INDIGNATION OVER WESTWAY
Although its defenders don't always care to admit it, damage to the environment can sometimes be justified by economic necessity. This can be determined, however, only if both the environmental and economic stakes of a given project—oil exploration, plant expansion, harbor dredging—are fully spelled out. Thus, federal agencies are legally required to prepare environmental impact statements before undertaking actions that could significantly affect the environment. For its part, the Reagan Administration has pushed for wider use of so-called cost-benefit analyses for purposes of assessing the economic toll exacted by environmental protection regulations. For any such exercise to be of value, though, the responsible authorities have to make an honest and conscientious effort to weigh a project's environmental and economic effects.
That effort has been dismally lacking in the case of Westway, a highway cum real estate development along the Hudson River on Manhattan's West Side that could cost as much as $4 billion in public funds and is backed by President Reagan, New York Governor Hugh Carey, New York City Mayor Ed Koch and the local construction industry and trade unions. Last week, Westway's powerful backers were dealt a setback when U.S. District Court Judge Thomas P. Griesa, ruling on a suit brought by environmental, civic and neighborhood groups, blocked federal funds for the undertaking and scathingly accused state and federal agencies of deliberately covering up the potential impact on a valuable striped bass habitat of one critical part of the Westway development, a 234-acre landfill in the Hudson. Unless overturned on appeal, the ruling means that Westway, as originally planned, is dead.
Griesa said that the question of Westway's likely impact on the fishery was "hardly a peripheral matter." The striped bass, the most glamorous game fish on the northeastern coast, is the basis of a $100 million-a-year recreational industry, yet its population has declined so severely that Congress has enacted emergency legislation specifically to study the problem. In December 1980, the National Marine Fisheries Service noted that "a substantial portion" of the Hudson River's juvenile striped bass population spends the winter in the landfill area, which is a significant finding in view of the fact that the Hudson makes a major contribution to the total Atlantic stock of the species.
But as Griesa indignantly concluded, the Federal Highway Administration and the New York State Department of Transportation, the two government agencies chiefly responsible for Westway, seriously misrepresented the landfill area's importance as a striped bass habitat. The misrepresentation began with a 1977 environmental impact statement declaring that the area of the Hudson in question was "biologically impoverished" and continued with the willful manipulation of subsequent data showing that the landfill is, in fact, an important wintertime habitat for juvenile striped bass and other species. One report on the new data concluded simply that "for the striped bass population, the project area appears to represent one of many available habitats," a circumlocution that prompted Griesa, an avid tennis player, to protest during the trial, "That is just about like saying that McEnroe was one of many available tennis players at Forest Hills." At another point, annoyed at inconsistencies and evasions in the testimony of public officials over who among them bore responsibility for the documents in which some of the misrepresentations appeared, Griesa said, "I have sentenced people to prison for securities fraud where the conduct was less blatant than the drafting of those instruments."
It would have been one thing if the authorities involved had acknowledged that the landfill area is a valuable striped bass habitat but had argued that Westway is even more valuable; the political battle over Westway would then have intensified, and the issue would have been properly debated on its merits. Instead, Westway's governmental proponents chose to practice bald deception. That deception constituted a serious breach of public trust. The fact that those public officials resorted to it also suggests that the case for proceeding with Westway, when weighed against the possibly irreplaceable fishery the project would destroy, may not be that strong.
A SEVERE CASE OF SCRUPLES
A story ran in The Kansas City Times the other day about a football player named Mike Miller who appears to be a most unusual young man. It's not just that Miller was the star quarterback last season at Southwest Texas State and had a 3.9 grade point average on a scale of 4.0, although you'll have to agree that's quite a combination. What sets Miller apart all the more is what he did after attending the recent rookie minicamp of the Kansas City Chiefs, who had selected him on the 12th round of the college draft and thought enough of his chances to make the team, probably as a strong safety, that they offered him a four-figure bonus to sign a contract. All Miller had to do to get the money was sign; if he subsequently told the Chiefs he'd decided not to pursue an NFL career, he could probably have just kept the money—even if he never so much as suited up.
But Miller chose not to sign the proffered contract. Although he said he enjoyed the minicamp and felt he'd been fairly treated by the Chiefs, he told the Times that he had a "gut feeling" that he wouldn't enjoy playing in the NFL. He also said, "I don't think I could live with myself if I had taken the bonus and then not played. There are too many of that type of people in the world today. It wouldn't have been ethical because I knew I wasn't going to play." Instead of banging heads in the NFL, Miller plans to return to Southwest Texas in the fall to do graduate work in education administration, presumably with a very clear conscience.
TROUBLE IN SPAIN
Following his team's 1-1 tie with Kuwait in World Cup competition, Czechoslovakian soccer player Jan Berger was so dehydrated that he had to drink a dozen beers before he could provide the necessary urine sample for a random postgame doping test. Scotland's Alan Brazil experienced similar difficulty following his team's 5-2 win over New Zealand. The London Daily Star told of his dilemma under this headline: BRAZIL'S WEE SPOT OF BOTHER.
AN EXPANSION OF OAKLAND'S DOMAIN
It was a stunning development when a jury in a federal antitrust suit in Los Angeles ruled last May that the NFL couldn't prevent the Oakland Raiders from moving to that city. There was another bombshell last week: With the Raiders poised to relocate in L.A., possibly as early as this season, the California Supreme Court ruled that the City of Oakland could conceivably block the move. Unexpectedly upholding an appeal brought by Oakland city officials, the court cleared the way for the city to try to condemn and purchase the Raiders under its power of eminent domain and to operate the team itself or resell it to private parties that would keep the club in Oakland. Eminent domain has traditionally been used by governments to seize real property for use as freeways, parks and urban-renewal projects, but the California high court broke new legal ground in concluding that maintenance of a sports franchise "may well be an appropriate municipal function" and that a city had the right to acquire by eminent domain "any property necessary to carry out that function."
The immediate effect of the decision was to overturn a ruling by a lower-court judge who had dismissed the city's lawsuit against the Raiders and to send the case back to that court, where a trial must be held to determine whether the city's acquisition of the team would indeed constitute a suitable "public use." Following such a determination, the city would have to pay "just compensation" for the team. In the meantime, the Raiders presumably could go ahead and move—if they dared risk the possibility that they might be obliged to return to Oakland later. A Raider attorney said the club would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling, and a state legislator who favors the Raider move last week introduced a bill to retroactively prohibit eminent domain from being used to condemn sports franchises. Although the NFL has consistently opposed the Raiders' move to Los Angeles, league officials refrained from rejoicing over the decision. One possible reason: The California decision could conceivably be a precedent for communities to block franchise shifts approved by the league.
The NFL wasn't alone in wondering about the implications of the decision. In deciding the case, the California court argued that because cities are free to use eminent domain to build stadiums, they logically should be able to invoke the power to keep teams in those stadiums. But Pete Schabarum, chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said, "Given that kind of reasoning, the Southern California Rapid Transit District can take over an oil company because it has to have fuel to run its buses." San Francisco Giant owner Bob Lurie, who insists he has no plans to move his team but wants a new publicly financed stadium to replace Candlestick Park, said, "What about free enterprise? What if Sears Roebuck wants to close and move to another city? This decision could apply to any field."
Lost in all this, of course, was the fact that last week's decision dealt with a professional sports franchise—nothing more. The court indicated that it was swayed by the fact that the Raiders had not only produced $30 million in annual economic activity for Oakland but had also given the city a "social, cultural and psychological" identity. In so ruling, the court was establishing the principle that a professional team can be as essential to a city's lifeblood—one that considers itself big league, anyway—as parks and highways. But it's important to note that the Raiders were a successful team supported by their community, which isn't always the case when franchises seek to move. The warnings of dire consequences were scoffed at by David Self, the former Oakland city manager and attorney who masterminded his city's eminent-domain suit. "The idea that now a city can go out and condemn Sears Roebuck is ridiculous," Self said. "People don't dance in the street when Sears reports a good quarter. Cars don't have bumper stickers saying, GO SEARS."
HOW NOT TO GET FAT
The Golden State Warriors were known to covet Arizona State's 6'3" point guard, Lafayette (Fat) Lever, in last week's college draft, but the Warriors, picking 14th, watched helplessly as Lever was taken by Portland, which had the 11th overall choice. But then, Golden State had had trouble connecting with Lever all along, witness the exchange that ensued when The Phoenix Gazette's Joe Gilmartin approached Warrior Coach Al Attles on the subject at the NBA's annual awards luncheon last month in Coronado, Calif. Gilmartin struck up the conversation just as Attles was digging into his meal.
"You going to get Fat?" Gilmartin asked.
Attles looked perplexed. "Well, I wasn't planning to eat that much," he replied.
DEVILS ON ICE
The transplanted Colorado Rockies were renamed last week: They are henceforth the New Jersey Devils. Although the NHL club's new owners were understandably reluctant to allow a franchise now located in East Rutherford, N.J. to retain the name of a mountain range 1,500 miles distant, they failed to appreciate that Devils is an equally inappropriate nickname, and not just because of the religious objections some critics have raised. The name, inspired by a fearsome monster known as Leeds' Devil said to inhabit New Jersey's Pine Barrens, was the choice of nearly one-fourth of the 10,000 entrants in a name-the-team contest, and after combing the dictionary, the team's principal owner, John McMullen, came up with a relatively innocuous definition for devil—"a person of notable energy, recklessness and dashing spirit." But the first meaning for devil listed in Webster's Third is "supreme spirit of evil and unrighteousness," which is an unfortunate association to be invoking in a league marred in recent years by calculated lawlessness.
GEORGE'S BRAIN TRUST
During the many years that his team played winning baseball, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner left the impression that he alone was responsible for the trades, free-agent signings and farm-system rejuvenation that accounted for the club's success. More recently, with the Yankees struggling to reach .500, Steinbrenner, trying to pinpoint the team's problems, has been only too eager to talk about the role of underlings like Executive Vice President Cedric Tallis and Bill Bergesch, the club's vice-president for baseball operations. Of the disappointing play of recently acquired First Baseman John Mayberry, Steinbrenner said, "My people told me to get him, get him, get him. It was unanimous." Of the acquisition of Relief Pitcher Shane Rawley, another Bronx bust, he said, "I didn't know him from Adam, and my people wanted him. I've got the biggest supposed brain trust in baseball and they sit here and I listen to them." Referring at another point to Bergesch, Tallis et al., Steinbrenner said, "Those fellows have to live with what their recommendations to me were. There's going to be some drastic changes. That's not a warning. It's just a matter of fact. I have a record of all the votes. I'm not trying to shift the blame. We're all bad. We've all done very poorly."
It's nice to see George finally sharing the credit.
THEY SAID IT
•Grace Dyke, 97, perhaps the oldest Baltimore Oriole fan: "I reckon I am. That's nothing to be proud of."
•Lee Lowenfish, baseball statistician, on the perception of some people that one has to be a nut to be so wrapped up in earned run averages and slugging percentages: "What they forget is that the nut is a very fine fruit."
•Tony Johnson, Yale crew coach, on the choppy water at the Cincinnati Regatta, which his team won: "In water like that, it's difficult to pick up much ground."
•Paul Householder, Cincinnati Reds outfielder, whose rookie season has been a disappointment: "I'm a household name but not a household word."