Saturday, October 15, 2005

 

More on the Times's BUILD story: no verification, and trusting a discredited source

The 10/14/05 Times article headlined To Build Arena in Brooklyn, Developer First Builds Bridges deserves even more scrutiny, especially the lead, and the closing.

The lead: In the two years since he announced his ambitious Atlantic Yards development in downtown Brooklyn, Bruce Ratner has lined up an impressive roster of supporters, including Gov. George E. Pataki, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and even the rap artist Jay-Z.

Well, Pataki and Bloomberg were backers from the start, two years ago. As for Jay-Z, he's an investor in the Nets. All investors are de facto supporters, so that's hardly impressive. The only one of the four who wasn't part of the prepackaged support was Sharpton, who announced his support in July 2005. The context, as I noted in Chapter 4 of my report, was that the Times reported Sharpton's support in a single-source story, but the Daily News quoted the Rev. Clinton Miller, who actually represents a church in the area in question, as pointing out, "It's misguiding, and it makes it seem that African-Americans should be behind this project." Again, the Times ignores that context.

So, those are three figures who were supporters from the start, plus one opportunistic minister/public figure, who claimed, at least in the Times's paraphrase (Sharpton Backs Developer's Plan for Brooklyn Arena and Towers, 7/19/05), that the plan would provide needed jobs and lower-cost housing for largely poor and minority areas nearby.

Had the Times had practiced the journalism of verification in this case, it might have examined Bloomberg's uninformed claims about jobs and housing, and told readers exactly how many jobs and how much low-cost housing the plan actually would provide.

It's not like the Times can't do some checking--a 10/15/05 story headlined Reality Check: Two Different Kinds of Math, and Two Spins on Unemployment contained this passage:
At the heart of Mr. Ferrer's attack is his claim that 40 percent of the city's black men, and 33 percent of its Hispanic men, are unemployed.
Just how accurate are Mr. Ferrer's numbers? Not very.
Mr. Ferrer's aides said his unemployment figures were based on a report by the Community Service Society, a nonpartisan group that fights poverty. The report, released in February, is titled "Unemployment and Joblessness in New York City, 2004: Better but Still a Long Way to Go."
The author of that study, Mark Levitan, the group's senior policy analyst, said that he never made any such claim about minority joblessness being that high. "My report definitely does not say the unemployment rate among blacks is 40 percent," Mr. Levitan said.


Back to the 10/14/05 story, which states:
Mr. Ratner has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on publicity for Atlantic Yards, the sprawling Frank Gehry-designed office, retail and residential development with an arena for the Nets as its centerpiece.

This should be an occasion for analyzing the content of the publicity, rather than simply reporting the fact of publicity. Also, as the article later reveals, Ratner has spent $100,000 as well on Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), which goes a lot beyond publicity.

The Times article states:
But opponents see the outreach as something more sinister: a campaign to divide opponents, co-opt those local figures who were interested but skeptical, and create the appearance of broad support where they say little exists.

Again, this is cast as a "he said, she said" dispute, with no attempt at evaluation. The issue of "broad support" can be evaluated. As I explain in Chapter 5 of my report, two polls, one by Quinnipiac University in 2004 and one by the Times itself in 2005, show widespread opposition to a taxpayer-funded arena. The Times, however, did not report on that aspect of its own poll. Also, in the Democratic primary election last month, City Council Member Letitia James, a diehard Ratner opponent, trounced a challenger who co-founded BUILD.

The Times failed to stress Ratner's evasions:
The company has denied that it provided financial support to launch the group, but a spokesman said that as part of the community-benefits agreement, the company recently gave Build a $100,000 grant and covers its overhead costs.

The issue was not whether Ratner supported BUILD's launch, but whether company spokespeople (and BUILD spokespeople) lied last month to reporters about whether the company had paid any money to BUILD. And, as the Times article shows, they did--unless you believe the later explanation that Joe DePlasco was out of the loop.

Again, let's look at the article's ending:
Mr. Caldwell, the group's current president, and Marie Louis, its treasurer, said late last month that Build was not yet receiving money from Forest City and that neither of them was yet drawing a salary.
But on Tuesday, Mr. DePlasco and a new spokeswoman for Build, Cheryl Duncan, revised that account.
In August, Mr. DePlasco said, two months after the agreement was signed, Forest City disbursed $100,000 to the group. The company also provided space for and is paying the overhead of a new Build office near the Atlantic Yards site, and along with other supporters donated furniture and computer equipment to the group. On Sept. 5, Ms. Duncan said, Build began paying several staff members, including Mr. Caldwell and Ms. Louis, who she said are currently being paid at a rate equal to half the salaries listed on the group's original I.R.S. form. Before the signing of the community-benefits agreement, the staff had been working as volunteers, she said.
Mr. DePlasco emphasized that the money given to Build was intended to fulfill the company's obligations under the community-benefits agreement.
"No money was given to Build prior to the community-benefits agreement. What they're supposed to do is begin outreach and job training so that people are ready to apply for these jobs when they become available. If you are going to commit to programs that otherwise don't exist, you have to find the funding for those programs - or at least a big chunk of that funding," he said. "Forest City Ratner Company believes firmly that supporting nonprofits and community groups, and working with them to identify and address needs, is at the foundation of what they do. It's that simple."


So, Forest City Ratner and BUILD admit that they lied [or, in Ratner's case, DePlasco was out of the loop, came the explanation], but the Times refuses to call it a lie. Rather, it's having "revised that account."

You'd think that DePlasco, having just admitted lying [or, in the later explanation, being out of the loop], would have lost all credibility. But no, he--the developer's spokesman--is granted the last word, and says something that is both self-serving and highly dubious.

Is supporting nonprofits "at the foundation" of Forest City Ratner does? Actually, according to Ratner's own mission statement, the foundation sounds more like profits than charity: Forest City Ratner is an owner and developer of real estate, committed to building superior, long-term value for its stakeholders.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

 

Atlantic Yards process a "modern blueprint"? Only if the Times ignores the evidence

So, two weeks after many in the New York media found news in BUILD's curious claim--while negotiating a Community Benefits Agreement with Forest City Ratner--to be receiving $5 million from the developer, the New York Times finally offers its report. And, instead of using the two weeks to further develop the story--the obvious extension would be the way Ratner and BUILD have used race as a tactic (see Chapter 4 of my report)--the Times instead, in a front-page 10/14/05 article headlined To Build Arena, Developer First Builds Bridges, decrees that this project is... a model.

The article states:
the project's seemingly inexorable movement suggests that Mr. Ratner is creating a new and finely detailed modern blueprint for how to nourish - and then harvest - public and community backing for a hugely ambitious development that is expected to provide more than nine million square feet of apartments, offices, stores and hotel rooms, as well as the arena, in the middle of a populous, cantankerous and often sharply divided city.

Note: an earlier online version of the story was headlined, "Seeking to Avoid Fate of Jets Stadium, Builder Treads His Way to Brooklyn Arena Plan," and it partly echoes that 6/9/05 Times article headlined Unlike Stadium on West Side, an Arena in Brooklyn Is Still a Go. In both, the Times focused on strategy over substance, skating lightly over numerous issues that deserve some "journalism of verification."

First of all, the Times made no effort to report on how the assignment of those nine million square feet had changed, how the developer had traded office space--a selling point for "jobs"--for luxury housing.

Then, curiously, the article pretty much repeats some main conclusions from the Times article four months previous. The 10/14/05 article stated:
Mr. Ratner scored a coup of sorts when he received the support of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn, the advocacy group that has fought previous Forest City projects, which this time struck a deal to include a significant amount of moderate- and low-cost housing in the project.
He has also found an ally in the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, pastor of the House of the Lord Churches on Atlantic Avenue, who initially fought the plan.
Both were among eight groups that signed a community-benefits agreement with Forest City Ratner in June under which the builder will provide job training, housing and business opportunities to local residents.
But it is Mr. Ratner's links to a different group, Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, or Build, that has drawn the most attention from critics, who say it didn't incorporate until after the plans were announced. The company has denied that it provided financial support to launch the group, but a spokesman said that as part of the community-benefits agreement, the company recently gave Build a $100,000 grant and covers its overhead costs.
"There's no doubt that the development community all over the country is very closely watching what happens in Brooklyn. The movement to build coalitions around development is going national," said John Goldstein, national program director for the Oakland, Calif.-based Partnership for Working Families, which helped negotiate a landmark community-benefits agreement around the Staples Center sports complex in Los Angeles.
Mr. Ratner's street-level and high-level public relations campaign began in the fall of 2003, when his company retained Dan Klores Communications, one of the city's top public relations firms. Their team, headed by Joe DePlasco, a veteran of the city's Democratic establishment, began lining up politicians and other supporters before the December news conference unveiling the initial design.


The 6/9/05 article said:
But the Ratner group was courting a different constituency. Bruce Bender and James P. Stuckey, executive vice presidents of the development company, studied the opposition, sending assistants to take notes at public meetings or doing it themselves. Mr. Bender has decades of experience as a City Council aide, notably as chief of staff to the former speaker, Peter F. Vallone. Mr. Stuckey is a former president of the Public Development Corporation and a longtime adviser to Mr. Giuliani. They also hired Joe DePlasco of Dan Klores Communications, a former top aide to Mark Green, to handle public relations.
Using jealousy as a wedge, the developers enlisted the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a group that has fought for low-cost housing. They also courted groups like Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, an employment advocacy group formed by James E. Caldwell, the president of the 77th Precinct Community Council, with promises of community involvement in the planning and a sizable share of the jobs.
They drafted an agreement covering minority contracting, job training and community use of the arena, negotiating with the Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry, an influential pastor of the House of the Lord Pentecostal Church, and Mr. Caldwell.


There's only one source--that ambiguous quote from Goldstein--to back up the "modern blueprint" thesis. Yes, the development community is watching. But somehow the Times didn't see fit to quote Good Jobs New York, the recognized expert on such CBAs. Once again, let's quote the testimony from the 5/26/05 City Council Economic Development Committee hearing that the Times, alone among major city news outlets, failed to cover--that establishes that this is no blueprint. First, as Bettina Damiani testified, consider the skewed public process: [emphasis added]
The negotiations surrounding the development of the BAY project have been marked by secrecy, with elected officials providing privileged access to one developer for the site. Rather than working with local stakeholders to create a vision for community-driven development and then issuing a Request For Proposals (RFP) to locate the developer that can best meet those community needs, the city instead chose to pursue one idea – that of a sports arena coupled with a prime residential real estate opportunity – that fails to take many local concerns into account and partnering with one development company, Forest City Ratner Company (FCRC), to put that idea into action. Unsurprisingly, this process has contributed to a fragmentation of community responses, as some groups have been able to work with the “designated developer” to advance their concerns while others have not.


Then, Damiani compared this Community Benefits Agreement to the national template: [emphasis added]
The BAY project is the first project we know of in New York City in which the developer has advertised that he seeks to participate in a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). As a sponsored project of Good Jobs First, which provided support for the CBAs negotiated in California and continues to act as a clearinghouse for information on CBAs, we feel it is important to draw the Council’s attention to several major differences between CBAs as they have been used in other parts of the country and the series of negotiations that FCRC is calling a CBA. Perhaps the most striking is that elsewhere CBAs are negotiated by one broad coalition of groups that would otherwise oppose a project, a coalition that includes labor and community organizations representing a variety of interests. The coalition hammers out its points of unity in advance and then each member holds out on settling on its particular issue until the issues of the other members are addressed. This way, the bargaining power of each group is used for the benefit of the coalition as a whole. In the BAY case, several groups, all of which have publicly supported the project already, have each engaged in what seem to be separate negotiations on particular issues.

Nor did the Times point out, as the New York Observer's The Real Estate blog reported in August, in an entry headlined Ratner-Style Deal with Columbia University?, that activists in Manhattan do not see Brooklyn as a blueprint:
“We are avoiding the Brooklyn model,” he [Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, the chairman of Community Board 9] said. “We are wanting to do something else. We are wanting to develop a wide coalition of organizations and people that will be properly represented, perhaps through a local development corporation, but it’s not going to be ACORN negotiating for the community or any similar type of thing.”

Back to the 10/14/05 article Times article, which cites public relations efforts without any room for criticism of them:
Forest City Ratner also contracted with Knickerbocker SKD, a media consultant, to produce two promotional mailings, each going to more than 300,000 households in Brooklyn. They oversaw publication of a newspaper-style brochure, dubbed The Brooklyn Standard. More recently, Forest City retained the Terrie Williams Agency, a prominent black-owned public relations firm, to represent those groups that signed the community-benefits agreement.

The first promotional mailing, as explained in Chapters 2 and 7 of my report, was highly deceptive. The first mailing promised "10,000 new permanent jobs," while other promotional material acknowledged that jobs would also be "retained" (i.e., moved from Manhattan) and, of course, now there's much less office space. The first mailing came from the vague entity "Atlantic Yards," which happened to be located at Forest City Ratner's offices. The developer was not mentioned. And the mailing used a quote attributed to the New York Times ("Almost everything the well-equipped urban paradise must have") that was 1) from the architecture critic and 2) did not include the double disclosure of the critic's and the Times's ties to Ratner. Times Standards Editor Allan Siegal later told project critics that use of the logo was improper.

The Brooklyn Standard? This article makes it seem like a positive example of public relations. The Times itself dismissed the Brooklyn Standard in a 9/3/05 article headlined "O.K., the Whole Paper Is Basically an Ad."

As for the Terrie Williams Agency, somehow the Times missed the juicy quote in the New York Observer in which BUILD's James Caldwell claimed he didn't know who was paying for the agency's services.

The article mentions Roger Green's role in forming BUILD, but neglects to mention that the assemblyman resigned in 2004--for the brief remainder of his term--after pleading guilty to billing the state for false travel expenses. See Chapter 4 of my report.

Here's the article's finale: [emphasis added]
According to Internal Revenue Service documents first reported by The Daily News, Build was not formally incorporated until Feb. 4, 2004, just a few days before the group held a press conference to announce that it was supporting the project. The same I.R.S. form also estimated that the group would receive $5 million over two years from Forest City Ratner as part of the community-benefits agreement then being negotiated. Build officials later said that that amount was never promised by or discussed with the developer.
Soon after the group decided to support Mr. Ratner, Mr. Canada, its original president, resigned, citing in a news release "the need to distance myself from those in the organization who see this organization as financial self gain" rather than "for the needs of the Brooklyn community."" That has led some of Mr. Ratner's critics to question whether the group was too close to the developer to fairly represent the community.
"Build and the other signatories of the so-called community-benefits agreement are Bruce Ratner's partners. They are contractually obliged to speak on behalf of his project," said Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the anti-arena group Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn. Mr. Caldwell, the group's current president, and Marie Louis, its treasurer, said late last month that Build was not yet receiving money from Forest City and that neither of them was yet drawing a salary.
But on Tuesday, Mr. DePlasco and a new spokeswoman for Build, Cheryl Duncan, revised that account.
In August, Mr. DePlasco said, two months after the agreement was signed, Forest City disbursed $100,000 to the group. The company also provided space for and is paying the overhead of a new Build office near the Atlantic Yards site, and along with other supporters donated furniture and computer equipment to the group. On Sept. 5, Ms. Duncan said, Build began paying several staff members, including Mr. Caldwell and Ms. Louis, who she said are currently being paid at a rate equal to half the salaries listed on the group's original I.R.S. form. Before the signing of the community-benefits agreement, the staff had been working as volunteers, she said.
Mr. DePlasco emphasized that the money given to Build was intended to fulfill the company's obligations under the community-benefits agreement.
"No money was given to Build prior to the community-benefits agreement. What they're supposed to do is begin outreach and job training so that people are ready to apply for these jobs when they become available. If you are going to commit to programs that otherwise don't exist, you have to find the funding for those programs - or at least a big chunk of that funding," he said. "Forest City Ratner Company believes firmly that supporting nonprofits and community groups, and working with them to identify and address needs, is at the foundation of what they do. It's that simple."


So there is some news: BUILD officials were lying when they said in September that they hadn't received money from Forest City Ratner. But that doesn't fit the "modern blueprint" storyline, does it? And so, Joe DePlasco, paid flack for the developer, gets the final word, not, for example, any of the numerous public officials involved in this debate. Marty Markowitz, for example, would've been good to interview. See below.

Note: unmentioned in the Times are the six-figure salaries expected by BUILD's top three officers, according to the IRS filing. See Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's comprehensive page on BUILD. Rather the Times takes care of the issue discreetly: On Sept. 5, [spokeswoman] Ms. [Cheryl] Duncan said, Build began paying several staff members, including Mr. Caldwell and Ms. Louis, who she said are currently being paid at a rate equal to half the salaries listed on the group's original I.R.S. form. Before the signing of the community-benefits agreement, the staff had been working as volunteers, she said.

Here are some other issues, unmentioned in the Times article, that suggest that the Atlantic Yards project is more accurately a national model in public manipulation and broken promises:
--The number of office space has been cut by more than two-thirds, and the original number of promised office jobs, 10,000, may be as few as 2,229, with fewer than 700 of them new.
--The amount of luxury housing, once 2,250 units, has been more than doubled, to 5,050 units.
--ACORN is contractually required to publicly support the project. (See Chapter 7 of my report.)
--The number of promised construction jobs, either 15,000 (according to Ratner) or 12,000 (according to a mayoral press release), is actually job-years, so that would be 1,500 jobs a year over 10 years. (See Chapter 2 of my report.)
--A public park on the roof of the arena, once a major selling point for the project at large, will now be private space accessible only to tenants of the high-priced condos (and, ok, some fraction of 'affordable' housing units) Ratner plans to sell. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, a chief booster of Atlantic Yards, has said he opposes this change.
--Markowitz, pressed during a debate with his small-party opponents, acknowledged that the project is too big and should be scaled down.
--Let's not forget that two polls, one the Times's own, said that the public opposes an arena if it requires public subsidies--and that the Times never reported this. (See Chapter 5 of my report.)

Other people also see something fishy about this project too. The Municipal Art Society has a program scheduled for Nov. 10 titled Large-Scale Plans Removed from the Public Review Process: Case Study of the Atlantic Yards. The session is allotted an hour and a half. It could use a week.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

 

The Times vs. bloggers on Atlantic Yards: who practices the journalism of verification?

In a 10/10/05 Business Week column by Jon Fine headlined All the News That's Fit to Dis, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, speaking at the Association of National Advertisers conference in Phoenix, dissed bloggers:
"Most of what you know, you know because of the mainstream media," Keller said. "Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That's not bad. But it's not enough."
Keller pointed out that it cost the Times around $1.5 million to maintain a Baghdad bureau in 2004. (It cost one Times freelancer much more last month: He was murdered.) "This kind of civic labor can't be replaced by bloggers." The Times' assets: "A worldwide network of trained, skilled [observers] to witness events" and write about them, and "a rigorous set of standards. A journalism of verification," rather than of "assertion," and maintaining an "agnosticism" as to where any story may lead. And, borrowing a key buzzword of the day, he said the Times practiced "transparency," or, in math-teacher terms, "we show our work."


I basically agree with him, that journalists do--or aim to do--much more than bloggers. But sometimes bloggers, such as myself, do a lot more research than Times reporters.

Skilled observers to witness events? The Times, unlike numerous other news outlets in the city, never reported on the New York City Council Economic Development hearing on 5/26/05 concerning Atlantic Yards, the only hearing this year--as my report notes. I'm told someone went, but wasn't skilled enough to recognize that there was news: Forest City Ratner announced a huge increase in the size of the project. The Times didn't report this until July.

Rigorous set of standards and transparency? Not for the number of office jobs promised in this project, to pick one of many examples. The Times reported in a Metro Briefing (Developer Promises Benefits, 6/28/05): The developer, Bruce Ratner ... president of Forest City Ratner, promised that he would give local residents the first chance at work on the $3.5 billion development, which is expected to generate 12,000 construction jobs and 8,500 permanent jobs.

Where did they get the numbers? Probably from a 6/27/05 mayoral press release, which stated: The $3.5 billion project will create 8,500 permanent new jobs...

However, Ratner had already traded office space for housing, and the most recent filing by the Empire State Development Corporation shows that there's space for only 3,140 or 2,512 jobs, depending on whether you use Ratner's math or standard figures for needed space. (Add a vacancy rate and the number gets lower.) The Times hasn't reported these numbers. Rather, it has used unverified, and hardly transparent numbers presented by the developer. [An earlier version of this post incorrectly suggested there was more office space, which could encompass 3,900 or 4,875 jobs.]

Since the 6/28/05 article, the Times has merely printed generalities, such as that the project would provide "thousands of jobs." Well, when the original promise is 10,000 jobs and the result is less than two-thirds of that, it's time for some journalism of verification.

Rigorous set of standards and transparency? FCR has long promised 15,000 union construction jobs—a figure that has been widely quoted in the press, though the Times has most recently used the figure of 12,000 construction jobs, in that same 6/28/05 Metro Briefing.

As noted in my report:
However, construction jobs are temporary jobs, not permanent jobs. A construction job, in standard industry parlance, lasts for one year. So the actual projection means 15,000 job-years (1,500 jobs each year over 10 years), or 12,000 job-years. That means 1,500 people would be working each year. Or 1,200.

The Times’s failure to analyze construction-job figures at Atlantic Yards suggests a double standard. In writing about other projects, the Times has used the more accurate job-years method to analyze actual numbers of construction jobs. In a Times article about the proposed West Side Stadium, the reporter questioned the proponents’ data, noting (Mayor’s Guess At Stadium Jobs Is Highest Yet, 4/10/05):
The mayor and the Jets contend that the project will generate 18,000 jobs. It actually means, the Jets acknowledge, that there will be an average of 4,500 jobs during the four years of construction.
The budget office’s estimate, however, was far lower than the Jets’—an average of 2,880 construction jobs per year, and it did not bother multiplying that figure by four, because construction jobs by their nature are temporary.


The Times has still not yet analyzed the construction-job figures at Atlantic Yards.

Monday, October 10, 2005

 

The Times on runaway development: no mention of Atlantic Yards

A 10/10/05 Times article headlined In a Still-Growing City, Some Neighborhoods Say Slow Down begins:
A swelling population, an overheated real estate market and the biggest building boom in 30 years are fueling a counterrevolution in New York City: Dozens of neighborhoods have asked the Bloomberg administration to rewrite zoning rules to rein in what residents see as runaway development and growth.

There are mentions of Park Slope and Bensonhurst, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, but nothing about the largest development in the history of Brooklyn: Atlantic Yards. Yes, Atlantic Yards is not quite a question of zoning, but this development raises many of the same questions about appropriate scale and neighborhood character.

The article quotes Brad Lander of PICCED:
"There are real reasons why people feel they'd rather not have new development, good and bad," said Brad Lander, executive director of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development. But, he added, "It seems to me that if you refuse growth, you are either implicitly saying we should change our immigration policies and not let people in, or immigrants should live in basements and attics or in the Poconos."

So Lander sounds like a reasonably sober booster of growth. However, the Times has never quoted PICCED's report and testimony criticizing the Atlantic Yards development.

The Times quotes Amanda M. Burden, chairwoman of the City Planning Commission:
Ms. Burden pointed out that the administration has encouraged housing development. The recent rezonings of former manufacturing areas in Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn and West Chelsea and the Hudson Yards in Manhattan are expected to produce 29,000 new units. Other possible areas of growth in the future, she said, include Long Island City in Queens and the area known as the Hub in the Bronx.

She didn't point out that the administration has also encouraged housing development at Atlantic Yards. So if Burden doesn't bring it up, the Times reporter doesn't question her?

So who's responsible? The Times Metro Editor at least sounds sympathetic. She was interviewed by Times Public Editor Byron Calame in his 10/9/05 column, which was headlined Turning the Tables: What the Times News Staff Thinks of You:
Susan Edgerley, the metropolitan editor who literally lives and works in the midst of her core audience, offered a catalog of specifics on the readers of her section. A sampling:
"They care about their schools whether or not they have kids. They are fervently interested in and sometimes irked by their commutes. They are charmed by the city and outraged by it, no matter where they live. They want to understand how it runs and who is running it. ... They worry about terrorism and will never forget 9/11. They want to be safe, and that means more to them now than local crime statistics."
[Emphasis added.]

Yes, we want to understand how our city runs and who is running it. Ignoring or downplaying the largest development in the history of Brooklyn--not just in this article, but in many other articles, as I've documented, isn't the way to do it.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

 

NY Post and NY Daily News press Ratner on privatized park space

Taking off from posts on this blog Sept. 26 and Oct. 5 about how the park space on top of the Brooklyn arena, orginally promised to be public, would be private, the New York Daily News followed up in a 10/9/05 Score column headlined Ratner's latest shell game:
In other words, according to foes of the project, the taxpayers Ratner wants to pony up at least $200 million for the project should take a hike unless they live or work at the complex.
...
Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco acknowledges the rooftop park won't be open to hoi polloi. The towers around the arena were originally supposed to be primarily for commercial use, he says, but plans have changed. Now the towers will be heavily residential, and the developer is reserving the rooftop, which would be connected to adjacent buildings, for tenants so they would have easy access to laundry rooms and other amenities.
But that doesn't mean the public is getting stiffed, DePlasco says - new plans call for seven-plus acres of public space, an acre more than the original proposal. Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, perhaps the project's biggest booster, says Forest City Ratner's change of heart is unacceptable. "I believe there should be some public access to the roof," Markowitz says. "I will definitely use whatever power I have to make sure that happens."


It's time for a little factchecking. Ratner originally announced, in a December 2003 project fact sheet that the roof was aimed at the whole community:
The roof of the Arena offers an exciting opportunity to create new public space, with 52,000 square feet in four lushly landscaped areas for passive recreation and a promenade along the outside edge of the roof with outstanding panoramic vistas facing Manhattan. For active recreation, an outdoor ice-skating ink connects the four gardens; in warmer months the rink will become a running track. This open space not only provides a destination for community residents as well as for the workers in the office buildings-–it also allows the commercial buildings surrounding the arena to be connected at the sky-lobby level.

Ice skating rink? Running track? Those weren't for the office workers--those were community amenities that helped draw public support for the original plan. Now the private open space raises the value of the market-rate housing in the towers around the arena. In other words, commercial space (space for jobs) has been replaced by housing, most (69%) of which is market-rate.

And maybe the public is getting stiffed. That seven-plus acres of public space may not be available until 2016, according to the scoping document, while the rooftop park is supposed to be finished by 2009, so that's a seven-year wait. And the additional acre is offset by the increased height of Ratner's planned towers.

The New York Post, in a 10/9/05 article headlined B'KLYNITES CALL A FOUL ON PARK, wrote:
"Originally, all the buildings around the arena were commercial, and members of the public would be walking in that area," said Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco. "But now, with all the buildings around the arena being residential, we've made the space accessible to those people."
Critics point to other "broken promises" — like the vow that 50 percent of the residential units would be affordable. Of 7,300 housing units, only about 2,200 will be affordable — more like a 30-70 split, James said.
DePlasco said the 50-50 promise was for the 4,500 rentals only — not the remaining condo units. James countered: "It was 50-50 for all the units. This is not being done right."


Members of the public would be walking in that area? They'll still be walking in that area--it's the busiest crossroads in Brooklyn.

As for DePlasco's statement, it may be technically correct, but when announced, the 4,500 rental units were the only residential units in the plan. A 5/19/05 mayoral press release stated:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Forest City Ratner Companies President & CEO Bruce C. Ratner and Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Executive Director Bertha Lewis today announced that approximately half of the 4,500 new rental units in the proposed Atlantic Yards development will be set aside for low- and moderate-income households using financing tools created by the Bloomberg Administration's New Housing Marketplace plan.

None of the subsequent news coverage suggested that there would be any additional units beyond the rental units. See coverage in the New York Times (Brooklyn Arena Plan Calls For Many Subsidized Units, 5/20/05), Newsday (CAMPAIGN '05: Praise from an unexpected source, 5/20/05), the New York Post (YOU'RE BUSS-TED, MIKE - HOUSING DEAL SEALED WITH A KISS, 5/20/05), The New York Sun (Ratner Delivers on Affordable Housing', 5/20/05), and the Daily News (HOUSING PLAN NET GAIN FOR MIKE, 5/21/05).

As for the 50-50 housing promise, as noted in my report, soon the developer increased the amount of housing:
FCR ’s 5/17/05 Memorandum of Understanding with the New York affiliate of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the nation ’s largest community organization of low-and moderate-income families, contains this passage (www.dddb.net/cba/HousingMou.pdf): If the projected number of residential units should increase for any reason that the Developer determines to be economically necessary, both the Developer and ACORN will work towards developing a program that follows the same guidelines and principles set forth in this document.The MOU refers to 2,250 “affordable” units out of a projected 4,500 units of housing.Once ACORN was on board, FCR, at a City Council Economic Development Committee hearing nine days later, announced an increase in the number of planned housing units to at least 6,000 and possibly 7,300. See coverage in The Brooklyn Papers (Ratner site expands —into Park Slope, 6/2/05): The presentation, shown at the May 26 hearing,indicated that the developer might increase the number of housing units from 4,500 to at least 6,000 or possibly 7,300.
[Note that my report is italicized, with quotations bolded]

Forest City Ratner has been rather quiet about developing that "program that follows the same guidelines and principles." According to the MOU:
Developer and ACORN will work on a program to develop affordable for-sale units, which are intended to be in the range of 600 to 1000 units, over the course of ten (10) years and can be on or off site. It is currently contemplated that a majority of the affordable for-sale units will be sold to families in the upper affordable income tiers.

The upper-affordable income tiers include families earning more than $100,000 a year—surely not ACORN ’s constituency.

Why did the project size increase? Because the developer considered it to be "economically necessary," it seems. And why has the proposed public park been made private? Given the incoherence of the explanations offered by DePlasco, the answer may well be that the developer simply thinks it's "economically necessary."

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?