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Food Stamps for Soda
August 19th, 2011

The federal Department of Agriculture has rejected the Bloomberg administration’s bid to bar New Yorkers from using food stamps to purchase soda sweetened with sugar.

The city made its request last fall, proposing a two-year test to see how effective a ban might be. The move part of the administration’s campaign against obesity — came after the state legislature rejected efforts to put a tax on the sugary beverage.

While soda lobbyists, of course, objected to the restriction on food stamp use, even many public health experts questioned it from the get-go, fearing that it unfairly singled out people who receive food stamp. The agriculture department always seemed unlikely to approve the ban, and some questioned whether it even had the authority to do so without congressional approval.

Rather than a ban, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack reportedly said in a letter, the department prefers to promote ” incentive-based solutions that are better suited for the working families, elderly and other low-income individuals” who get food stamps.

In a statement, Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed disappointment with the decision. “We think our innovative pilot would have done more to protect people from the crippling effects of preventable illnesses like diabetes and obesity than anything being proposed anywhere else in this country and at little or no cost to taxpayers,” the statement said.

By on August 19, 2011, 5:49 pm
In category: City Hall,Gotham City,Health,Social Services | 4 Comments »

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Walcott Promises More Testing for Toxins
August 19th, 2011

By all accounts last night’s meeting in the Bronx between schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and parents is unlikely to settle the rising concern about the contaminated site of the Bronx New School - and the problem of polluted schools overall.

Three weeks ago, the Department of Education announced it would shut the Bedford Park building because high levels of trichloroethylene, or TCE, had been found on the site.

The department learned of the unsafe levels in January; it did not tell parents, the principal or the staff until this summer. And although the school has been on the former industrial site for about 20 years, no record exists of it ever having been tested before. And there may be other untested schools as well.

Walcott has said the city is checking another 31 schools whose leases are now up for renewal and plans to complete the tests by early next month. It has not released the names of those schools.

Melissa Checker wrote in Gotham Gazette this week that, while the city must conduct environmental reviews of any property it purchases for a school, it does not have to check out land or buildings it leases. As a result, Dawn Philip an attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest told Checker, “Parents, school staff and community members often have no idea that a leased school site sits on top of contaminated property and, more importantly, what the [Department of Education] has done to eliminate any health risks.”
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By on August 19, 2011, 1:42 pm
In category: Education,Environment,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Assembly Candidates to Debate
August 16th, 2011

With most people focused on elections 15 months away, Brooklyn residents will vote really vote, not just be straw polled in a hotly contested election just four weeks from now. Three candidates are vying to replace Darryl Towns as the Assembly member from Brooklyn’s 54th district.

In a rarity for special elections where voters usually act only as a rubber stamp to party bosses the three contenders have waged campaign. And at 6:30 p.m. Thursday they will go head-to-head-to-head in a forum at the Cypress Hills Senior Center, 3208 Fulton Street.

The three candidates are Town’s sister, Deidra Towns; Erik Martin Dilan chief of staff for Councilmember, Rafael Espinal, and long-time organizer from Make the Road New York, Jesus Gonzalez.
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By on August 16, 2011, 1:39 pm
In category: Gotham City | 19 Comments »

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Recommendations on Lobbying
August 10th, 2011

The city Lobbying Commission, chaired by former City Councilmember Herbert Berman has issued its preliminary report, available here. The recommendations essentially reflect the likely changes Jane Timm reported on for Gotham Gazette last week.

In particular, the commission recommends expanding the definition of lobbying to include efforts to influence legislation before a bill is introduced the law now covers only proposed legislation or to keep a bill from being introduced. It also would extend to efforts to shape or stop executive orders by the mayor.

The commission also seeks to have the city raise the threshold at which one must register as a lobbyist from $2,000 to $5,000. The increase, the commission anticipates, would reduce the number of lobbyists in the city by about 40 but would still cover around 99 percent of the money spent on lobbying here.

The report notes that some groups had hoped to raise the threshold still further. The commission said it will consider recommending a rise to $10,000 on its final report but only for organizations that spend that money lobbying only on their own behalf.

In the report, the commission also describes some suggestions it heard and rejected, such as moving regulation of lobbying from the city clerk’s office to another agency.

The report still needs to become final. When that happens, it will go to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council who, if they agree with the recommendation, can propose bills incorporating the suggestions for passage by the council.

By on August 10, 2011, 5:27 pm
In category: City Hall,Governing | 1 Comment »

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Challenging the Census
August 10th, 2011

As expected the city has filed a formal challenge of the Census Bureau’s 2010 count of New York City residents. In its filing, the Bloomberg administration contends the census incorrectly counted as vacant a number of homes in Astoria, Jackson Heights, Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, which it says “are among the most vibrant areas in New York City.”

In his letter to Census Bureau director Robert Groves, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “It is our expectation that the city’s population could increase by tens of thousands of New Yorkers if the errors … were corrected.” The city does not anticipate a correction would have a major effect on redistricting or save on of the state’s two lost congressional seats but it does think a recount could increase the amount of money the city would receive from various aid programs.

Various New York officials issued statements in support of the administration’s effort. Sen. Charles Schumer, for one, called the federal government’s numbers “dead wrong.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand noted that the census found only very modest population growth in Brooklyn and Queens and expressed concern “that this inaccuracy may be the result of the difficulty in ascertaining accurate counts in immigrants communities such as Jackson Heights, Astoria and Sunset Park.”

As Andrew Beveridge wrote in Gotham Gazette this spring, the census found some 246,0000 fewer city residents than the administration had anticipated, and grew by 2.1 percent, not 5.2 percent. The numbers cast cold water on the mayor’s prediction that 9 million people would call New York City home by 2030. In his column Beveridge wrote that, while the mayor’s disappointment is understandable, evidence exists to support the Census Bureau’s count.

By on August 10, 2011, 3:42 pm
In category: City Hall,Demographics,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Test Scores: Better than Buffalo
August 8th, 2011

The yearly releasing and parsing of students test scores took place Monday with Mayor Michael Bloomberg finding lots of good news among the reams of data.

To sum up, the scores show a very modest increase but an increase in the percentage of New York City third through eight graders that the state deems to be proficient in reading and math. Overall 57.3 percent of students rated a proficient in math, up from 54 percent last year, and 43.9 percent in English language arts, a 1.5 percentage point rise from last year.

In many respects, though, the data present a sobering picture. The increases in the city were modest. While up from last year, the scores represent a steep drop from 2009 when the state decided that the tests and its scoring had gotten too easy and so recalibrated the scores and began revamping the test itself. And after 10 years of so-called school reforms and massive infusions of money, less than half the students in city public schools are considered proficient readers.

(For detailed breakdown of the city scores, including results for individual schools, go here. For more information on statewide results go to the New York State Department of Education.)

State officials underscored this in their prepared statement. “Students outcomes have been stubbornly flat over time,” state Education Commissioner John King said. And state Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch found that the results “underscore the urgent need” for the state to move forward with reforms.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers struck a similarly subdued tone. While praising the “incremental gains,” in a prepared statement, Mulgrew said, “We still have a long way to go. As a former classroom teacher, I know that real progress in student learning comes gradually, not in leaps and bounds. The [Department of Education] needs to come up soon with an instructional strategy that can keep this progress going, despite the problems we are facing next year like a dramatic rise in class size and the loss of hundreds of valuable programs.

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg largely rejected such sobriety. Although he repeatedly said improvement was needed, he enthusiastically hailed the results.

“No matter where the state sets the bar, New York City kids continue to improve over time” he said at a press briefing. “The news really is very good,” he added.

(The spin – and our analysis of the scores after the jump)
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By on August 8, 2011, 10:10 pm
In category: Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Bloomberg: S&P Got It Right
August 8th, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Standard& Poor’s got it “righto the nose” when it condemned dysfunction in Washington and downgraded the U.S. credit rating. “Don’t blame the messenger,” the mayor said at a press conference this afternoon, saying the ratings agency had delivered “a demining indictment of how bad things have gotten in Washington.”

“We’ve gotten a two-month civics lesson in how to talk the economy down,” he said

As he has done in the past, the mayor excoriated Washington for not doing more to put the nation’s fiscal house in order and for coming so close to default earlier this month, but did not volunteer whether he blames everyone in Washington equally or, like the American people, holds some more responsible than others.

By on August 8, 2011, 3:56 pm
In category: City Hall,Economy | 1 Comment »

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Slight Rise in Test Scores
August 8th, 2011

In 2011, the second year of more rigorous scoring of state standardized tests, achievement dipped slightly across the state, according to figures just released by the state education department.

After taking a battering last year, when the state recalibrated the scoring, the city saw a slight increase this year. Some 43.9 percent of students in grades three through eight met or exceeded the state standards in English — up from 42.4 percent last year. In math, 57.3 percent met or exceeded the math standard, an increase from 54 percent in 2010. This is still far less than the number meeting standards under the old allegedly dumbed down system.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is set to provide more details and undoubtedly some healthy spin later today. We’ll bring you ore then.

By on August 8, 2011, 12:01 pm
In category: Education | No Comments »

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Murdoch in the Schools
August 5th, 2011

The city and state teachers union are stepping up their opposition to the awarding of a state education contract to a company owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The unions have not been big fans of the beleaguered press mogul or of former Chancellor Joel Klein, who now heads education technology (and damaged control?) for him. And the deal has been raising eyebrows since June when the Daily News’ Rachael Monahan reported that the state Department of Education was about to award a $27 million no-bid contract to Wireless Generation to develop a system for the state similar to the city’s Achievement Reporting and Innovation System or ARIS.

Klein had been a big promoter of Wireless Generation during his days as chancellor. Two weeks after he left the city to take a mega-lucrative deal with News Corp., the Murdoch company bought Wireless Generation. Admittedly Klein himself worked for the city, not the state. But the ties are there - and the former chancellor certainly stands to benefit from a deal that, in the view of a Forbes blogger, “smack of cronyism.”

The phone hacking scandal has raised further doubts. In their letter to Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, and state Education Commissioner John King Jr., state United Teachers president Richard Ianuzzi and Michael Mulgrew, head of the city teachers union, stressed those concerns. Parents and educators, they wrote, question “the wisdom of allowing a News Corp.-owned company to have access the the personal data of students from all across New York.”
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By on August 5, 2011, 1:08 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Gotham City,Governing,Public Finance,Tech | No Comments »

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Goldsmith Goes
August 4th, 2011

Stephen Goldsmith, the former mayor of Indianapolis who by many accounts has had a rough ride as deputy mayor for operations in the Big Apple, has resigned after 14 months to pursue private-sector opportunities in infrastructure finance.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has named Cas Holloway, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, to replace him.

In a prepared statement, Bloomberg said, “As New Yorkers, we were extraordinarily lucky to have Steve Goldsmith make our City government more innovative and efficient.;

Not everyone might agree. Fairly or not, Goldsmith bore much of criticism for the administration’s botched response to last December’s blizzard. The fact that he was in D.C. during and after the storm did not help. Having to sort out some of the administration’s technology projects including the scandal plagued CityTime, undoubtedly further complicated his tenure at City Hall.

Holloway, a lawyer, was at the parks department before heading up environmental protection.

By on August 4, 2011, 4:06 pm
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Bloomberg and the Achievement Gap
August 4th, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement earlier today of a major initiative to help young black and Latino men today, includes a big focus on education. Few would debate the wisdom of that.

Bloomberg has long patted himself on the back for narrowing the gap in academic achievement between the city’s white and Asian students on one hand and blacks and Latinos on the other. Today Chancellor Dennis Walcott sounded the theme. Weve come a long way in improving achievement for black and Latino young men, helping to narrow the racial gaps in state exams and graduation rates,” he said.

But as Bloomberg basks in praise (and some almost fawning press coverage) for tackling a truly tough issue, his record on ending education disparities is — to put it charitably mixed.

The mayor noted the city had narrowed the gap in high school graduation rates between the races. And the evidence backs that up. But in myriad other areas — test scores, admission to elite high schools, admission to gifted and talented elementary programs, suspensions — the gap has remained essentially the same or widened under the Bloomberg regime.

Let’s looks at the numbers after the jump.
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By on August 4, 2011, 3:34 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Demographics,Education | 3 Comments »

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Regents Relief
August 3rd, 2011

High school students disappointed they could no longer take Regents exams in January will get a reprieve this year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this morning that Bloomberg Philanthropies and five anonymous donors have each agreed to pony up $250,000 to privately fund the creation and giving of the subject tests in January 2012.

The state announced last spring it would eliminate the January test date to save money. High school students need to pass five of the exams to get a Regents diploma. Some 150,000 Regents exams were give last January in the city.

Not having the opportunity to take the exam midyear, Bloomberg said, “put thousands of prospective graduates in a bad spot and even puts their graduation in jeopardy.”

The donations, though, will only pay for one year; after that, Bloomberg said, the state will have to figure out how to pay for this service.

What was a good news announcement, though, turned prickly as reporters pressed Bloomberg to disclose the names of the donors. He refused, though did own up their being individuals who he had approached, not in government and without young children.

As to their names, “I dont think its anyone’s business,” Bloomberg said. “They dont want to be dragged through the press.”

He continued, “They dont want their name out there. … They just want to help, not give you a story.”

Bloomberg said he had revealed his own name only because he’s a public official. Once he no longer is, he said his largesse will remain anonymous as well.

By on August 3, 2011, 11:18 am
In category: Education,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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Summer School, Summer Scores
July 29th, 2011

(Jason Lewis filed this post.)

With the beginning of the school year only a little more than a month away, thousands of New York City public school students remain unsure whether they’ll be promoted to the next grade in the fall.

Back in June, the New York City Department of Education recommended some 34,000 students in grades three through eight attend summer school based on the city’s preliminary analysis of the statewide math and English language arts exams. Students who do poorly on the exams have to try to improve their performance in summer school or face having to repeat a grade.

Some 39,244 elementary and middle schools students were mandated for summer school though not all of those had to attend in order to move up a grade — and registered. Of those, about 84 percent actually attended class last week.

The determination of who faces being left back, though, remains a bit fuzzy since the city education department still has not received final test scores from the state.
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By on July 29, 2011, 12:48 pm
In category: Education | 11 Comments »

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Teachers on Tenure
July 27th, 2011

Following Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement on the results of the city’s new teacher tenure process (see below) the United Federation of Teachers is expressing reservations about how the city now awards, or denies, teachers tenure. In a brief statement issued this afternoon, union president Michael Mulgrew said, “The process of granting tenure must be rigorous, but it also must be consistent and transparent. We have serious questions about how the DOE reached these conclusions and concerns that they failed to base these decisions on pedagogy or job performance.”

The major change under the new system is that many more teachers are having their tenure decision delayed, or, as the UFT puts it, their probation period extended.

The union released a letter it sent to Chancellor Dennis Walcott earlier this month saying it has received “troubling reports of teachers and other pedagogues having their probation extended for reasons entirely unrelated to performance.” The letter went on to cite reports of teachers who did not receive a final tenure decision because the principal did not complete the classroom observation or was new to the school. It also accused the department of using teacher data reports, which, the union charged, are “based on flawed tests and [have] a margin of error of more than 50 percent.

The delays in the process, the Daily News reported a few weeks ago, has the greatest effect on the same high-quality new recruits whose jobs Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he wanted to save during this year’s fight over how to determine teacher layoffs.

By on July 27, 2011, 4:23 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Delaying Teacher Tenure
July 27th, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long criticized the almost automatic granting of lifetime tenure to teachers in the New York City school system. Today he announced results of his efforts to change tenure as we know it - and, while there are significant changes, the effort falls a bit short of a revolution.

Using what the city calls a “new framework for measuring teacher effectiveness” instituted in December, principals approved fewer teachers for tenure this year — 58 percent of 5,209 teachers as opposed to 97 percent of those eligible in 2006-7. Looking at the figures, it seems apparent that many teachers who might previously have gotten tenure after three years, saw their decisions delayed. Thirty-nine percent of the teachers fell into that category, compared with 2 percent in 2007. While the number of those denied increased, it remains small: 3 percent this year, as opposed to 1 percent four years ago.

Bloomberg expressed pleasure with the results, saying in a prepared statement, “Making tenure an earned distinction rather than an automatic right will help our teachers get better and ensure that more of them can develop into not just good but great teachers. Thats what our kids deserve and our parents expect.

All teachers are eligible for tenure review after three years.

Under the new system, principals evaluate teachers based on classroom observation, student work, test scores, student attendance and feedback from students and parents. They receive ratings on a four-point scale in three categories: teacher practice, student learning and contributions to the school community. To get tenure, the teacher must score at the top two levels effective or highly effective in all three areas for two consecutive years.

By on July 27, 2011, 12:57 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City,Work and Labor | No Comments »

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A New Chief for Parent Involvement
July 26th, 2011

Probably no aspect of the Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education changes has received as much criticism as the Department of Education’s attitude toward parents. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein wanted parents to help kids with their homework and vote for the mayor they saw real parent input as an inconvenience, possibly threatening their reforms.

Consulting with parents can create gridlock, Klein once said. “For every issue in which you think there is parent agreement … there are wide ranges of very different views.”

Bloomberg and Klein even went so far as to try to stop parents from baking cookies.

Upon becoming chancellor last spring, Dennis Walcott vowed to change that, while at the same time praising the department’s efforts during the time Klein was chancellor (and Walcott deputy mayor).

Today the Department of Education announced yet another retooling of the Office of Family Information and Action. Walcott made the executive director of the office a “cabinet-level” post and appointed Bronx native Jesse Mojica to fill it.
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By on July 26, 2011, 3:11 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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Previewing the Special Elections
July 20th, 2011

As we’ve reported, special elections in New York City have all the drama of voting contest in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Without the benefit of secret police or threat of torture, party leaders control the process giving the voters a chance to ratify their choice.

But, so far, at least one of the Assembly seats up for grabs in the Sept.13 special election is showing signs of being a real contests. The Republicans are challenging the Democratic choice — and likely winner, given the registration figures — in three others. And a couple of intrepid hopefuls are even trying to get on the ballot through the petition process — and without the blessing of party leaders.

As we’ve noted previously, the most hotly contested race appears to be in the 54 Assembly district, formerly represented by Darryl Towns who stepped down to join the Cuomo administration.

More on the race there and in the other three districts after the jump.
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By on July 20, 2011, 10:21 am
In category: Albany,Electoral Politics,Eye on Albany | 4 Comments »

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No Clear Sailing for Cuomo
July 14th, 2011

Vicky Plestis filed this post.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should feel comfortable, but not too comfortable a panel of experts on a panel at Baruch College agreed yesterday. While the 2011 legislative session, exceptionally productive by Albany standards, was lauded as “historic,” John Cahill, a former secretary to Gov. George Pataki, warned, “Power changes, interests change over time.”

The panel identified the Marriage Equality Act as Cuomo’s bigest success. “He cemented his own personal legacy really in six months,” said Cahill. Other achievements for Cuomo included an on-time budget agreement, a cap on proprty taxes and an ethics reform bill — all on the governor’s agenda.

But Cuomo’s success, according to the panel, is larger than the sum of these individual achievements.

“We’ve had a historic last couple of months because we have had a governor who’s been able to bring leaders together,” said Charles O’Byrne, a former secretary to Gov. David Paterson. “I think it presages a really important cultural shift, which brings us back to a way where government works.”

Cuomo, who is fiscally conservative, has been able to negotiate with a Republican dominated senate, in particular Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Republicans, said Abe Lackman, a former advisor to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, are “totally delighted with their relationship with Gov. Cuomo. For the first time in years they actually can have someone listen to them.”

But Lackman cautioned that whether this productivity and cooperation will continue is “an open question.” Historically, from Hugh Carey in 1975 to David Paterson in 2008, a promising first few months has not guaranteed much in New York.
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By on July 14, 2011, 4:00 pm
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Law on Pregnancy Centers Blocked
July 13th, 2011

A federal judge yesterday threw out a city law regulating so-called pregnancy crisis centers, only hours before the measure was set to take effect. The law, passed by City Council in March and signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would require these centers to disclose that they do not provide abortions. They also would have had to post signs indicating whether they have medical professionals on staff.

The centers clearly have an anti-abortion agenda and try to encourage women to bear the child — either to keep or put up for adoption. Their attempts to conceal that, New York Civil Liberties executive director Donna Lieberman has said, misleads women and so can “pose serious health risks”

From the beginning, though, people affiliated with the center said the bill infringed on the centers’ rights to free speech.

Yesterday, Judge William H. Pauley III agreed, calling the law “offensive to free speech principles” and saying it was based on an “overly broad definition of commercial speech.”
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By on July 13, 2011, 10:15 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Health,Law | 2 Comments »

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Judge Orders Another Look at Atlantic Yards
July 13th, 2011

Opponents of the massive Atlantic Yards project in downtown Brooklyn have filed suit after suit to try to block the arena and residential complex - largely without much success. Meanwhile Bruce Ratner has moved ahead on his project, reaping government help, razing buildings and building much of a basketball arena for the still New Jersey Nets.

Now, though, Ratner’s rivals have won a victory. Today Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn announced that state Supreme Court Judge Marcy Friedman has ordered the Empire State Development Corp. to conduct additional environmental review of the project, including a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. (The ruling is available here.)
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By on July 13, 2011, 4:49 pm
In category: Albany,Community Development,Land Use,Law | No Comments »

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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