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Atlantic Yards Opponents – Rude And Unreasonable, Or Anxious About Losing Their Homes?
August 4th, 2006

Errol Louis devotes his column in the Daily News to the rudeness exhibited by the opponents of the Atlantic Yards development (some of them were apparently rude to him personally). Because of their tactics, Louis claims, the 22-acre project “is likely to end up bigger than it might otherwise have been.” More sensible, Louis believes, were those neighbors who made “smart deals, selling their condos at a handsome profit and moving on,” Louis writes. “That left the die-hard opponents.”

A contrasting view is offered in the Village Voice, where Cynthia Carr talks to many of those opponents – there are 118 at the core or “footprint” – who have a “palpable anxiety” about losing their homes, as well as seeing their community destroyed. “We’ve got a real community here,” Patti Hagan says. “You don’t get a community in a 62-story skyscraper. You don’t even get a neighborhood. You just get a doorman.”

Many seem resigned to getting kicked out, but also see the process as unfair. Carr writes that “
the most shocking aspect of this massive borough-altering project is that it will circumvent all the usual city processes: the three community boards with acreage in the footprint, the Department of City Planning, the City Council. None gets a say. Local councilwoman Letitia James has railed against Atlantic Yards to little avail. City zoning laws don’t even apply. The agency in charge is the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), out of Albany, administered by Charles Gargano, who is not elected. [Developer Bruce] Ratner, Gargano, and Governor George Pataki all went to law school together.”

By on August 4, 2006, 6:40 am
In category: Land Use | 28 Comments »

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28 Responses to “Atlantic Yards Opponents – Rude And Unreasonable, Or Anxious About Losing Their Homes?”

  1. Daniel Goldstein Says:
    August 4th, 2006 at 8:53 am

    What Mr. Louis doesn’t know doesn’t seem to hurt him.

    What he doesn’t know is that footprint dwellers met with FCR/GEHRY one month after the project was announced. They proposed a MAJOR compromise for the communities and Ratner. And a way for Ratner to avoid the one thing that is sure to halt his project–eminent domain.

    They presented a plan that would have kept an arena and housing, but only shifted the arena, reasonably, on the site where Ratner’s failed mall would be demolished, thus potentially avoiding eminent domain AND accepting an arena that the large majority of people surrounding the site do not want.

    It was rejected for “security” reasons and it would be “difficult to load and unload the elephants” at circus time because the arena would be elevated over Atlantic Avenue.

    Mr. Gehry liked the idea VERY much but FCR said no. what was the REAL reason? Well, greed. Why waste that mall’s air rights on an arena, when the developer can take my home and my neighbors’ homes and then build 1.25 million sq. ft. of development over that mall (yes folks, that is his plan SEPARATE from Atlantic Yards).

    Mr. Louis is also insincere, he knows very well that the so-called “die-hard” opponents number in the many thousands, and since 118 people remain in the footprint, a very small percentage of opponents are those who continue to face eminent domain. All Mr. Louis needed to do was attend one of the 3 community board meetings last night and he would have seen this.

    Louis ignores this:
    The only negotiation that has occurred and will occur (with the public) was the “C””B””A”, and the issues opponents have with the project were NEVER on the table and never will be (the project itself was never on the table). so those who “negotiated” the “C””B””A”, and took that responsibiity, missed the chance that he says opponents missed. he’s gotten it backwards. And thats because Ratner’s “negotiations,” all of them, are PR stunts to get support, rather than good faith open-ended negotiations. (Never mind that 7 of the 8 groups who signed that agreement have admitted to being paid by Ratner)

    His reasonsing about Donna Lieberman negotiating demonstrations with the police and becoming friendly wiht the police is well taken. I’ve had to do the same for the 4 rallies against the Ratner plan. All demonstration organizers have to go through this, and often working with the NYPD on demonstrations is a pleasure. BUT that has NOTHING to do with negotiating with a developer who has proven intractable and ruthless. Where is the give on Ratner’s end? there has been none. his project is bigger today than the day it was announced. the mitigations are a joke, the DEIS is a joke. the housing agreement has already been broken. and the job promises have diminished by 80% or so.

    this is a man to negotiate with?

    Louis writes, in conclusion:
    “What should have been a dialogue is set to turn into a showdown. When the opponents go down in flames, they will have nobody to blame but themselves.”

    (first off, when the plan was unveiled in December 2003 it was unvelied as a fait accompli, not a “dialogue.” Ratner doesn’t do dialogue. when i ran into him in front of my building in February 2004, he certainly wasn’t willing to answer a simple question i had for him, which was “when do you intend to demolish these buildings.” Besides that time and one other time I’ve never seen Mr. Ratner, and he has NEVER appeared at an open public meeting in Brooklyn that i’m aware of.)

    But Louis is sort of right. When the Ratner plan goes down in flames, the developer will have nobody to blame but himself, his avarice and his intransigence.

  2. Jim Vogel Says:
    August 4th, 2006 at 9:53 am

    I am always astonished when the Ratner forces accuse the current residents of being rude! I have never in my life encountered the type of uninformed incivility as has been the stock in trade of BUILD and other Ratner supporters! At every public meeting they have attended they arrive late and try to take over the agenda, speaking out of turn and shouting down people with whom they don’t agree.
    I am particularly reminded of a meeting in Prospect Heights last year held by the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council when they arrived almost an hour into the meeting, attempted to deride the study being presented by calling everyone racist, and in which their fascist tactics failed only because the other attendees decided not to yield the floor and called their noisy bluff. Then they had the nerve to say those attendees were “disrespectful.” As though playing the race card isn’t rude, in addition to stupid and desperate.
    And those tactics continue. At last night’s CB6 meeting a man describing himself as a representative of Rev. Herbert Daughtry got up and, as his official testimony, shouted at the public and the Community Board that anyone who didn’t support Bruce Ratner was a racist who hates black people! At other community board meetings that night, as at other recent public meetings, BUILD affiliated members appeared masquerading as construction workers, complete with hard hats. I wonder if the unions would consider that sort of fraud to be Rude? I certainly do!
    Mr. Louis is free to spout uninformed nonsense, but when he is corrected I hope he won’t find it too “rude.”

  3. james joseph Says:
    August 4th, 2006 at 10:53 am

    This is the way it is in Bloomberg’s city: If you dare to object to a new development in your neighborhood, you are (gasp) rude.

    That said, I do understand Louis’ take from watching what happened with the new Yankee Stadium in Highbridge. Those people not only lost their parks but they’ll have new parking garages and a huge mallpark facing their front windows. The new stadium will be no more than 60 feet away; it’s just across the two-lane road. (You don’t like the view? Don’t be rude.)

    As such an obvious miscarriage of justice moved closer and closer to reality — subsidized by the city’s taxpayers and promoted by their own electeds — the opponents became desperate and, yes, rude. But who could blame them?

  4. Larry Littlefield Says:
    August 4th, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    (It was rejected for “security” reasons…because the arena would be elevated over Atlantic Avenue.)

    I couldn’t dismiss that concern. There would be no way to stop someone from setting off a truck bomb under the arena. I don’t think we can take that risk. And building the arena north of Atlantic would require taking housing as well.

    I thought it might be possible to actually put the arena on the current alignment of Altantic Avenue (with no traffic under it) curve the avenue around, but couldnt’ figure out a way to make it work with the intersection.

    Bottom line, no eminent domain, no large gathering places at transit accessible sites in the middle of cities. The real alternative is the relocation of large gathering places to the suburban fringe.

    The additional condemnation for housing is another matter.

    Personally, I think the condo market is going to tank, and this plan may end up like the Arverne plan at the end of the 1980s, when Ratner also won a site but was unable to build before the recession. The city ended up letting him out of his committment.

    With the way the market is going, and with the subdidies Ratner is now getting, we’d be better off just paying for part of the arena and letting him build a couple of hotels/office buildings next to it. The office/hotel market is getting tight. Any decisions on the rest of the site could then be deferred.

    But unless that is in the EIS, the whole process would have to start up all over again.

  5. Errol Says:
    August 4th, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    Daniel Goldstein and Jim Vogel managed to make and miss the point of my article at the same time. Perhaps they will prove me wrong; maybe the strategy of insults, sarcasm and refusal to bargain will succeed at blocking billions of dollars, thousands of jobs and thousands of new housing units from coming to the neighborhood.

    For the record, I wrote a column in January 2004 about the alternative plan Goldstein refers to, back when I worked at the New York Sun. As I recall, mine was the first and perhaps only mainstream press article that published a drawing of the plan. You can see it here:

    http://daily.nysun.com/Repository/m2.asp?Issue=NYS/2004/01/27&ID=Ar00902&Mode=HTML

    Contrary to Goldstein’s assertion, Forest City took the idea seriously, but rejected it for security reasons (recall that the first plan was unveiled barely 2 years after 9/11).

    Notice the tone of my 2004 article. It was written back in the days when rational people, with different points of view, could talk civilly about the project and weigh the pros and cons. Eventually, Goldstein and the shouters took over, and the conversation quickly went downhill. Many of us, repeatedly faced with the ugly with-us-or-against-us polarization tactics, finally gave up and decided: “OK, have it your way — I’m against you.” It has been a dogfight ever since.

    The point of today’s article was that civility, reason and relationship-building are what one of my political science professors called “weapons of the weak” – an attempt to dial down a conflict because the other side, when all is said and done, can probably steamroll over you. The problem here may be that Goldstein and his clique do not consider themselves to be holding a weak hand. On that point, as on many others, we happen to disagree.

  6. a reader Says:
    August 4th, 2006 at 1:18 pm

    Brooklyn has been rebuilding itself on a grassroots level – Ratner doesn’t want to come in because it’s ‘blighted’ but rather, because the area is a ‘gold mine’. All this deal is doing is giving unfair tax payer subsidies to one developer, who will bring big chain restaurants and coffee shops that in turn get tax breaks, at the expense of the mom and pop shops in the area.
    Why should the middle class have to bear the tax and infrastructure burden when a billionaire is getting a 30 year property tax break?

    As for Mr. Louis, I am glad you are concerned with civility, it may be a nice start not to refer to us as
    -yuppies,
    -antidevelopment protesters,
    -antibuilders,
    -antidevelopment brigade,
    -antidevelopment groups,
    -antidevelopment crowd,
    -anti-development yuppies,
    -middle-class people with loud voices, and
    -liberal… serving as sentries guarding the walls of the Central Brooklyn ghetto.
    And Mr. Louis, I think fair disclosure is also due here. What exactly is the relationship with you and your paper and FCR? It took awhile but we eventually found out about BUILD, the New York Times, etc….Perhaps it would be best if you disclosed it yourself.

  7. Daniel Goldstein Says:
    August 4th, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    errol wrote: http://daily.nysun.com/Repository/m2.asp?Issue=NYS/2004/01/27&ID=Ar00902&Mode=HTML

    Contrary to Goldstein’s assertion, Forest City took the idea seriously, but rejected it for security reasons (recall that the first plan was unveiled barely 2 years after 9/11).

    errol, if that is true, why is there NO conern today, regarding 9/11 isues, about a glass walled arena, surrounded by 3 very tall glass towers, at a major gridlocked intersection, with small setbacks, over a major transportation hub which was a terrorist target in 1997. is that a security concern? if it was then, why not now?

  8. me Says:
    August 4th, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    Louis writes:

    “It didn’t start out that way. Back in 2004, I often spoke peaceably with neighbors who lived in the path of the planned development. I gave my honest assessment: There is too much money, political power and community support to stop the project altogether, but there might be room for compromise.”

    That sounds to me like complacent support for a corrupt system. Does anyone else here find the premise behind that to be deeply disturbing? As for the community support, as we know, are nearly all on FCR’s payroll.

  9. Scott Turner Says:
    August 4th, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    Errol Lewis is rich.

    Civility, for Errol, is mandatory only for those he doesn’t like.

    A Reader Says’ above post is but a partial list of the invective Errol has lobbed at those fighting for better development, fair process and real jobs/affordable housing at the Vanderbil railyards.

    Louis brags about his “charm offensive” tactics during his days as a “full-time community activist.” Errol spent his full-time activist days cozying up to power as a way to convince “big shots” to loosen purse strings and change laws.

    More recently, as a full-time newspaper columnist, Louis has written about arson, gentrification, bank redlining and the unsolved murder of an African-American women.

    So, Errol, how’s that charm offensive working out?

    Louis claims that our coalition — 53 city-wide grass-roots groups, clergy and political organizations — has “lost at every key turn.”

    I don’t think so.

    * Ratner and Markowitz planned on getting the first shovel into the ground shortly after the project was announced in December 2003, with the Nets’ first Brooklyn game in 2007. Now, the earliest is 2009, and the Nets have extended their New Jersey lease to 2012.

    * Ratner looses $4 million a month, and $20-$30 million a year on the Nets.

    * The project’s cost has risen from $2.5 billion to $4.2 billion.

    * The luxury-condo market — Ratner’s only way, besides an expected $2 billion in public funds — to pay for the project, is collapsing.

    * Politicians are switching sides and his staunchest supporters are no longer the loud cheerleaders they were at the project’s outset.

    * Eliot Spitzer, a Ratner supporter, has called for the process to be slowed down and more time given for Brooklynites to respond to the DEIS.

    * FCR’s parent, Forest City Enterprises in Cleveland, has just swallowed up Ratner’s company and given Bruce Ratner a $60 million payout. This, apparently, due to FCR being leveraged out over the Atlantic Yards debacle.

    * Thousands of Brooklynites attend rallies against the project

    * At yesterday’s three Community Board meetings, citizens against the project outnumbered those in favor 83-31 margin, and the “for” ranks include 12 paid FCR employees.

    * Because of recent court rulings and FCR’s and the ESDC’s behavior, upcoming court cases stand a very good chance of stopping the project.

    In Errol Louis defines this as “going down in flames.”

    Weirder still is Louis’ continuing loytalty to a Ratner plan that has lost 75% of the permanent jobs FCR promised and never had much affordable housing to being with. Permanent jobs have been slashed (10,000 in 2003 to 2,200 now, with only a handful newly created) and 88% of the apartments are priced beyond reach of Brooklyn’s low-income residents — the very community FCR has targeted with its glossy flyers and rare public events.

    Louis’ “honest assessment” of the project at the beginning — that Ratner’s power was too great to overcome, and that residents should cave in and take the deal — is an affront to activists and political leaders throughout the years who have fought the power. Dr. King, Malcolm X, James Connolly, the Stonewall demonstrators, Jane Jacobs, the mothers of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville struggle, Iris Baez. Would Louis have told them “relax, the Man’s too powerful, be polite and take what he offers”?

    I’m not comparing the battle against Ratner to those above. But fighting power, on whatever level, is fighting power. As it’s always been, power loves nothing more than to be challenged by those willing to take table-scraps and go away.

    “Smart deals.” Is that what it’s called, when your only choice is to sell against your wishes to Ratner or have the state condemn your property?

    Make no mistake — Bruce Ratner has never met with those concerned with the project. Nor has Jim Stuckey, Joe DePlasco, Lupi Todd, Bruce Bender or anyone else in a position to accomodate the community’s wishes.

    Before there was dischord, there were suggestions — to reposition the arena, to downscale, to take a look at the Unity Plan (a community-created alternative for developing the railyards), to meet with those in the early days of this struggle who had concerns about FCR’s plan.

    Bruce Ratner, by refusing to meet with us, is the very picture of Louis’ definition of rude behavior.

    Then again, there’s Louis himself. Our organization, Fans For Fair Play, has three times invited Louis to a casual, civil talk over lunch or a drink — once in person on City Hall steps, twice more via e-mail.

    Louis has never taken us up on it.

    Civility’s a bitch when it doesn’t suit your needs.

  10. David Block Says:
    August 4th, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    Like Mr. Louis, I too am a former community organizer. In my years of organizing, I have never met a more civil group of activists than those who oppose the Atlantic Yards Project, and have, unfortunately, met few more likely to attempt to bully, shout over and otherwise intimidate than those paid by Forest City Ratner to appear to be supporters of the project.

    But to Mr. Louis, it seems that if you stand your ground, no matter how polite and civil you are, it doesn’t matter; you are rude. He must think the Freedom Riders were rude, because they would not negotiate with people who wanted them to stop registering people to vote. He must think that the activists who stopped Westway were rude because they did not negotiate a settlement, but instead stood their ground. In fact (horrors!), opponents of Westway had the audacious rudeness to actually take their battle to court (and win!).

    Mr. Louis also states that his “honest assessment” was that “there is too much money, political power and community support to stop the [Atlantic Yards] project altogether.” He forgets that there was “too much money, political power and community support” for a bus boycott to succeed in Birmingham , Alabama . Bull Connor also had “too much money, political power and community support.” He also had fire hoses. There was too much “money, political power and community support” to stop the Shoreham Nuclear Power plant, Westway, or recently, the Jets Stadium. All of these struggles were, to use Mr. Louis’ phrase, “likely to lose.” If the opponents followed Mr. Louis’ advice, they indeed would have lost.

    Eugene V. Debs was correct a century ago: It is better to fight for what you want, and NOT get it, than to fight for what you DON’T want, and get it. Mr. Louis is certainly entitled to be a cheerleader for the Atlantic Yards, and to fight for what we DON’T want. We will continue to fight for what we DO want — “likely to lose” or not.

    [note: I sent a similar, but not identical, letter to the Editor of the News. I don’t expect to see it published.]

  11. Jim Vogel Says:
    August 5th, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Gee, Errol Louis, how do you know that FCRC took the idea seriously? The very first time they got a look at it was at a public meeting at a church on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. At that meeting Mr. Stuckey spoke off the top of his head and said the idea of cantilevering the arena across Atlantic Avenue from the rail yards to Atlantic Center wouldn’t work for security reasons. He later went on to say that the arena would have to be a minimum of 70 feet in the air for some reason, and that in case of emergency, how would you get the elephants out? He actually said it. It was so absurd it stuck in my memory. Later they tried to flesh that out with some BS (sorry to be rude) about that height being necessary to allow sunlight onto Atlantic Avenue. (Guess sunlight isn’t so important now, judging from the Shadows section of the DEIS.) The community architects were laughing by this time and Stuckey asked what was so funny. They said they would personally much rather be in an arena with several layers of steel flooring if a truck bomb went off below it than in a glass walled arena that went right up to the street where the truck would park! Stuckey had nothing to say. Probably thinking about the poor elephants.
    Was Mr. Louis at this meeting? I didn’t see him. How does he know they took it seriously? Is he just believing a press release? And this is supposed to be journalism?

  12. a reader Says:
    August 5th, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    Was Mr. Louis at this meeting? I didn’t see him. How does he know they took it seriously? Is he just believing a press release? And this is supposed to be journalism?

    Mr. Louis seems intent on not letting reality get in the way of his beliefs.

    Again, I would like him to disclose the exact relationship between himself, the Daily News and FCR.

  13. David Block Says:
    August 5th, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    Errata:

    The bus boycott was in Montgomery, Alabama. Bull Connor was in Birmingham. The point remains the same.

  14. Errol Says:
    August 6th, 2006 at 12:02 am

    Well, Wonksters, it’s been an interesting exchange.

    To Scott Turner: Sorry if you really wanted to meet. But judging by the hostility of your misspelled note (“Errol Lewis is rich”), I doubt it would have gone well.

    To Jim Vogel: Since you fancy yourself a media critic, remember that sitting through a public meeting is not the only way to gather and share information. I began talking with FCRC about the project before Stuckey was hired, and told execs there about Rothstein’s plan around the time I published her sketch in the Sun on January 27, 2004. The execs I talked to, at least, were hearing about it for the first time when I called, and kept me abreast of their discussions up to the point when they gave up on the idea.

    To David Block: It’s understandably loyal of you to say you “have never met a more civil group of activists than those who oppose the Atlantic Yards Project,” but everybody reading this blog knows some of these folks have acted like thoughtless, sarcastic hotheads at least part of the time, and hurt their cause in the process. Even Goldstein acknowledged as much in his semi-apology for the famous “wealthy white masters” email.

    Also, your muddled historical references notwithstanding, I found the analogy of the anti-development effort to the civil rights movement not only baffling and offensive, but weirdly amusing. It would make for great sketch comedy to imagine Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks fighting to keep a corner tavern and a handful of million-dollar condos from being demolished and battling against the creation of jobs and housing for the poor.

    And finally, to the anonymous poster demanding that I “disclose” some hoped-for conspiracy between me, Ratner and my colleagues on the Daily News editorial board: Sign your name if you want to be taken seriously.

    See you in the papers.

  15. Scott Turner Says:
    August 6th, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Errol Louis’ response is classic, of course.

    I wrote 29 paragraphs of facts, analyses, and anectdotal evidence to counter his arguments, and his sole response was to get hot, bothered and judgmental because I misspelled his name in the first sentence (but nowhere else).

    His condescension for David, Jim and A Reader Says was equally sad.

    Also, how, exactly, is misspelling a person’s name “hostility”? It’s uncool and unthoughtful, and I didn’t parse my post carefully enough. My apology. But “hostility?” Goodness, that’s thin skin.

    This is how the Ratner people deflect criticism — by condescending to the critic rather than thoughtfully examining their critique.

    DDDB, FFFP and the other groups challenging Ratner’s plans do it by looking underneath every stone — heavy stones underwhich the ugly facts have been (unsuccessfully) hidden from view by Ratner and his cadre of political friends and media cheerleaders.

    If this project could truly provide affordable housing and jobs in the way Ratner touts, we’d be less critical about it, but FFFP, for one, would credit Ratner for coming through. But again, Errol: Ratner has priced 88% of the housing stock beyond the reach of low-income Brooklynites, and to make more room for luxury condos, he’s slashed 75% of the potential permanent jobs at the Atlantic Yards.

    Those are facts. Sadly, I’ve given up on Louis telling us what he thinks of those facts. Rather, he prefers using misspellings, intentional mis-reads and namecalling as the basis for his response.

    Unlike Louis, I don’t pretend to know what King’s and Parks’ stance would be on this issue. (I suss that they’d both stand for a plan that didn’t rob Peter to lie to Paul, the way Ratner’s does — but I’m willing to listen to people who knew them.)

    All that David Block and I wrote is that Louis’ “charm-offsenive” strategy and defeatism are moves King, Parks et al. never made. Rather, they took on enemies far tougher than Bruce Ratner. By Louis’ logic, it would’ve been even more necessary for King, Parks et al. to back down. The tougher the enemy, the more you back away and hope for the scraps.

    (Louis simply chose to ignore me writing “I’m not comparing the battle against Ratner to those above.” For contrarians, ignoring things you don’t have an answer for is the easiest way out.)

    “See you in the papers.” The problem is, what Errol Louis sees beyond the papers is clouded with myopic condescension.

    …and he thinks WE’RE rude.

  16. David Block Says:
    August 6th, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    “A reader” above is correct. Mr. Louis is not going to let reality get in the way of his beliefs.

    He is apparently not reading the posts very carefully. Either that or he deliberately misreads them. Either way, I will resort to a multiple-choice question. Maybe that way we can get a straight answer.

    Mr. Louis, let me ask you point blank then:

    If “there is too much money, political power and community support to stop the [Atlantic Yards] project altogether,” as you suggest, then which one of the following movements was there NOT “too much money, political power and community support to stop” altogether?

    A. The Montgomery Bus Boycott
    B. The Freedom Riders
    C. The Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant
    D. Westway
    E. The Jets Stadium
    F. All of the above
    G. None of the above.

    The point, Mr. Louis (and allow me to spell it out for you at the risk of being rude), is NOT what the specific causes have in common, or whether those who would risk their lives for one would necessarilly risk their lives for another.

    The point, Mr. Louis, IS that ALL of these fights — whether you agree with them or not, whether King or Parks would fight Ratner or Jets Stadium or Westway or not — you would probably have told ALL of them to forget it, they were up against “too much money, political power and community support.”

    And if not, which ones would you would you assess differently?

    David Block

  17. Errol Says:
    August 7th, 2006 at 12:22 am

    Mr. Block,

    One reason I have avoided long, detailed, point-by-point responses is time; I cannot respond at length to every one of the 50-60 emails I get in a typical week, and occasionally get completely overwhelmed when a column draws 100 or more responses.

    The other reason is that many participants in the Atlantic Yards debate keep re-hashing information we all already know, and go on the attack if you don’t ritualistically recite the “proper” numbers on jobs, housing and density again, and again, and again.

    You can get away with that in blog world, but it’s a no-no in my profession. This post runs more than three times the length of a typical Daily News column.

    The debate over Atlantic Yards also includes, in my opinion, far too much playing “gotcha” over rhetorical points, which ends up being a waste of everybody’s time. For example, Scott Turner mentions one of the standard talking points, often referenced by Norman Oder and others, that “to make more room for luxury condos, [Ratner] slashed 75% of the potential permanent jobs at the Atlantic Yards.” The early plan called for more commercial space, which opponents objected to bitterly; FCRC then reconfigured the plan to have less commercial and more residential use, which of course meant the jobs estimate would have to fall.

    Everybody following the project knows that; the question is what it means and whether it matters. In the context of a 10-year project, the early adjustment never struck me as a terribly big deal – it might even reflect some give and take, albeit at arm’s length, between the developer and the critics. But for the most vocal of the opponents, the possibly beneficial change to the project – one they could arguably claim some credit for bringing about – is simply added to the rhetorical stockpile.

    Neither Turner’s group nor DDDB has stepped forward and said “We are hereby calling on Ratner to go back to that first plan with all the commercial space, because we want more jobs.” Quite the opposite. Many people claiming to want adjustments to the plan actually want to kill it altogether, but don’t want to be seen as standing in the way of the popular parts of the plan like the jobs and affordable housing.

    On to your question. In the Aug. 4 column I mentioned in passing that I told some friends I thought they would not be able to prevail if they tried to kill the project outright. Seriously, re-read the line in context: I was simply relating to early opponents my assessment of their chances were at the time. It wasn’t a grand philosophical statement to be projected backward in history or applied universally; it was simply an assessment of that issue at the time – a judgment that has not changed.

    If your position is that I was (am) reading the tea leaves wrong, that’s one thing. If you’re saying it’s cowardly or defeatist to consider whether opponents of the project are fighting against long odds (including a majority or near-majority of their neighbors in Community Board 8), I would disagree. Serious activists make it their business to figure out whether they are facing a slingshot or a bazooka, and adjust their tactics accordingly. In the later situation, it sometimes makes sense to try a flanking maneuver or negotiate an end to hostilities and live to fight another day. I thought that was at least implied by my article.

    There are times (like the early days of Act Up, which I cited) when a noisy and determined minority needs to get in people’s faces – including their neighbors – and change (and charge) the debate. Atlantic Yards is not such a situation, in my opinion.

    It’s not a great, century-long, state-sanctioned moral evil, like racial segregation or the denial of the vote based on race, the issues at stake in the Montgomery boycott and the Freedom Rides. Some see any and all uses of eminent domain as a comparable evil, but I ask such absolutists if they would rather not have seen the creation of spectacular inner-city affordable-homes projects like the Nehemiah Homes in East New York and Melrose Commons in the Bronx. Both made use of eminent domain. Ditto for Lincoln Center, Times Square, Metrotech and other renewal projects, all of which made wealthy developers wealthier.

    Nor is Atlantic Yards a potentially deadly nuclear plant like Shoreham, which would have been in the middle of a population center lacking realistic evacuation routes in the event of an emergency. As a homeowner and parent who lives about five blocks from the eastern end of the project area, I was thinking about overcrowding, pollution and other environmental impacts long before the DEIS was published. I think the potential problems are far outweighed by the need for jobs, dollars and subsidized housing in Central Brooklyn. The fact that many benefits won’t (or legally can’t) be set aside exclusively for Central Brooklyn businesses and residents doesn’t change that. If only 3% of the project ends up where I want to see it, that would be $126 million that my community badly needs.

    The argument by Turner and others that most of the housing won’t be affordable is, to me, another case of concern that seems more rhetorical than real. Nobody has built 2,250 subsidized units of housing in Brooklyn at one time in recent memory; it would be a spectacular achievement, and it would not hurt opponents to acknowledge that, unless their real goal is to have no project at all. And it makes sense to make some of the subsidies available to middle-class families, e.g. a family of four making $100,000. It might sound like a lot, but it’s what you get if a teacher marries a firefighter and they have two kids; such families are being priced out of New York.

    I haven’t seen the opponents specifically demanding 100 or 200 or 2,000 additional units of affordable housing; what I have seen is talk about going to court to halt the project and gleeful boasts about slowing things long enough to make the developer bleed losses and eventually go away. So no matter how cogent the complaints are about the affordable housing, the openly-stated ulterior motive of many opponents and the refusal to propose plausible adjustments fatally undermines their arguments.

    What’s missing from the equation is a discussion that starts with the assumption that some version of this thing is probably going to pass – call it, if you wish, a contingency plan to lock in and enhance the best parts of the project in the event it does pass. You can say that’s “defeatism,” or you could call it a realistic assessment of the situation and genuine concern about securing benefits for our low-income neighbors.

    Westway and the Jets project are more analogous to Atlantic Yards than your other examples.

    I’ll admit to not brushing up on Westway, but my recollection is that it was a horribly overpriced stretch of not-particularly-need roadway that would have done at great public cost what 12th Avenue, the West Side Highway and West Street already do. Atlantic Yards does not strike me as such a public-works redundancy. Also, Westway was primarily an amenity for a small section of the public, namely drivers, while Atlantic Yards would spread its benefits far more broadly.

    By the way, I strongly disagree with the idea that the public dollars being spent on Atlantic Yards constitute a Westway-type boondoggle. A boondoggle is when public dollars are being spent in somebody ELSE’s district. One of the things I look for in an elected official is a willingness to go to City Hall, Albany or Washington and raid the public treasury. Bring everything that isn’t nailed down back to our community.

    I once was at New York One for the Friday reporter’s roundtable. Before we went on, Charles Barron gave an interview slamming Atlantic Yards up and down – and then helpfully adding his proposed solution: that the billions be spent in HIS East New York district. We joked about it in the green room, but it wasn’t really funny. Prospect Heights might be the only place in America where officials pride themselves on chasing away public and private investments. It might also help explain why the 11th congressional district remains one of the poorest in America, with tens of thousands of unemployed people at the last census. So I’m fine with having people on Long Island or Manhattan complain about the money being spent on Atlantic Yards; as far as I’m concerned, you can’t spend too much government money in my neighborhood.

    Finally, the Jets stadium. I didn’t think it was a spectacular project, but I liked some of the agreements around funneling contracts to minority firms and wanted to see something built there. The Daily News offices look out over the rail yards, which dominate our desolate, amenity-free neighborhood; people’s cars get broken into regularly, and the danger of the area at night was recently underscored by the stalking and subsequent murder of Jennifer Moore, whose ordeal began only a few blocks from our office.

    I was fine with the Jets project even though the public pricetag was high. Time has proved that the west side yards, like the Vanderbilt Yards, will lay fallow forever unless the government supplies some infrastructure and other incentives. But the Jets had nothing like the degree of support Atlantic Yards has garnered. Crucially, a deep-pocketed opponent of the plan, Cablevision, spent millions to kill the project, including liberal contributions to various politicians and a series of billboards and TV ads. Also, Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver was committed to casting his Public Authorities Control Board vote against the Jets stadium because of a larger concern about getting money and attention for his Lower Manhattan district (another case of a politician tending to his home base at whatever cost). Finally, the Jets project area was not a true community and had very, very few residences, so there wasn’t a home constituency pushing for or against the project. Activists did not sink the project; Cablevision and Shelly Silver did, and not because of community pressure.

    Atlantic Yards is a different kettle of fish. In Community Board 8, opinions are sharply divided over the project, with many residents in favor. There is no major corporation spending millions to kill the project. And no state official with decision-making power, not even soon-to-be-governor Spitzer, is opposing the project.

    I would (and do) oppose those who want to kill the project outright because 1) I think the project’s merits outweigh its shortcomings and 2) even if I didn’t, the project seems likely to be approved, in which case it would make sense to get to the negotiating table and push to make the good parts better. Opponents of the project, of course, are free to disagree with me on both points and fight to the last ditch. As I said before, I’m willing to be proved wrong.

  18. David Block Says:
    August 7th, 2006 at 9:36 am

    Mr. Louis,

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

    Again though, you are talking about the merits of each of the respective cases. I was speaking specifically of the odds against each battle, regardless of your opinons of them.

    The odds against each were steep. Each was up against “bazookas,” in your analogy, not slingshots. Yet, whether you agree with the outcome or not, they prevailed. THAT, sir, is the point I was making.

    I respect your right to be in favor of the Project. As for your points 1 and 2 at the end of your post, see the Village Voice and New York Magazine for their cover stories.

  19. a reader Says:
    August 7th, 2006 at 10:23 am

    , I found the analogy of the anti-development effort to the civil rights movement not only baffling and offensive, but weirdly amusing. It would make for great sketch comedy to imagine Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks fighting to keep a corner tavern and a handful of million-dollar condos from being demolished and battling against the creation of jobs and housing for the poor.

    And finally, to the anonymous poster demanding that I “disclose” some hoped-for conspiracy between me, Ratner and my colleagues on the Daily News editorial board: Sign your name if you want to be taken seriously.

    Errol,
    I find it funny how you continue to insult and condescend, then wring your hands over how you’re feelings are hurt.

    Once again, since you don’t seem to get it…we are NOT ‘anti’development. We are against OVER development. I guess you need to argue with your imagined opponents when you have no answer to your real ones.

    I find it funny you won’t answer the question about the relationship, and imply it’s some sort of ‘wacky’ conspiracy theory. I specifically cited the exposing of the New York Time’s relationship with Ratner and BUILD. Considering that Ratner is greasing wheels near and far it’s a legitimate question.

    You go on to show contempt for property owners and – we can almost see you staring down your nose, a ‘tavern’. Well they may nothing to you but the people who own them and work in them they are something. You are supporting using government power to take their property away and give it to a wealthy developer. That tears at the very fabric that makes up our society. You talk about our obsession over accuracy of the ‘facts’ and missing the ‘big’ picture, well Errol seems like you’ve missed the ‘big picture’ by a country mile.

    If you support the use of eminent domain for such purposes, I honestly wish that it one day happens that a home you love dearly is taken from you. It would be poetic justice.

    In any event:
    Prospect Heights might be the only place in America where officials pride themselves on chasing away public and private investments. It might also help explain why the 11th congressional district remains one of the poorest in America, with tens of thousands of unemployed people at the last census.

    Are you saying that pouring in billions of dollars of government money to developers is going to fix this? Metrotech has done little or nothing to improve the surrounding area – and in fact, has just brought in companies like Chase Manhattan, who receive massive tax breaks, which the middle classes, whom you despise, have to subsidize.

    Nor do you seem to hold any long term vision for the future – what do we do to keep the economy going – keep building and building and adding more and more people – and thus whittle away at the quality of life.

  20. Scott Turner Says:
    August 7th, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn chose its name carefully.

    DEVELOP, don’t destroy.

    To that end, DDDB has spent two-and-a-half years proposing alternatives to the Ratner skyscrapers.

    The Unity Plan provided thousands of affordable and low-income units. So did the Extell Plan, which would have also saved taxpayers at leat $150 million in public money Ratner’s proposal intends to take.

    To counter the MTA’s lackadasical Request for Propsals for their Vanderbilt Rail Yards, DDDB did the MTA’s job and sent out letters to a hundred developers nationwide in order to have a wider pool of proposals.

    That’s hardly the action of a group allegedly interested only in stopping Ratner’s project. FCR’s political and media supporters, of course, never questioned the MTA’s shoddy, anti-development RFP. Errol Lewis certainly never did.

    DDDB and other groups have endorsed the Fifth Avenue Committee’s recent low-income housing initiative, which provides apartments that residents can afford and that are fiscally smart to build.

    Neither DDDB nor FFFP stands opposed to eminent domain for public projects that provide low-income housing. Louis seems to think we do, but we don’t. We oppose it for a project so massive that the developer refuses to say how much he intends to profit from it — inspite of the the law’s requirement that he do so.

    Neither DDDB nor FFFP ever opposed the number of jobs Ratner was proposing at the outset. Rather, we challenged his nice, fat round number — derived without announced tenants, only by guesswork based on square-footage-per-worker figures. We objected to raising the area’s hopes on such callous, pie-in-the-sky numbers.

    We also objected to Ratner’s figures about new-job creation, which were severly overstated. DDDB and FFFP have been calling for changes in the plan that allow for more small-businesses and less box-stores.

    Our coaltion is dedicated to the BEST PLAN POSSIBLE at the Vanderbilt Yards, not stopping all plans.

    Errol Louis just refuses to accept that. Surely there are Brooklynites who want nothing to be built there — we’re not among them.

    The Ratner project’s cost — in public money, health degredation, security concerns, infrastructure impact, traffic jams, broken promises, and dreams deferred — is too high, and the rush to accomodate Ratner rather than build the best project possible, is a callous disregard of the public’s well-being.

    Errol Louis, ploughing through his 50-60 e-mails a day, can’t have made the time to read the anti-Atlantic Yards coalition’s output.

    If he had, he’d see that we support the creation of a true low-income housing/jobs creation program for all of Brooklyn, not the sham insubstantial effort that all of the government’s money and energy is being sucked up by at the Vanderbilt yards.

    We’ve provided “plausible” arguments and even offered them to Ratner. For Errol Louis, plausibility doesn’t exist if he simply doesn’t agree with you.

  21. planb Says:
    August 9th, 2006 at 10:47 am

    Errol, if you think this 3 year old fight is about saving a tavern and some million dollar condos, as you write above, you are self-delusional.

    Is that why Bob Law, Charles Barron, Joan Millman, Reveren Miller, Reverend Dillon, Tish James, Velmanette Montgomery, Major Owens, Tony Avella, Brenda Stokely, Nellie Hester Bailey, Nelson George, Lynn Nottage, Jonathan Lethem, Toshi Reagon, Bill Batson, Chris Owens, and thousands and thousands of other oppose it? To save Freddy’s and “a few million dollar condos?” C’mon, at least be honest and recognize that the issues at stake go waaaaay behind your laughable caricature. can’t you at least do that?

    If you can’t, what should we assume? that you don’t believe that the issue of democratic process (the overarching problem here) matters? or that don’t have any snappy answers to serious questions?

    the funny thing that Errol and Gotham Gazette and Wonkster and eeryone should realize (s this: The opposition to this project radiates inward to the footprint not outward. Meaning, that of course those left in the footprint oppose the project and are sick of it, but it is those who would be left behind to live with the disaster, and those (like Chris Smith in NY Mag) who can see the “complete absence of democratic process” that are the activists

  22. Erik Engquist Says:
    August 9th, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Errol Louis is rich? I don’t think so. Even if he were, that would have nothing to do with his arguments for Atlantic Yards. Just as the fact that Daniel Goldstein’s father is an investment-fund manager should not be used to belittle Goldstein’s arguments against Atlantic Yards.

  23. Scott Turner Says:
    August 10th, 2006 at 12:05 am

    Erik…

    “Errol Louis is rich,” as in highly amusing, a hoot, a real laugh-riot.

    Not “rich” as in fiscally loaded.

    I’ll stop using my grandpa’s phrases if Errol stops parroting Ratner’s arguments.

    Scott

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