Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Clinton, Schumer, McCain Pandering On Gas Taxes

Reuters - Clinton-McCain gas tax holiday slammed as bad idea
Newsweek - Political Pandering
Matt Yglesias - "real harm is done to people's lives by this sort of gimmickry"
Streetsblog - Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton: Where Is the Leadership?
TIME - Clinton joins McCain in the race for panderer in chief
Paul Krugman/New York Times - Gas tax follies

Again, this is the sort of bull$hit pandering I expect from the GOP . . . I expect this steaming pile from McCain. But Clinton and Schumer are out there shilling for a "Gas Tax Holiday" which would do NOTHING to help ordinary Americans while exacerbating our underlying problems of oil dependence and runaway deficits.

Ask any economist worth his salt: the Gas Tax Holiday is the worst kind of economic policy. Pandering to the public, yet shortchanging us of any actual benefit.

Barack Obama (video)is the one candidate in this race has called it for what it is.

My question: where is Congressman and Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner on this? Weiner very vocally opposed Congestion Pricing on the promise of increasing the Federal gas tax to pay for transit improvements. Yet he is also backing Senator Clinton for President . . . the same Senator Clinton calling for a gas tax holiday. I've called Rep. Weiner for comment, and his staff was polite. I'll post here when I get a substantive response.

Just in case I wasn't clear above: it might sound good in a vacuum, but this gas tax holiday is HORRIBLY IRRESPONSIBLE ECONOMIC POLICY. If you only have time to click one of the above links, click on TIME for Justin Fox's succinct explanation of why this is bogus pandering of the worst sort.

You Know What Grinds My Gears? MTA Escalator Edition

Last week Curbed posted a story about the broken escalator at Union Square (which is supposed to be maintained by the Zeckendorf Tower owner). Not only has the escalator been left broken for months on end, but the management has FENCED IT OFF . . . so that no one can use it, forcing people to use a narrow, cramped staircase. This type of stupidity is enraging to the commuters who have to look at the broken escalator every day . . . after all as the late comic Mitch Hedberg observed, "an escalator is never temporarily out order - it's temporarily stairs."

Notes a commenter:
The Zeckendorfs were able to build much larger than usual, and therefore the public had to deal with the extra shadows on the park and on the street, in exchange for providing this public amenity in the form of an improved subway station entrance. It is the Zeckendorfs' responsibility to make sure everything is functioning, and it is their responsibility to keep the area clean. They got a bonus worth tens of millions of dollars for providing the improved subway entrance. They NEED to fix it. Those escalators have been broken for YEARS not months. the City should fine them big time.

Sunday, I went to the Pottery Barn up on 59th and encountered another fenced off, broken escalator, and an extremely long one at that.

Today AMNY fuels my rage with another article about broken escalators, this time at 53rd and 3rd. Again, the escalator is supposed to be maintained by a developer who reaped substantial benefits from the City (to the tune of $3 million a year in rent).
Over the decades, it's been a common practice for the city, NYC Transit and its parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to forge deals that would give valuable floor space to real estate developers in return for subway improvements. In the case of the escalator at 875 Third Ave., a deal worth $3 million a year in rental income for the developer was forged more than 20 years ago. Today, after the property has changed hands several times over and the city and transit officials who struck the deal have moved on, the agreement seems forgotten, leaving no one accountable for maintaining it.

This has become an epidemic. Socialized costs in the form of lower quality of living for the sake of private profit. Mr. Bloomberg, where is the enforcement? How long will this continue?

And until then: a broken escalator is still a perfectly functional set of stairs! What the hell is wrong with these people?

Verizon FiOS vs. Time Warner: About Damn Time

The Sun reports (via Curbed) that Verizon will be getting into the cable & internet business in our fair city.
Verizon said 30% of the new network would be built by the end of 2008, 50% by the end of 2010, and 100% by 2014. The first consumers who would be able to access the new service would be residents of Staten Island, by the end of this year.

For anyone who has dealt with the absolutely inexcusable, god-awful service from Time Warner Cable, this is akin to a child discovering his schoolbooks are made of delicious candy.

I've got a lot of problems with Verizon (and AT&T) as a corporate citizen, given their role in enabling the Bush administration's illegal spying. But that is a matter to be dealt with separately through Congress and the courts.

The competition is welcome and sorely needed. And from what I've heard, the FiOS fiber optic internet is much faster than Time Warner. Game on.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

May 7th Packed with Carroll Gardens Meetings

This is a pretty tight schedule in the local meeting circuit, but a lot of important stuff being covered. From Maria Pagano, CGNA President:

Acknowledging the interest and concern we have expressed, three separate meetings have been scheduled for next week by city agencies,elected officials and KEYSPAN.

The members of the CGNA Board encourage everyone to attend at least one
of the meetings. Bring a family member, a friend, a neighbor! (I don't
think pets can be accommodated).

These three meetings are all scheduled for Wednesday, May 7.

In time order:

1. Check your mail. A notice was sent out from KEYSPAN/NATIONAL GRID.
They will hold the first public meetings to "discuss the remedial
of a former manufactured gas site located at DeGraw near the Gowanus
This is the beginning KEYSPAN's participation in the public discussion
on cleaning up the
Gowanus gas sites. There are a total of 17 sites. Meetings on Public
the Toll Bros site, etc to follow.
Meeting site: PS 32 (317 Hoyt St at Union)
Times: 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM and 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM
[ED. NOTE: more on this at Gowanus Lounge]
2. Borough President Marty Markowitz will hold a public meeting to
discuss the pending text amendment proposed by the Department of City
Planning. This text amendment will correct the inappropriate "wide
street" designation
currently applied to the Place blocks; they will be
designated as narrow streets, as they were originally defined by law
they were created, and will match the bulk permitted on the other
residential blocks of Carroll Gardens.
Meeting site: Borough Hall, Community Room
Joralemon St entrance
Time: 5:30 PM
[ED. NOTE: more on this at Gowanus Lounge]

3. Plan for the Future Forum: The Gowanus
Sponsored by City Councilmember Bill DeBlasio,
CB6, Gowanus Dredgers, Gowanus Canal Development Corporation and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy Representatives of the NYS Departments of Environmental Conservation,
Education, City Planning, Buildings, NYPD, FDNY and NYC Parks and Recreation
will be on hand to answer questions.
For more info and to pre-register questions,
call Tom Gray at 718 854 9791.
Meeting site: 2nd St at the Gowanus Canal (off Bond)
There will be a tent at the site if the weather is bad.
Time: 6:30 PM-8:30 PM

Once again, we urge everyone to attend at least one of these meetings!

Back to my voice: be sure to check out the new and improved Gowanus Lounge at Bob's work has contributed immeasurably to the flow of information in our neighborhood. Looks great, too!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Governor's Island Renderings: Development Zones?

In all the talk about non-park uses for parts of Governor's Island (e.g. NYU campus, Bond villain stronghold, etc.), I always assumed that the development would be on the NORTHERN half of the Island . . . but if you look at the rendering above (thanks Gothamist!) there are large "Development Zones" in three places in the southern half of the island. Actually, two of the zones are separated only by a "Construction Site" . . . so maybe that's really just one huge "development zone".

Hmm. Then what are they going to put in all the historic buildings?

If I recall correctly, none of the earlier renderings hinted at these expansive "Development Zones" on the southern half of G. I. Am I wrong?

PS - I was and am a big fan of this park design. But let's keep the process transparent, and not have some bait and switch, where we end up with 'Trump Island' condotels on both shores of this thing.

Curb Cuts In The News

Brownstoner, Daily News, and NYT all have articles up on legislation to address illegal curb cuts, which rob all of us community property to benefit selfish individuals. (This? Oh, it was a street space, but now you can't park there, because you'll be blocking my illegal driveway. And did I mention, now I'll be driving across the sidewalk? And paving the yard. K thx bai.)

I testified in favor of several pieces of legislation at Chairman John Liu's Transportation Committee last month that will combat this unsavory practice. Councilman Vincent Gentile has shown great leadership on this issue, and deserves some praise.

US Housing Vacancies Hit All-Time High

National figures. Note how sharply this figure has increased over the past two years.

I imagine the local numbers are much stronger. Still, things will deteriorate here over the next 18 months as new condos roll out, while Wall Street layoffs and tight credit conditions challenge the market.

More from Bloomberg:

Khalil Gibran School

The New York Times has a must read article about how a handful of ideologues, including the execrable Daniel Pipes and a dishonest reporter at the Post, sandbagged the school's principal with a smear campaign. Truly disgusting people.

“This was a situation where she was subject to sanction not for anything she said, not for anything she did, but because a newspaper reporter twisted what she said and the result of it was negative press for the city and the Board of Ed,” Judge Jon O. Newman told a city lawyer at a hearing in February.

Ms. Almontaser’s case will proceed in the Federal District Court in Manhattan.

Oh yeah, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, that bastion of journalistic integrity. They let him by the Wall Street Journal, and now he wants to buy Newsday . . . along with Fox News, Fox Business News, and Fox. This is why we (used to) have laws against concentration of media ownership. Those laws need to be reinstated, and more stringent than before.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Zirkle Jerk

Via ThinkProgress, Indiana Republican Congressional hopeful Tony Zirkle courts Nazi vote, but is really just looking out for Jews:

"Let’s save our Jewish brothers and sisters from this tyrant king porn dragon before we get to another world-wide pogrom."

I'm at a loss for words on this one.

Friday News Roundup

A few important bits of news:
- After an animated discussion, CB6 Land Use Committee voted 9-4 to support closing the "wide streets" loophole. The Committee, as well as Bill deBlasio (who was instrumental in making this happen) and our other local elected officials (Millman and Connor) all deserve praise for working to preserve the character of our community. Several steps still to go. Next is the full Board, then the Borough President.

- Another sign that DOB is a broken organization that needs a major cultural change, not just a new Commissioner: "City officials admit they wrongly gave the green light to the project at 303 East 51st St., where a tower-crane collapse on March 15 killed seven people." We must end the farce called self certification that outsources DOB oversight to the developers. Now.

- Consumer confidence "fell deeper into recessionary territory, to 62.6 from 69.5 in March . . . the lowest since March 1982's level of 62.0., when the "stagflationary" period of low growth and high inflation was still an issue for many Americans." We are in for a serious adjustment; the real estate recession has not even begun here yet, but realtors with long memories will remember what the early 1990s were like, and that's what we're facing in the near future.

- Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead. Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

360 Smith: Stein Digs In

Ah, to be at the right place at the right time. The gate to the 360 Smith construction site was open when I walked by this morning. I snapped a couple of pictures, and the gate was unceremoniously slammed shut . . . but not before I got some (camera-phone) quality shots for you, dear reader.

Looks like Stein is motivated to beat the text change on wide streets. Speaking of which, deBlasio's office, CGNA and CORD are all encouraging people to support the text amendment at CB6 Thursday night, April 24th:

Presentation and review of proposed Zoning Resolution Text Amendment (#N080345ZRK), known as the Carroll Gardens Places Text Amendment, submitted by the Department of City Planning that would define 1st Place, 2nd Place, 3rd Place and 4th Place between Henry Street and Smith Street; and 2nd Street, Carroll Street and President Street between Smith Street and Hoyt Street, in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn Community Board 6 as 'Narrow Streets' for zoning calculation purposes.
Brooklyn Community Board 6
250 Baltic Street
(Court/Clinton Streets)
6:00 p.m.
April 24, 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lancaster OUT at DOB

Well, this is tremendous news.
Facing pressure from City Hall and growing criticism for a spike in fatal construction accidents, Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster resigned on Tuesday, becoming the first commissioner to leave the Bloomberg administration under a cloud of public controversy.
We can only hope that this resignation engenders the same kind of sea change as the replacement of Iris Weinshall with Jeanette Sadik-Khan at DOT. The person at the top sets the tone for the whole organization. Of course, you need the Mayor's support . . . but Bloomberg has shown big changes before, and perhaps this signals positive change coming at DOB.

And here I am, and many others across the city I'm sure, preparing testimony for the Assembly Hearing on DOB's shortcomings and a passel of bills by Assemblymen Brennan, Lentol, and Hevesi to reform DOB. I think Lancaster was smart to get out of dodge before being ripped a new one publicly on Thursday morning.

We can and must do better. Let's start, Mayor Bloomberg, with having a panel that includes interests besides developers and the building trades vet the next DOB commissioner.

Previously at FirstandCourt: Scarano - Lancaster Scandal

Monday, April 21, 2008

Public Place Layout

Brownstoner has all the details in a very comprehensive rundown of the winning bid.

All things considered, and especially given some of the alternatives I saw, this looks pretty good.

Image courtesy of Brownstoner. Check out their post.

Friday, April 18, 2008

34th Street BRT - A Good First Step

Second Avenue Sagas (and Streetsblog, yesterday posted the entire pdf deck) have the details on a coordinated effort between DOT and the MTA to bring about better mass transit service across town. With the (for now at least) death of congestion pricing, the City is looking at alternative means of reducing congestion in Manhattan.

One way to reduce congestion is by making the transit system a more attractive option. The bus system will be a great deal more popular when people can get on a cross-town bus and actually move faster than if they had walked. Connect these dedicated bus lanes with major rail hubs and ferry service, and we're getting a lot closer to comprehensive mass transit service.

And that's something we'll need to get people out of their cars.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Frustration: Internet and Albany

Posting has been light as I've been choked off from internet access for much of the day and been working long hours. The Blackberry is a lifeline but only for keeping up (on delay) through RSS feeds.

So today was a roller coaster of disappointment, interspersed with peaks of hope before plunging once again into despair. I speak, of course, of congestion pricing. Streetsblog covered the unfolding events heavily throughout the day, and at times it looked like a deal might be pulled out. But it was not to be.

At least, for now. CP has been declared dead before, so we'll see. We'll see what alternatives are offered, because we are looking at a disaster for transit funding if we don't identify a replacement revenue stream, stat.

I commend Joan Millman for her last minute support of congestion pricing. I know Joan, and I know that her office wrestled mightily with this issue and sought the best solution for our district. And I say, thank you for listening and ultimately making the right call.

Ben Kabak reacts to this inexcusable failure of Albany over at Second Avenue Sagas.

The ball is in your court Mr. Silver. The city needs tens of billions of dollars in new transit infrastructure investment. This plan has died on your doorstep. Now it's up to you to FIND THE MONEY.