Friday, March 10, 2006

Bloomberg Hawks Eminent Domain

In a totally expected move Mike Bloomberg has taken up the fight to preserve eminent domain as a tool of municipal government. In a story that ran a couple of days ago on NY1, it was reported that the mayor was "racking up some frequent flyer miles" in the battle to preserve eminent domain. "Bloomberg says sometimes it has to happen, otherwise, 'Every big city would have all construction come to a screeching halt.'"

Quite the overstatement, Don't you think? What it comes down to, however, is the expansive nature of how ED is currently used, with very few safeguards to protect homeowners or small businesses. And Mike Bloomberg, with his vast wealth, is certainly not the best spokesman for the pro-ED side. After all, we can be sure that he will never have to worry about anyone taking his property.

No one is going to condemn a $20 million town house on the Upper East Side but someone with a couple of acres of property in Willets Point better watch out. This is all about who gets to decide just what is in the public interest. This is an extremely delicate situation when government is transcending basic constitutional rights.

In addition, as we have seen in this city, certain well-placed real estate companies have an insider's advantage. So what happens is that less well-situated firms find that their investments are at risk when government and the private sector collaborate on one of those "well-developed" plans that the NY Times ballyhoos.

As we have said before, we're not totally against a more expansive use of ED for development but it is absolutely essential for New York to craft more comprehensive (and fair) guidelines so that the entire exercise doesn't become Robin Hood in reverse. As David Birdsell of Baruch College points out, "'It's not necessarily the case that the fact that a private interest's developing property means there is no public value. The question is adequate compensation and adequate process for the people who are dispossessed'..."