Friday, August 31, 2007

Bloomberg's South Poll

In what appears to be a Marx Brother's-like response to the latest Q-Poll, the mayor and some of his supporters seem to be saying, much like Chico said when the husband of the woman he was in bed with suddenly burst into the room; "Who're going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?" So we have with the just released poll results, which showed once again that the great majority of New Yorkers think that the congestion tax idea stinks.

The funniest response, besides the one from the mayor's office which sounds just as if it were scripted by Baghdad Bob, comes from the group Transportation Alternatives. This organization, the strident leader of the bicycle brigade, attacks the poll itself and complains about the "biased" wording of the questions; "Paul Steely White, the group's executive director, thought the questions had 'loaded language,' such as the 'federal meddling question,' and criticized the poll for not specifying times that vehicles will be charged for driving south of 86th Street."

As far as the "meddling" question is concerned, we think that it was inspired. It gave respondents the opportunity to think about the nature of the funding source, the sum of money involved, and the strings that were attached to the allocation. It's not as if New Yorkers were knee-jerk conservatives suspicious about the role of the federal government in their lives.

The problem with ideologically inspired groups like TA, is that they are forever running up against the recalcitrance of the "masses," and the inability of the people to understand the righteousness of the cause. All of this comes out of the Marxist false consciousness play book, and it denigrates the innate ability of the folks to understand what is really good for them. It is the mindset that led Rousseau to observe that sometimes, "You have to force people to be free."

Which gets us to the mayor's position that the poll, because it says that 57% of New Yorkers would support a congestion tax if "is used to prevent an increase in mass transit fares and bridge and tunnel tolls," actually demonstrates that people really support his plan. The NY Post's take-"Bronx Jeer for Traffic Fee"-is more to the point.

This is strictly Wonderland stuff since it is clear that the funds are not going to be used for that purpose, and even if they were there's not enough revenue being generated-especially after the administrative costs are applied-to hold the fares or tolls down. As Crain's points out, "That’s an unlikely scenario as proceeds from the proposal, which aims to reduce traffic in the city by 6.3%, are earmarked for transit improvement projects, such as the Second Avenue subway and new bus facilities, and not to offset fare hikes." So if you want to take a shot at the poll, you could say that it was this question that was misleading.

And how about the press reports today about the great response rides have to the "already overcrowded" 7 Line? The Times headline-"More Trains..." Here's TA president Roberts' candid admission: "Mr. Roberts said that he could not add more trains during the busiest period in the morning and evening, which lasts roughly an hour, because the line was already running at capacity then. But by adding trains before and after, he said, he hoped to be able to “spread the peak” and change the habits of some riders.Mr. Roberts said that he could not add more trains during the busiest period in the morning and evening, which lasts roughly an hour, because the line was already running at capacity then. But by adding trains before and after, he said, he hoped to be able to “spread the peak” and change the habits of some riders."

Is there a clearer demonstration of the cart-before-the-horse nature of the congestion tax then this statement from the head of the city's transit system? The Posts' take on the 7 Line could be applied to the entire system: "The No. 7 isn't in danger of flunking out, but could probably use a tutor." Let's scrap the congestion tax folly and get a grip on a comprehensive transit plan, one that benefits all New Yorkers, and not just some consultants who are planning to milk the new technology.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Know Nothing Brigade

Thanks to the link from Daily Politics Blog, and welcome to its readers. It always gives us great pleasure to respond to our legion of fans, one of whom commented on the Liz post this morning. In his remarks, a certain Hugh Taylor referred to "Lipsky and his Know Nothing Brigade."

The tenor of the comment reminds us of how William Buckley responded to the followers of Ayn Rand, when the conservative columnist called her a fascist. When Buckley appropriately labeled Rand for what she was, he was subjected to an avalanche of vicious, self-righteous vitriol. To which Buckley responded: Rand's followers, "Dotted the "I's," and crossed the "T's," of my point."

In reading the Taylor commentary, we experience the same kind of smug self-righteousness, the sense that he represents the forces of light against the forces of darkness-a Manichean world view that underscores just why the legions of Taylors-and all of the Streetbloggers-simply don't get it. They look with contempt at the petit-bourgeois, outer borough boobs, and see their concern with taxes and fairness to be nothing more than narrow-minded selfishness.

We can see this in Taylor's diatribe against those commuters who use the "subsidized" East River bridges. The world view here is redolent with disdain for those New Yorkers who really do the lion's share to make this city productive-and who happen to drive their cars to work in the process. In addition, we also detect the redistributive philosophy that drives so much of the congestion debate-just read the DMI blog to get the full flavor of this pro-tax view.

So continue to call us Know Nothings Mr. Taylor. What you'll discover is that your contempt for the people will come back strongly to bite you on the asinine world view you so emotionally espouse.

Booing Bollinger, Holding Columbia Accountable

At a recent meeting of CB9 Columbia University president Lee Bollinger, along with ex-mayor David Dinkins, were booed by an irate community for their support of the university's expansion into West Harlem. In today's NY Daily News columnist Errol Louis takes umbrage with the reception and sees the disrespect as part of an unwieldy land use review process that he labels the "Gulliver Gambit": "pretending to support progress, but only if the developer agrees to attach a thousand tiny strings to a big project."

Which, we believe, is an unfair view of the process and reduces complexity to what amounts to a simplistic description of a more complex reality. What this all comes down to is the nature of the project in question, and what kind of impact a development may have on the community and/or the smaller businesses in the area.

In spite of what Errol implies, not all large development projects are benign. The Gateway Mall in the Bronx, for instance, can be seen as a sweetheart deal that one city official steered to his good friend-at the expense of the economic health of smaller business, and the environmental health of the community. Does a community protest in this instance lack righteousness when area electeds sheepishly refuse to stand up for local community interests?

So to focus exclusively on process is a mistake. If the community isn't able to make its voice heard there is always a distinct possibility that behind-the-scenes maneuvers can end up being deleterious to the neighborhoods. The ULURP process, then, allows an irate community to express its views-under the assumption that more sunshine (not Ken, however) is needed in order for area elected officials to truly understand how a community feels.

In the end, there is no such thing as a Gulliver Gambit, because the strings attached have no weight in the negotiating process-one that is in the exclusive purview of area elected officials. In the Columbia case, the fact remains that the booing Bollinger received, as the NY Post editorialized this morning, should be seen as a wake up call for the university to negotiate, something that Bollinger himself has now stated publicly.

And negotiating in good faith is something that Errol Louis also properly endorses: "Such complaints are a distraction from the real deal making that needs to take place." The complaints and the raucousness, however, are sometimes a necessary ingredient to get the mule's attention.

Which brings us to the proposal being floated by Nick Sprayregen. As Louis points out, "In particular, there's a proposal by Harlem businessman Nick Sprayregen that deserves more attention: the deal would swap Sprayregen's businesses on the west side of Broadway for Columbia's property on the east side, where Sprayregen would build up to 1,000 units of affordable housing."

As this concept of our client Tuck-it-Away becomes clearer, we'll see just how much the university is willing to bargain in good faith. But we will agree with Louis that, "New York is long overdue for a new set of land use regulations." Until that happens, however, the strident voice of the community remains an important way for keeping developers, and the elected officials who may slavishly support them, accountable for their actions.

Stupid, Qpid?- NOT!

Yesterday we commented about the Politicker post on congestion pricing polls, one that previewed the Q-Poll that comes out today. In the post Azi suggested that, when the folks are told about the "myriad benefits" that will flow like manna from heaven once the mayor's plan is implemented, they support the congestion tax. We called this a crock, and pointed out that the only poll that showed support for this scheme was the one done by the mayor's own pollsters-another example of how so-called experts are being mis-used by the pro-congestion tax side.

Well the poll is out, and the results not only reinforce what we said yesterday, they actually underscore the fact that the more people find out about this mishagos the less they like it. Today's Q-Poll finds that New Yorkers have become more skeptical:"Traffic congestion in New York City is a 'very serious' or 'somewhat serious' problem, 89% of city voters say, but voters oppose congestion pricing 57-36 percent...This compares to 52-41 percent opposition in a July 26 poll by the independent Quinnipiac University."

On the other hand, the Q-pollsters found that if the proceeds of congestion taxing were used to "prevent an increase in mass transit fares and bridge and tunnel tolls," something that the state comptroller says is not possible, than support for the tax almost reverses. Which makes sense, since the tax payers would then see the measure as a potential financial wash for them personally.

What's fascinating in the poll is the evidence that New Yorkers are so disenthralled by the congestion tax idea that they reject-by a 51-35 percent margin- the $354 million carrot that the Feds are dangling to the city if an agreement on a congestion tax is reached. The poll found that respondents saw the promised funds as "federal meddling in a municipal decision," As poll director Mickey Carrol says; "'Don't tread on me' ought to be the message on the city flag. A majority of New Yorkers think it's federal meddling when Washington promises transit aid with strings-only if the city approves congestion pricing..."

Another interesting set of results revolves around race. Black and Latino respondents reject the congestion tax by larger margins-63-29, and 61-34-than do white voters. Opposition to the tax is strongest in the Bronx (which has no representation on the commission), where the margin balloons to 74-21. Queens and Brooklyn opposition remains at 60% or better.

So what we have here is another elite scheme that is meet with heavy disdain by the less sophisticated folks who just seem unable to grasp just what's good for them. It is, however, a clear warning shot to all of those pols that are interested in a city wide office in 2009. Like Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, they should see the Q results as the handwriting on the wall. A congestion tax is a most unpopular idea, and is not likely to endear any office seeker to vital outer borough constituents.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


In today's Politicker Azi previews tomorrow's Q-Poll on congestion pricing with the following observation: "When people were asked about congestion pricing without being given a description of its projected benefits, the plan was not overwhelmingly popular...When people were told about the benefits of congestion pricing it suddenly sounded to New Yorkers like a more reasonable price to pay." What's Azi been drinking?

First of all, when any non-partisan poll was done on congestion pricing, it was thoroughly rejected-with wide landslide-like margins in the outer boroughs. The only time this didn't happen was when the mayor's own pet pollsters spun some tale about all of the "projected" benefits of a congestion tax (perhaps the cure for ED was in there as well).

This is all invidious rubbish! In fact, Azi, the Penn poll-unlike any other-actually showed wide support for the mayor's tax scheme even before all of the "myriad" benefits were outlined. So why the juxtaposition of reputable polls an obvious push poll? The reality here is that there is so much confusion-some of it deliberate-surrounding the mayor's (Kathy Wylde's?) scheme that it is hard to judge what people may actually be responding to when questioned by a pollster.

Most folks in the boroughs, however, are pretty good at understanding when a tax is a tax-and are rightly skeptical when Manhattan elites talk about the "myriad benefits" devolving from the picking of their pockets. We'll see tomorrow how well the folks resist the mayor's lavish efforts at disinformation.

On the Brink of a Windfall

We have been commenting on the role being played-both behind and in front of the scenes-by the consulting firm of Parsons Brinckerhoff, on the advancement of the idea of a congestion tax. One of the themes we have been emphasizing has been the need for independent review of all of the assumptions built into the mayor's plan. Foremost among these assumptions is the assertion-taken at face value by a coalition of the venal and the gullible-that the mayor's tax will reduce traffic by 6.3%.

As we have been pointing out, this unverified magic number emerges from a study done by the P-B firm on behalf of the NYC Partnership. To our knowledge, not a single independent review of the study has ever been done. But one thing we do know for certain, Parsons is no disinterested third party in this fight. Let's put it this way: As far as "congestion pricing" is concerned, Parsons Brinckerhoff doesn't have a dog in the fight (and with apologies to Michael Vick), they are the dog.

When you google Parsons and congestion pricing you get 14,000 hits! The firm is advocating all over the world on this issue, and to say that it has a vested interest in a favorable outcome in NYC would be one whopping understatement. So then, what is its once and future employee, Sadik-Kahn, doing on the congestion commission? And for that matter, what is the Parsons partner at the NYC Partnership, Kathy Wylde, doing there as well? This is what the NY Times calls a "mostly thoughtful and impressive" commission? Emmit Till had a fairer adjudication than the opponents of a congestion tax will receive from this bunch.

So in the middle of this process, one that even the mayor's aides are saying is a stacked deck, the Bloombergistas are starting a procurement process for the firms that will eventually handle all of the lucrative work installing and monitoring the congestion pricing system-and not one reporter has asked the mayor whether or not Parsons Brinckerhoff should be excluded from the bidding?

Which brings us back to the purpose of the congestion commission: evaluation. How could this possibly be done fairly? With so many ringers appointed to this commission all that is left is to be done to punctuate this charade is to disinter Judge Roy Bean to preside over the proceedings. One marvels at the level of arrogance of the puppet master who put this Punch and Judy show together.

Poor Policy: Bloomberg's Mexican Hat Dance

The Gotham Gazette is writing on Mayor Bloomberg's new approach to the war on poverty-paying for good behavior in order to create a change in the attitudes that lead to the perpetuation of poverty. As we have said before, this is not a very good idea at all. In fact the proposed cure here can easily become worse than the disease.

In the first place, as has been pointed out, the use of the Mexican example makes no sense at all. The Mexican woman who are paid to take their kids to a doctor would have no ability to do so because of the feared loss of income from the jobs that they are doing. These are real world obstacles that can be rationally overcome by the Mexican subsidy program. And let's face it, the best poverty program Mexico has is the hundred yard dash across the US border-not exactly what we should be using as a role model

This situation has no American analogue. The folks here who are failing to avail themselves of school or services are behaving this way because of a certain set of internal attitudes that used to be pejoratively known as the "culture of poverty." If we pay them to behave differently, what will this do to their current set of beliefs and behaviors? What about the folks in the same set of social circumstances who are trying to behave in ways that will enable them and their children to succeed?

Of course, paying people to behave properly is not only a slippery slope-will we have to raise the stipends periodically to insure compliance?-but will inevitably lead to the creation of a social welfare structure that will be more concerned with self-perpetuation than any dramatic solution of endemic poverty. And it goes without saying that the tax payers will be asked to pick up the exorbitant tab if this social experiment has its option picked up by government when the private subsidies lapse.

And let's make no mistake about it, despite what the mayor might say, paying people to behave better is not capitalism-it is simply another variant of the tired social welfare mentality. While it is true that this is out-of-the box thinking, it is in no way comparable to the courageous decision, embodied in the 1996 welfare reform act, to insist that those seeking assistance must work.

So let's hope that the experiment goes no further than its current philanthropic incarnation-with George Soros at the helm for Pete's sake. What needs to be guarded against here is the possibility that the chosen evaluators-MDRC-will hot wire its analysis of the experiment. A great deal of independent oversight is needed here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Send in the Consultants

In what was a refreshing and honest look at the way we do the city's so-called environmental review business, the Manhattan Institute's Hope Cohen exposed what we have called the collusion of the consultants. This is the process by which consultants in this city revolve into and out of government and, as a result of the potentially lucrative golden parachutes that are waiting for them once ensconced in a decision-making position, they are unwilling to honestly evaluate development projects.

Here is how the Manhattan Institute report accurately captured this phenomenon: "The revolving door between powerful government and highly paid private-sector CEQR jobs means that no want wants to go on record blowing the whistle..." Which brings us to the present conflict over congestion pricing, and the report by Liz that the city has issued a RFI for consultants to possibly implement the technical phase of the mayor's plan.

As the Daily Politics points out, the city is looking for firms "with the right technical expertise" to demonstrate just how the congestion tax would be implemented and monitored. This is no small matter because, as we have pointed out, the cost of manging the congestion tax system could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

So who might be lined up in this anticipated feeding frenzy? We don't yet have the list of potential suitors, but there' one firm we know will be there, and it will have an intimate friend right at a coveted seat at the table. The firm? Parsons Brinckehoff, a company that has been involved in the pre-planning of this tax scam from the very beginning, and whose former employee is now the DOT commissioner and congestion commission member-Janette Sadik-Kahn. And since sadik means "wise one"in Yiddish we're convinced that Sadik-Kahn will... Well, just learn from history on this up-coming scenario.

It should also be pointed out-and why aren't more reporters involved in doing this basic investigative journalism?-that PB and the NYC Partnership were the partners in the original study that Kathy Wylde, also a commission member (any patterns developing here?), continues to allude to in her learned defense of the mayor's plan. This is a real conflict of interest scandal in the making-and the real basic question here is: who will regulate the regulators?

Fatten Down the Hatches

In a study released yesterday by the Trust for America's Health, we are once again reminded that Americans are getting fatter-and our children are particularly at risk. In New York City, the survey found that 22.4% of New York's adults were considered to be obese-a number that rises over 50% when we include overweight as a category.

In the NY Sun story this morning, it was also pointed out that 43% of city elementary school children are overweight and, as Dr. Lous Aronne of New York Presbyterian Hospital told the paper; "Telling people to eat less and exercise more hasn't worked." Jeffrey Levi, the executive director of the health organization told the NY Post that, "Kids aren't running out to play after school as they used to...They're spending more time in front of the computer screen."

Which is precisely why the Health Corps initiative spearheaded by Councilman Rivera, is so important. We need to break the current cycle but, as HC founder Dr. Mehmet Oz wrote last week in the NY Daily News, "What it takes, however, is a change of attitudes and lifestyles, and this is no simple matter."

It is the mission of the Health Corps to do just that. Now placed in 28 NYC high schools, the HC is going out to alter the current trends among our young by inculcating a different mindset; and through education and inspiration the goal is to instill this healthier lifestyle in a new generation of kids. The crisis is severe and if we don't do something our entire health system will implode in the not so distant future.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"If Mr. Livingston is Correct"

The editorial page of the NY Times has become what William Buckley used to say about the Yale faculty: that he'd rather be governed by the first one hundred names in the New Haven phone book. So it goes with the Times and its editorial observations. This is, after all, the one year anniversary of the Duff Wilson's infamous 6,000 word disgrace of a story about the three lacrosse kids at Duke. We still are awaiting the paper's editorial mea culpa but we're not holding our breathe.

Let's just say that the Times' judgment is suspect on a wide range of matters, and the nosedive into red ink (with a drop in area market share from 29% to 24%), is a reflection of the way in which the paper remains out of touch with average New Yorkers. Which brings us to yesterday's editorial on the congestion commission.

That the Times could describe the panel selected as "a mostly thoughtful and impressive one," is a fair indication of it's lack of perspective; and its failure to call a spade a spade about the selection of pro-congestion tax lobbyists by all of the law makers except Speaker Silver is egregious, considering its normal disdain for lobbyists of any kind. We guess it all depends on who the lobbyists in question are.

But if this is the case, than the Times is exhibiting a gross hypocrisy. The fact remains that lobbyists of all stripes, and we should know, represent "special interests." This is true whether you like some of the interests and despise some of the others. So, if your the Times, it's okay to appoint reps to the commission who have a vested interest in one particular outcome? How are these ringers going to be "thoughtful?"

Of course, the Times is being less than honest in this discussion. To deconstruct: "We like congestion taxes-just like we like all taxes, except when we're accepting tax breaks for our own corporate interests-and since we support the mayor's plan we have no issue with the appointment of 'thoughtful' ringers to the congestion commission. Imagine if some of the law makers had appointed Walter McCaffrey, Richard Lipsky and a slew of anti-congestion industry figures, with only one lone law maker appointing congestion pricing proponents?

Fahgettaboutit! The paper would be screaming like a stuck pig, and probably calling for some kind of independent investigation. Can we get any clearer a demonstration of the oxymoronic nature of journalistic honesty here? And the position of El Diario is not much better; and hasn't been since the mayor dropped an adverti$ing bundle on the paper in his first campaign.The reality is that the commission remains a stacked deck, as Councilman Fidler originally described it.

But what really got our juices flowing was the suggestion by the Times that the commission follow the guidance of Red Ken Livingston, an anti-Semite and America hater that the paper gave over its editorial page to last month: "if Mr. Livingston is correct," brays the paper, than we will all be convinced that, as London goes, so goes New York. Give us a break. The Times still refers to Livingston as a populist; another indication that without double standards the paper wouldn't have any standards at all.

What needs to be done here is simple. The mayor's plan, and any alternatives need to be put to the test by the undertaking of a comprehensive and independent environmental review. But this is not all. We also need to examine all of the fiscal implications of the congestion tax, and do so within the context of the lack of accountability and transparency exhibited by the MTA when it proposed a fare hike last month; or perhaps the Times has forgotten its previous positions here?

Which brings us to the continual use of the 6% solution mantra. The Times concludes its confusion and collusion here by saying; "The federal government has warned that its pledge of $354 million in assistance depends on achieving an approved plan that reduces traffic by 6 percent, as Mr. Bloomberg's proposal would." (added emphasis) Says who? What about Mr. Bush's surge? Will the Times buy into General Patraeus' argument if he tells the Congress that the surge is working?

So why do we have have such an easy suspension of disbelief in this case? The Times needs to do much better in serving the interests of its readers (and its former readers who are beginning to out number the current ones). Only an independent evaluation of the congestion tax will shed light on the serious questions that have been raised by opponents of the mayor's plan. What's everyone afraid of?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Mysterious 6.3%

You might know about the old ethnic joke that asks the supposedly stupid member of that particular group, "What's the greatest invention of all time?" To which he replies, "The thermos." "What about the telephone, the computer, or even the wheel, for God's sake," asks the questioner. The justifying reply in favor of keeping the thermos as number one: "When you put something hot in it, it stays hot. And when you put something cold in it, it stays cold." "So what," says the questioner. "So what?" goes the reply- "How does it know?"

Which of course brings us to the mysterious 6.3% in the mayor's traffic congestion plan; this is the alleged percent reduction we'll see in congestion if we apply the proposed taxes on commuters and trucks going into the city's CBD. To which we reply: "How does it Know?"

This is an extremely important point in the debate that is going to unfold about the mayor's plan in the next few months. Editorial boards, chiding opponents of the congestion tax, have hectored them with the admonition that any alternative plan must do as well or better than the mayor's reducing traffic congestion. Yet in the hundreds of pages that make up PlaNYC 2030 there are only 16 pages that address the congestion pricing plan and its traffic reduction abilities-and there is absolutely no documentation of the methodology or work product that underlies the skimpy conclusive statements in the plan document!

We're not surprised. This is all de rigueur for the land use flim-flam artists that comprise the city's environmental consulting class. They submit reams of documents that allege all sorts of fairy tale scenarios designed to mitigate that most severe possible traffic congestion impacts. The only thing that's always missing? Any back-up documentation; without which it is impossible to test the validity of the conclusions submitted.

So who did the original work on the 6.3%? The answer: Parsons-Brinckerhoff, the same firm that has given the city its new transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Kahn-someone who just so happens to sit on the new congestion commission. All of which underscores the Manhattan Institute's observation about what's wrong with the city's land use process: the circulation of the consultants who rotate effortlessly from the private sector world of consulting into high government positions, only to rotate back once certain lucrative decisions have been made.

This is a climate of collusion that our local press has been slow to examine. Perhaps the paper of record would like to take a stab at this? After all, if this was the military-industrial complex the Times would be all over how this circulation process enriches the Halliburtons of the world-at the expense of tax payers. In NYC, where real estate is the reigning power elite, this kind of collusion remains unexamined; and a good reason may be that the corporate interests of the media are intertwined here.

All of which demands that the examination of the mayor's tax plan be done through an independent environmental review, one that examines any number of alternative scenarios as well. The examination, however, must be as free of bias as possible. This means that the three or four major consulting firms, the city's usual suspects, need to be told to sit on the sidelines; and outside expertise must be brought in to fairly vet the mayor's ex cathedra proclamations.

Friday, August 24, 2007

West Harlem's Not For Sale

In yesterday's El Diario CB9 Chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc lashes out against the use of eminent domain by Columbia in the West Harlem neighborhood. In particular, he takes issue with the university's job claims, and points out that the 6,000 new-mostly high tech- jobs Columbia claims it will generate, will replace 1,600 factory and mechanics jobs that are being done by a predominately Hispanic work force.

In addition, as we have been relentlessly pointing out, gentrification has already hit this area hard. Apartments that were going for for as little as $300/month are now being rented for $1800/month. Once the expansion takes hold, it will be tough for anyone of modest means to live in or around the university's hallowed ground.

Which is why we have been hitting hard on the affordable housing issue-and Columbia's failure to devise any meaningful housing plan; but also for the way in which it is relocating low-income tenants. As we have said before, unlike Columbia, Atlantic Yards developed an extensive housing program and the university is going to have to step up and not wait for the LDC to bail them on this key issue.

Which brings us to a post that was done by the Wonkster yesterday on the CB 9 vote. Calling the CB9 vote a "bump in the road," and referring to Curb's description of the vote as "meaningless,"the web site went on to point out that Richard Lipsky's representing the area's largest property owner and according to the indefatigable Norman Oder, is making arguments that he supposedly refuted when he was representing FCRC on the Atlantic Yards controversy.

First, it would have been nice if Wonkster had linked to us if it was going to link to Oder's exhaustive deconstruction of our arguments. But that being said, we are flattered by the almost hermeneutic-like attention Oder pays to our positions on the topics of eminent domain and the land-use process. He has an almost Talmudic fascination for what he sees as our inconsistencies in these areas.

And in some ways he's right since politics is so often a case of, "whose ox is being gored." But in another important way he's off the mark. One's view of process is colored by, in this case, first principles. In any land use matter first principles emanate from your view of the merits of the project itself. As we have often said, we have no absolute position on eminent domain, but we have pointed out that the rights of property owners need to have a greater degree of protection than the currently have under NYS law.

Which gets us to our rationale for working on the Atlantic Yards project. Our attraction to the development was initially spurred by our past academic interest in the interface of sports, politics and society. As a result of this interest we begin to see how the Nets coming to Brooklyn could have a significant benefit to the amateur sports programs of the borough. This lead to our development of the Brooklyn Sports Alliance, the only lobbying focus that we had during the entire land use battle. For a fuller account of our disagreements with the AY critics, you can go to here, and here, and here. Suffice it to say, that we looking forward to the collaboration of the BSA and the Brooklyn Nets, a partnership that will do great things for the kids of Brooklyn.

One final observation, We don't know Norman Oder but as far as we can see the AY projects is the only one of its kind that he has ever been involved in; and there's no question that he has devoted a great deal of exhaustive energy and talent to the effort. However, it simply can't stand in comparison to our own body of work in his area, grass roots lobbying that goes back for twenty seven years in NYC.

In that period of time we have defeated three Wal-Mart projects, a BJ's Warehouse Club development, three Costcos and seven separate shopping center projects; not to mention keeping Anheuser Busch at bay on an anti-trust crusade or the better part of a decade. In all of these efforts we have defended the rights of communities and small businesses. Once the AY critics have a body of work like this they will be in a better position to criticize our work.

Let's not forget, that absent the work we've done over this period of time, there would have been no other lobbyist defending the rights of less well-heeled interests. So. while we remain flattered by Oder's meticulous attention to all of the nuances of our arguments, we are unmoved by the criticism. As Pete Seeger said in one of his songs; "How do I know my youth is all spent, my get-up-and-go has got up and went, but in spite of it all I'm able to grin, to think of the places my get up has been."

Fidler On the Truth

In yesterday's Daily Politics Blog Liz highlights the unusual Council vitriol generated by the decision of Speaker Quinn to stack the congestion commission with ringers. The leader of the attack was Councilman Lew Fidler who strongly charcterized the Kangaroo Commission as a "scam."

Lew's money quote: It's wrong to have a commission that is clearly a scam. and is not going to consider alternatives to the mayor's plan...I usually keep my negative counsel private, but this is a very public issue..." What Fidler is saying, and what we're hearing privately from a number of council members, is that the lack of fairness in the make-up of the body is going to seriously erode the commission's credibility when it finally makes a determination in this matter. In addition, the Speaker's choices here, as well as the selection of Marc Shaw as the commission chair, indicates the extent to which the mayor's heavy hand has played in stacking the deck with his own kangaroos.

This is what's known as being too clever by half. In not trying to at least appear to be even-handed, the mayor and his minions are paving the way for legislators to ignore the commissions "findings." In fact, the interrelationships on the panel-and the less than six degrees of separation between the panelists and the mayor-threaten to give incest a bad name.

Dissatisfaction is not limited, however, to the scamifold ways the panelists bring their own ground axes to the discussion. As the Wonkster reports, citing the editorial in the Staten Island Advance, other council members are upset that there are no representatives from either the Bronx or Staten Island ("A Snub, By Any Measure").

This is no minor issue. As we have commented in another context (the fight over the Tottenville Wal-Mart), traffic congestion and pollution is a major issue on the Island, one that is so strong that it really made our successful fight against the Walmonster much easier.

The exclusion of anyone from Staten Island or the Bronx (where asthma rates are highest) only further underscores that there is no serious city wide approach to congestion/pollution in the current congestion plan; and it's highly unlikely that the commission, with its collection of the like-minded, will venture too far from the orthodoxy demanded of it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Livingston, Chavez and Bloomberg?

We have been noticing just how much the whole congestion pricing issue has created some strange bedfellows-from the scions of New York real estate to the more politically radical advocates of environmental justice. Nothing, however, beats the recently announced alliance between Red Ken Livingston and Hugo Chavez, the "socialist" dictator of Venezuela.

According to the Financial Times, Livingston has struck a deal with Chavez, whereby the apparent dictator for life is supposed to forward around $32 million to subsidize poor Londoners to ride the city's buses. In exchange, Livingston will come down to Caracas to help that city implement a congestion pricing plan.

Livingston and Chavez (along with the DMI's Schlesinger)-perfect together. Red Ken has no problem aligning himself with the latest left wing tyrant because, as we have already pointed out, he has a history of doing so; and takes particular glee if the partner in question hate the US. In this case he makes no bones about where his allegiances lie: "Frankly I'd rather be getting into bed with {Mr. Chavez} than, as the British government has been, getting into bed with {US President} George Bush."

But then again Red Ken would have said the same thing about Mao and Stalin-or Saddam Hussein for that matter. And this is the dangerous kook who New York wants to use as a role model for it public policy agenda?

The fact remains, however, is that there is a great deal of affinity between congestion taxing and a whole slew of other government dictates that seek to penalize behaviors deemed anti-social; and Mike Bloomberg leads the way in this aggressive paternalism that is so often mislabeled as "progressive." The common denominator? The feeling that most folks don't really know what's good for them and you need, in the words of Rousseau, to "force people to be free." It is a dangerous slippery slope that our mayor walks; and some of the fans of congestion taxing should give us pause before a misplaced enthusiasm takes a feverish hold on our senses.

Beating the Drums for Criminal Immigrants

We have had our issues with the philosophy of the Drum Major Institute for some time now. In general, we feel that the organization has a redistribute the wealth ideology that is a direct threat to hard working middle-class New Yorkers. Now, however, they've taken an even worse turn with an indefensible post done on the murders in Newark. The post's title-"Newark Opts Out of an Immigration Dragnet"-underscores the dishonesty of the poster, and the DMI should disavow any paternity for the remarks; but we doubt it will.

The fact that the the heinous murders of three good college-bound kids doesn't make a dent on the poster, so intent is he/she? on creating a red herring that will elide the central issue that should frame this debate, highlights just how much the pro-illegal ideology eschews good common sense. That issue?

We have a policy in the city of Newark that is so concerned with the sensibilities of folks who circumvented the law to arrive here, that it prevents the law enforcement establishment from inquiring about the immigration status of someone arrested for a despicable crime. Mayor Booker should be chastised-not lionized by DMI- for his negligence, and for his lack of concern for the safety of the citizens of Newark.

This is not about any dragnet for illegals, and the focus on this malicious straw man underscores the way in which a growing cohort of dishonest people have hijacked the immigration debate. When people who are in this country illegally, and they are arrested for a crime, they need to be held without bail until their situation is adjudicated. Mr. Carranza (and the other illegals who colluded with him), on bail after three separate arrests-one including the allegation of the rape of a five year old-did not belong on the street. If his status had been questioned, a detainer would have been placed on him by ICE; and he would not have been on the street to murder the promise that those three kids represented.

This is the central issue of the debate: Have we become so insensitive to the rights of law abiding citizens that we can't even question the immigration status of those people who are arrested for heinous crimes? This refusal to stand up for the sovereignty of this country, is the hallmark of the DMI philosophy. They don't want to protect our borders because they don't believe in the legitimacy of our borders-in spite of any of the usual disclaimers that folks like this issue.

And for the DMI poster to try to reference the policies of former mayor Rudy Giuliani is another example of DMI bad faith. Whatever Giuliani did or believed when he was mayor became obsolete on 9/11. The immigration dynamic changed when 19 fanatics, in possession of multiple false ids, flew those planes into buildings. Don't forget, these evil men utilized the illegal immigration network to get the drivers licenses that they used to get on those planes. And, by the way, NYC does cooperate with immigration authorities when it comes to illlegal behavior by immigrants.

So what the DMI post does is to falsely stigmatize all of us who want to get criminal aliens out of this country as quickly as possible. The manner of the stigmatization involves labeling us as either racist, or "anti-immigrant." This is how the debate gets debased in a miasma of dishonest finger pointing. Which is why we cheer the just announced policy decision by the NJ Attorney General that dictates that all of the state's law enforcement personnel must report the illegal status of those that are arrested for violent crimes in the Garden State.

We find all of this repugnant. We have spent the better part of twenty five years defending immigrant store owners and restaurateurs, and no, we didn't inquire about their status. Immigration is a source of this country's real strength, but to fail to defend the borders; and by nonfeasance to allow criminal illegals to be set loose on our street to murder, is not to be a defender of immigration. It is to be a defender of the dissolution of our country's security and sovereignty; and the concomitant demise of America's greatness.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Basement Paneling

In her effort to furnish the congestion commission, Speaker Quinn has outdone herself in proffering the most unbalanced possible panel choices. What's interesting, as we have pointed out, is what the impact her choices might have on congestion tax critics. The first blowback has now come in-in the form of Assemblyman Rory Lancman.

As the Observer points out, Lancman severely takes Quinn to task about her transparent effort to promote the mayor's plan by stacking the commission with kangaroos: "This is already a plan the public is not happy with. The legislature is not happy with. If there is an impression that the commission is stacked, it will not help the mayor's efforts to get a congestion pricing scheme."

We really can't understand what the speaker is thinking here. It is extremely difficult for any speaker to make the step up to city wide office, even more so if the speaker in question is seen as a Manhattan-centric liberal. There's a perception in the outer boroughs, especially among those Democrats who deserted the party in droves to support Guiliani and Bloomberg, that this species of Democrats has no sense of empathy for tax paying homeowners.

Quinn's support of the congestion tax, widely seen as an effort to build an expansion bridge to the Magic Kingdom of Bloomberg, is likely to earn scorn from those borough voters. Her nomination of Kathy Wylde to the commission, someone who is rightfully seen as the mayor's major congestion tax supporter, will only reinforce the sense of alienation that these more conservative Democrats feel towards the Manhattan elites. This, we believe, will be exacerbated by the fact that Wylde represents all of the city's real estate power elite-a fact that will further distance Quinn from the bulk of voters that she will have to win over if she runs in 2009.

But will the mayor's endorsement help her overcome this isolation? We believe not; and the reason is that Mike Bloomberg is given a pass for his pro-tax insensitivity and Nanny-state proclivities (something the Speaker herself shares); a dispensation that won't be bestowed on the candidate Quinn. In the end even if she gets it, and there's no guarantee that she will, we think it will amount to little more than a Phyrric victory.

Which brings us to choice number two: Andrea Batista Schlesinger of the Drum Major Institute. Schlesinger, who we have taken to task in the past for her Institute's aggressively pro-tax views, is trained in the field of education and appears to have little or no environmental expertise. Her appointment, once her resume is made known and the ideology of the DMI is brought to light, will further isolate Quinn from the voters she'll need the most if she's going to survive a Democratic primary, let alone a general election.

So what we have is an effort to use the congestion tax issue to cement a tie to the mayor. The cement in question, however, may well turn out to be the weight that sinks her city wide candidacy; and the congestion tax issue will introduce her to outer borough constituents with the kind of imprinting that we believe will not be to her future political advantage.

Columbia: Can We Talk?

Matt Schuerman's Observer Real Estate Blog has commentary on the CB9 vote the other night against the Columbia expansion. The take on what transpired? That there is still plenty of room to negotiate a compromise that incorporates a good deal of wehat the CB would like to see in the expansion plan. The view is shared by Councilman Jackson who told the Observer; "They laid a framework for negotiation...I'm looking at this with open eyes and an open mind."

What was interesting was the comments of Columbia's executive vice president for facilities, Joseph Ienuso. Mr. Ienuso said that the university was examining whether it could still expand, given that it already controls 85% of the area in question, without the use of eminent domain-a major sticking point for the community. As he said; "That's a good question that's part of the analysis that we will be looking at between the draft (environmental impact statement) and the final EIS."

It seems to us, however, that the major bone of contention will revolve around the issue of affordable housing-something that we have underscored from the very beginning. It appears that the university may be willing to set up some sort of housing trust fund, but the sticking point is where the housing would be built (and if any of the housing would be included in the proposed 18 acre expansion area).

A commitment to affordable housing, at least as it seems to us, should involve a commitment to actual brick and mortar-real housing that's affordable to real people. As President Bollinger told AMNY, the university would like, "to achieve a sense of integration with the surrounding communities...That is important to say, but very difficult to do." A real commitment to housing would be a giant step in the right direction. If CU can figure out how to do this-and we're glad to be of help-than they just might be able to mollify a good proportion of the community.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"Honey, They Shrunk My Expansion"

In what the Columbia Spectator describes as an overwhelming 31-2 vote, CB9 sent a message to Columbia University that the university's expansion plan, at least in its current incarnation, is not acceptable to the local community. The university, however, apparently feels that it has enough political support to basically ignore the local community board's advisory sentiments.

As President Bollinger told the Spectator: "'It's always better to have a unanimous vote in your favor...' But, noting the support the plan has from state officials and Mayor Mike Bloomberg, he added, 'we have to really take this focus and try to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement.'" Bollinger was referring to the CBA that is supposed to be developed between the university and the community-represented by the West Harlem LDC.

In last night's resolution of opposition, as Metro reports, there are ten basic demands that CB9 has laid out-crucial ones deal with eminent domain and affordable housing. Columbia feels that the board's provisos can be incorporated into a CBA. It remains to be seen, however, how well the LDC represents community interests. The aborted attempt to remove Columbia critic Nick Sprayregen from the LDC, indicates to us that there are currents on the local group whose mindset may be antithetical to the strongly delineated community concerns embodied in the CB9 vote last night.

It remains to be seen just how the area's elected officials will respond to the clear signals from the community board, and how well the CBA process reflects the sentiments expresses in last night's vote. More fireworks should be expected-as well as electoral blowback from residents if certain pols fail to read the handwriting on the wall.

Health Corps Tackles Obesity Epidemic

In this week's Bronx special take-out edition of the NY Daily News, Dr. Mehmet Oz, the founder of the Health Corps, writes about the group's efforts to fight obesity through education and health activism. The HC is funded by a $2 million grant from the City Council, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars that the group-and its CEO Michele Bouchard-have been able to raise privately.

Starting in the fall, the group will be working in 28 city high schools under the direction of the group's educational director Rob Roberts. A coordinator, trained by Roberts will be working in each of the schools, generating awareness about health life styles, and working with local stores and community groups on initiatives to increase health living.

The goal of the HC is to change attitudes at the local level; by encouraging personal as well as communal changes. The program has been strongly supported by Councilman Joel Rivera, chair of the Council's Health Committee. One of its immediate goals is to work with the DOE to increase the participation of local school kids in the vital free universal breakfast program. A report released this month indicated that only 29% of NYC school children were availing themselves of the breakfast.

Dr. Oz, who is a regular on the Oprah Winfrey show and is the author of two best selling books on health, feels that if we don't create a health activism we are going to be in a massive health crisis in the near future. When young people in their twenties are coming in for heart procedures we are facing a serious public policy calamity, one that we can't afford from either a fiscal or a health perspective.

Quinn Decommissions Diversity

In a move that is surely going to inspire the ire of opponents of congestion taxing, Liz is reporting, and the NY Sun is also, that Speaker Quinn will be appointing Kathy Wylde, an aide to Floyd Flake and someone from among our friends over at the Drum Major Institute as her reps to the Congestion Commission. So much for diversity of point-of-view; we don't know much about where Ed Reed stands (Flake's aide), but the inimitable KW has been the most outspoken proponent of the mayor's plan, and DMI has also staked out a vigorous position in favor of the concept.

According to Liz, there is much discontent over at the Council with the Speaker's choices, as there should be, because if Quinn is going to preserve even the perception of fairness she won't be able to if she puts pro-congestion tax ringers, in kangaroo court fashion, on the commission. Ironically, by doing so, she allows the legislative opponents of the taxing scheme to place pure political will over other mitigating factors-and thus actually finds herself in the position of aiding and abetting the foiling of the mayor's scheme.

In the process, she simultaneously manages to alienate many of her key leadership colleagues in the council, and weakens her effort to cultivate political support for her expected mayoral campaign, This is called putting all of your political eggs in the Bloomberg basket. With any pretense of fairness apparently eschewed in favor of a stacked deck, Chris Quinn helps to underscore the shakiness of the mayor's congestion policy: it simply can't withstand review and evaluation by anyone other than ringers.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Congestion Taxing: It's Debatable

Yesterday, on Channel 4's News Forum, Jay DeDapper hosted a lively debate between Assemblyman Richard Brodsky and the NYC Partnership's Kathy Wylde on the merits and prospects for the mayor's congestion tax plan. Liz Benjamin happily supplied the transcript last Friday. The debate was revealing for a number of important reasons.

In the first place, what comes through clearly is the degree of skepticism that Brodsky, and apparently his colleagues as well, have for, not only the substance of the mayor's plan, but for the methods that he has used to gain acceptance for it. The key Brodsky phrase: "Bum's rush."

In addition, Brodsky feels that the commission's mandate is more expansive than what the mayor and his supporters apparently conceive it should be. The money quote: "...congestion's a problem, and we haven't funded our mass transit system adequately. Whether we need to do a pricing mechanism, whether there are other things that would work as well is really what the commission's mandate is..."

Brodsky also bristled at DeDapper's statement that the mayor's people feel that "the fix's in." He goes on to tell the host that this is the kind of hubris that got the mayor into trouble in the first place; an example, he says, of Mike Bloomberg " at his worst."

What's fascinating here as well, is how Wylde characterizes the process. She tells DeDapper that she has been working for two years on this. Say what? Is she saying that the Bloomberg administration, in partnership with the city's power elite, has been planning this scheme before anyone was publicly made aware of what was going on? What is Wylde saying about doing "three years of study" on the congestion issue?

What did her study say? "We did a study that showed $13 billion a year in new-in additional costs and losses of revenue and another 50,000 jobs that are lost because of the delays...associated with traffic congestion." A heckuva study Ms. Wylde! What's interesting here-aside from the study's provenance-is that the Partnership has endorsed a long-held view on the "externality costs" of traffic congestion that has been pioneered in this area by Brian Ketcham. Brian has employed this analysis to critique the proliferation of box stores and large shopping centers in NYC.

The twist here is that the critique has been leveled at those major developers who make up the leadership structure of the Partnership itself. And guess what? The Ketcham analysis has been uniformly ridiculed and discounted by the consultants in the employ of these good real estate moguls. But now we see it trotted out in support of the mayor's plan-but not for the Gateway Malls in the Bronx and Brooklyn, or the Vronado Mall in Rego Park-neighborhoods where congestion has actually increased in the past few years, and areas where asthma rates are much higher than in the CBD.

But if the Partnership has been studying this issue for three years, pray tell us what is its ulterior motive? Surely, no one believes that it is motivated purely by the public interest. There are multi-billion dollar real estate projects to be bid, and there is reason to conclude that there may be some connection between the Partnership's new-found environmentalism and the prospect of favored nation status with the Bloombergistas.

In any case, if it took the Partnership three years to reach its conclusion-in research that wasn't vetted by anyone independent of the organization's interests-than it is reasonable to demand that a full independent review of the Partnership's work be done in a time-frame that would allow the same degree of due diligence. Don't you think?

So we are back to the original Brodsky point about the mayor's hubris. He colludes behind the scenes for years with the city's major real estate elites and then- Voila!-introduces an absolutely essential global plan to save the city from the deleterious effects of traffic and pollution. And by the way, you need to approve this, tout de suite.

All the more reason why we need to not suspend our disbelief when all of these masters of the universe get together to save us from ourselves. Quite frankly, their motives need to be thoroughly examined; at the same time that their environmental assumptions are put to a very independent test.

Community to Columbia: "We Will Not Be Moved"

In yesterday's NY Daily News, the paper's Albor Ruiz had a powerful column that detailed the reactions of CBM9 chair, Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, to last week's board 17-1 vote that slam dunked the Columbia expansion proposal. As Reyes-Montblanc told Ruiz, "They think they know better than us what is good for the community...There attitude is, 'What is good for Columbia is good for humanity,' which in their mind justifies pushing people around."

Foremost in the community's mind is the fear of residential displacement-an issue that even Columbia's puppet consultants found to be problematic. As Ruiz observes, "...the fear that the elite school's expansion will mean the end of the working-class, racially and culturally diverse neighborhood is pervasive. Rising rents have already displaced many people." Reyes-Montblanc concurs: "'And the Columbia expansion has made it even worse.'"

There is an irony here, of course. Columbia's President Bollinger has been in the forefront of the campaign to maintain racial diversity on this country's college campuses. He was, while president at the University of Michigan, the lead plaintiff in a pair of affirmative action cases that sought to counter efforts to impose color-blind admissions policies.

Apparently, when it comes to the university's own corporate interests, however, diversity is a mere slogan-and the removal actions against the low-income folks at the Till houses is the prime manifestation of this blatant hypocrisy. Mindful of the thin ice it's treading on, Columbia has begun to talk compromise, with university spokesman Kasdin calling the 17-1 vote, "a vote to negotiate."

Now would be a good time to begin. Reyes-Montblanc told the News that compromise was still possible, but the university needs to overcome the severe mistrust it has engendered in the community. Any compromise, according to the chairman, would have to involve conditions, "such as building low-income housing and taking measures to protect the environment."

Reyes-Montblanc has the final word on all of this: "What we are looking for is for Columbia to couple its plan with that of the community...You's true that they do good things for humanity. But they just cannot do them at the expense of the people of Harlem."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Diplomatically Taxing Congestion-Not!

When Mayor Bloomberg announced his congestion taxing scheme in April he told one and all that, except for emergency vehicles, taxis, and handicapped drivers, everyone would have to pay-including diplomats. Well, not so fast. As the NY Post reports this morning, it now appears that State Department pressure has removed diplomats-you know, New York's favorite scofflaws-from having to pay the fee. Diplomats already owe NYC around $18 million in unpaid parking fines.

What got us going here was the fact that our government is fighting the attempt by the city of London to collect $3 million it says that the US owes because of that city's congestion charges. As the Post says; "The State Department-currently locked in a bitter battle with the city of London over $3 million in unpaid congestion fees and fines American diplomats have racked up there-has argued that congestion pricing amounts to a tax. And under the Geneva Conventions, the agency maintains, foreign governments don't pay taxes." (added emphasis)

So it takes the US government to label this congestion plan for what it really is-a tax on the middle class of the city, a tax that all of our free loader diplomats will be able to avoid so that the State Department can save some money. As Josh Beinstock, speaking for the Committee to Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free, says; "It is galling that an Iranian diplomat could pay nothing while a senior citizen from Bayside would be charged to go for cancer treatment at a Manhattan hospital."

The more we are able to see behind the smoke and mirrors involving the congestion tax, the more we can see just how the costs of this plan will burden some of the most taxed people in this country-homeowners, small business folks, and outer borough working people who are apparently the forgotten class when it comes to the policy making of this administration.

Friday, August 17, 2007

More on the Sunshine Band

The fall out from the booing of former mayor Dinkins continues, with Liz Benjamin commenting on the fracas in a post today on her Daily Politics web site. The gist of her commentary is that Dinkins remains "unintimidated" by the reception; but in our view DD is besides the point, as we have already pointed out.

The real issue, as one community resident said in a posted response, is the way in which Columbia is trying to use its political muscle to bogart the opposition-even while its spokesman tells the press that Columbia wants to negotiate a compromise. A side issue is the amount of money being paid to Bill Lynch for lobbying on the university's behalf. Liz points out that the Lynch firm has been paid $285,000 in the six month period beginning last January; a good $40,000 more than first reported. And, of course, no one knows just how much publicist Ken Sunshine is getting to aid and abet the Lynch operation.

The question here is, what is all the money actually being used for? We have pointed out that the Lynchites have been waging a scurrilous campaign against Nick Sprayregen, and at the community board the other night scores of folks from some kind of drug treatment facility apparently were bussed in to provide an amen chorus for Columbia. Someone should demand an accounting here.

And for those who may be curious about the Lipsky lobbying retainer it is for $6,000 a month. Our experience over twenty five years only reinforces the observation that it doesn't pay as well to battle Goliath; but it generally is a good deal more satisfying.

Dinkins Dissed in Harlem

As the NY Press reported yesterday, and as the NY Daily News reports this morning, former New York mayor David Dinkins, came back home to Harlem only to be booed by residents opposed to the Columbia expansion plan. Dinkins, currently a paid university employee, told the hearing at CBM9 that he supports the use of eminent domain to facilitate the expansion. The former mayor's reception is a strong indication of the depth of the opposition to Columbia's development proposal.

The meeting was heated, with the local community opposition pitted against bus loads of union folks who support the job-generating aspects of the Columbia plan. The tactic was lambasted by CB Chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc who told the Press; "'Columbia made a big mistake...They brought in union reps and busload of people from all of the areas of Harlem who are in some sort of program run by or influenced by Mr. Lynch.'

The Lynch in question is none other than Bill Lynch, the $40,000/month man who has been hired to create the impression that there is real community support for the university's development scheme. But, as one Columbia student told the Press concerning the poor reception received by the university, "'Columbia had it coming for them this whole time by excluding the community on every step of the way...Columbia wasn't listening to the community.'" The work of Lynch will not change this basic dynamic.

So now the anti-Columbia resolution goes to the full board for a vote next Monday. It goes without saying that the vote is non-binding but it does, as the Press says, bolster "the board's assertion the West Harlem community doesn't support the school's proposed expansion in the form it now exists." No wonder the Lynchites are trying to make Nick Sprayregen the focal point-anything to take the attention away from how the neighborhood feels about the city's second largest landlord.

That being said, the Columbia Spectator is reporting, as is the City Rooom Blog, that both sides feel that there is still room for compromise. CU spokesman, Robert Kasdin, told the Spectator, "It's not a vote against {the plan}. It's a vote to negotiate." And the Spectator said that, CB9 board chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc supported the idea that both sides would have to give on certain issues and compromise is desirable." We'll just have to see if there is room for good faith here to gain traction.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Do You Love Me? Paradise by the Washington Monument

As we have been commenting, there have been questions raised, primarily by the intrepid Brodsky, as to whether the federal government has actually committed itself to the mayor's traffic congestion tax scheme. The question is not without relevance, since the state legislation mandating the establishment of the congestion commission says that New York must have a commitment of at least $200 million from the feds or else all bets are off.

Now as the NY Times reports today, in the Brodsky letter to Mary Peters, the assemblyman asks the secretary to clarify the terms of the $354 million commitment package. As the Times points out, "Mr. Brodsky said that a new state law that sets up a commission to study the mayor's plan required a firm commitment of $200 million from federal; officials by October."

Now we doubt that the commitment issue will prove to be any kind of a deal breaker but, as the Times says, it does give further indication of the less than enthusiastic response Speaker Silver has to all of this. The Speaker's stance is underscored in a trenchant blog post up at LoHo 10002.

As the bloggers here point out, the Speaker's rope-a-dope strategy has been to use the mayor's own energy against him; and the insistence on due process is just the beginning, it seems to us, of death by a thousand cuts. The money quote: "He simply ignored the urgency, refused to respond to the implied threat of the loss of federal monies and read his own script instead. And the script, like I said, was all about process."

The Speaker's stand is, however, beyond a simple process argument. Shelly has an intimate knowledge of policy minutia, and understands just how all of these mass transit discussions need to transcend the mayor's narrow, self-interested, perspective. As LoHo observes about Shelly: "Silver simply reminded us we may not have the needed infrastructure in place to support 6.3% worth of social engineering. And he's probably right. Remember geographically there's no similarity between the London pricing plan and our own proposed plan. The Manhattan vision is huge, compared to London's."

All of which brings us back to our original observation that this is far from a done deal. And if the devil's in the details, we think that the mayor's gonna have a helluva time getting this lemon squeezed.

Columbia Fails First Community Test

In a raucous meeting up in West Harlem last night the local community board's ULURP Committee rejected the Columbia expansion plan by a 17-1 vote. The vote was on a board resolution that chastised the university for, among other things, its use of eminent domain and its "displacement of CB9M's low, moderate, and middle-income African-American and Hispanic residents, resulting in significant and adverse impacts on the community..." (emphasis added)

In addition, the resolution took Columbia to task for its failure to enter into "a good faith collaboration with the community in developing its proposals," and called on the university to cease its eminent domain intimidation tactics against property owners. Significantly, the resolution called on Columbia to, "immediately develop and hereafter permanently implement and carry out an effective housing anti-displacement program...And further not interfere with the transfer of 132 units from HPD to the residents of these units as previously agreed to by the City."

This last tidbit is in direct contradiction of the university's behind-the-back maneuver to forcefully relocate the residents in collusion with HPD. Crain's In$ider is reporting this effort, one that we expect will be met by a challenge from the tenants who, not only don't want to move, but who were never consulted until after the fact.

Finally,the resolution insisted that Columbia enter into a good faith bargaining with the Board to devise a workable compromise that would permit the university to expand in as community-minded a way as possible. In sum, as strong a rebuke as possible to the Columbia planned expansion, as well as a rejection of the university's assertions that it was preceding with community support. Clearly, the Bill Lynch grass roots effort fell flat on its face last evening; but perhaps the university's mailings will turn this anti-Columbia sentiment around.

All of which means that the university has done precious little to really attempt to engage the community; preferring to allow its paid henchman to launch a scurrilous campaign against one of the most vocal opponents of the project. The community board has also done a yeoman-like job at articulating the community concerns-only to be ignored by Columbia. There is still time for Columbia to turn this around if it cares to do so; and not just rely on the use its political muscle.

One thing we know for sure, Senator Bill Perkins, if last night is any indication, is going to be a thorn in Columbia's side, and if it isn't careful the thorn may get virulently infected. Councilman Jackson, who had nothing to say last night, will need to be mindful of the coming storm as well.