Monday, February 07, 2011

Private Property Is Not a Right In NYC

On Saturday, the NY Times focused some attention on the struggle of small businesses in East Harlem to prevent the city from condemning their property. But, as the paper points out, Damon Bae and the other owners don't have much of a chance since property rights have been abrogated in this city and state: "But Mr. Bae, and more than a half-dozen other small-business owners in this neighborhood bound by Second and Third Avenues, from 125th to 127th Streets, are waging an uphill fight to hold onto their property. The Bloomberg administration has so far moved successfully in the courts to condemn six acres on behalf of a big developer for a $700 million East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center."

The reason they don't lies with the state's Kangaroo Court of Appeals-jurists who believe in the "might makes blight' axiom: "At the time, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hailed the creation of jobs and housing, and the city justified taking the private property by declaring the area “blighted” — a description that Mr. Bae and the other business owners found galling. The city owned most of the land, allowing it to sit fallow for decades while turning down Mr. Bae and other business owners who wanted to buy parcels to expand their operations. “It’s artificially manufactured blight,” Mr. Bae said."

And the Apellate Court concurs: "In a recent decision by a panel of judges at the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, Justice James M. Catterson agreed. He said the city’s claim of blight and underutilization were “nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of private property to a developer.” But he said he was forced to concur with the court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Mr. Bae and other property owners because recent rulings by the Court of Appeals had “made plain that there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings.”

Which, of course, doesn't bode well for any small property owner in New York-we say, "small," because we have yet come across any really rich owner having to defend his property rights; but perhaps that is merely coincidence. But what is clear, is just how Mike Bloomberg disrespects the property rights of NYC's small businesses-from West Harlem to Willets Point; and now East Harlem. The disregard is palpable.

Which brings us to the big dust up over Walmart. At the city council oversight hearing we heard council member after council member speak up on behalf of NYC's small businesses. The defense of the city's, "economic backbone," however, should not only be manifested when the Walmonster comes to town. It should be equally as effervescent and animated when Mike Bloomberg, yet again, wants to declare some swath of small businesses, "blighted," so that he can transfer that land to a fat cat institution, or just to one of his rich developer friends.

One East Harlem businessman really gets the lay of the land in this town-and Evan Blum gets the last word: "Evan Blum, another local businessman, is not part of the lawsuit to stop eminent domain on 125th Street, but he is very much opposed to it. This is his third encounter with eminent domain, he said. “The city makes it so hard for the small businessman to exist,” Mr. Blum said. “I’m not politically connected. Small businesses can’t make contributions to politicians. So the big guys always win.”