Thursday, March 05, 2009

Elected officials call for public hearing if AY is considered for stimulus funds; Senator Adams flatly says no

Six elected officials, along with a district leader, have sent a letter to Gov. David Paterson asking him to make public any documents requesting stimulus funds for Atlantic Yards, to hold a public hearing with opportunity for public comment regarding such allocation of funds, and to have "responsible state officials"meet with them before any decision is made regarding such funds.

While the letter, dated March 3, does not go so far as to oppose stimulus funds for AY, as several community groups did in a recent letter, it essentially sets up many more roadblocks beyond those faced by any other request.

And the letter points out that not only the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) but also the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) have not requested stimulus funds for the project. (It was known that AY was not on the initial MTA list, but there's been no public disclosure of ESDC requests.)

The Times reports that, though the state has $4 billion to spend, local officials have already submitted 7,675 projects totaling $41.8 billion.

Signatories

The signatories are Assemblymembers Jim Brennan, Hakeem Jeffries, and Joan Millman; State Senator Velmanette Montgomery; and Council Members Letitia James and David Yassky. It was also signed by 52nd Assembly District Leader JoAnne Simon, who's running for Yassky's Council seat.

Not signing on, for reasons unknown to me, was Council Member Bill de Blasio, who has become a more vocal critic of AY despite his essential support for the project.

While James and Montgomery are project opponents, the others are critics of various stripes; the wording of the letter was apparently crafted to ensure consensus.

Adams letter

State Senator Eric Adams, who has been closer to the fence on Atlantic Yards than most of the above officials, nevertheless sent a more forceful letter individually.

"I am writing to express my profound concern over the alleged lobbying of state officials by Forest City Ratner Companies in an attempt to obtain a portion of New York State’s federal stimulus funds for the proposed Atlantic Yards project (an undertaking that includes a stadium for the Nets basketball team)," Adams wrote in a mid-February letter.

He concluded, "New York’s allotment from the federal recovery package must not be utilized for the advantage of any private developers, nor should it be used for the benefit of any stadium project."

Petition: 2000+ signatures

More than 2000 people have signed a petition opposing stimulus funds for Atlantic Yards, a piece of information that also has been sent to Gov. Paterson and Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

The first letter

Here's the text of the letter that has multiple signatories:
We are writing regarding reports that Forest City Ratner is requesting funds from the Federal stimulus package for the Atlantic Yards Project. We request that any application or other submitted documents to the Governor’s office related to the stimulus package be immediately disclosed to the public and the elected officials signing this letter. In addition, there should be a public hearing and opportunity for public comment on any application for funds. We also request a meeting with responsible state officials prior to any decision on the use of stimulus funds for Atlantic Yards.

It is our understanding that neither the M.T.A. nor the Empire State Development Corporation has submitted the Atlantic Yards project to your office as part of any list of projects for the use of Federal stimulus funds. This indicates that Atlantic Yards is not considered a priority by these agencies at this time.

It is regrettable that the State of New York, in cooperation with the developer, chose to override New York City’s zoning and land use laws for the Atlantic Yards project, depriving local community boards, the Brooklyn borough board, and the New York City Council, of what would have been their legal right to vote on the Atlantic Yards project. As a result, the project has never been vetted through the traditional democratic land use processes available to the community and the people of the City of New York.

Many events have occurred which have created uncertainty and risk regarding the 8 million square foot development approved by the State in December 2006. The original economic and financial assumptions upon which the approval was based have dramatically changed. At a meeting with elected officials in December, Forest City Ratner stated that it hopes to be able to finance the arena this summer, notwithstanding the economic climate, if current litigation against the project is unsuccessful. If it is unable to finance the arena, it has not yet committed to proceeding with a residential development. This is hardly a basis for the State to commit additional funds without a full public discussion process.

We hope your office will be quickly forthcoming with the requests we have made. Thank you.


Letter from Senator Adams

I am writing to express my profound concern over the alleged lobbying of state officials by Forest City Ratner Companies in an attempt to obtain a portion of New York State’s federal stimulus funds for the proposed Atlantic Yards project (an undertaking that includes a stadium for the Nets basketball team).

The State of New York is facing a budget crisis, with a current-year deficit your office estimates at approximately $15 billion. You have been forced to propose many governmental agency cuts, and New Yorkers will feel the brunt of those funding decreases, which will necessitate reductions in salaries and loss of employment. Education for our children may suffer; health care may be negatively impacted; the very poor, the elderly, and the ill may all feel the consequences of financial decisions that state officials in the Legislature must make in conjunction with your office. No one will remain untouched by this economic crisis.

The objective of the stimulus bill is the use of fiscal policy to reinvigorate an economy in deep recession. Restoring economic health will be accomplished primarily by boosting economic activity through magnifying short-term aggregate demand. As federal dollars purchase more goods and services, increased demand should stabilize employment and help reverse the downturn.

On the state and local levels, we must carefully prioritize our use of all federal stimulus funds. With the severest of cutbacks facing our state, our moneys must not be applied to assist a private developer. New York’s allotment from the federal recovery package must not be utilized for the advantage of any private developers, nor should it be used for the benefit of any stadium project. The stimulus funds are intended to ease the plight of the citizens of New York State; they must be dedicated to essential restorations in fundamental areas: education, healthcare, and mass transit.

(Emphases in the original)

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