In yesterday's City Planning Commission hearing, there was-contrary to some of our own acerbic commentary-some serious questioning of a number of aspect's of the university's expansion plan. As the Spectator reports, one of the key issues raised was the absence of affordable housing in the CU vision: "In a question-and-answer session, City Planning Commissioners contested the University’s commitment to providing affordable housing for residents who would be displaced."
This is right on target, and credit here goes to Commissioner Angela Battaglia who told the university; “Not only would I expect the housing would be the same or better quality, but I would expect the rents would be the same,” said commissioner Angela Battaglia, who also questioned whether it was necessary for Columbia to build buildings as tall as it currently plans."
In addition, Commissioner Irwin Cantor questioned the use of eminent domain in the strongest terms. Cantor "said that by threatening to use eminent domain on businesses that refuse to sell, the University is “holding the owner hostage.” This is an issue that it is refreshing to see raised, since so many elected officials-owning little or no property of their own-seem to treat the takings clause of the constitution as a minor matter.
The university, however, feels that it's own self-interest is so overridingly in the public interest that anyone who opposes the taking of property needs to be squashed-in the same way that Lenin once remarked about revolution that, "you can't make an omelet with breaking a few eggs." That is why Columbia's PR goon squad continues to hammer away at Nick Sprayregen for his temerity in wanting to keep his warehouses.
Hence the latest piece in The Observer that brings up the fact that Sprayregen sold an East Side property to Con Edison last year. The reason this is relevant comes from the fact that CU and its minions are trying to allege that the only reason NS is giving CU a hard time is to drive up the cost of acquisition-i.e., that there's no priniciple, only principal at work here. The money quote: "Supporters of Columbia’s expansion, who see Mr. Sprayregen as a major obstacle to the proposal’s passage in the City Council, say that the sale shows that he is hiding behind a veil of principle but will eventually sell to the university just as he did to Con Ed. Word of the sale appeared on flyers distributed by Columbia’s supporters at a public hearing in August under the heading, “Inform and Empower Our West Harlem Community.”
The allegation-and the analogy-is, however, totally bogus. In the first place to say that Nick had in any way willingly deeded his property over to the utility is total nonsense. The reality is here that Con Ed has the authority as a public utility to exercise ED. Given this authority, it is hard to see how Columbia's claque can compare the situation to the land-grabbing actions of a private, non-tax paying entity like Columbia.
In addition, anyone who is put in Sprayregen's position is in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't situation." The untenable nature of the dilemma is-ironically of course-illustrated by Reverend Reggie Williams, CU's most fervent cheerleader: “It is disingenuous to make the argument against eminent domain when you stand to benefit by driving up the price.”
How's that again? So if you fight eminent domain-well, because it is your property Reggie-than you're a hypocrite because your fighting might actually get you closer to the real market value of your holding. They obviously aren't teaching logic in the seminary.
The last word should belong to Sprayregen, someone who's being battered by the booty capitalist scavengers who are looking to batten on the Sprayregen remains, after Columbia chews up the lion's share of the carcass: "Mr. Sprayregen said that he is opposing Columbia’s use of eminent domain for two reasons: out of principle, and also because it gives the university the power to seize the property through condemnation if he does not accept its offering price.
“We are prepared to go all the way to the Supreme Court,” he said. “I am not going to be squeezed into negotiating with eminent domain hanging over my head. If eminent domain is taken off the table, I can make a rational decision with an even playing field. Otherwise, it is a basic form of extortion.”