Sunday, May 11, 2008

Into the cookie jar... another criticism of CBAs

Last week's Crain's New York Business ran an opinion piece on CBAs written by Alair Townsend, who called them "zoning for sale" and "government sanctioned extortion." Ms. Townsend cited the Yankees Stadium and Columbia deals as illustrating that CBAs have "little to do with adverse impacts but are instead designed to grease the approval process. Groups use rezoning proposals as leverage to extract whatever they can--jobs at specified wages, cash, housing, and neighborhood facilities." She also stated that it's "blatantly untrue" that CBAs are private deals.

There is some truth to Ms. Townsend's criticism that the Yankees Stadium and Columbia CBAs were not "private matters," as local officials were extensively involved in each case (especially the Yankees deal, where the local officials signed a CBA without any community groups, although that's another story). However, just because public officials take cognizance of a developer's commitment to work with the communities that a project will impact or facilitate that type of cooperation does not prove that a CBA amounts to extortion. This is especially true where developments are supported by significant public subsidies, as in the case of Yankees Stadium. Ms. Townsend also failed to comment on the Atlantic Yards CBA, which was a mostly private deal not involving public officials and which can hardly be called extortion (although it can certainly be faulted for other reasons, especially its reliance on "astroturf" community groups)--not to mention the dozens of other CBAs from outside of New York State that have been well received by the public, the government and developers alike.

Ms. Townsend's article is available here, but a subscription is required.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If Ms. Townsend neglected to mention the Atlantic Yards CBA, it might have been either disgust or awareness that it wasn't at all a legitimate CBA. The developer defined the groups that would represent the community, and created several out of whole cloth. ALL the signatories received payment for their participation in the process. If some CBAs can be characterized as government sanctioned extortion, the Atlantic Yards CBA is developer engineered fraud.

The Atlantic Yards "CBA" is the poster child for corrupt process, and was actually referred to in almost those terms by the Columbia negotiators. I cannot believe that any intelligent person would refer to it as anything else.