come into the city." Assemblywoman Roann Destito simply-and eloquently as well-said that the plan, "is not well thought out."

The younger Diaz is not alone in his family's skepticism. In an editorial in the New York Press, Ruben Diaz, Sr. lashes out against the mayor's plan: "As a State Legislator who is faced with deciding whether or not to approve the Congestion Pricing Plans proposed by the mayor of the City of New York, I must ask: who is really going to benefit from these plans, and who is going to suffer from their impact?"

He further asks, "How can we be assured that these plans won't increase traffic congestion in the Bronx and add more pollution to our already polluted community and further increase the serious and ongoing asthma and respiratory problems that cause our children and families to suffer?" Diaz goes on to raise questions about who will be in charge of the plan's implementation, clearly showing concern about the Carte Blanche nature of the mayor's proposal.

Where this leaves the plan is uncertain, but at least we have a situation developing that will hopefully allow a more deliberative process to unfold; one that is not suborned by the influx of suspect dollars from even more suspect supporters of the mayor's plan. Shelly and his stalwart crew will see to it.