Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuck-it All the Way

As you might have already heard, SCOTUS has turned down Nick Sprayregen's application for relief on his eminent domain case. City Room has the story: "Nick Sprayregen’s six-year battle to stop the state from taking his buildings in West Harlem on behalf of Columbia University’s expansion apparently came to an end on Monday, when the United States Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal. New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled earlier this year that the state could use eminent domain to take property for Columbia University’s planned 17-acre adjunct campus, which would include 17 buildings for science, business and arts education and faculty housing north of 125th Street, near the Hudson River."

It can now officially be concluded that there are no protections for property rights in New York State-something that one dissenting judge in the state's Appellate Court has pointed out. As we said a couple of months ago in commenting on the Appellate Court's ruling on an East Harlem eminent domain case:

"While the court's ruling in NY State is unsurprising-considering the Court of Appeals decision to overturn an Appellate Court decision against Columbia and ESDC-Judge Catterson's concurring opinion underscores just how non-existent property rights are in this state: "In my view, the record amply demonstrates that the neighborhood in question is not blighted, that whatever blight exists is due to the actions of the City and/or is located far outside the project area, and that the justification of under-utilization is nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of private property to a developer. Unfortunately for the rights of the citizens affected by the proposed condemnation, the recent rulings of the Court of Appeals in Matter of Goldstein v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 13 NY3d 511, 893 N.Y.S.2d 472, 921 N.E.2d 164 (2009) and Matter of Kaur v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 15 NY3d 235, —- N.E.2d —— (2010), have made plain that there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings. Thus, I am compelled to concur with the majority." (emphasis added)"

Case closed! Which leaves everyone with any property in NY holding onto their wallets-subject to the whims of aggrandizers like Mike Bloomberg whose view of economic development is transferring property from smaller owners to bigger real estate entities: " In all likelihood, Mr. Sprayregen said Monday, the battle is over. “The Supreme Court let stand an abuse of eminent domain taking place in New York,” he said. “We had hoped for a different result. This is truly a dark day for all Americans who care about the sanctity of private property rights.”

What this means for the owners at Willets Point is that there fight over the Van Wyck ramps has become even more crucial-because a defeat of the EDC application to build them-and not the courts-is where their chances of success lies. With the new ramp report still in limbo, we are preparing to ratchet up the challenge to the veracity of the EDC colluders, er consultants. The fate of not only the Willets Point businesses, but the surrounding communities hangs in the balance.

But our hearts go out to Nick Sprayregen who has true fortitude of convictions-and had hoped to set the precedent for all of America's property owners at the highest court in the land. Three years ago, when we counseled Nick to push hard for the land swap compromise, we think that he held back because he believed so strongly in trying to hold Columbia and the state to adherence to what he feels are basic Constitutional rights.

We can't fault his fortitude, but prudence probably would have dictated a different course-especially considering the legal atmosphere in NY and at the country's highest court. Still, it was a legal fight worth making, and we hope that the tide will soon turn as the political axis begins to swing in a different direction in this country. It will certainly need do, because the current SC is fainthearted and wrongheaded on the issue of eminent domain.

We'll give Gideon's Trumpet the last word on this travesty of liberty-and hope that the words expressed are soon rendered obsolete: "It all boils down to the bon mot of the late Bert Burgoyne, a distinguished Detroit eminent domain lawyer, who observed that the problem with the field of eminent domain is that liberal judges don’t believe in private property rights and conservative judges don’t believe in making the government pay. So between them, we have a hard row to hoe."


Megan McCardle over at the Atlantic's web site, makes the following cogent observations about the Columbia University land grab:

"In the case of Columbia, there's a tangible public loss--they're going to tear down one of the few gas stations in Manhattan in order to give Columbia's privileged students more space.  And what public benefit does the city get?  We're talking about taking taxpaying private properties and transferring them to a non-profit which will not pay taxes, and will turn a large swathe of Manhattan into a quasi-compound for some of the wealthiest and most privileged people in the city.

Which is, of course, the most sick-making aspect.  I am not against eminent domain for public uses like hospitals or railroads.  But by no stretch of the imagination could Columbia University be called a public accommodation.  One's gut and one's social conscience rebel at the seizure of private property which is taken precisely because it serves, or is owned by, poorer people.  One's gut and one's social conscience positively riot at the thought of taking this seized land and handing it over to wealthy private institution that almost exclusively serves the affluent class.

I don't understand why this is an issue that only fires up libertarians.  Can't we all agree that it would be better to live in a world where Columbia cannot do this sort of thing?  I guess not, though.