Monday, January 24, 2011

Eminently Legal Destruction

In yesterday's NY Post, the paper had an article about the fact that property owners in NY State have absolutely no protection from the depredations of those elected officials who want to take away their property. Reiterating a point we mad last year, the Post reports the following about NY's eminent domain law: "In a little-noticed ruling that could pack a punch for property owners, a judge has blasted the city for abusing eminent domain in its bid to seize buildings in East Harlem -- yet says there's nothing he can do about it. In a searing statement, Justice James Catterson of the state Appellate Division accused the city of falsely claiming "blight" as a ploy to transfer private property to developers. But New York's lower courts are powerless to stop it, said Catterson, thanks to prior rulings from the state Court of Appeals on eminent-domain cases related to Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards development and Columbia University's West Harlem expansion."

Of course, Judge Catterson's opinion was well known to readers of this blog-and it was the judge's ruling on the Columbia v. Sprayregen case, that was the preamble to yesterday's Post story. Catterson words, however, bear repeating: "In my view, the record amply demonstrates that the [East Harlem] neighborhood in question is not blighted . . . and that the justification of under-utilization is nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of private property to a developer," Catterson said of the city's argument that it can grab two blocks between 125th and 127th streets along Third Avenue because the area is economically depressed. "Unfortunately for the rights of the citizens affected by the proposed condemnation, recent rulings . . . have made plain there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent-domain proceedings," the justice wrote."

And in our view, the Court of Appeals in this state is an ass-but it is the legislature's failure to remedy the state of eminent domain law in New York that is the real scandal. With the state's highest court taking the, "see no evil," approach, justice for landowners here is truly blind, and will remain so unless the legislature acts-as it has in so many other states in the post-Kelo era.

We'll give one of the aggrieved East Harlem property owners the last word on this legal travesty-with the added understanding that it is always the little guys who are at risk; East 79th Street from Fifth to Madison will never be the subject of an eminent domain proceeding:  "What this means is that no small business in this city is safe -- if you think you are, you're fooling yourself," fumed Evan Blum, owner of local business Demolition Depot."