No Job Beats Low Job
In City Council's View.
Want 2200 Workers
To Get Armory Jobs
By Henry J. Stern
December 16, 2009
The City Council's rejection of the Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment plan continued to attract extensive media attention today.
This morning Kingsbridge was the subject of the Post's lead editorial, titled BRONX BLACKMAIL. The lede: "Successful extortionists everywhere know enough to make an example of someone from time to time -- just to show they mean business. That accounts for the fatal mugging Monday of a promising proposal in the Bronx that would have meant 2200 new jobs and $300 million in investment for the borough."
In a news story on p35, MIKES CALL TO ARMORY, by David Seifman, the money quote is from the new Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz, Jr. "We here maintain that notion (sic) that any job is better than no job no longer applies. What happenedat the City Council is historicIt is huge in that for the very first time in a long time, we've seen how the interests of the people have prevailed over corporate America and boy, does that feel good!"
The Post also published, on p41, an op-ed piece by Gary LaBarbera, NEW YORK'S NEW TOOL FOR KILLING JOBS. Mr. Barbera is president of the Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 100,000 union workers. The unions he represents lost over a thousand jobs when the project was scuttled. Unlike the Borough President, who exulted in the defeat of the project, LaBarbera takes a moderate view.
"Yes, major projects that get substantial taxpayer funds, whether they're shopping malls or residential buildings, should be held to higher standards than projects that dont rely on public assistance. But the basic terms under which these projects can be built -- whether theyre labor standards or the required amount of affordable housing -- should be settled at the start of the process. These terms should be consistently applied, so that some projects don't get a free pass while others are saddled with excessive requirements that threaten their viability. This point seems to be lost on opponents of Kingsbridge, who fail to understand that imposing a wage requirement on one project while not imposing it on other, comparable ones is neither fair nor economically feasible."
Michael Goodwin, the Post columnist, comments on p9, COUNCIL 'WAGES' FOOLISH WAR. The lede: "Don't tell the City Council and their union pupopet-masters that a job is the best social program. They prefer welfare, thank you very much.
"Thats the only conclusion to be drawn from the job-killing decision by the council to reject a development plan for a vacant Bronx armoryGone are 1000 construction jobs and 1200 permanent ones. In a borough where the official unemployment rate is 13.4 per cent, thats a scandal.
"It's also a stuck-in-poverty mindset. As Borough President Diaz proudly crowed: 'The notion that any job is better than no job no longer applies'. Maybe not in the Bronx, but in the real world, any job is definitely better than no job. Especially when the only legal alternative is welfare."
The Daily News ran two stories on the issue, both on p15. The authors of the first article, Kate Nocera and David Saltonstall, wondered what would now become of the armory site. The article quotes differing opinions of people who live in the neighborhood. At the bottom of the page, Frank Lombardi and Saltonstall gave the political reasons for the decision. "A perfect storm of political headwinds blew apart plans to make Kingsbridge Armory a massive shopping mall, insiders said." The story cited "the waning influence of Mayor Bloomberg," and "an unusually united Bronx Democratic machine, and the inability of Council Speaker Christine Quinn to stand up to that machine as she faces her own reelection bid for speaker next month." The mayor cited the absence of Councilmember Maria Baez, who was defeated for re-election and has been ill since. The armory is within her Council district. The News also printed a handsome color photograph of the Armory. It is an impressive building.
Reaction to the defeat of the Kingsbridge Armory followed predictable lines. The Mayor, the Post and the News were highly critical of the Council. Certainly its decision makes no economic sense for the Bronx, the county with the highest unemployment rate in the state of New York. It is not unreasonable, as Gary LaBarbera pointed out in his thoughtful column, for special conditions to be imposed on development projects with municipal subsidies. Similar arrangements have been made in many cities. They are usually arranged well in advance and are part of the plan. One common provision requires that prevailing wages be paid to workers building the facility. It is not reasonable, however, to impose requirements on prospective tenants of the site, especially when it is not known whether the stores will be rented. If tenants are forced to pay wages which are much higher than their competitors outside the mall, leasing activity would be discouraged. Empty stores pay no wages.
What the Council decision indicates is that, to some extent at least, political power has swung to the left. Jobs count less than ideology in the minds of some local lawmakers. But we would not read too much into this one decision by the Council, ominous as it appears to some. It does mean that there is likely to be less economic activity in the city as additional burdens are imposed on developers. If because of the lack of business, there are fewer jobs to be had, what will the people eat? Whatever they can get with food stamps, which will support more New Yorkers (now 29% of Bronxites) as long as Federal funding continues. The program also helps to subsidize agriculture. The stores in the proposed mall will be less viable since the jobless neighbors in Kingsbridge will have less money with which to shop. That is the mantra of a decaying community, not one that is growing and supporting life. It is not the direction the city should follow in the new century, or at any time.
There are, however, many New Yorkers who dont like growth or change. They have an ingrown antipathy toward rich people, developers and capitalists in general. They are unaware or in denial of the reality that budgets (except for the Federal budget) must be balanced. Some candidates and elected officials have spent their lifetime in public employ, as neighborhood activists in government-funded agencies, as community organizers seeking subsidies, warriors against poverty (their own) or as grant applicants to well-intentioned but clueless foundations run by trust fund babies whose devotion to political correctness is informed by their never having had to work.
The unequal distribution of wealth and ability inevitably causes resentment by those deprived of either or both due to circumstances beyond their control. Their nihilism goes beyond objections to burdensome taxes. Its adherents pay little if any taxes, except for cell phones and other devices. This view has not prevailed in city-wide elections, but it represents a subset of voters in some council districts, and it affects the nature of the competition between candidates.
Does the Council vote on Kingsbridge presage similar decisions? We doubt it, believing that this is a one-off. But as the chinning bar for development is raised, fewer companies will make the attempt. To some New Yorkers, that result would be desirable. We disagree. Cities either build or decay. Buildings age, just as people do. They are not all worthy of eternal life, and change and transition are natural and reasonable consequences of the passage of time. The challenge is to see to it that the changes are well done, improving the beauty of the city and the quality of life of its citizens.
With regard to the old armory, we hope that the big boys will get together at the last minute and work things out. That is what should happen. We hope that personal pride and testosterone does not stand in the way of agreement. If the project fails, the Bronx and its working class will be worse off, not Related. Other firms will be less likely to plan to invest in the five boroughs because of the peculiar requirements that may be imposed at the last minute by irritated Councilmembers.
StarQuest #630 12.16.2009 1357wds