Friday, July 28, 2006

Spitzer to Empire State Development Corp.: Hold on a Minute


Democratic Gubernatorial frontrunner and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who has avoided the subject of Atlantic Yards like a truck full of toxic waste for most of the campaign, has come down on the side of project opponents on at least one front: he wants more time for public comment and hearings. Norman Oder reported this afternoon in his Atlantic Yards Report that Spitzer has sent a letter to Empire State Development Corp. Chair Charles Gargano asking that the public hearing scheduled for August 23 be delayed for at least 30 days. That would allow 90 days for community organizations and others to digest the 1,400 page Atlantic Yards Environmental Impact Statement. A wide variety of local officials have also requested a delay.

AYR quotes the letter as saying:
While I strongly support development at the Atlantic Yards site, I believe it is vital that there be adequate opportunity for public review of this project. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which was released on July 18, 2006, is approximately 1400 pages long and deserves the careful review that is essential for a project of this magnitude. In addition, the three community boards that represent the immediate neighborhood of the project are in recess until September. For these reasons, I believe it is appropriate that the public hearing associated with the DEIS, that is now scheduled for August 23, 2006, be postponed for at least 30 days, leaving a total of not less than 90 days for review.
A cynical analyst might say that it is calculated move on Spitzer's part to throw a bone to the South Brooklyn voters that are against Atlantic Yards in its current form, without taking any stand on the project itself. (It is after all hard to ignore forever a major public project driven by state government when you're running for governor.) From Spitzer's point of view there is no political cost in asking for another 30 days of public comment and for a public hearing after summer vacation is over.

The less cynical observer might conclude that he's genuinely offended by the rush job of the hearings and the image problem created by scheduling a major hearing when all the concerned community boards are not in session. Whatever the motivation, the fact is that Brooklynites and Community Boards desperately need as much time as possible to honesty assess Atlantic Yards' impact, and the community needs a healthy debate, both pro and con.

It doesn't take a political or planning genius to understand why Mr. Gargano and Company are so anxious to take a page from the playbook of the man they should make their Patron Saint--recently departed Newark Mayor Sharpe James--and get Atlantic Yards done ASAP. Mr. James, who was one of the more wiley public officials to hold local office in recent decades, worked hard to ensure that his downtown sports arena for the New Jersey Devils was rising from the ground before he even thought about leaving office. As long as construction crews aren't digging holes, pouring foundation and covering up the rail yards on the day Gov. Pataki leaves office, there's always the chance that the deal could come undone. If the Governor had attended to World Trade Center redevelopment with the same sense of urgency and can-do spirit, we'd be looking at more than a hole in the ground today.

Public debate can upset even the best laid plans. It can slow things down and introduce uncertainty. It can allow for the airing of uncomfortable questions, and give a public forum to those with other ideas.

Mr. Gargano's inner Robert Moses must have grimmaced when Mr. Spitzer's letter arrived.


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