Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tale of Two Cities

In this morning's NY Times, the paper takes a very interesting look at the two-sided opposition to the Willets Point redevelopment: "No one seems to disagree that Willets Point needs help. But when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled a plan last year to overhaul the area with a hotel, school and convention center, homes, offices, parks and retail stores, two distinct groups rose up in opposition. One comprises the owners of the area’s largest businesses, who own half the land in Willets Point and who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists, consultants and political contributions to the City Council members who will vote on the city’s plan. The other consists of auto shop workers and shop owners who rent space in Willets Point. They are, for the most part, poor and Latino, and can afford to do little more than print T-shirts denouncing the project."

And it's the second group that the Times expresses most concern over because these small businesses, comprising around 90% of the roughly 250 firms in the endangered area, are renters-and the city has given these poor, mostly immigrant owners and workers no reassurances that they will have a place to go after the bigger companies are relocated: "Robert C. Lieber, the deputy mayor for economic development, said the city was still in the “relatively early stages” of devising a relocation plan for the Willets Point tenants. For now, Mr. Lieber said, the priority is negotiating with owners of businesses and property in the area. Finding adequate land for the types of business found in Willets Point had been one of the biggest challenges, in part because of a scarcity of heavy manufacturing zones in the city, Mr. Lieber said. Another city official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the project, said that the city would probably not be able to relocate all the auto repair shops. The reason, he said, was that some neighborhoods might simply not want them."

Simply collateral damage, then. Hundreds of struggling but productive folks facing the eminent domain scythe-another example of what the Bloombergistas feel about small immigrant firms. Displacing the wholesalers at the Bronx Terminal Market, and displacing minority-owned supermarkets with box stores, is the essence of the Bloomberg game plan. Instead of the current entrepreneurism, the city offers "job training."

All of which is why next week's eminent domain hearing is so important-and why hats are off to State Senator Bill Perkins for calling it. Currently, the New York State law offers, not only no protection for rental businesses, but also no due process for anyone; a better system needs to be legislated so that the swells don't get to take property from all of the little guys. Today it is the Iron Triangle, tomorrow it will be city homeowners unless the law can be changed to better protect people's property.