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June 16, 2005

Whereas the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID) support the following development guidelines:

  1. Eminent domain or the threat of eminent domain should be used sparingly if ever and should never be used on a private profit project.

  2. Major development projects should go through stringent, inclusive community review process.

  3. The dispensing of all public property should be done to maximize the financial health of the government agency.

  4. RFPs should be issued at the beginning of a disposal process.

  5. All projects in The City of New York should comply with both he letter and spirit of NYC's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and not destroy the character and scale of a neighborhood.

  6. Due to the density of New York City, the environmental rules should be strictly adhered to and enforced.
Therefore, let it be understood that the position of CBID is that failure on any one of these grounds would be sufficient for this club to reject any project and, as the Forest City Ratner (FCR) proposal does not adequately address the above-referenced issues or fails said issues, CBID rejects and opposes the FCR Atlantic Yards proposal.


DDDB Presentation to the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats. June 16, 2005

Again tonight Forest City Ratner is showing how much they genuinely want to participate with the communities surrounding their proposal. Only once in the 18 months since this project was unveiled has FCR been on a mixed panel about their proposal. Every other appearance they have made has been one-sided and controlled by them. They may worry about "legitimizing" the opposition by appearing on the same stage, but in reality they delegitimize themselves and their arguments by their absence.

As for the elected officials who declined an invitation tonight to speak in support of the project, their silence speaks volumes. It seems to be that they are all too happy to silently support the project and all too fearful to publicly and loudly support it. Why is this? I think its because they know that their constituencies, on the whole, oppose this project. None of them want to speak unequivocally in support, though I do give Marty credit for at least tirelessly and loudly standing with his position. As for Councilmembers DeBlasio and Yassky, it seems that they would rather just not discuss the issue.

Besides Marty, only our politicians who oppose the project speak publicly and loudly about it. Clearly this is because they know that they stand with the majority of their constituents and that they stand with the people, in the right place. They are heroes for doing so. Speaker Silver, who went against the political tide, but with the people of the City, is now seen as a hero for doing so. We need more politicians to be heroes, instead of standing in silent support.

What Has Been Proposed?
Forest City Ratner (FCR) has proposed a 24-acre, 7.8 million square foot development project. It includes 20 skyscrapers ranging from 15 stories to 55 stories. 17 residential towers and 3 commercial towers. The proposal also includes an 800,000 square foot, 20,000-seat arena.

The plan would "de-map" 2 and a half city blocks, including 2 blocks of Pacific Street and 1 block of Fifth Avenue. About 33% would be built over the 8.5 acre MTA/LIRR active rail yards, and the other 66% would be built over existing private property and city streets. The project would stretch from the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush on the West to Vanderbilt on the East, bounded by Atlantic Avenue on the North and Dean Street to the South. It would form a wall of very tall buildings dividing Park Slope and Prospect Heights from Fort Greene.

It is currently a $3.5 billion project and is sure to rise in cost.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's position paper has been handed out. We believe that the scale, density and land use of the FCR proposal will overwhelm the surrounding communities and are wholly in appropriate for this location. Housing and jobs do not require overdevelopment, unsustainable development, or destructive development. This isn't and shouldn't be a zero sum game, though the project's supporters have portrayed it that way.

In early 2002 FCR began lobbying certain city and state officials to support their proposal. The project was not unveiled until nearly 2 years later, December 2003, to the surprise of the public, the district's city council representative, Letitia James, and even Borough President Markowitz who has stated that he was "surprised" by the scale of the project. So, for nearly two years, the largest development proposed for Brooklyn in over 30 years was being pitched and lobbied to some elected officials, while the public and many local officials were completely in the dark about it.

Since the December 2003 unveiling, attended by Pataki, Schumer, Marty and Ratner, it has become clear that there would not be a fair, democratic, accountable and transparent development process and there would be no opportunity for genuine community input. The proposal will completely bypass our elected City Council and the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, known as ULURP. This means the bypassing of numerous public hearings in front of Community Boards 2, 6 and 8, as well as public hearings in front of the Borough President, City Planning, City Council Committees, and the full City Council and a vote by our City Council.

Instead the development and development site will be completely taken over by the State and the lead agency, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). The ESDC will grant a complete zoning override, which will override all current local zoning. The City, through the Economic Development Corporation, Dan Doctoroff and the Bloomberg Administration abdicated all oversight to the ESDC, through a Memorandum of Understanding between the developer, the city and the state. Neither the Mayor nor Speaker Gifford Miller made any attempt to keep this project under local city oversight. This means, just like the Jets Stadium, that three men in a room, Pataki, Silver and Bruno will have the only legislative approval of the proposal.

We expect that when massive public subsidies are made available to a private developer, and when radical, landscape altering developments are proposed by the same developer, that our elected officials will have maximum, strict and accountable oversight and our communities will have real input and involvement.

In the case of the Ratner plan, we've got it backwards. We have maximum, and often extraordinary, public subsidies with the bare minimum political oversight and public input. This is public/private cooperation at its worst, where the public pays and the private profits immensely; where most of the risk is taken by the public and most of the profit is taken by the private.

Develop Don't Destroy's report on the public subsidies, found at www.dddb.net/dummies, concludes that the known subsidies for the FCR proposal will be at least $1.6 billion, while the unknown subsidies will likely push that number over $2 billion. FCR themselves state that the subsidy will be $1.1 billion. Neither of these numbers include the housing subsidies, meaning at least $1.1 billion in public subsidies, if we use the FCR number, will go towards financing market rate and luxury housing, and a private sports arena, with no clear plan for increased police and fire services, schools, or improved public transportation or vehicular planning. What we have is maximum subsidies, minimum oversight. Why?

Eminent Domain Abuse
A lightening rod issue swirling around the FCR proposal is the use of eminent domain. In this case we see this as an abuse of the State's power to condemn and take private property. For the Atlantic Yards project the State would take private property, condemn it, and give it to another private entity∆Forest City Ratner. Within the next two weeks the Supreme Court of the United States will make a ruling in the Kelo v. New London case that may uphold this kind of use of Eminent Domain for so-called "economic development." Or the court could outlaw this kind of taking of private property for a private use. If the court rules this way, the ESDC, for FCR, will try to claim that the Prospect Heights area is "blighted." If this is true, then most neighborhoods in New York City are blighted.

Whatever the outcome, eminent domain has already been abused, used as a threat hanging over an entire neighborhood for nearly 2 years, scaring owners into selling properties to avoid the use of eminent domain before an approval process has even started. And tenants are most vulnerable in this situation and have the fewest rights. As you also may know, when FCR offers buyouts, with the threat of the State power behind them, they only make such deals if the seller signs a contract that effectively eradicates one's First Amendment Rights. So we have a case here where one's Fifth Amendment Rights are abused, and to avoid the financial stress and limbo of eminent domain, one must give up one's First Amendment Rights.

We strongly believe that this is outrageously un-American, and the use of eminent domain for this project is an abuse of the Constitution.

Environmental and Social Impact
Much has been said about the strain on subways and roads that a 20,000-seat arena and at least 15,000 new residents would produce. Unfortunately, what we've heard about is the strain, we have heard nothing from FCR, Marty or city elected leaders, from the Mayor on down. FCR simple states that there are a lot of subway lines at this location and therefore everything will be fine. Well, then, why do they plan to build at least 3,000 parking spaces? And why do they fail to mention what Tri-state Transportation Campaign makes so abundantly clear: the subways at Atlantic terminal are ALREADY overburdened and have poor service, and this is before ANY of the downtown Brooklyn rezoned development has started and before most of the up-zoned development along 4th avenue has been completed. The point here is that the FCR plan has come too late to the game, and has proposed a density and use that our public transportation cannot handle along with the other developments in the Downtown Area. This highlights that there is no real urban planning involved in the FCR project, which is further highlighted by City Planning's absence from the discussion of the project. It has even been rumored that City Planning is not too pleased with the Ratner proposal.

It is projected that 23,000 new vehicular trips would be made through the Atlantic Yards area, due to the FCR plan. Traffic and parking issues are not simply nuisance issues. Traffic is an environmental and economic issue. Diesel trucks during 10 years of construction and after build out will only worsen the air quality in an area that is already an environmental hotspot and suffers from high asthma rates. According to Community Consulting inc, congestion, traffic accidents, air pollution, noise pollution, vibration damage, pavement damage and health issues will result in a cost to society of nearly $76 million per year, just for the Ratner plan. When all 41 million square feet of Downtown Development are calculated, this number reaches $250 million per year. This economic impact is never calculated in FCR analyses.

These financial and quality of life burdens would be borne primarily by Downtown area residents and businesses. These burdens effect quality of life for all races and classes.

Also according to Community Consulting, NY City and State must invest $4-5 billion worth of infrastructure improvements accommodate the additional traffic and transit use created by all the new Downtown area development. But the plan and money to do so is not there.

What this means for Downtown Brooklyn is that, when fully built out, traffic in Downtown could be more than double what exists today, with the BQE and local roads already at capacity. And, with the completion of the Nets Arena, this traffic could concentrate at Atlantic Center. Will more eminent domain be used to create new roads, after demapping old roads, to accommodate Forest City Ratner's plans? It's very likely.

The State environmental review process is little more than a rubberstamp, and we don't trust that if this project is approved the State process will produce any real mitigation of the impacts. Because it doesn't have to. It only needs to identify the impacts.

Overshadowing the Williamsburg Bank building, the proposed towers at Atlantic and Flatbush down to Vanderbilt will cast long shadow over Fort Greene all the way to Dekalb. Imagine what kind of derision a plan that would block the Empire State Building would receive.

MTA Involvement
The RFP for Atlantic Yards is as rigged as the one on the West Side.

The MTA owns a valuable piece of real estate. Its 8.5 acres of land situated near world-class institutions, desirable residential communities and excellent, though overburdened, public transportation. This is a piece of property that should not be given away at bargain basement prices.

Yet the MTA appears to be treating the rail yards as if they are an item at a stoop sale. They ran two Request for Proposals (RFP) advertisements, hidden in the back pages of section C of the Times and in the trade magazine Real Estate Weekly. They admittedly have been in negotiations with FCR for nearly 2 years, and THEN issued this RFP. Like the west side Hudson Yards, one favored developer is being offered the zoning they need, massive subsidies and the full support of the Mayor and Governor. Like the West Side there is a chilling effect on potential bidders who don't want to cross these two powerful elected officials. To top it off, any potential bidders were given ONLY 42 days to prepare a feasible proposal, while FCR has had nearly 4 years to do so. This time frame is ludicrous and irresponsible. If the MTA were truly trying to use the market to receive the highest value possible for their property, they'd have advertised and issued the RFP widely and given a reasonable and feasible response time, like they've done with so many other major properties. Through this process, the MTA is likely to receive the lowest bid possible. The submission deadline is also, perhaps coincidently, the same day as the Olympic Bid winner announcement. Keep your eyes open for the results. I need to repeat this: the RFP for Atlantic Yards is as rigged as the one on the West Side, and this is irresponsible during these times of massive MTA debt, service cuts and fare increases.

Economic Impact
The IBO has said there will be some fiscal surplus for the City but no public report has been released.

The NY City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has said there will be a $1.35 billion profit over 30 years, but no public report has been released.

FCR has said first $2 billion, then $3 billion, then $5 billion profit over 30 years for the City and State (no NEW public report released)

None of these studies seem to take into account the tangible negative economic impacts of snarled traffic, health costs, 10-15 years of construction, or opportunity costs, i.e. better, more effective and efficient uses of public expenditures.

ALL PILOT payments will go to the ESDC, not our city treasury.

The independent Kim/Peebles Estimated Fiscal Impact Of the Forest City Plan concludes that the proposal, published one year ago, concludes a net loss for the city and state of $506 million. This study has never been successfully rebutted.

Housing and Jobs
FCR has stated that their project would create 15,000 construction jobs, and 6,000 office jobs. The reality is that 15,000 construction jobs are actually job-years, meaning 1,000 construction jobs per year over 15 years, so unless they turn those jobs over every year, 15,000 is actually 1,000 or so. And most of these temporary jobs will not go to local workers. Also, ANYTHING built at the rail yards will produce construction jobs.

FCR is simply proposing to build SPACE for 6,000 office workers. That's a jobs space creation program, not a jobs program. FCR will only build office space if they find it economically feasible to do so, and find interested corporate tenants. This is why they are already talking about cutting the originally proposed office space by at least half. And of course such office space would be built to keep those jobs in the City, not to create new jobs, and certainly not to create jobs for local residents. As for the arena, the EDC President, Andrew Alper, has said under oath that the arena would "create a minimal amount of jobs."

You may have heard much hoopla about a housing deal. This is actually a non-binding agreement between FCR and ACORN, where ACORN has now become the non-profit housing arm for the project, and has agreed to work to get the financing for an extraordinary housing subsidy. ACORN has also contractually agreed to support and promote the FCR project at hearings, to the public and in the media. It should be noted that no housing agency was signatory to that agreement. BUT the most insidious aspect of this so-called "affordable" housing deal between Forest City Ratner (FCR) and ACORN, trumpeted by Mayor Bloomberg, is this: the Mayor, Marty Markowitz and Bertha Lewis made big hoopla about a 50-50 housing deal, at a Brooklyn Borough Hall press conference about three weeks ago. One week later at a City Council hearing on the Atlantic Yards proposal, FCR announced that what was once 4,500 proposed housing units is now 7,300 housing units, with no commitment at all to make any of those 2,800 additional units "affordable." So what was loudly called a "groundbreaking" 50-50 agreement is now, in reality, a non-binding agreement that would include a miniscule 6% of housing for truly low-income earners and 24% for "moderate" earners, leaving 70% luxury. That's called bait and switch. And guess what? Half of the rents of the so-called "affordable" units are market rate rents that you could find walking into any real estate office in the areas surrounding the proposed development site. So, we, the taxpayers of New York City and State, are subsidizing Ratner's market and luxury rate housing∆as well as the most expensive private sports arena ever built∆to the tune of $1.6 billion, and rising, in public subsidies. Why?

And as is abundantly clear one does not need to abuse eminent domain, avoid democratic and transparent development procedures, build wildly out of scale and character, and sink hundreds of millions into an arena, to build affordable housing. With a $1.6 billion subsidy, each "affordable" unit would cost $711,000 to construct, nearly triple the normal cost per unit. Is this an efficient and effective use of public money? Hardly.

A glass-walled arena and skyscrapers over a major subway hub, which was once minutes away from a terrorist attack in 1997, deserves the same kind of security study by the NYPD that the Freedom Tower and the teetering Jets Stadium have received. Or are 18-wheelers rumbling down Atlantic, different than 18-wheelers rumbling down West Street? To date, no such study has even been called for publicly by any elected officials.

Race and Class
There is a myth out there that support and opposition of this project breaks down along race and class lines. This is an untruth and a deliberate attempt by the developer, and others, to divide and conquer increasingly powerful communities. The reality is that supporters and opponents come from all races and all economic situations. Support and opposition cut across these boundaries. Some would like to foment and further this myth, which in the end only benefits the developer∆a community divided, or perceived to be divided, is a weakened community. We all must do all we can do, not to let this developer and his silent political backers break our communities in twenty different ways. The name-calling needs to stop; opposing opinions do not equate to racism. Period.

If you believe in the Constitution,
Then You must oppose this project.

If you believe in government accountability and transparency,
Then You must oppose this project.

If you believe in the right of communities to have genuine involvement in shaping their futures, the right of communities to self-determination,
Then You must oppose this project.

If you believe in the efficient and effective use of public money,
Then You must oppose this project.

If you believe that local government understands local communities far better than state bureaucrats,
Then You must oppose this project.

If you believe that it is dangerous to put so much power and land in one corporation's hands,
Then You must oppose this project.

If you believe that the goals of housing and jobs can be reached without breaching process, without destroying neighborhoods, and without wasting public dollars,
Then You must oppose this project.

If you believe that developer-driven development, with our government on the sidelines, is a negative and dangerous precedent,
Then You must oppose this project.

If you believe that development should enhance our communities, instead of insulting them∆that development should unify our communities instead of dividing and destroying them,
Then You must oppose this project.

If you believe that our elected officials should listen to their constituents, instead of dismissing their principled and serious concerns,
Then YOU must tell them so, now and loudly and clearly. And don't stop until they start listening.