11 12 2008

Video #1

Video #2





11 12 2008

The Death of the Cheap Car Repair

Citi Field vs. AT&T Park

10 12 2008

Sitting in attendance at the hearings on Willets Point and reading the back-and-forth bickering on the blogs, it appears that many people’s opinions have become quite polarized, and they are either categorically for or against Bloomberg’s plan.  I would recommend that, since the project will happen, to take a look at where the San Francisco Giants play to get a feel for what the best-case scenario would look like.  AT&T Park, formerly known as SBC Park and Pac Bell Park, was built entirely with private money-taxpayers did not get roped into paying for the stadium.  The last stadium built without city money (taxes or existing city funds) was Dodger Stadium in 1962.  Why bring this up?  Only to point out that it is possible.  Is it too late?  Maybe, but it was rather astounding at the hearings to listen to Deputy Mayor Robert C. Lieber admit to Councilman Monserrate that roughly $400 million will now be provided (at least upfront) by the taxpayers of New York, a development that is really only worrisome when you take into consideration that the initial plan didn’t involve taxpayer money.  If it rose that much before the council even got a chance to vote on it, what happens if we open up another chapter in the Grapes of Wrath? By the way, it wasn’t as if San Franciscan businesses were anxiously awaiting the opportunity to fork over millions of dollars, in fact most everyone believed the Giants were on their way to Tampa Bay, Florida.  In the end it was hard work done by Peter Magowan, the general managing-partner who brought together a coalition of business owners to save the stadium plan.  Maybe this could be Monserrate’s next mission?

Of course AT&T is a rare case, but it serves to illustrate that there are different ways to build a stadium, and in this case, different ways to build the hotels, convention center, mall, and housing units that will go around the stadium.  The taxpayers shouldn’t have to keep issuing the blank checks if the private developers become skiddish about absorbing the rising costs of steel and cement. Whether eminent domain abuse or beautifying a “blighted” area is the crux of your argument whenever Willets Point comes up, remember, if you pay taxes you should be concerned with how the plan is carried out.

Restaurants and Their Journalistic Importance

9 12 2008

When I went to Willets Point for the first time I was actually hoping that I could fit in.  This makes me chuckle thinking about it, for years people wanting to document the area in one way or another have been wandering through the muddy streets looking for a good shot or a potential interview.  They even shot a movie there, Chop Shop.  In fact, the autoworkers who spend their days sizing up every stranger that comes into Willets Point to see if he or she needs a repair done, would put the Central Park bird watchers to shame if journalists were different members of the avian species.

I remember being a bit flustered realizing that there was zero element of surprise when panhandling interviews, but I managed to find a gate of entry to the residents’ lives via the small eateries in the area.  I was able to meet Joe Ardizzone by eating an empanada in the restaurant that he rents out, which happens to be the first floor of his building.  I also found out that everyone I had tried (successfully or not) to interview showed up at the restaurant.  It was the hub, the place to get away from work, to talk about what was going on in their lives and in the neighborhood, to eat a hot meal, play lotto, etc.  I learned about the rhythm of the area, about how some workers will have an airplane-issue bottle of whiskey with their coffee to stay warm after the dark, winter cold sets in.  I learned about the personalities of Willets Point–the older Puerto Rican woman who always yells when she talks, the elderly asian woman shamelessly hawking DVDs, and the auto body owner who will tell you (even if you don’t ask) how the police set him up in 2000 and arrested him without evidence for selling stolen car parts.  In short, everyone needs to eat and everyone is more talkative after they’ve had a bite.

Where Can I Get a Door For My ’78 Chevy??

7 12 2008

Just imagine, for a moment, how terribly ironic it would be if there wasn’t a single American-made car participating in NASCAR races.  At the moment, the only foreign automotive company that brings cars to one of America’s most beloved, patriotic sports is Toyota, and even they are seeing their sales slump.  However, if the Big Three go down without a $34 billion check from the government I’ll be rooting for the Wonder Bread Hyundai.  Things are tough for the auto industry here in America, and that includes those people working in Willets Point who will most likely also see quite a bit less from the local government than they think they are worth.  A proposed relocation amount of $3 million was offered by the Bloomberg administration, a number that business owners of Willets Point believe falls WELL short of what it would actually cost to set up the Iron Triangle in a new locale .

One funny part of the whole Big Three grovelling case was that they were lambasted for taking private jets to DC to plead their case, so the next time they drove in these awful-looking hybrids with no hubcaps to show how “green” they were.  On one hand, congress has a point–there is the symbolism of taking a hybrid that would make people think about a future for these dying car companies, but on the other it just seems that congress wants to make the Big Three appear slow and inefficient at whatever they do (imagine any CEO driving across the country to meetings).  It does, however, bring up the case of what “green” should mean and this is vital to the Willets Point case.

While Bloomberg may accuse the Willets Point businesses of essentially being “chop shops”, a case can be made for having available GM, Chrysler, and Ford for the folks that bought an American-made car in the past decade.  This is the “re-use” part of the environmental credo “Reduce, re-use, recycle.”  I see people with license plates from New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and others getting their car serviced in Willets Point.  If the Big Three go down in a black hole of disappearing jobs and auto plants, the question they are asking themselves is, “how the hell am I going to get a door for my 78 Impala??”  While few of the business owners are excited about talking to the press right now, this will be one of the huge questions moving forward and will define the city’s methods as being abusive and heavy-handed, or fair and forward-thinking.

6 12 2008
Opponents of the redevelopment plan at City Hall before the vote

Opponents of the redevelopment plan at City Hall before the vote

Owners Sour, Workers Struggle On

6 12 2008

I guess I heard the whistle, but I was so focused on getting the photo of the shiny, red, late-’90s Mercedes Benz that it didn’t register.  Then it came again and I looked up to see a giant bald man with a long goatee charging down the driveway at me.  He had the look of a rottweiler in a junkyard scene of a movie and for an instant I was strangely certain things were going to turn physical.  I apologized at high speed to the owner of the shop who was standing in the doorway of the garage.  Considering I was a walking Radio Shack (Video Camera, audio recorder, still camera) I didn’t want this afternoon to unexpectedly and weirdly turn into the last time a photographer took a shot of Kanye West when he wasn’t in the mood.  The bouncer got to the edge of the driveway and looked back at the owner who wasn’t too concerned, and he looked like that guard dog that gets to the edge of the property and forgets his viciousness.  This non-incident made me fully aware of the change that has occured now that the City Council has approved the redevelopment plan. Instead of being seen by owners and workers as valuable publicity for the area, we are now unwanted paparazzi.

The last trip to Willets Point made me feel like the journalist at the home of a teenager who has died, trying to interview the parents.  As the owner of a salvage company, Paul Cohen, told me, “everyone is just tired, I just want to get my money and get out.”  He was tired of going on the record, tired of resurrecting hope that a Monserrate or a defense group would convince the city to deal justly with the owners who don’t make up the Big Ten, the large landowing companies with which the City has been making deals.  Cohen claims that since the deal went through, the city has essentially abandoned buyout talks for his three locations.  While all of the owners were justifiably hard to speak with, the workers of Willets Point continue as before, working long hours, roaming the streets trying to flag down potential customers, and hoping that the money doesn’t dry up in the near future.