Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More Confusion at Willets Point

The NY Daily News is reporting, and NY1 has this video clip, that the workers-and tenant businesses-at Willets Point are continuing to demonstrate because of the city's unresponsiveness to their relocation needs: "A group of workers and local advocates rallied at Willets Point on Tuesday to demand the city come forward with a relocation plan for small businesses in the area. The 62-acre labyrinth of about 60 auto repair shops, salvage yards and ironworks companies depend on one another to survive, the owners said. "It's important that these businesses be relocated together," said Tatiana Bejar of the Human Rights Project of the Urban Justice Center."

What all this underscores is that the city simply doesn't have its act together-and any effort to exert the right of eminent domain is not only premature, it also courts disaster. That's because without a clear plan of action, or the money to fund it, the entire effort could easily deteriorate and leave the city with a giant empty hole where thriving businesses used to be.

Here's EDC's response-and its spokesman Dave Lombino is getting good at this: "The city is still forming a plan to relocate the businesses, Lombino said. "We're looking at relocating some of the businesses in clusters," said Lombino. "We've done it before." But many owners said they are wary. "They never tell us the truth," said Marco Neira, 51, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee, adding that it's been difficult over the 23 years he's been in business to trust promises from city officials."

Done it before? Does he mean the effort to relocate the merchants from the old BTM? The cornerstone of that could be seen as little more than a bus ticket out of town-and the plea for relocation together in that case fell on indifferent EDC ears. But who knows what Lombino is really referring to. What is known, is that the entire Willets Point redevelopment has proceeded in subterfuge, along with little or no concern for existing businesses.

What is needed now, is for someone to realize that this mayoral edifice complex is nothing more than an expensive pig in a poke. Unfortunately, this field of schemes has real bad consequences for those whose livelihoods depend on the 60 acre site-many of whom who are new immigrants with little opportunity elsewhere: "The call came after the group released a report that claims the city, in its effort to redevelop the gritty industrial area, was biased against immigrants and minorities. "The city knows a lot of people here don't have [immigration] papers," said Pasiana Rodriguez, 40, a mechanic at one of the repair shops. "They don't care."

The eminent domain hearings are coming up soon. It behooves the city to hold off on any attempt to evict these businesses and workers-at least until there is at least a smidgen of confidence that the project, in sports world parlance, has legs.