Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jobbing and Slandering

The NY Post is unhappy over the defeat of the Kingsbridge Armory plan-and resorts to low invective in the slandering of the opponents of the scheme: "Successful extortionists everywhere know enough to make an example of someone from time to time -- just to show they mean business. That accounts for the fatal mugging Monday of a promising proposal in The Bronx that would have meant 2,200 new jobs and $300 million in investment for the borough. It was a hit, pure and simple -- and the implications for the city could scarcely be more ominous."

The paper goes on to say that the demands of the KARA coalition were a variant of the "community benefits scam" that has been seen lately in various city developments: "But much more important, it also represented the maturation of the so-called "community benefits agreement" shakedown process -- whereby reputable business leaders must roll around in the mud with local politicians in order to be allowed to invest in the city and its people."

Let's take a deep breathe here-as well as a step back. The idea that the Related Companies was being forced to "roll in the mud" by accepting tens of millions of tax dollars is actually quite comical; and the advancement of the living wage was a recognition that developers who get rich off of sweetheart deals and tax payer subsidies have to be required to give a little back to under paid retail workers in exchange for the city's generosity.

But the Post misses something here that even more essential. It goes on to focus on the lost jobs-a theme that the mayor is certain to emphasize when he vetoes the council rejection: "Quinn's council, in a nutshell, decided that no jobs at all would be better than "poverty jobs." For the politicians, maybe. Actual Bronx residents, one suspects, would appreciate any economic opportunity they can get. The Bronx's unemployment rate stands at a whopping 13.4 percent -- the highest in the state."

But this truism-akin to the realization that New Yorkers will buy stuff off of the back of the truck if it's available-misses the essential political calculus in the tax money for living wage equation, especially when it comes to retail jobs. What's missing also is the fact that these particular retail jobs that the tax payers are paying for, will compete with the non subsidized jobs across the street and down the block from the armory.

It overlooks the inherent inequity of subsidizing certain retailers to create an unlevel playing field; one that will lead to the loss of neighborhood employment-a fact that the mayor and his amen chorus fails to mention. And when the store vacancy rate reaches record levels in the city, this unfairness is magnified considerably.

And in our view, if the city is going to use tax dollars to subsidize employers, it should be for those employers whose jobs are unique-as were the positions lost over at the Stell D'Oro factory. In that case, the mayor and the Post were overcome by lockjaw; and the factory closed for good without the city lifting a finger to help. Is that what Mike Bloomberg means when he tells the city that we can't dictate to the private sector?

And another thing that the mayor doesn't want to address-the externality costs of the armory development. These come from congestion loses (Hey, Mike, you remember these?), air pollution, traffic accidents, pavement and vehicle wear and tear, etc. In the estimate of the KARA traffic consultant, this cost will run the Kingsbridge Heights community over $7,000,000 a year, and will see the dumping of over 850,000 pounds of CO2 into the air-costs that are borne, not by the developer, but by the citizens who live in the neighborhood.

So, in our view, given these social costs and lost neighborhood jobs and business, the living wage demands should be seen as de minimis.-a view that is shared by the Riverdale Press: "Asking for $10 per hour with benefits or $11.50 without seems modest enough, and it’s questionable how livable the living wage actually is."

And if it can be done in Boston, why not in New York? "In Boston, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg was born, there is a city law that mandates a living wage for all development projects that take any city money. The law has been in place since 1998, and this year that wage is $12.79 per hour. Boston is not a cheap place to live, but it’s cheaper than New York. Here’s a little more of what the Boston law has to say: “The living wage is subject to an increase each July 1. “Since the ordinance was implemented, the City has awarded one 1,909 contracts that are covered. These contracts cover 21,134 employees.” It doesn’t sound like a enforcing a living wage has stopped development dead in Boston."

And Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs NY says it well in her letter to the NY Daily News: "There would not have been so much opposition to the development of the historic Kingsbridge Armory if the mayor had included residents in its planning and leveraged the millions of dollars in promised subsidies to create good jobs. Yes, the Bronx has "astronomical" unemployment, but by failing to guarantee that residents have access to jobs at other massively subsidized projects in the area - Yankee Stadium, Croton water filtration plant and Gateway Mall - the administration hasn't done its part to help alleviate the problem. Make no mistake. Greed killed this project, not the efforts of Bronx residents to actively engage in the borough's development."

All of which underscores what is needed as we head into the new year-and why the Post's animadversions are just plain wrong: "Looking ahead to future projects, the only way to guarantee a living wage to workers is for a law like the one in Boston to be passed. Proposals are already sitting around the City Council. Pass one and, Mayor Bloomberg, sign it."