Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Making the Eminent Domain Point

Yesterday, the Willets Point United folks stepped up at city hall to express concern over the nomination of Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court-and urge that the judge moderate her views on the use and abuse of eminent domain: " Willets Point community group is denouncing Supreme Court justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s record on eminent domain. About 20 representatives from Willets Point United gathered in front of City Hall Monday to voice the detriments of misusing eminent domain.“The city’s trying to take our land and give it to a rich developer,” said Alfredo Franza, 39, who owns a small business that manufactures security gates in Willets Point. Franza said he came to “fight for our land.”

The WPU group is fighting the city's effort to evict them on two fronts. In the first place, they're arguing that the environmental review that led to the rezoning of the Willets Point area was seriously flawed-and is totally dependent on the building of an off ramp off the Van Wyck that may never happen. If it doesn't, however, then there is simply no way for the city to mitigate the traffic that the development it plans for the vacated site would cause. Put simply, it would be the kind of traffic nightmare that happens when a couple of lanes are closed on the Whitestone Bridge.

Secondly, WPU is fighting the eminent domain abuse that the city is planning in order to remove the 250 businesses from the Willets Point site. In order to do so, the city has to demonstrate that the area is "blighted." Given the fact that the so-called blight is directly related to the city's conscious neglect for the better part of seven decades, well, you can see where this is going.

All of which out the way in which eminent domain-as contentious an issue as you can find-is made worse by the cavalier methods employed by municipalities all over. In the case of Willets Point, where neglect has been legendary, the idea that the city could use blight as an excuse is, well, mindboggling.

And that is why WPU was out in force yesterday at City Hall-as this video clip from NY1 highlights. Those gathered know that the Supreme Court is often the final destination for all ED cases-and the folks from the Iron Triangle are hoping that once Judge Stomayor is confirmed, she will become more sensitive to the issue.

As we told Epoch Times: "Currently, when a property is condemned, only the value of the property is compensated at rates designated by the developer while costs of unemployment, loss of business revenue, and inconvenience for long-time customers are not accounted for, said Richard Lipsky, Willets Point United spokesperson. “[Sotomayor’s] decision (about eminent domain) made us very nervous,” said Lipsky. The group hopes that Sotomayor realizes that the small property owners that are here today are exactly the kind of people—the underprivileged—she has fought to protect in her early career."

And we're also hoping that NYS joins the 46 other states that have reformed their eminent domain laws-making them more equitable for property owners, and more protective of the basic constitutional right to avoid seizure of one's home and business for things that aren't truly public purposes. We hope Sonya Sotomayor and the state legislatutre got the message.