Why I Will Be Protesting Atlantic Yards Thursday

05/09/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Steve Ettlinger Author, "The Complete Illustrated Guide to Everything Sold in Hardware Stores" and more

They may have scheduled a ground-breaking ceremony, but I just don't think the fat lady has sung yet, as far as the Atlantic Yards-Forest City Ratner-NY State boondoggle/landgrab goes.

Too much smells so bad it just can't be left alone. We've got keep on top the process, looking for the sources of those smells.

Some may ask what my motivation is. I can't speak for the over 50 civic groups and over 7,000 petition signers, nor for the 4 or 5,000 regular donors to Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, but I think we all share some concerns.

For starters, neither money nor a contractual obligation brings me to protest, unlike the cheerleaders and their followers.

Ratner buys his false popular image. I have yet to see any local supporters demonstrating in favor of this project. At hearings I saw the sad spectacle of paid stand-ins for the public, almost evenly distributed between overwhelmingly white union construction workers, who the union sends there, or African-Americans brought in by BUILD or other Ratner-funded groups, including his PR firms.

BUILD seems to only supply whistles for disrupting hearings Ratner seeks to avoid, along with orange construction hats and vests. As for ACORN, it is/was contractually obliged to publicly praise and support the project as part of its deal to land the contract for placing tenants. At one hearing, I sat among busloads of innocent, nice, and probably unpaid folks who Ratner brought in (and for whom he provided lunch, of course); I was very busy explaining to them what the hearing was about, because most were totally clueless. They were just Ratner's seat-fillers. So much for support! Without the paid supporters, he'd have no one to speak up for him.

More importantly, amid all its flaws and possibilities of corrupt procedures, two stand out: the MTA's misguided raw deal for the air space over its Vanderbilt Yards--leaving 50 to 130 million dollars on the table; and the state's use of eminent domain to transfer quite viable and valuable private property to two private persons, billionaire Bruce Ratner and the (almost) new Nets owner, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. Not only is this absolutely wrong, substantial development could have happened--including his damn arena--with a simple zoning change and without such enormous subsidies.

People, can we please learn from this and prevent it ever happening again? How many Pennsylvania Stations must we lose? How many commercial deserts like MetroTech must we pay for? Why has Mayor Bloomberg encouraged this (the city is not officially involved, except for a net loss of $40 million, according to the IBO)?

Besides avoiding such disasters in the future, my other expectation is that someone--journalist or government employee--will uncover enough of the truth about what smells to me like a rigged process that one or some of the officials attending Thursday's groundbreaking will go to jail.

We count our blessings that virtually all of our local elected officials have been fighting this since it was first proposed, and we count on them to continue their efforts to expose the Atlantic Yards land acquisition and planning process for the sham that it is.

I'll see you at the groundbreaking (Thursday, 1:30pm, Atlantic Avenue at the former 5th Avenue, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn).