Sunday, June 26, 2005

Eminent Domain and NYC

Supreme Backlash

The reaction to the Supreme Court’s eminent domain decision continues. The NY Post is particularly sharp in its highlighting of the conservative-liberal split in the Court’s 5-4 decision.

The paper goes on to urge:

Both Congress and state governments need immediately to consider what specific limits can be drawn on the concept of "public purpose" — and how best to mitigate the effects of this truly disturbing decision.
The paper, which also published a scathing cartoon of the decision with the tagline “Sold to the politically wired developer,” also points to the potential growth of a unique liberal-conservative alliance on this issue remarking:

It’s ironic that the conservative justices are the ones who sound like the New York liberal voices that rise to block almost any sort of economic development.
This theme, of course, fits directly into our conservative case against Wal-Mart. The alliance of politically-connected developers (in the Connecticut case we wouldn’t be surprised by the existence of a corrupt stench in the New London connection) with box store retailers threatening to bulldoze poor and more conservative working class neighborhoods alike.

In spite of the New York Times’ self-interested blinders in this matter, there are now no limits on the confiscation of a person’s property since even the elastic “blight” concept is no longer a necessary concomitant to a government-sponsored confiscatory development scheme. We can envision the growth of an interesting coalition in New York State, one that transcends ideological lines and that seeks to place clear restrictions on the use of this radical taking of land.

Beware of Corporate Cronyism

New York City is particularly vulnerable to a policy of aggrandizement of favored real estate interests. Jack Newfield’s concept of the permanent government, one in which real estate developers play a key role, is particularly instructive. Under Rudy Giuliani, the law firm of Ray Harding represented a coterie of usual suspects who managed to always elbow their way to the head of the development line. The same is true with Bloomberg Administration where the Related Companies has gained a favored nation status.

So, whether it’s a corrupt cash nexus or a more seemingly benign Old Boys network, the result is the same: someone with more money and political juice will be able to legally seize your property without any safeguards.

Willets Point in Crosshairs

Which brings us once again to the 48 acre parcel known as the Iron Triangle in Willets Point, Queens. There are hundreds of businesses in the area employing thousands of mostly new immigrant workers. We all await the city’s unveiling of the various development proposals for the area but no one is holding their breath anticipating the accompanying relocation proposal to maintain the businesses in the area.

Just as with the Bronx Terminal Market redevelopment, where the city viewed the existing businesses with total disdain, is predicted that the same callousness will be demonstrated by Bloomberg’s minions vis-à-vis Willets Point.

Daily News Also Weighs In

The News’s position straddles, not unreasonably, in between the Times and the Post. While saying that it may be necessary at times to promote “the greater good” through eminent domain it goes on to point out:

The court did not set particularly clear or stringent standards for determining which condemnations pass muster
The News also states that the only standard, one that we have already questioned, is that property should be seized only under a “carefully considered development plan.” Clearly, as the paper mentions, “that allows for a great deal of discretion.”

Political Intervention Must Start Now

With the NYS legislature going on hiatus until the fall, it is incumbent on the New York City Council, jointly through its Economic Development and Land Use Committees, to begin to hold hearings on crafting eminent domain guidelines. With Atlantic Yards all about completed and Willets Point ready to move to the front burner, it is essential that the city set some standard for what constitutes a public purpose.

For us, it would make the most sense to look towards a more comprehensive reform package, one that uses the Accountable Development Initiative and the Andersoneville Study as guidelines. We are already being told that the Gateway project in the Bronx will create over 5,000 jobs (up, in typical political helium fashion, from the previous claim of 2,000 jobs) but no one is asking the hard questions about job loss and the character of the replacements.