Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pink Face Does Not Equal Sweeny

So I went over to the court today to hear oral arguments in Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's the appeal of its state lawsuit against the Atlantic Yards Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and approval.

I don't usually follow the legal machinations of the AY project, since I tend to find it easier, given my background, to mock Forest City's dreams of raising competitive financing for such a greedy and speculative project. But the first department of the appellate division hears cases about seven blocks north of my office, I'd never been in a court before (I once pled a speeding ticket by mail), and I managed to shred a couple of witless renewable energy producers before lunch. So up I trundled.

And my is it a handsome building, both from the inside and on the outside. When shuttling between a condo building from this century and a row of cubicles in an an admittedly pleasant early 20th century Gramercy building it's easy to forget how much rich old stuff is scattered around New York. I think Spike Lee was trying to get the point across in the fine-looking and quite marvelous Inside Man.

So, after getting my stuff x-rayed and managing to put all the wrong stresses on the word "appellate" I was directed in to the room, which was about a third full. For some reason we were all confined to the right hand third of the room, which made things a lot cozier, but the spot made it rather difficult to hear the speakers properly. I think I was second-worst dressed person in there.

Also in attendance was Norman Oder, who pretty much has the damn transcript, so do go there to get the details. Since most my notes say things like "PINK-FACE SHORT HAIR JUDGE: Did AKRF ever produce a study that didn't find blight", I'll concentrate on giving you the gist.

I can't even compare proceedings to past hearings, but based on this hearing there was a fair amount of scepticism from at least two, maybe three judges about the way that the Empire State Development Corporation declared a perfectly vibrant part of Prospect Heights blighted. There was also this simple misunderstanding about the use of Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street as boundaries that the ESDC's attorney tried to turn into a huge brouhaha, like it was junior debate camp or something. But then I'm biased.

The argument did not hinge so much on what constitutes blight, the reason by which the ESDC is going to steal homes and my favourite boozer, but how the ESCD measures blight. Since I have very little conception of what discretion the ESDC has to do this has I can't really judge the efficacy of either side's argument.

There seemed to be a general agreement that parts of the footprint of the Atlantic Yards project are not blighted, less on how much it had to be blighted for condemnation to happen, and even less on what measures the ESDC might use to assess that. As far as I can tell, and despite the generally incredulous way that the judges questioned the ESDC lawyer, the argument will come down to whether the ESDC has to justify its decisions.

I can imagine the political appointees on the appellate court deciding that there's not really much that can stop the ESDC, since it was born in the late sixties when were all terrified that New York was going to hell in a hand cart, and all the good jazz musicians would move to LA. Let them get on with the sordid business of stopping the city turning into Detroit. That land was then tuppence ha'penny an acre has not stopped our real-estate-olitical complex from using the law to get very, very rich off the back of grassroots gentrification.

Still, the fact that the ESDC is still defending the study that was used to determine blight, and still insisting that the area is not gentrifying, gives me a little hope. It may not be enough to get the decision overturned, but there might be enough doubt about whether the ESDC has the power to make up blight definitions to get the decision kicked upstairs again.

But hey, I should probably stick to making awesomely bad financial prognostications rather than expanding into the awesomely bad legal prognostications business.


At 11:31 AM, Anonymous NoLandGrab said...

I assume you mean that I, in black t-shirt, khaki shorts and black sneakers, was the first-worst-dressed person in attendance.


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