“He Wrote Simple Declarative Sentences That People Could Read”

(p. B16) Steve Dunleavy, a hell-raising Australian who transfused his adrenaline into tabloid newspapers and television as a party crasher to American journalism, died on Monday [June 24, 2019] at his home in Island Park, N.Y.

. . .

He was said to have been the model for Wayne Gale, the manic Australian reporter played by Robert Downey Jr. in Oliver Stone’s 1994 film “Natural Born Killers.” But he gravitated closer to the Runyonesque characters in Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play “The Front Page” from 1928.

. . .

After the actress Ava Gardner rejected his invitation to be interviewed at a nightclub and threw a glass of champagne in his face, he wrote an article that began: “Last night, I shared a glass of champagne with Ava Gardner. She threw it; I wore it.” Continue reading ““He Wrote Simple Declarative Sentences That People Could Read””

Regulators Allowed New York City to Exploit Taxi Medallion Buyers

(p. A1) . . . The New York Times published a two-part investigation revealing that a handful of taxi industry leaders artificially inflated the price of a medallion — the coveted permit that allows a driver to own and operate a cab — and made hundreds of millions of dollars by issuing reckless loans to low-income buyers.

The investigation also found that regulators at every level of government ignored warning signs, and the city fed the frenzy by selling medallions and promoting them in ads as being “better than the stock market.”

The price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million before crashing in late 2014, which left borrowers with debt they had little hope of repaying. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, (p. A20) and thousands more are struggling to stay afloat.

For the full story, see:

Niraj Chokshi. “New York’s Top Lawyer Begins Inquiry Into Reckless Taxi Loans.” The New York Times (Tuesday, MAY 21, 2019): A1 & A20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 20, 2019, and has the title “Inquiries Into Reckless Loans to Taxi Drivers Ordered by State Attorney General and Mayor.” Where the online version includes a few extra words, or slightly different wording, the quotes above follow the online version.)

Environmentalists Often Fail to Compost Their Compostable Salad Bowls

(p. 1) Every weekday, shortly after 11 a.m., a line forms at the Broadway and 38th Street location of Sweetgreen, the eco-conscious salad chain. By noon, the line has usually tripled in size. It often takes more than 15 minutes to get to the front.

. . .

(p. 12) At Sweetgreen, the appeal is partly ethical.

. . .

The moral overtones extend even to the trash. As customers pay and head back toward their various workplaces, they pass an oft-overflowing garbage bin with a proud sign above it that says that all of the company’s utensils, napkins, bowls and cups are plant-based, “which means they go in the compost bin, along with any leftover food.”

“Nothing from inside Sweetgreen goes to the landfill,” the sign declares further, virtuously.

But that’s far from the truth, though it’s not the chain’s fault.

Matt Holtz, a salesman at Microsoft, is “addicted” to Sweetgreen, according to his co-worker, Michelle Munden, and goes almost every day. Mr. Holtz does not compost his disposable bowl once he is done eating, he said, though he “will compost if the opportunity is available.”

Zara Watson, a lawyer who eats at Sweetgreen three times a week, throws the waste from her healthful lunch directly in the trash because she does not have composting at her office. So does Sam Hockley, the managing director at the software company Meltwater, who is willing to eat a Sweetgreen bowl for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Even Scott Rogowsky, the host of HQ Trivia who last year put his continued employment in jeopardy when he expressed his preference for Sweetgreen, is unable to dispose of his salads responsibly at work, because composting is unavailable at the WeWork location where the trivia app is based.

Indeed, zero customers interviewed at Sweetgreen over several days said that they composted their bowls at their offices.

For the full story, see:

Jonah Engel Bromwich. “The Ethical Salad Bowl.” The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sunday, Sept. 31, 2018): 1 & 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 29, 2018, and has the title “Is Your Salad Habit Good for the Planet?”)

Mayor de Blasio Seeks “Ban” on “Glass and Steel Skyscrapers”

(p. A23) As he stood on the Queens shoreline on Earth Day, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a stern warning that the familiar Manhattan skyline behind him was about to change.

“We are going to introduce legislation to ban the glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming,” he said on Monday. “They have no place in our city or on our Earth anymore.”

. . .

“Everyone is trying to figure out what the mayor meant,” said Adam Roberts, director of policy for the American Institute of Architects New York. “We just hope that the mayor misspoke.”

For the full story, see:

Jeffery C. Mays. “Mayor’s ‘Ban’ of Glass and Steel Skyscrapers? Not Quite That Harsh.” The New York Times (Friday, April 26, 2019): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 25, 2019, and has the title “De Blasio’s ‘Ban’ on Glass and Steel Skyscrapers Isn’t a Ban at All.” The online version says that the New York Edition print version had the title “A Ban on Glass and Steel? ‘Perhaps the Mayor Was Overenthusiastic’.” My National Edition print version had the title “Mayor’s ‘Ban’ of Glass and Steel Skyscrapers? Not Quite That Harsh.”)

New York City Made $855 Million Selling Over-Priced Taxi Medallions to Trusting Immigrants

(p. A1) At a cramped desk on the 22nd floor of a downtown Manhattan office building, Gary Roth spotted a looming disaster.

An urban planner with two master’s degrees, Mr. Roth had a new job in 2010 analyzing taxi policy for the New York City government. But almost immediately, he noticed something disturbing: The price of a taxi medallion — the permit that lets a driver own a cab — had soared to nearly $700,000 from $200,000. In order to buy medallions, drivers were taking out loans they could not afford.

. . .

Medallion prices rose above $1 million before crashing in late 2014, wiping out the futures of thousands of immigrant drivers and creating a crisis that has continued to ravage the industry today. Despite years of warning signs, at least seven government agencies did little to stop the collapse, The New York Times found.

Instead, eager to profit off medallions or blinded by the taxi industry’s political connections, the agencies that were supposed to police the industry helped a small group of bankers and brokers to reshape it into their own moneymaking machine, according to internal records and interviews with more than 50 former government employees.

For more than a decade, the agencies reduced oversight of the taxi trade, exempted it from regulations, subsidized its operations and promoted its practices, records and interviews showed.

Their actions turned one of the (p. A20) best-known symbols of New York — its signature yellow cabs — into a financial trap for thousands of immigrant drivers. More than 950 have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records, and many more struggle to stay afloat.

“Nobody wanted to upset the industry,” said David Klahr, who from 2007 to 2016 held several management posts at the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency that oversees cabs. “Nobody wanted to kill the golden goose.”

New York City in particular failed the taxi industry, The Times found. Two former mayors, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg, placed political allies inside the Taxi and Limousine Commission and directed it to sell medallions to help them balance budgets and fund priorities. Mayor Bill de Blasio continued the policies.

Under Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. de Blasio, the city made more than $855 million by selling taxi medallions and collecting taxes on private sales, according to the city. Continue reading “New York City Made $855 Million Selling Over-Priced Taxi Medallions to Trusting Immigrants”

“Clever” Developers Evade New York City’s “Labyrinthine Zoning Laws”

(p. A1)  Some of the tallest residential buildings in the world soar above Central Park, including 432 Park Avenue, which rises 1,400 feet and features an array of penthouses and apartments for the ultrarich.

But 432 Park also has an increasingly common feature in these new towers: swaths of unoccupied space. About a quarter of its 88 floors will have no homes because they are filled with structural and mechanical equipment.

The building and nearby towers are able to push high into the sky because of a loophole in the city’s labyrinthine zoning laws. Floors reserved for structural and mechanical equipment, no matter how much, do not count against a building’s maximum size under the laws, so developers explicitly use them to make buildings far higher than would otherwise be permitted.

. . .

(p. A20)  “It’s pretty outrageous, but it’s also pretty clever,” said George M. Janes, a planning consultant who has tracked and filed challenges against buildings in New York with vast unoccupied spaces. “What is the primary purpose of these spaces? The primary purpose is to build very tall buildings.”

. . .

New York City’s complicated building regulations are meant to produce predictable developments. Height requirements are imposed in most of the city, though parts of Manhattan are exempt. Every block is also effectively assigned a maximum square footage, which can be spread across smaller buildings on a block or condensed in larger developments.

Savvy, well-heeled and patient developers have worked that system to their benefit. A developer seeking to build a supertall tower might start with one lot on a block and then buy unused square footage from its neighbors.

With advancements in engineering and construction, that developer can take the accumulated square footage and concentrate it in a skinny mega-tower. Floors of mechanical space, exempt from the square footage calculations, make the tower even taller.

For the full story, see:

Matthew Haag.  “Builders Use Ploy to Create the Luxury of Height.”  The New York Times (Saturday, April 20, 2019):  A1 & A20.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story also has the date April 20, 2019, but has the title “How Luxury Developers Use a Loophole to Build Soaring Towers for the Ultrarich in N.Y.”)

A Tale of Two Bookstores: New York City Subsidizes Amazon and Regulates the Strand

(p. A22) Since it opened in 1927, the Strand bookstore has managed to survive by beating back the many challenges — soaring rents, book superstores, Amazon, e-books — that have doomed scores of independent bookshops in Manhattan.
With its “18 Miles of Books” slogan, film appearances and celebrity customers, the bibliophile’s haven has become a cultural landmark.
Now New York City wants to make it official by declaring the Strand’s building, at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street in Greenwich Village, a city landmark.
There’s only one problem: The Strand does not want the designation.
Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns the Strand and its building at 826 Broadway, said landmarking could deal a death blow to the business her family has owned for 91 years, one of the largest book stores in the world.
So at a public hearing on Tuesday before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, her plea will be simple, she said: “Do not destroy the Strand.”
Like many building owners in New York, Ms. Wyden argues that the increased restrictions and regulations required of landmarked buildings can be cumbersome and drive up renovation and maintenance costs.
“By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history,” she said. “We’re operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle.”
. . .
Another rich twist, Ms. Wyden said, was that the move coincides with the announcement that Amazon — not exactly beloved by brick-and-mortar booksellers — plans to open a headquarters in Queens, after city and state leaders offered upwards of $2 billion in incentives to Amazon and its multibillionaire chief executive, Jeff Bezos.
“The richest man in America, who’s a direct competitor, has just been handed $3 billion in subsidies. I’m not asking for money or a tax rebate,” Ms. Wyden said. “Just leave me alone.”
. . .
Owners of buildings with landmark status are in many cases barred from using plans, materials and even paint colors that vary from the original design without the commission’s approval.
. . .
Ms. Wyden — who is married to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, whom she met at the similarly renowned Powell’s book store in Portland — is a third-generation owner of the Strand, which stocks roughly 2.5 million used, rare and new books and employs 230 people.
. . .
While she would not divulge the bookstore’s finances, she said that she could make more money renting out the Strand’s five floors, but she loves the family business too much.
She accused city officials of trying to hurry the landmarking process, leaving her little time to prepare a defense, especially during the holiday rush.
“It’s our busiest time of year, and we should be focused on customers and Christmas, which is where we make our most money,” Ms. Wyden said. “But they have no sympathy for that.”

For the full story, see:
Corey Kilgannon. “‘Declaring Strand Bookstore a Landmark Would Kill It, Says Strand.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018): A22.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 3, 2018, and has the title “Declare the Strand Bookstore a City Landmark? No Thanks, the Strand Says.” The online version says that the New York print edition appeared on p. A20 and had the title: “A Bid to Preserve Strand Bookstore Would Destroy It, Owner Says.” The page and title in the citation I give further above, is from the National print edition that I receive.)