Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Abusing Eminent Domain Protested

A diverse coalition of business owners, community leaders and elected officials will be attending a state senate hearing on the abuse of eminent domain in New York City this morning. The hearing called by State Senator Bill Perkins, will focus on the way in which the current eminent domain law fails to provide due process for those who are threatened with condemnation.

Under the existing statute, there is virtually no due process available since it fails to provide any real adjudicating venue for those threatened: there is no opportunity for a trial on the merits of the condemnation; a trial that would allow those threatened to depose witnesses, subpoena economic development officials, and conduct a discovery to determine whether the taking of property is either legal or necessary.

The foundational weakness of the eminent domain law lies with the fact that it has allowed for the perversion of the constitutional principle that property should only be taken for a public use. Instead, NYS has changed public use into public purpose-without, however, defining just what a public purpose is. Without an adequate definition, the concept is so vague and malleable that virtually any project can be subsumed under its banner.

In addition, in order to be able to condemn some one's property, the state must be able to determine that the area in question is blighted. As with public purpose, however, there is no clear definition in the statute as to what the blight term means-allowing for almost any area to be labeled blighted and, owing to the definitional vagueness, preventing anyone threatened with condemnation from challenging the finding.

Joining together today at the hearing, and a press conference at 1:00PM in front of Fancy Cleaners on the corner of 126th Street and Third Avenue, will be State Senator Carl Kruger from Brooklyn and Council member (and state senator-elect) Hiram Monseratte from Queens. These elected officials will themselves be joined by Nick Spreyregen and Norman Siegel, from the fight against Columbia University's expansion, and business owners and workers from Willets Point.

In addition, Nellie Bailey from the Harlem Tenants will lead a contingent of community leaders and small business folks from East Harlem. This group is fighting the 5 acre development plan for 125th-127th Street at Second Avenue. Thirteen local businesses within the site are being forced out under the threat of eminent domain that would allows New York State under its agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, to seize private businesses & properties for wealthy private developers.Tenants cite inevitable displacement because of spiraling rents as landlords cash in on the mega development that will provide only about 200 units of "affordable" housing, even that is beyond the median income range of East Harlem predominately low income residents.

Small business leaders and labor officials will be joining with the various groups-in solidarity on the issue of how eminent domain is abused on behalf of the wealthy at the expense of workers and small businesses. Expected to attend this morning are Pat Purcell of Local 1500 of the UFCW, Jose Fernadz of the Bodega Association, Alfredo Placeras of the NYS Federation of Hispanc Chambers of Commerce, Stave Barrison of the Small Business Congress, and Louis Nunez of the Latino Restaurant Association.