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."