Friday, November 27, 2009

Eminently Debatable

The federal court decision that serves to justify over 60 years of municipal neglect on Willets Point, is a reminder to some degree just how limited legal action can sometimes be-and how conventional judicial thinking usually is: "A federal judge on Wednesday upheld New York’s $3 billion redevelopment plan for Willets Point, an industrial section of Queens dominated by car-repair shops and waste-management businesses, finding that although the city had neglected the neighborhood’s infrastructure for decades, the constitutional rights of the businesses there — many of which will be forced to relocate under the plan — were not violated."

So, the businesses may have been screwed, but the sex was consensual? According to Judge Korman: "The plaintiffs, who organized themselves into an entity called the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, and who “have established thriving businesses (notwithstanding the grossly inadequate infrastructure of the area)” and employ hundreds of people, “are understandably aggrieved by the fact that the plan that the city is in the process of implementing has no place for them,” the judge, Edward R. Korman of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, wrote. However, he ruled, it was not the place of federal judges to intervene in the dispute."

Even if the basis for the removal is a blight condition that the city itself could be seen as causing? As the NY Daily News points out: "Brooklyn Federal Judge Edward Korman rejected the property owners argument that their Constitutional rights had been violated by the city - denying them access to vital infrastructure like trash removal, sewage lines and paved streets. But the judge acknowledged the 70-acre industrial area is a dump. "Indeed, Willets Point is not a neighborhood that Mr. Rogers would recognize," Korman wrote in his decision made public today."

And it should be clarified that the suit in question here did not, as some reporters argued, seek to overturn the entire redevelopment plan-it was solely directed to the deprivation of city services. This point is recognized over at the Village Voice: "As a commenter points out, this suit did not explicitly seek to overturn the redevelopment plan. Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse, a different group, has filed an Article 78 petition "challenging the environmental review that was completed by the City of New York" and seeking to nullify the city council's vote authorizing the plan."

And it is the plan itself that has become the focal point of the attack-notwithstanding one's views about the issue of eminent domain itself. Put simply, the EIS is such a fraudulent effort to diminish the traffic and attendant environmental impacts, that when the real impacts become known it will cause a real sh#t storm-an outcome that we will be magnanimously be helping to generate.

The traffic generation and the inadequacy of the mitigation-not to mention the costly over all nature of the project-is going to lead to a lot of second guessing-particularly post-Kelo/Pfizer. Some of this is captured over at the NY Times in a section on comments over the Pfizer get out of New London fiasco. As one reader comments: "Good. It was a rotten plan and until a better system of compensation is worked out - not just market value, but something that takes a person's lifetime emotional investment in a home into account - such eminent domain projects should be severely curtailed. Those who had their homes plowed down for nothing should get their land back, gratis. The city has shown poor planning and stewardship skills."

Or, check out this observation: "Redevelopment" is one of the biggest scams going. It is often the case that developers cozy up to local city councils and redevelopment agencies and sell them a bill of goods. The politicians and bureaucrats that fall for this, either through incompetence or corruption, should be thrown out of office. Redevelopment is often just another example of corporate welfare."

What this says to us, is that the Willets Point project needs to be re-evaluated in the current post-Kelo context; an environment that is characterized by burgeoning municipal deficits and service cut backs. It must also be given a more careful scrutiny-particularly on the environmental impact side.

Any development that has had so much political juice on its side, even to the extent of recommissioning Claire Shulman for active duty, will have an immense incentive to shortchange the public on any number of important impacts-beginning with a smoke and mirrors mitigation provision for an increase of 80,000 car trips per day.

All of this will be brought to light in the fight over a public review process for the approval of the Van Wyck ramps-an approval that is the linchpin of the entire redevelopment. It's as simple as, "No ramps, no project." But if that's the case, than the ramps better be properly evaluated, and any behind the scenes whitewashing must be fought by everyone-not just property owners threatened with the loss of their land.

So, whatever happens in the current court cases, it is the cost and feasibility of the redevelopment of Willets Point that should be on the minds of, not only the contiguous neighborhoods that will function as an unwelcome mat for the massive project, but all of the tax payers in NYC.