Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Yankees Build Giant Dustbowl in Bronx" Village Voice 11/21/06

Yankees Build Giant Dustbowl in Bronx

By Neil deMause in Village Voice on November 21, 2006

These days, it takes longer than usual to walk to Geneva Hester's apartment at 1001 Jerome Avenue, because you have to maneuver around a pile of burning asphalt. The pyre is being tended by a small phalanx of construction workers hired to erect the new Yankees stadium where Macombs Dam Park stood for the last century, and it completely blocks the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians into the roadway.

"It takes a long time to get across the street," says Hester, who's lived in her building for 35 years. Sometimes, she says, she has to yell to get the attention of the truck drivers who start rolling in at 6 a.m., obstructing sidewalks and crosswalks alike. More often, she and her neighbors in the Highbridge section of the Bronx just cross in the middle of the block, dodging the cars pouring off the nearby Macombs Dam Bridge.

Traffic, though, isn't the biggest complaint of Jerome Avenue's residents about the stadium project, now entering its fourth month and not scheduled for completion until 2009. No, that would be the dust.

(The new view from Geneva Hester's living room window)

"When you walk out of the building, you get hit with the dust," says Donna Johnson, who lives next door to Hester at 1005 Jerome, an Art Deco colossus ornamented with terra cotta bas-reliefs. "If you've washed your car, the next morning, it's covered with mud." The dust comes not just from the former parkland being excavated, she notes, but from the remains of the massive boulder at the park's west end that was pulverized by workers after the Yankees' groundbreaking in August. "There was one point, I felt like I had a shard from the rocks in my eyes—it didn't come out for a couple of days."

Hester, whose 8th-floor window has afforded her a view of Macombs Dam Park and a distant slice of the Yankee Stadium bleachers—"If they hit a home run, I can hear the cheers, but you have to run to the TV to see who hit it," she says—now looks out onto a vast construction pit swarming with workers. The bam-bam-bam of a pile driver punctuates every thought. Since construction began, she's kept her windows shut tight to keep out the swirling dust. Rain helps clear the air, she says, but then backs up from debris-clogged sewers and create enormous puddles.

Touring the north end of the construction site along 164th Street, where a few remnant tennis courts will soon give way to a multi-story parking garage for Yankees players and execs, Hester notes, "I don't walk on that side because the rats are so fat." Since construction began, she says, overflowing trash cans and blowing debris have been the routine. "I'm from the old school, where you teach your kids to pick up your garbage."

(The former Macombs Dam Park, with the Jerome Avenue apartments beyond)

It was just such worries that led Community Board 4 to argue last fall that the city should either rebuild the stadium in place, or move it south and west, away from the residential neighborhoods to the north, where asthma is already at epidemic levels. Those suggestions were summarily dismissed by the Yankees, however—team president Randy Levine insisted the current stadium couldn't be expanded without knocking down the elevated 4 train that runs behind a small stretch of the right-field bleachers—in favor of replacement parks for the old stadium site and at other scattered locations far from where residents are concentrated. Temporary ballfields were promised in the interim, but as Metro New York reported last week, the city has yet to begin soliciting bids to build them.

Also behind schedule are the four parking garages the city intends to build for the Yankees. The state has put up $70 million toward construction, but the balance, now estimated at $250 million, is supposed to come from private developers, and after a year of searching, the city has yet to find anyone willing to take on the project. The Bloomberg administration insists it will select a developer early in 2007, but given that the proceeds from Yankee parking pencil out at a little over $10 million a year, less $3 million a year in rent payments to the city, it's hard to see why any developer would cough up a quarter-billion dollars for garages when you could get a better return by putting the money into savings. This could help explain rumors that one of the garages (possibly Garage C, slated for mapped parkland north of the Macombs Dam Bridge approach currently used by the Yanks as surface parking) will be scrapped. That would make it cheaper for a developer, but also potentially put the city further in the hole if it then can't charge as much for rent.

Add in the $45 million that the MTA now says it will cost to build a new Metro-North station to serve the Yankees, plus the cost of a new pedestrian overpass to span the station (negotiations regarding the cost are "ongoing" between the city and MTA, a Parks Department spokesperson said), and it seems certain the total cost of the Yankees project to city and state taxpayers will be well over $325 million. Not too shabby for a project that Yankees exec Steve Swindel promised last year would be built with "no public subsidies."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Black Soot and Asthma" NY Times 11/19/06

Gee, wonder what will happen when those unnecessary taxpayer subsidized garages for 4,500 cars, SUVs and trucks are built for the Yankees by 2009.

Black Soot and Asthma

Editorial in The City section in Sunday's New York Times, November 19, 2006

New York has some of the worst rates of asthma in the nation. The victims tend to be poor and minority children trapped in environments that cause and exacerbate their condition. They often lack access to regular health care, their homes may be infested with mold or household pests that trigger breathing problems.

And in neighborhoods like the South Bronx, there’s often no avoiding one of the biggest threats to the lungs: diesel exhaust from trucks. Though its impacts have been well-documented by government and private studies, diesel exhaust is a public menace that policymakers have yet to treat as seriously as they should.

A recent study conducted by New York University confirmed the link between bouts of asthma and one particularly disagreeable component of diesel exhaust — elemental carbon, also fittingly known as black soot.

Forty asthmatic children who attend schools situated near major roads in the South Bronx carried backpack-sized air quality monitors as part of the study. On days when black soot measured heaviest, the children had double the usual number of symptoms.

These youngsters have become the unfortunate local version of canaries in a coal mine. Health experts also point to diesel exhaust as a contributor to a host of other health problems, including cancers and birth defects.

While the city cannot regulate privately owned trucks, it has done the right thing and begun to replace retired buses and trucks in its own fleet with cleaner-burning versions. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has also issued strict new regulations mandating cleaner fuels and engines in diesel trucks and buses.

But it could be years before there is a complete turnover. The solution lies in reducing the city’s dependence on trucks. The wholesale markets at Hunts Point, which daily attract some 12,000 trucks making deliveries and pick ups, sit right on the water. Boats could offer a better way to move perishable goods.

The Bloomberg administration should also revisit the rail freight issue. Re-connecting the city to the national rail freight system is possible with construction of the proposed cross harbor tunnel. The project has been bogged down by neighborhood opposition in Queens, where incoming freight would be shifted to trucks for shorter-range distribution. We understand the concern, but the city has too much to gain, in terms of overall improved air and improved traffic, not to get the project back on track.

New York’s health department has done a commendable job of trying to get a handle on the asthma epidemic. It has worked with the hardest hit communities to educate parents and to get regular care and medication to asthma sufferers. A recent city study showed that hospitalizations for asthma were down 17 percent in the last year, but still occurring at a rate well above the national average.

The challenge for asthmatics is avoiding the causes of attacks. Policymakers can help them, and the public health, by declaring war on poisonous diesel fumes.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Bronx: Stadium Objection Dismissed" NY Times 11/17/3

Bronx: Stadium Objection Dismissed

Published: November 17, 2006

A Federal District Court judge in Manhattan has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block construction of a new Yankee Stadium, lawyers for the Yankees and the city said yesterday. In a decision on Wednesday, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald rejected a contention from neighborhood groups, including Save Our Parks, that the National Park Service had failed in its mandate to protect two popular city parks whose land would be used for the new stadium. The judge found that the parks service had followed its procedures, said Jonathan Shaw, a lawyer for the Yankees. Jeffrey S. Baker, a lawyer for Save Our Parks, said it had not decided whether to appeal.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"New York City Baseball Stadiums & the Law, Part II" WSJ Law Blog 11/16/6

New York City Baseball Stadiums & the Law, Part II

Posted by Peter Lattman

This is the second time this week the Law Blog has jurisdiction over a New York City professional baseball stadium. On Tuesday we discussed the tragedy of the New York Mets jettisoning its Shea Stadium — named for legal giant William Shea — in favor of a soon-to-be-built Citi Field, named after a really big bank.

The Yankees have broken ground on a new stadium, too, expected to open in 2009. (The Bombers — big sigh of relief — are keeping the “Yankee Stadium” name.) But environmental groups have opposed the project because it will eliminate most of two parks and require hundreds of millions in public subsidies. After a three-month legal fight in which the plaintiffs filed a flurry of temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunction requests before four different judges in both state and federal court, it looks like the quest to keep the Yanks in the House That Ruth Built has ended.

Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of U.S. District Court in Manhattan yesterday dismissed the lawsuit. Her 57-page opinion basically affirmed the decision of the National Parks Service to allow for the conversion of parkland into a stadium. The opinion’s on the dry side, but at an October court hearing Judge Buchwald spiced things up she dismissed a suggested remedy by the plaintiffs that the Yanks could play at Shea:

And if you are a Mets fan you would know because I obviously am a Mets fan. You would know that on a big game day you are not parking in that parking lot, they are shipping you out to the old World’s Fairgrounds and either you are walking three quarters of a mile or you are taking a bus.

Representing the Yankees: Jonathan Schiller of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, which has long represented the Bombers. Indeed, the Yanks were Boies Schiller’s very first client when the six-lawyer firm formed in 1997 (it now has 236 attorneys). “It’s a great day for baseball,” said the 6-foot-5 Schiller, a former Columbia University basketball star who played on the Lions last Ivy League championship team in 1967-68 with ex-NBAers Jim McMillan and Dave Newmark.

The Law Blog also spoke to the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer, Jeffrey Baker at Young/Sommer in Albany, N.Y. “We’re disappointed and haven’t made any decisions on whether we will appeal,” he said. “We’re reviewing the opinion and are talking to our clients.”

We asked Baker if is he’s a Yankees fan. His terse response: “I was.”

"In Bronx, hurry up and wait" NY Metro 11/16/6

In Bronx, hurry up and wait
No new parks — or garage developer — for Yanks’ project

by patrick arden / metro new york
NOV 16, 2006

BRONX — Attorneys for the New York Yankees successfully argued in state court that the team’s financial future depended on starting construction immediately to open its new ballpark by 2009.

But while the Yankees quickly seized parkland, other parts of the project remain behind schedule, according to a timeline issued last June to potential developers of the stadium’s parking garages. The timeline was obtained by Metro through the Freedom of Information Act.

According to this timeline, put together by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, one temporary track was supposed to have opened in July, and construction was set to begin in October and November on another interim track, a temporary ballfield and tennis courts on a waterfront “esplanade.”

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion assured reporters just before the stadium groundbreaking, “Over the next few months, there will be a new track and there will be new fields — artificial turf baseball fields, soccer fields — right in the immediate vicinity of the new stadium.”

So far those promises have not been kept. As recently as two weeks ago, the Parks Dept. promised Community Board 4 construction would begin in November, but apparently contractors have not been solicited. “We have not bid out anything yet,” said Parks Dept. spokesman Warner Johnston. The first park facilities won’t be available until the spring.

Considering the urgency of the Yankees’ pleas, it’s disconcerting to see the project slow down, said Dan Steinberg of Good Jobs New York. “It was to the detriment of the planning process that the project was fast-tracked,” he said.

Nowhere is that as evident as in the plans for the four new underground parking garages, an especially important part of the project because a sizable chunk of the replacement park acreage is supposed to end up on top of them.

The cost of the parking garages went up twice over the course of the approval process. Last March the price tag was put at $320 million; $70 million of that is covered by the state, with the stipulation that the remaining $250 million be “borne by the garage operator and/or the City.”

Though the city began looking for a developer in 2005, one has not been found. EDC spokesman Jorge Montalvo insisted the city won’t foot the bill : “They will be ready to designate a developer sometime early next year.”

Naming rights

• Both new baseball stadiums for the Mets and the Yankees are properties of the city, but in lease agreements the city handed over to the teams all stadium revenues, including those from naming rights.

• The Yankees have said its stadium’s name won’t change, but parts of the ballpark may receive corporate sponsorship, according to team president Randy Levine. Steinberg said, “Considering the teams are benefiting from taxpayer subsidies, we should have at least negotiated to split naming-rights revenue, which has been done in other cities.”

Shifting cash

The unfinished business disturbs Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. Obviously the Yankees were in a hurry to start construction to pre-empt the community’s lawsuit,” he said.

Croft noticed a draft of the team’s community partnership agreement with Bronx elected officials had expressly set aside $100,000 to maintain the new parks. In the final pact, though, that money was rolled into the $800,000 fund that Bronx politicians have promised to dole out to community nonprofits borough-wide.

“It’s telling that they took away the only money specifically designated for the impacted area,” Croft said. “The Yankees and the electeds really did a number on that community.”

According to Carrion spokesperson Anne Fenton, “The thinking was, if this is a city park and the city is going to take care of it, instead of putting money into that when it’s already getting done, take the money —$100,000 — and put it into the big fund for community programming, little leagues, whatever the community wants.”

Monday, November 13, 2006

"We're not going to take it... anymore!" NY Daily News 11/13/06

We're not going to take it... anymore!


Bruce Ratner has never been a big cheerleader for the Bush administration's misadventures in Iraq and he's never said that a vote for Nancy Pelosi is a vote for Osama bin Laden.

But last week's election results must have made the Nets' wealthy owner more than a little nervous.

Felix Macacawitz wasn't the only big loser in Tuesday's election - the billionaire sports team owners who expect the rest of us to pay for their revenue-rich arenas and stadiums got slapped down pretty hard, too.

These corporate welfare queens have claimed for years that a sparkling new sports facility will cure everything that ails us; arenas and stadiums, they crowed, will create new jobs, spur economic development and encourage housing construction. And once upon a time many Americans actually bought all that, even as most experts were dismissing such claims as voodoo economics.

But now people see stadium promises as empty and self-serving. By a 3-to-1 margin, for example, Seattle voters overwhelmingly passed Initiative 91, which will require any city dollars invested in a stadium or arena to yield a profit at least equal to the return on a 30-year Treasury bond.

It was a direct slap at Sonics owner Clayton Bennett, the billionaire who has threatened to move his team unless Washington state taxpayers build him a new arena. Seattle-area taxpayers have already given one-sided deals to the Mariners and the Seahawks, but times have changed.

The Brothers Maloof hoped voters would approve a quarter-cent sales tax hike for a new arena for their NBA team, but Sacramento voters told the Kings' owners to get lost. In Pasadena, Calif., voters rejected a plan to raise funds to renovate the Rose Bowl so the NFL can return to the Los Angeles area.

Ratner is counting on eminent domain to clear away the holdouts still in the footprint of his proposed $4.2 billion Atlantic Yards project. But on Tuesday, millions of Americans from South Carolina to Southern California said that is no longer acceptable. Eminent domain had traditionally been practiced solely for public uses - highways, parks, schools - but last year, the Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. the City of New London that government agencies could seize private property on behalf of a private developer like Ratner. In an anti-Kelo backlash, proposals to restrict eminent domain were placed on ballots in 11 states and passed - often overwhelmingly - in nine of them.

Because New York state politics is more banana republic than Jeffersonian republic, New York voters haven't been given the opportunity to approve or deny Ratner public money and infrastructure for his project. Instead, we have Mayor Bloomberg and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz telling us we're selfish yuppies because we're concerned about the environmental impact of the Atlantic Yards. Instead we have architect Frank Gehry - who elected him? -tell us we're Luddites if we don't embrace his designs. And we've only been given scant opportunity to engage in honest dialogue and ask real questions: How much will Ratner make on this deal? Is there a better site for the Atlantic Yards? Is there a better plan for the Brooklyn rail yards?

But Tuesday's election made one thing crystal clear: It's no longer easy to convince Americans to write blank checks - whether for Halliburton or the NBA.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Mike shift on park" NY Daily News 11/03/06

"Mike shift on park"

Open to changes in deal on use of Randalls Island

NY Daily News, by Juan Gonzalez,

Top aides to Mayor Bloomberg have agreed to consider changes to a deal the Parks Department quietly negotiated earlier this year with a group of Manhattan's richest private schools for use of planned new athletic fields at Randalls Island Park.

The proposed agreement would guarantee 20 private schools near-exclusive use of more than 50 ballfields at Randalls Island each weekday afternoon for the next 30 years.

In return, the private schools would repay city bonds issued to finance the park improvements and a portion of the maintenance costs.

The franchise deal, reached without competitive bidding, has enraged many public school parents and Manhattan community leaders, who call it another example of the Bloomberg administration catering to well-connected private entities.

Parks officials somehow expected this unprecedented arrangement to sail through with little fanfare.

Now they are feeling the heat.

The City Council, which must approve the use of millions of dollars in capital funds for the park's renovation, hastily scheduled a hearing today on the project that's expected to draw dozens of opponents.

During a private meeting last week, Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and Aimee Boden, head of the Randall's Island Sports Foundation, told three Manhattan elected officials who oppose the agreement that there is still room for changing the deal.

"We had an open and frank discussion," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who attended the meeting with City Controller William Thompson and East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito.

"We are open to proposals on how we can take advantage of this unique opportunity to rebuild this park," Benepe's spokesman, Warner Johnston, said yesterday when asked about the meeting.

But even before this parks deal was announced, East Harlem residents were fed up with the Randall's Island Sports Foundation, the private/public group that runs the island.

Many consider the foundation an elitist group that has turned Randalls Island into a concert venue and outdoor athletic preserve for the city's affluent.

During the summer of 2005, for example, the foundation twice closed the only footbridge from East Harlem to Randalls Island during concerts by the Dave Matthews Band.

The footbridge was closed again this past July Fourth weekend during an all-day private party on the island, said Marina Ortiz, head of the East Harlem Preservation group and a member of the local community board.

"The foundation doesn't have any neighborhood representation on that board, they never advertise their concerts in East Harlem and you rarely see black and Latino faces at their concerts," Ortiz said. "They forget this park is part of our neighborhood."

Oritz was shocked when Jonathan Greengrass, vice president of the Randall's Island Sports Foundation, visited East Harlem this week to seek her support for the private school agreement.

"I told him this is an unfair deal that leaves out the community," Ortiz said.

Foundation officials contend the arrangement will provide benefits to everyone. They say the improved and expanded number of ballfields that will be financed by the private schools will be available for use by the general public on weekends and during the summers.

But so far no one has been shown the specifics of the actual franchise agreement between the city, the foundation and the private schools - other than the parties that negotiated it.

No one has explained why this agreement was reached by City Hall without first considering alternative proposals or consulting local community leaders.

And no one has explained why public parks, these natural treasures of our great city, are suddenly being converted into private airlines with first-class and coach sections.

Originally published on November 3, 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"Yankees Say: Not So Fast" The Real Estate 11/3/6

Yankees Say: Not So Fast

FILE UNDER: Stadiums

The Yankees are planning to make a big announcement next Wednesday about what they are doing for their Bronx neighbors, just as some of those neighbors are wondering what happened to the goodies promised six months ago.

More than six months after the agreement was signed and two months after the groundbreaking, is it too early to complain about lack of progress?

In April, Bronx City Council Members, the Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion and the Yankees agreed to a "community benefits program" in return for City Council approval of the new stadium. The agreement stipulated that the signatories would form a construction advisory committee to oversee building and would meet "not less than once a month ... for the duration of the project." Bid packages for minority and locally owned contractors would be prepared "as soon as practicable." Plus, a "fund advisory panel" was supposed to be established "upon the commencement of the project" which would govern a nonprofit in charge of doling out $800,000 donated by the baseball team annually.

"From our point of view, this stuff should be further along than it is," said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, explaining that the Yankees had no trouble getting construction underway quickly. (Macombs Dam Park and part of Mullaly Park, where the new stadium will go, are now closed off, and it will take years to build their replacements.)

City Council Member Joel Rivera said that the advisory board and nonprofit were still being formed but that an update would be given at next week's Bronx Chamber of Commerce banquet, which just so happens to be honoring Yankees President Randy Levine. Council Members Maria Baez and Maria Del Carmen Arroyo did not return calls while a spokesperson for Carrion referred calls to the Yankees. "We are making great progress and we are well over our targets in terms of hiring and contractors," a Yankees spokesperson said. "We are in the very early stages and we will not release specifics."

If they want to set up that nonprofit in time for Wednesday's announcement, there is still time. Eamon Moynihan, a spokesman for the New York State Department of State, said that the normal turnaround for incorporating nonprofits is six days. "But you can pay extra to get it done sooner."

-Matthew Schuerman