Friday, November 04, 2005


Critiquing the NewsHour's piece on Atlantic Yards

An 11/03/05 NewsHour With Jim Lehrer piece on Atlantic Yards, called Growing Pains, offered a good amount of time to critics of the project, but still made some important errors.

One was simply one of tone. Correspondent Ray Suarez began with some rhapsodies about Brooklyn: Americans have long had a sentimental affection for the place; it plays the earthy, working-class cousin, to powerful, glamorous Manhattan, just over the bridge.

But he incorrectly concluded: Anti-arena Brooklynites say the debate over Atlantic Yards is not about money. It's about preserving the Brooklyn of Ebbets Field, Coney Island and Juniors Restaurant, home of legendary cheesecake.

While City Council Member Letitia James did say, "We don't want to Manhattanize Brooklyn," that doesn't mean that critics want to preserve Brooklyn in amber. After all, there's much other development besides Atlantic Yards. The questions concern scale, but also public cost and public oversight. It's arena booster Marty Markowitz who invokes Ebbets Field and the loss of the Dodgers.

Other errors: the segment said the complex would cost $1.2 billion; the number was once $2.5 billion, now $3.5 billion. The footprint was described as 24 acres, with 17 high rise buildings; the numbers now are 22 acres and 16 high-rises plus an arena. The arena would cost $555.3 million, not $435 million.

Bertha Lewis of ACORN touted the 50-50 housing agreement as "the most far-reaching... that's ever been reached in this country." Candace Carponter from Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn pointed out that "approximately 60 percent of the people who get affordable housing are making over $65,000 a year." More importantly, the segment ignored that the 50-50 agreement applies only to the 4,500 rentals, not to the 2,800 market-rate condos that were subsequently added.

Carponter said Ratner was asking for $2 billion in subsidies, without public input. The subsidy numbers are murky, but I think it's sufficiently powerful to point out that even Ratner's poeple acknowledge $1.1 billion in public costs over 30 years.

There was a good discussion of eminent domain:
JIM STUCKEY [of Forest City Ratner]: There might be a need for eminent domain; there might be a need for condemnation; that is something that the state will decide. There will be a process that goes through. People have a right to content that process. I think the state will make its decision, unlike "Kelo," based on whether or not they believe this is a blighted area.

RAY SUAREZ: One person contesting the process is Vince Burns, one of two holdouts in his building who has sign hanging from his window "I love my home and my neighborhood, I intend to stay here."

VINCE BURNS: If they wanted to take down my building to put in a police station or school - I'd had to leave where I am because I love the place -- but I'd understand that - I mean, that's fine -- but this project is about one very wealthy man who wants to become wealthier by, you know, kicking me out.

RAY SUAREZ: Brooklyn activist Patti Hagan said the "Kelo" case, while appearing to help Ratner will actually help defeat him. So you think you can hold him off indefinitely?

PATTI HAGAN: Absolutely. Holding off using the U.S. Constitution, I mean, using Justice Kennedy's ruling in the "Kelo" case in June which said that if it can be shown that the eminent domain is being used for one developer, one person, or one corporation, identifiable corporation, that's unconstitutional.

RAY SUAREZ: Acorn's Bertha Lewis sees the agreement with Ratner creating new limitations on major developers, and giving taxpayers a clear victory.

BERTHA LEWIS: It's a new day, corporate America. It's a new day, developers. You can't keep feeding at the public trough and expect that the public doesn't get a return on its investment.

Does the public get a return, or does ACORN, by controlling access to the affordable housing? The costs and benefits of this project deserve much more analysis.

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