20 June 2008

False Objections Lead to Insincere Compromises

The Washington Business Journal runs a piece on Poplar Point development, which is worth reading by itself, though I am about to quote long pieces of it. The article is a remarkably one-sided story which is still useful for thinking about what's really going on. Let's take a look:

"The debate about whether Poplar Point should include a soccer stadium could take a back seat to whether Poplar Point should be developed at all."

This is one of those disingenously objective sentences that reporters like to use when they can't really do any fact checking. Sure, the debate could take a back seat, but this point is really argued anywhere else in the article, other than being a lede for anti-development forces to have their say. If I wanted to rewrite this with a pro-development slant, I could say "The debate about whether Poplar Point should include a soccer stadium could be over, with all remaining the question of resolving environmental concerns." Or "The debate about whether Poplar Point should include a soccer stadium could take a back seat to whether or not it was right for the Guardians to rewrite the Book of Oa to allow for lethal force against the Sinestro Corps." I mean, these things could happen, so there's no overt bias in saying any of them, right?

"A coalition of environmental groups wants to stop a $2.5 billion, 40-acre mixed-use project by Clark Realty Capital LLC and transform the 110 acres along the Anacostia River into an urban public park -- 'a Rock Creek Park for residents of Southeast,' one of the coalition's leaders calls it."

So the people saying that the soccer stadium debate is taking a back seat is... the people opposed to the development in the first place. Well, sure, it's a good thing this group has been so successful this far in moving the debate over the stadium to the back burner.

"The coalition plans a June 24 announcement to kick off its campaign to derail the development."

Except for the fact they haven't really tried to do this yet.

"The effort comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Office report that raises questions about how quickly the site, owned by the federal government, can be transferred to D.C. and how much environmental cleanup will be required. The June 13 report estimates it could take three years before the transfer, which was established by a 2006 law."

Yes, this is a problem. Poplar Point will need clean-up, and that may take time. And if we leave it as parkland, then the city would not clean it up? And if they did, they'd really see no new tax base as a return on that investment?

Agreements still must be reached on the scope and cost of the cleanup, who will pay for it and how and where facilities for the U.S. Park Police -- including a helicopter pad and a shooting range -- will be relocated. D.C. officials have cautioned that completing an environmental impact statement for Poplar Point, required by federal law before the property can be transferred to D.C., will take at least 18 months, but the GAO report says senior officials from the National Park Service and park police cautioned that the process will be complicated and "might affect the timeliness of the conveyance of Poplar Point which in turn will affect when development on the site begins."

Again, the turnover process is going to take time and planning! Screw that! DC never should do anything that involves those two processes. Let's just turn it into a park!

"That gives environmental groups a window to argue that the open space should be preserved. An alliance led by Our Park Coalition and Earth Conservation Corps has started an online petition to stop development, surveyed residents who live east of the Anacostia about their interest in preserving the land park, erected a 'Save Anacostia Park' billboard and submitted anti-development columns in newspapers, including a June 15 piece in The Washington Post."
So their effort consists of a billboard (which you've probably seen if you've ever gone from S295 to S395), a letter to the editor published in the esteemed Free for All section of the Post, and a petition which has signatures. More than the petition supporting D.C. United? Hard to say, since the petition site that the anti-development people have won't let you see who else has signed it.

"'To think that in our nation's capital we could lose precious parkland so people could make a dollar -- it's really obscene,' said Glen O'Gilvie, president of Earth Conservation Corps, an 18-year-old organization that has both Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Ethel Kennedy as board members."
Mr. O'Gilvie is no doubt sincere in his message here. But is it more obscene to lose parkland, or tell Ward 8 residents to be happy for what small economic development comes their way? Is it obscene ever to make a dollar? I am not exactly someone who believes Big Business is the greatest thing to happen to humanity or the environment. But the idea that parkland is always preferable to making a dollar is an oversimplification of the first rank. If you're like me, a renter, then I suppose I should want my apartment building rezoned into parkland so that those evil landlord developers don't make a dollar and we have more parkland, right? Except for that entire me not having a home thing...

"Although Clark Realty's plans must include 70 acres of parkland, that space is not required to be contiguous, he said. O'Gilvie acknowledged that Anacostia residents want new housing and amenities but said they should not come at the expense of an area where 35 species of birds had been counted."

Okay, this at least is an argument. I dig the idea of preserving environments for wildlife. Really. But until an environmental study is complete, do we have any evidence that the 35 species of birds would be endangered by the development? I'm sure the article would tell us if there was, right?

"The environmentalists face an uphill battle in part because Congress established the land transfer with the express purpose of increasing the District's tax base and shoring up its finances."
And here, quite simply, is where the entire article falls apart. Either DC Develops the land, or they never needed it in the first place. If they can't develop it, do you believe there will be any effort made at all to preserving it as decent parkland?

Clark's proposal for a large central park and 1.5 million square feet of office space to draw environmentally focused companies and jobs is of little solace, O'Gilvie said.

"I think we want all 110 acres to be national parkland," O'Gilvie said. "We want no commercial development on the park."

Keep this in mind. This is the true objection to development of any sort. They want nothing done. Now, in the next paragraph:

Earth Conservation Corps and four other nonprofits are getting pro bono legal help from the Institute for Public Representation at the Georgetown University Law Center. Erik Bluemel, an attorney at the institute who filed lawsuit to stop the Intercounty Connector in Maryland, said pollutants on Poplar Point include pesticides, metals, oil, PCBs and other toxins from its previous use for naval laundry facilities, greenhouses and a land mine research laboratory. He also represents the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Potomac River Keeper and D.C. Acorn.

"It is remarkable how many different types of pollutants are on the site that endanger human health and the environment, and it's incredibly depressing that they've been allowed to remain there for so long," Bluemel said.

Right. Why might pollutants be allowed to remain there for so long? Why? Because, quite simply, there was no reason for anyone to care enough to make the investment to clean it up. Setting aside parkland probably won't do it either, it will remain in the same state as the chemicals slowly march to through their half-lives.

On the other hand, if there is a development initiative, there's suddenly a very strong interest in cleaning this material up. If I wanted to engage in the same sort of faux objectivity, I might say "In fact, one could argue that developing the area is better for the environment and the health of the Anacostia." But the fact is that I really don't know. I'd want to see the evidence. But simply objecting to any development at all before we know these things is not an answer.

Now, the danger here is not really from the anti-development side, but from Clark and the City. It might be a tempting move to cut a stadium as a gesture to the anti-development side. It wouldn't really change anything, but it allows the city to remove the trojan horse argument of "Don't give away our land to evil sports owners!" that we're seeing employed. In reality, nothing changes, but the city might think it's an expedient PR move.

One that has no basis in reality. But this is, after all, DC.

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At 20 June, 2008 13:08, Blogger Bob said...

When is Volkswagon going to get involved in this and kick some ass?


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