New York -- The Endless Source Of Bad Policy Ideas

Far more bad public policy ideas come out of New York than anyone can even keep track of.  But I thought I'd just take note over a period of a few days and see what turned up.  So here are some of the latest in the endless list of bad ideas.

Restricting hotels in industrial zones.  The New York Observer reports on November 3 that our Mayor and City Council have reached an "agreement" to make changes to the zoning law to limit new hotels in industrial zones.  Up to now, under New York's zoning laws, hotels have been permitted "as of right" as a lawful use in areas zoned for industry.  The new proposal is that you can't build a hotel "as of right" in such a zone any more, and you will need to go through a long and expensive process to get a special permit, after which you may well not get approval at all.

Before a few years ago this was never really an issue, because there were almost no hotels in the industrial zones; and who would want to build a hotel next door to a noisy, dirty factory anyway?  But in the last few years suddenly there have been lots of hotels getting built in the industrial zones.  Did something change?  Most importantly, most of the factories have closed or moved away.  According to the latest data from the New York Department of Labor, New York City is down to only 73,900 manufacturing jobs, well less than 2% of all jobs (the total is 4.192 million), and yet another decline from 76,500 last year, even as other types of jobs were up substantially.  And, with most of the factories gone, the gritty former industrial zones became kind of cool.  Because you can't build much else there, particularly residences, the land is cheap.  So hotels became an obvious choice.

Now, why would the City possibly want to restrict an influx of new productive economic activity into these otherwise mostly dormant industrial zones?  Read the Observer article, and you'll find quotes from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and Councilman Stephen Levin (who represents an area of Brooklyn with some industrial zones) talking about preserving existing jobs, and preserving space for new factories just waiting to move in.  Do you buy it?  I sure don't.  Manufacturing in New York City has been in rapid decline toward oblivion for my whole lifetime, and it ain't coming back any time soon.  The answer is elsewhere.  It is that the hotel workers union has been putting on a big push for the zoning restrictions, because the new hotels in the industrial areas provide low cost non-union competition for the established hotels in the fancy areas.  You have to do some looking to find articles discussing this (the unions prefer to do their corrupt deals behind the scenes), but there are plenty if you look.  Here's one from the same Observer back in 2010.  Excerpt:

The main force behind the push-back against the limited-service hotels [in industrial areas] is Peter Ward, the president of the New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council. His union is threatened by the explosion of such hotels-since 2005, the union estimates that more than 13,000 rooms in limited-service or boutique hotels have been developed or are in development. Given that the vast majority of the limited-service and boutique hotels have small staffs and are non-union, this draws business away from some venues that employ Mr. Ward’s membership. 

Yes, our City Council is completely willing to prevent entry of new businesses and jobs into underutilized areas in order to protect a union from competition and keep its political contributions flowing.

Opposition to expensive new condominiums.  In my neighborhood of the West Village, two big new condominium developments are nearing completion, with a total of perhaps 300 units.  The apartments are big, and the average price over the two projects is something like $7 million per apartment.  That means a total sales price for the two of well over $2 billion.  In any rational world you would think that the government and the neighbors would be salivating over all the real estate and income taxes that are going to be paid by these well-heeled new neighbors.  The two projects replaced a former warehouse, that paid very little in taxes, and a hospital, that paid nothing.

Well, you don't understand Greenwich Village or New York City.  You won't find anyone (except me) in Greenwich Village to say a good word about these new condos, and our Mayor de Blasio when he was running specifically opposed the one that replaced the hospital.  Many raised a huge ruckus over "losing" our hospital, although since it closed the nearest one is barely a mile away, and there are 20+ other hospitals on our little island of 23 square miles.  Taxes?  We get plenty of those from the tooth fairy.

So what is the thinking?  An article in the new November issue of our local paper West View News ("The Voice of the West Village") may help you to understand.  The article considers the effect of yet another new large development now proposed for the southwest corner of the neighborhood, on top of the two mentioned above.  Here is their take:

[W]e are being surrounded by a new generation of Villagers who can afford some of the most expensive apartments in the world.  And soon they will be the majority voters at the Community Board meetings asking to end rent stabilizations so their kids graduating from Ivy League colleges can move into those nice quaint brown stone apartments currently occupied by little old Villagers on Social Security. 

It's the envy of percents 2 and 3 against percent 1.  Or, in the case of our neighborhood, maybe the envy of the bottom half of the top one percent against the top half of the top one percent.  The evil rich must be stopped before they drive us out of our homes!  (It's not clear to me how that would work, given that the apartments at issue are new ones that nobody lived in previously.)  Make those "kids graduating from Ivy League colleges" suffer two hour commutes in from Staten Island!  It's all very unbecoming.

Support of EPA's Clean Power Plan.   According to the New York Law Journal this morning, New York's Attorney Journal Eric Schneiderman has joined a coalition of 24 "states, cities and counties" seeking to intervene in litigation in the D.C. Circuit to support EPA's "Clean Power Plan."  The CPP is otherwise known as the Obama administration's gambit, without Congressional support, to shut down the U.S. coal industry.  The article does list seventeen states that have lined up with New York to support EPA, although it concedes that some 25 states have taken the other side.  Here are the Law Journal's quotes from Schneiderman and City Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter:

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the plan is needed to respond to the threat of climate change and incorporates strategies New York and several other states have used to cut pollution. . . .  Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter said in a statement, "These important rules are firmly based in law and in science, and give government the critical tools it needs to protect our environment well into the future."    

Over at Power Line, Steven Hayward points out that the U.S. has approximately 500 coal power plants today.  Meanwhile, in Asia they are planning to build around 500 coal power plants next year alone -- and then another 500 plants the following year, and another the year after that, and so on until about 2030, at which point everybody in Asia should finally have electricity.  The large majority of it from coal.  And this is not just China -- it's India, and Indonesia, and Japan (got to replace Fukushima!), and South Korea, and Thailand, and on and on and on.  So what exactly is the point of the U.S. closing its 500 plants?  Hey, it's what all right-thinking New Yorkers agree we should do!  Don't ask us for any actual rational thinking.