Friday, January 12, 2007

Brooklyn's Ratner: More Socialism For The Rich

Private-sector veil doesn’t mean Atlantic Yards is anything other than a centrally planned, public-sector project. FC/Ratner could never pursue Atlantic Yards without a half billion dollars in public subsidies, the government’s power to condemn private property, and exemptions from city zoning rules..."Kill Off Atlantic Yards", Nicole Gelinas, City Journal, December 19, 2006

City Journal is the only widely known New York press outlet to put a valid label on Bruce Ratner's Brooklyn extravaganza. With the State Assembly and State Senate set under new Governor Spitzer to vote for the public subsidies of this enormous boondoggle, however, it's not likely that Gelinas's advice to kill it off will be followed. In New York, the principal factors in politics are banking, construction, and real estate. That's most likely why, for instance, for all of Spitzer's SuperProsecutor posturing of the past four years, you won't find a major building contractor, a major bank, or a major real estate firm on the docket of the ex-prosecutor's cases. He depended on them, as do all New York politicians, for financing of his campaign for Governor.

The writer lives within twenty blocks of this development area. For decades, it has been principally a working class shopping and residential area, with more than a little business thrown in. As was the case with Robert Moses fifty years ago, Ratner is looking for a green light to bulldoze a large area of a borough in the name of "redevelopment," this decade's version of "urban renewal" or "progress." At the center of this "redevelopment" is the New York Nets stadium, enormous office buildings, and very expensive condominiums. The timing for the latter isn't very good, as the Brooklyn condo market went flat a year ago and has shown no signs of recovering (unlike Manhattan, which is still booming).

This kind of "redevelopment" is standard issue socialism for the rich. A developer who could not possibly afford to hold billions of dollars in financing for decades while he pursued deals with local business and residential tenants has gone to the state, not to make life better for an existing neighborhood, but to destroy one so that he and his friends among bankers, contractors, and real estate developers can make a fast buck at the expense of existing owners and the taxpayers. Redefining working class neighborhoods as "blighted" is the standard trick, given the imprimatur of the Supreme Court in one of its most bizarre decisions in recent memory. What's meant by "blighted" of course is that real estate developers feel that it would be too expensive to make deals with existing building, store and apartment owners. By getting legislatures and the courts, allegedly representatives of the people, to redefine a livable area as blighted, real estate developers can ride the state's exercise of eminent domain to profitability. Both parties play this game; there are no innocent office holders, elected or appointed, Republican or Democrat, in this issue. Using extortionate methods, including threats and deliberate undercutting of property values, representatives of the people in legislatures and on the bench arm thieves with a decree backed up by the state's police power. Why?

Well, let's not mince words. The people don't pay the bill for the government's elected and appointed officials to get into office. Bankers, real estate developers, and construction contractors are among those who do. Who pays is represented. Everyone else can file suit and pray.

Further, the rationale behind Atlantic Yards is vintage New York central planning. Ratner’s government supporters, from Pataki to Mayor Bloomberg to Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, say one reason the project is necessary is to jumpstart economic development to overcome “blight”...But the reality is far different. A visit to the project site last year revealed two historic warehouses converted into condos alongside thriving modern factories whose businesses serve New York’s arts community, including one factory that employs more than two dozen legal immigrants. Working-class and middle-class apartment buildings, as well as a popular establishment called Freddy’s Bar, which dates back to Prohibition days, face the wrecking ball of state-sponsored urban renewal....("Kill Off Atlantic Yards", continued...)

As with any tyrant, the ruins these people make don't go away. The division of Brooklyn from its waterfront by Robert Moses's Bronx-Queens Expressway is fifty years old. Despite the fact that a modest investment (measured in the tens of millions) could reconnect the waterfront with Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, bridging the highway and restoring the transportation network (making the the waterfront side safer as well) has never been considered. Socialism, whether for the rich or for anyone else, works like that. "We did it; that's how it shall forever be!" is a credo not only of the defunct Soviet Union but of urban developers like Bruce Ratner and friends of his like billionaire Mike Bloomberg. But how do they get away with this? It's not a new projection that blithe disregard of the people can lead to violence or at least to loss of an election. Funny you should ask...

New York’s government pursues redistributionist social policies to court its loudest special-interest groups. For evidence, look at who backs Atlantic groups like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn. They support the project because Ratner has pledged to make 2,250 of its apartments “affordable” for low- and middle-income families...The crux of Atlantic Yards’ purported public support, then, is this: Brooklyn residents who cannot afford brand-new, “luxury” style apartments want the government to step in and take the private property of others, in the hopes of having it redistributed to them....("Kill Off Atlantic Yards", continued)

One doubts that any reader would be surprised by that revelation. The alliance between the left and the rich is not new. The target of both is not equitable development, but the middle class. Both, in a truly perverse alliance, believe that success comes if they drive out the middle class to the benefit of the bottom and the top. For the rich, benefiting the bottom is cheaper. Throwing a few dollars and a small chance at an affordable apartment at a poor family from Mexico is a lot cheaper than making a deal with an established citizen. For the poor, stealing somebody else's property "legally" is better than having nothing at all.

This is an old con game here and elsewhere. And we should think of that as the socialists in Congress begin to plan the universal expansion of Medicare. Considering the amount of money poured into Congressional and Senate campaigns by representatives of the medical industry, don't expect the benefits to be primarily for patients. As with Atlantic Yards, the beneficiaries will be who paid for the politicians and the interest groups who actually vote for them, not who pays for the project.

Kudos to City Journal for pursuing this story on these terms. The usual battle lines in New York are false, generally those of "preservationists" against developers. Architectural conservancy has nothing to do with opposition to Ratner; the people who live in Brooklyn can see a thief without assistance from a specialist.


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