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July 21, 2011

Querying Bill de Blasio on Atlantic Yards progress: "I still believe this is a project that can create a lot of jobs and a lot of affordable housing"

Atlantic Yards Report

After a panel on jobs, during which there was time for only a couple of questions, I approached de Blasio and introduced myself. He was friendly, recognizing me--after all, we'd spent a memorable couple of hours jousting about Atlantic Yards in in 2007, leading to my rather critical portrayal.

Below is the transcript of our exchange, unedited, but with some commentary.

NO: And now the numbers on jobs are pretty low, the numbers on housing are zero. Has that caused you to rethink either the concept of CBAs, or your support, or government's posture--any sort of cause to rethink?

BdB: I want to get the results we wanted originally, or as close to them as possible. So my framework here--I don't think this history's over yet.

NO: --Of course not.

BdB: And I know you feel differently. So let's just--

NO: It's not a question of whether I feel differently, it's whether I analyzed it.

BdB: I appreciate you. I've always appreciated analysis. I remember when we sat in the Tea Lounge long ago--we disagreed, but I admire how much work you put into it, I think you do some good thinking. But my bottom line is, I still believe this is a project that can create a lot of jobs and a lot of affordable housing, and what I want to do is see that come to fruition.

NO: Right--but, fair enough, but how do you do that, to go from the rhetoric to the actual performance?

BdB: Y'know, I don't have the chapter and verse, I didn't see this morning's article--

NO: Understood.

BdB: But my point to you--I'm trying to be honest about the question. I still believe the project can be very effective, and my job is to try and help make it effective, that's the bottom line.

Arguably his job is to protect the public interest, so "effective" means gaining the public benefits without too many public costs. And his reliance on developer Bruce Ratner to help raise funds certainly raises some question of his loyalties.

In February 2011, I queried two of his spokesmen to ask whether the Public Advocate had a position on Forest City Ratner's failure to hire an Independent Compliance Monitor. I never got a response.

NO: This CBA was supposed to have something called an Independent Compliance Monitor. It never happened. And because the only people who can enforce the CBA are the signatories, government can't intervene. In L.A., where the CBA is also signed by the government, government can actually try to enforce it. So your thoughts about CBAs, to the extent that you do think about them, because I know you've got a lot on your plate--have you thought about whether government should be a part of CBAs?

BdB: I think it depends on the context. But again, where I'm trying to focus, I think it's kindred to your point, is clearer definitions, better enforcement. And that's something I'm working on.

What next?

How exactly de Blasio's working on it remains unclear because, at that point, one of his aides intervened and he moved on to another interlocutor.


Posted by eric at July 21, 2011 11:45 AM