Friday, September 05, 2008

Columbia's Domain

The eminent domain fight over the expansion of Columbia University is really just beginning to heat up. The ESDC hearing yesterday, chaired by an android, exemplified the charade-like nature of the ED current process that Nick Sprayregen and his lawyer Norm Siegel are looking to take on; and State Senator Bill Perkins is looking to change through legislation.. As the NY Observer points out: "

"In the documents submitted to the Empire State Development Corporation today--the state agency that uses eminent domain--Mr. Sprayregen takes issue with the general notion that the area in the footprint is "blighted," a necessary condition for eminent domain. Any blight, he wrote is "created by, maintained by, or exacerbated by Columbia University," given that the university owns or controls much of the property.
More generally, Mr. Sprayregen, represented by attorney Norman Siegel, wrote that the process by which eminent domain has been permitted went against the "public use" standard set in the renowned Kelo v. City of New London case, in part because Columbia was the preferred developer from the start--not one selected via a bid."

The NY Times also highlights the fight, and reports on the testimony from yesterday's hearing farce: "But while the two-day hearing featured testimony from a former mayor, members of the State Legislature and the president of Columbia University, the group that will make the ultimate decision, the development corporation’s board, was not there. Instead, a lone hearing officer, a lawyer named Edward C. Kramer, listened stoically to more than 13 hours of often emotional testimony." How appropriately symbolic: When it comes to eminent domain ESDC is not all there!

The Observer posted the Sprayregen legal brief, and the opponent will seek to demonstrate that, even by the elastic decision of the SC, New York's standards are notoriously porous. Of particularly poignancy, is the plight of the gas station owners-a business that the neighborhood needs and will continue to need right up until the time that Columbia, utilizing all of the scientific knowledge that will be housed on its new campus, makes the discovery to create the alternative to fossil fuels. The daughter of the station owners told the Times: "Aman Kaur, the teenage daughter of the family that owns the two gas stations and has so far refused to sell to Columbia, urged the development corporation not to invoke eminent domain. “Our livelihood depends solely on the profits of these two properties,” she said. “Can they not spare two properties that mean so much to us? In just one moment, Columbia wants to take our dream and break it.”

Opponents of the state use of ED will all gather at the Perkins hearing on the 17th. Whatever you feel about the use of this device, it is the process that is in place that needs to be changed: it shouldn't be so easy to take away a fundamental constitutional right, even one that certain folks don't seem to hold dear as long as its not their property on the chopping block.