Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Goodby Dolly

The news that City Planning Commissioner Dolly Williams was leaving the body because of a conflict of interest didn't do much to move us; we just don't hold the Commission in enough regard to really react to the news. Others, however feel differently. As the NY Sun reports, DDD's Daniel Goldstein looks favorably upon Williams' removal because of conflicts involving Atlantic Yards, and her replacement by Shirley McRae, a sometime critic of the project: "As for the new commissioner: "It's got to be an improvement over someone who's just been fined over conflicts of interest," Mr. Goldstein said. He added that he was encouraged by Ms. McRae's critical perspective on the Atlantic Yards issue during her time on the local community board."

Goldstein should really temper his enthusiasm, it tends to place too much emphasis on the import of all of this minor maneuvering. After all, a conflict at the planning commission, a body that faithfully discharges the mayor's will, has little impact on the resolution of any individual issue; it's not a venue where democracy is exercised.

And the fact that the state named Forest Taylor as an ombudsman is even less noteworthy. In the years that Taylor was supposedly Gifford Miller's chief of staff. we can't recall a more evanescent figure in out 25 years of lobbying the city council. An ombudsman is nothing more than an emotional release point for those with a particular beef; not, like Goldstein, for those who want the whole project to disappear.

The problem here lies with the development process rather than the behavior of planning commissioners. The selection of developers and of sites; the decisions about what should be built-all are more significant than the parsing of the review process. Over the past 25 years there's been only a few of us who have successfully, and consistently, stopped developments from happening.

Under the current administration, however, the scope of possible opposition has narrowed-a situation that is exacerbated by the relationship between current council leadership and the mayor. When you add to this the fact that a handful of developers-really two-have been treated as favored nations, you can see just how limited the whole scope of potential opposition has become.

So, in reference to the leaving of Dolly Williams we're reminded of the old proverb: "the law punishes the thief who steals the goose from off of the common; but lets the greater felon loose, who steals the commons from the goose."