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.


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