Monday, September 22, 2008

Epochal Battle on Eminent Domain

In response to last week's eminent domain press conference and rally in East Harlem, the Epoch Times ran an interesting article on the event: "Community members protested a new Harlem development project on Wednesday that is being proposed to City council. The protesters claim that homes and businesses on 126th street and 3rd Avenue, including the NY Dry Cleaning Academy where the protest was held, are subject to threats of forceful eviction by the private development using eminent domain, if owners refuse to sell."

The East Harlem community protest underscores the extent to which the use of eminent domain is uniting small businesses and local communities. As Richard Lipsky told the ET, the East Harlem development on 125th street has no designated developer, and really no development plan: “Unlike other development projects, with a plan and proposed developer, with this East Harlem development project no plan has been made and no developer has been chosen. It could end up being some residential, some retail?” said Lipsky. “But in this current economic climate, one wonders what will come of it.”

In addition, it appears that Vornado Realty and Distrust will be the likely EDC designee for the site-yes, the same developer/landlord that's looking to evict the Key Food from a shopping center that it owns on Bruckner Boulevard. So once again the property of small business owners is being handed over to a multi-billion dollar real estate firm.

Now wouldn't it be poetic justice if a movement was started to condemn the Vornado-owned Bruckner shopping center? After all, since the definition of blight is so vague and the concept of public purpose undefinable, what would Vornado's defense be if condemnation was proposed for its property since the eviction of the Key Food threatens the public health of the Soundview neighborhood? What is more a public purpose than the promotion of public health? And, if an area lacks access to fresh fruits and vegetables, that certainly fits for us as a definition of a public health blight.

The taking away of the property of the little guys needs to cease and desist. In East Harlem it is a hard working Korean dry cleaner, along with nine other small shop owners, in the path of the
condemnation bulldozer: "Damon, a local business owner from NY Dry Cleaners Academy, explained his predicament. His is one of the businesses that will have to sell or be forced out if the plan is approved. “The city told me, ‘We don’t want to use eminent domain. Eminent domain will be used only as a last resort.’ That’s just like me holding a gun to your head telling you, ‘I don’t want to shoot you, don’t make me shoot you, I’ll only shoot you as a last resort if you don’t sell me your house at the price that I dictate.’” Damon continues, “Isn’t that what happens in all those mob movies? Aren’t they in fact just making me an offer I can’t refuse?”

Exactly so. And turning the tables on Vornado would be just the right move to focus attention on the theft of property from small owners-for when was the last time that any taking was done from the mega-rich? Councilman Monseratte gets the last word on this injustice: “Eminent domain, as it is currently practiced in New York State, is a deeply flawed law and must be changed to protect everyone’s home and business,” said Monseratte."