Friday, November 19, 2010

Lay Off-Willets Point

With the mayor proposing massive layoffs, isn't it time for all of those folks who are concerned about the loss of certain vital city services to join with the businesses of Willets Point United?  But first, here's the bad news: "Mayor Bloomberg is outlining stark plans for thousands of city layoffs to close looming budget gaps, and unions are already pushing back. “We’ve kept the City’s financial house in order through these difficult times by planning ahead and never shying away from making the hard decisions, and our current budget remains balanced because of that sound approach,” said Bloomberg. In short, City Hall says, reducing the city’s budget deficit for next year means getting rid of 2,102 employees in the current fiscal year, 2011, and 8,264 in Fiscal Year 2012. That includes 889 layoffs in Fiscal Year 2011 and 5,312 layoffs in Fiscal Year 2012."

In other words, the city is not in good fiscal shape-and needs to drastically cut back: "But we face a significant challenge for next year, as Federal stimulus dollars run dry and the city still suffers from the impacts of the national economic downturn. We began working to attack next year’s deficit immediately after passing this year’s balanced budget, and there is still more work to do. More spending reductions are going to be necessary, and we have to continue to reduce the number of employees we have by not filling positions - we simply cannot afford the size of our current workforce.”

Municipal labor isn't happy with this: "And DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts said, "We have not yet had an opportunity to analyze the Mayor’s budget proposals in depth. However, I have written the Mayor and suggested he focus on enhancing the city’s revenue before slashing services, laying off workers and placing the burden of balancing the budget on public employees and millions of New Yorkers. Layoffs of any city worker will end up costing the city money. Layoffs in the city’s Department of Finance are particularly self-defeating. These are revenue-generating positions. The millions in tax revenue that goes uncollected because the Dept. of Finance is understaffed amount to tax breaks for the wealthy. Everyone should be asked to pay their fair share. The city’s workers should not be asked to bear the burden of this financial crisis."

Philosophical arguments aside, it's clear that the city's revenues are in the dumpster-and Bloomberg's response is to lay off workers; while Lillian Roberts proposes increasing taxes on an already overburdened citizenry. But there are other ways to skinning the budget cat-and pulling back on Bloomberg's massive boondoggle of a legacy project at Willets Point is as good a place as any-and there are billions in proposed infrastructure and buy-out funds that could be put to much better use.

As we pointed out last April, just the cost of acquiring all of the property could run higher than $2 billion-and the NY Daily News estimated that the total cost of the redevelopment could go "north of $3 billion." As the paper pointed out in 2007: "The envisioned transformation of Willets Point from a scruffy haven for scrap yards and auto shops into a residential, retail and convention mega development will cost "north of $3 billion," a city official said yesterday. The estimate was given by Robert Lieber, president of the city's Economic Development Corp., which is gearing up to submit the Willets Point development plan to the governmental approval procedure known as ULURP - uniform land use review process. "It will be a lot," Lieber said when asked about the costs during the City Council's first public hearing on the mammoth redevelopment plan announced May 1 by Mayor Bloomberg."

A year later Deputy Mayor Lieber raised this estimate to $6 billion-and the costs are still rising. But the massive investment is far from a sure thing-as the problems of leasing the condos at the new-nearby to Wilets Point-Muss development underscore. The Daily News has the story: "About 75% of the retail space at Sky View Parc - the 3.3 million-square-foot complex of condos and stores at College Point Blvd. and Roosevelt Ave. - has been leased to big-name retailers such as Target, Old Navy and Marshalls. But project officials said there have been only eight closings at the development's three residential towers, and sales have not increased since spring."

That's eight out of 448 units-and the Willets Point plan calls for 5,500 new residential units in, what EDC has described as a new neighborhood on the order of Battery Park City. Given the economic downturn, this could all turn out to be-like New London-a very bad deal-as we pointed out in the Daily News last year.

But while Bloomberg speculates in the futures market, he is aggressively cutting back in the present. Given the current austerity climate-and the plan to cut loose 2500 workers (effecting around 10,000 people in total)-is it sensible-let alone conscionable-to set aside billions for the mayor's signature legacy project.

The city council approved the Willets Point project before the full impact of thee Great Recession was understood. Now that the recession's impact has been fully felt, can the city council still sit back and allow the Bloombergistas to siphon off all of this cash for a project that, as we said in the News, raises numerous, "empty lots of questions?" Or will it intervene to prevent the full scale lay of of city workers by doing the right thing: Laying off Willets Point?