Fans For Fair Play
Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Monday, May 18, 2009

When the Voice of the People isn't your voice or your people 

Wow. This morning, the New York Daily News has really laid its Atlantic Yards cards on the table. As usual, they're covering their crap hand with over-the-top bluffing.

In an editorial, the Daily News' board slammed "rabid obstructionists" for fighting Bruce Ratner's superblock project. Apparently the News doesn't want you going to court if they don't like why you're going to court. Constitutional rights really get in the way when they're someone else's bag, baby. Those same rights could still delay the Atlantic Yards project anywhere from months to years. In the Daily News' worldview, the Voice of the People they like the best is no voice at all.

Anyway, who are these insidious obstructionist nogoodniks whose foaming at the mouth is enough to coat a runway for an emergency landing?

Why, people who've figured out that Ratner's innocuous Jobs Hoops & Housing is really Pink Slips, Blight and Lies.

People who, facing the backs government officials have turned on them, did what the nation's stated ideals urges all of us to do -- protest, write, organize, fight, litigate, reach out, implore, investigate, report, analyze. The thing that was so popular in the 1770s, lobbing cannonballs at tyranny. Of course, if democracy comes too close to upsetting Michael Bloomberg's gilded applecarts, standing up to tyranny is no longer a celebrated thing. Citizenry Speaking Out become Rabid Obstructionists.

Great ideas, folks -- just keep 'em back in your times. Thomas Paine, Malcolm X, Mother Jones

People who've done the simple math the News refuses to do, shining light into restricted backrooms to see all of Ratner's plans, not just the stage sets he wants us to see. In the current economic crisis, Atlantic Yards is hanging on by the skin of its teeth to a fraying thread of nearly broke financial backers that's papercliped to the world economy's teetering house of cards.

People who, regardless of their initial impressions, dug beneath Ratner's glossy veneer and glimpsed something far uglier than the emperor being naked: a bunch of little men with Napoleon complexes wearing Brooklyn Nets jerseys.

We're ALL Number One! December 10, 2003

This is the kind of stuff one expects from civic cheerleaders like Marty Markowitz, Bertha Lewis, the ESDC and Mayor Bloomberg -- "brutal weirdness," as Norman Oder calls it.. Their job descriptions include the mandate stating "you will be forced to pompously gesticulate in support of initiatives favored by powerful interests, i.e. 'friends in high places.' Do not let ragged, outmoded constructs such as democracy, community or equality distract from this mandate."

Weirdly, of gravest concern to the Daily News' editorial board isn't the Atlantic Yards plan's:

* lack of affordable housing (there's no schedule or financing for it);
* lack of newly created jobs (Ratner's 2003 promise of 10,000 is now down to a several hundred and a job-creation cost 2 to 4 times above the city's average);
* lack of union construction jobs (one-tenth the original promise);
* lack of predicted cash benefits to the city (devoured by everything from the bad economy to shady PILOT financing that has repeatedly soaked taxpayers nationwide);
* the South-Bronx-in-the-70s conditions in the project's footprint (created only over the last five years by Ratner's scorched earth policies).

No...the News civic-minded editors are pissed that LeBron James won't be signing with the Nets. It's good to see they've got their priorities straight. Next week we can expect a News editorial critical of anti-war demonstrators because new Bob Hope-style reviews can't play in Basra.

Again, it's the Daily News' editorial board at issue here. They have, simply, given up on journalism's most basic tenets -- to dig out the facts, report them, and where opinion is voiced, base it on the facts they've uncovered. There is simply nothing factual to substantiate the News' half-decade's worth of pie-in-the-sky boosterisms of the Atlantic Yards project.

Amazingly, some of the News' beat reporters and columnists have managed to do their job and look underneath Ratner's and Bloomberg's p.r. boulders. The O'Keeffes, Gonzalezes, Lupicas, Sederstroms are just the current staffers who've stayed the journalist's course.

Of course, opinion is opinion, its beauty and conceit being its inability to be pinned down. That always gives the Opiner the upper hand.

It'd be one thing if the Daily News wrote "gosh, we'd sure feel groovy about the Nets coming to Brooklyn." But they don't leave it at that, instead conflating prognostications and fact in a lazy, unethical and a slippery slope operation. It traps everyone who comes across it -- the editors, the paper's readers, and most of all the city the newspaper claims it's The Hometown Paper of.

"But Turner, what about Atlantic Yard opponents? Don't they do the same thing?" On occasion, sure. But the vast majority of reporting, analysis, press releases, reports, blogs, and even opinion pieces have been based on the Ratner's own numbers, the city's own history of dealing with these projects, and quotes from all the parties involved. What do opponents base their opposition on? These are numbers that again and again don't compute. It just takes putting them under the microscope.

That would be the microscope still gathering dust in the editorial rooms at the News, Post and New York Times -- the last an actual business partner with Bruce Ratner.

The Atlantic Yards project has become Brooklyn's own Terry Schiavo case. The Atlantic Yards project is dead. Of course, Ratner will still try to build something, but those seductive, vast numbers of newly-created jobs, affordable housing, union construction jobs, and the gleaming new city-within-a-city that would make Brooklyn into a world-class destination -- none of that was ever going to happen, and now it never will. The economy, community opposition, and Ratner's own incompetence have seen to that.

Bruce Ratner..the making of a Destination

Ironically, the one Atlantic Yards component that Ratner is throwing all of his dwindling fiscal and political capital into is the most frivolous of all -- the basketball arena. It would create few jobs beyond part-time low-paying slots, and provides no housing at all, never mind affordable housing. Remember, those are the things -- jobs and housing -- that neatly bookended "hoops" in Ratner's said-often-enough-it'll-become-fact mantra.

The jobs and housing are what attracted support from politicians, the media, and a few lonely community groups (a couple of whom actually existed before the project was uncorked). Now those jobs and apartments have mostly vanished, replaced with a basketball palace and decades of economic studies showing that sports stadiums and arenas don't benefit cities that pay for them. Why on God's green earth -- such that it still is -- are local politicians refusing to pull the plug and start over with something that will work.

"Oh, c'mon, that'll take another decade." It doesn't have to. For one, the genie's out of the bottle developing this area. And two, there are plans ready to go for the Atlantic Yards footprint. City and state government officials whose chief goal should be improving Brooklynites' lives rather than greasing Bruce Ratner's skids should refocus on why they were elected and paid by taxpayers.

Leaving Bloomberg's and former Governnor Pataki's hubris behind, the process could be streamlined. Despite these lean economic times-- and in some ways because of them -- innovative planning and building can still happen. Many pieces are in place, but until Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg shift gears away from the Atlantic Yards project, those pieces could start to rot like FEMA's infamous unused trailers down by Gulf Coast.

The UNITY Plan -- one of the pieces in the post-Ratner era. Got it if you want it.

Ratner is not the only option. It's insulting for Bloomberg and others to insist he is. Where's that civic pride, the fawning over all talent here in New York? That's the question to ask when Atlantic Yards' developer is from Cleveland, the chief architect is from Los Angeles, the landscape architectis from Philadelphia, the chief construction management firm is also from Phily and the arena's naming-rights sugardaddy is from London. Civic pride -- merely a convenience filed away in the stack of Bloomberg's skyscraper of fallacies and contrivances.

Of course, gosh, never mind all of that. LeBron...we lost LeBron! Brooklyn looks headed for another dark age. Housing, schools, jobs, transit, health care, infrastructure...all of those pitfalls, we'll survive. We're Brooklynites.

But losing LeBron? I dunno, man...that's tough. At least that's what New York's Hometown Newspaper tells me.

One of my coping mechanisms? My next band will be called The Rabid Obstructionists.
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