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What Is Atlantic Yards? A Complete Failure of Democracy

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On the occasion of Bruce Ratner's Boondoggle Celebration and Groundbreakingtaking Ceremony (must-read coverage of the event from Atlantic Yards Report, and Curbed's live blogging--lobster sliders and all) for the elite, connected, wealthy, powerful and bought out, it's time for a short multiple choice quiz...

Question: What is Atlantic Yards?

A. A Corrupt Land Grab.
B. A Taxpayer Ripoff.
C. A Bait and Switch of Epic Proportions.
D. A Complete Failure of Democracy.
E. All of the above.

Answer: E

Which raises another question: Why were so many elected officials, journalists and everyday citizens willing to look the other way?

The best answer I can come up with is that too many simply didn't care (not to discount the many many millions spent on lobbyists and PR firms).

The sad and depraved history of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project was celebrated yesterday with a ceremonial groundbreaking attended by the elected officials most responsible for greasing its skids. It is nothing to celebrate.

What have they made happen? A bait and switch of epic proportions and a failure of democracy, mixed with corruption, notable even in New York State. Each branch of government--judicial, executive and legislative--has passed the buck to the other. None have acting responsibly or with principle or courage to stop the largest project proposed in Brooklyn's history, which has trampled on too many rights

The project--entirely dependent upon massive and unaccounted taxpayer subsidies, eminent domain abuse, a giveaway of city streets, a no-bid sweetheart MTA deal, a complete override of all local zoning and numerous zoning regulations--never came before the city council or the state legislature for a vote. No elected official ever voted on the project. The results are a symptom of this.

The Corruption
The 22-acre project site was handpicked by Ratner and agreed to by Pataki and Bloomberg. 22 acres in the heart of Brooklyn were given to Ratner without a bid. The 8-acre MTA Yards was sold to the lowest bidder, Ratner, in a sham RFP process. The eminent domain condemnation zone was picked by Ratner. And eminent domain was tacitly approved well before the project was announced. Meanwhile editorial boards and others are up in arms about a supposed bid rigging process for the Aqueduct "Racino." And that scandal, far less scandalous [see chart at this link] than the Atlantic Yards project, is under investigation. While the Atlantic Yards no-bid deal, to the contrary, is being celebrated today. At least there was a bidding process with Aqueduct, tainted as it may have been.

Fundamentally, Atlantic Yards is politically illegitimate and morally bankrupt.

The Taxpayer Ripoff
The Barclays Center will be a billion dollar arena mostly paid for by city, state and federal taxpayers, which will be a net financial loss for New York City. Well over $2 billion in subsidies, tax breaks and exemptions, free and cheap land and extraordinary infrastructure costs for a private, for profit arena and predominately luxury housing. Potential massive housing subsidies at a much higher per unit rate than normal. City tax dollars use for private purchases Ratner made using the threat of eminent domain.

The Bait and Switch
It gets worse [see chart at this link]. What Ratner sold to the public and had approved in 2006 was a 10 year project to build a Frank Gehry designed arena, 6,430 housing units, including 2,250 so-called "affordable" units. As Ratner and his political enablers celebrate an exclusive ceremony, Atlantic Yards is nothing but a money losing arena, in the middle of a housing crisis, sponsored by a British bank and bailed out by Russia's richest man. There are no designs for a single housing unit. The open space "amenity" will be a massive parking lot. We who have fought the project for over 6 years are certain that what we'll get on the once thriving blocks of Prospect Heights will be a money losing arena, acres of blighting parking lots and a pitiful number of "affordable" housing over decades. It is and will be a bad deal for Brooklyn.

The Complete Failure of Democracy
Each branch of government passed the buck to the other, not one taking a responsible and close look at the realities of the Atlantic Yards project demonstrated by all of the above an more. The legacy of Atlantic Yards will be its complete failure of democracy. The legacy of the fight against it is that government abuse of power on behalf of vested interests must always be resisted. There is no choice.