Friday, July 31, 2009

Willets Point finally getting sewers!

WP United is thrilled that the City of New York has finally decided to invest in a sewer system after decades of refusal to do so. The area businesses must currently use septic tanks for sewage and the area frequently floods.

"We look forward to finally having sewers in Willets Point so that our streets and businesses will no longer be flooded after a rain storm and we will no longer be forced to use sewage tanks," said Jerry Antonacci, President of Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse. "With these improvements, it will be possible to expand and grow our businesses and attract new ones." In other communities, when sewer infrastructure was installed, local businesses and homes were mandated to hook up to the sewer system at their own expense. WPU members will gladly pay for the ability to use the central sewer system.

WP United Spokesperson Jake Bono put it simply, "It's about time."

The members of Willets Point United find it troubling that the City continues to threaten the use eminent domain to take their properties and turn it over to a private developer who will benefit from the infrastructure work that has been denied to them by the City for decades. A lawsuit was filed by Willets Point businesses last year against the City for its decades-long denial to provide basic services. A second lawsuit was filed by WP United this year challenging the City's Environmental Impact Statement. Future lawsuits are likely.

"We aren't going anywhere," said Bono.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

CSM calls attention to WPU's plight

This is an excerpt from an article in the Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 2009:

Ralph St. John is well into his 70s, but his stocky arms show that he is a man accustomed to hard labor. In Willets Point in the New York borough of Queens, he founded a general contracting company 36 years ago. He hoped to leave it to his son.

Now, however, Mr. St. John's business is one of 250 in an industrial zone that New York City has slated for redevelopment using eminent domain.

"I can't develop my property. I can't sell it.... Would you want to buy it when you know the city wants to take it away?" he asks.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shulman hit with $59,090 illegal lobbying fine

Fined in lobbying goof

THE CITY-FUNDED group that pushed to rezone Willets Point was slapped with a $59,090 fine yesterday because its leader, former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, forgot to register as its lobbyist.

Shulman was paid $135,000 last year by the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corp., which got $250,000 in city funds over two years to support the rezoning.

A spokesman for the group said it will pay the fine from private donations, not city funds.

John Lauinger and Adam Lisberg, Daily News, 7/23/09

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Videos of City Hall Press Conference

Richard Lipsky and Michael Rikon

Bart Didden

Jake Bono

Arturo Olaya

Daniel Goldstein

Jerry Antonacci

Richard Lipsky joins WP United's team

WPU is pleased to have media relations expert Richard Lipsky join its world-class team of expert advocates, which already includes Michael Rikon, the top eminent domain attorney in New York State, and Michael Gerrard, the renowned environmental attorney.

WPU is confident that this team collectively will present the most formidable challenge imaginable to Mayor Bloomberg's intended land grab at Willets Point.

Photos from City Hall press conference

The videos will be posted soon. In the meantime, here is a report from NY1.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Press conference Monday at City Hall re: Sonia Sotomayor

Willets Point United joins other local neighborhood groups and workers to raise questions about the nomination of Judge Sonya Sotomayor

When: Monday, July 20th, 2009

Where: City Hall Steps

Time: 1:00 PM

Scores of local businesses, their workers, and neighborhood activists will be coming to City Hall on Monday to raise questions about the eminent domain views of Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayor. Jerry Antonacci, the leader of Willets Point United, expresses the concern that the judge has shown a lack of empathy for small property owners, homeowners, and small businesses:

“The day has come where people are tired of being abused and tired of having their land, businesses and homes taken. 92% of Americans are against the use of eminent domain for the transfer of private property to another private use. We at Willets Point United are hopeful that Judge Sotomayor will come to see the groundswell of opposition around the country on eminent domain and take a hard look at her previous views. We hope Judge Sotomayor stands for the constitutionally guaranteed right to private property, and honors what the people want and not what developers want”.

Judge Sonya Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States has placed the issue of eminent domain front and center in the nomination process-as US senators have questioned her about her views; in particular a severely criticized decision in Didden v. Village of Port Chester that saw the judge rule adversely against the property rights of a local businessman.

In the Port Chester case, at least in the view of a number of respected legal scholars, the judge signed on to, “perhaps the worst federal court property rights decision in recent memory.” This decision, as well as Sotomayor’s equivocal responses to the questions on eminent domain posed in her hearing last week, is what is causing real concerns among the local New York groups; and the reason why they will be out in force on Monday.

Willets Point United is calling on Judge Sotomayor to come to Willets Point so she can see firsthand what the city wants to do to replace the 2500 hardworking-mostly immigrant-workers gainfully employed with the 250 local businesses facing eviction to make way for a private development. As Antonacci says,

“Property rights used to be sacred, but local governments, with the collusion of the Supreme Court in the Kelo case, have eroded this right-and it needs to be restored to its honored constitutional status. If they can take our businesses away than no one’s home is safe in this country from the reach of greedy developers and corrupt local elected officials. Our fight is the kind of fight that Sonya Sotomayor would have led when she worked for the Puerto Rican Defense Fund a few decades ago. We are calling on her to remember her roots and treat our rights with the respect they deserve.”

Michael Rikon, the eminent domain attorney for the Willets Point businesses, points out that Judge Sotomayor’s Didden decision is a cause for genuine concern:

“I found Judge Sotomayor’s explanation to the Senate Judiciary Committee lacking. She testified that the Didden case was barred by a statute of limitations problem in that the plaintiffs knew that the property was to be taken and did not act timely. That answer avoids addressing the issue of whether a private person could legally demand $ 800,000 from another private party just so the property owner could be able to avoid condemnation. I view Judge Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court as a threat to property rights.”

Willets Point United, along with the 2500 mostly immigrant workers, calls on Judge Sotomayor, now that she has returned to NYC, to come visit with them at the Iron Triangle to really discover the dangers that the abuse of eminent domain can cause; and to take a fresh look at this salient constitutional issue.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sonia gets off easy on eminent domain question

From National Journal Online:

The first question Sonia Sotomayor deflected outright wasn't by a Republican senator, but by Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., the second most senior Democratic Judiciary member.

Kohl's questions about property rights -- specifically the Supreme Court's ruling in the eminent domain case, Kelo v. City of New London -- were also dismissed by Sotomayor. Kohl asked her about how she would have ruled in that case, and she simply replied: "I don't prejudge cases." In what was a friendly exchange of questions and non-answers, Kohl said: "That's good. Let's leave it at that."

The Senate's failure to thoroughly question Sotomayor about the Didden case, one of the most abusive rulings in U.S. history, is troubling.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thanks again, Benjamin Haber!

Willets Point (From the Queens Chronicle, 7/16/09)

Dear Editor:

Recently Mayor Michael Bloomberg met with the Queens Chronicle editorial staff and allowed 30 minutes for questions, hardly enough time to delve deeply into various issues affecting this city. Given the limited time the mayor insisted upon, the editorial staff did the best it could. A report concerning the interview was posted in the Queens Chronicle in its July 9 issue.

Bloomberg was asked about the status of The Willets Point redevelopment project and did he expect to use eminent domain. the mayor’s answer was “No. The people will move.” Bloomberg did not follow up by indicating what he would do if the people will not move. The fact of the matter is that dozens of occupants will not voluntarily move. Bloomberg is well aware of this, and his answer was Madison Avenue nonsense calculated to make the public think there is no serious eminent domain issue. It is a serious issue and in fact the New York State Court of Appeals recently decided to look into the question in the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards case.

Given Bloomberg’s affinity for fat cat real estate moguls and his indifference for the poor, the middle class and small businesses, there is no doubt that if the only way Willets Point property can be secured is through eminent domain, Bloomberg will take that route. It will be vigorously contested as indeed it should.

Benjamin Haber

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

EDC's message just a bit mixed

What to say about this screenshot from the NYC Economic Development Corporation's website? This comes from their June 2009 newsletter.

If you want to create and retain the city's industrial and manufacturing jobs, then why are you actively trying to destroy one the city's most vibrant industrial areas?

And it's 40 out of 64 acres that you "control" (which is debatable), not 40 out of 42. We know it serves your purposes to fudge with the numbers, but it's not going to go unnoticed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Senate must question Sotomayor on eminent domain abuse

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

As the NY Times reported a few days ago: "Judge Sonia Sotomayor will doubtless be questioned about Kelo at her confirmation hearings next month. But her answers will be complicated by her participation in a 2006 decision applying and extending Kelo. Bart Didden, the property owner on the losing side of that decision, Didden v. Village of Port Chester, said in an interview that he had been contacted by aides to Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee who seemed eager to explore Judge Sotomayor’s views on property rights."

...the Didden case-and Sotomayor's decision-is grist for the Judiciary Committee's mill: "The ruling in Didden is not popular among some property rights and constitutional law professors. Eight of them filed a brief in 2006 unsuccessfully urging the Supreme Court to hear an appeal. “This is the worst federal court takings decision since Kelo,” said Ilya Somin, who teaches property law at George Mason University and helped write the brief. “It’s very extreme, and it is significant as a window into Judge Sotomayor’s attitudes toward private property.”

But, of course, we have our own ED issues here in NYC that would benefit from a little disinfecting sunlight; and our friends at Willets Point are right there in the forefront. The Willets Point United group, with its capable attorney Michael Rikon, are challenging the city's efforts to remove them from their properties.

The key issue here-and the one that the senate should be questioning Stotomayor on-is when is a public use not a public use. Bart Didden certainly has some ideas on this:

"The case arose from a meeting in 2003 between Mr. Didden, who owned property in Port Chester, N.Y., and an executive of a company that had been designated by the village to develop a 27-acre urban renewal area that included part of the property. What happened at that meeting, Mr. Didden said, amounted to extortion. Mr. Didden had made arrangements to put a CVS drug store on his lot. At the meeting, the executive, Gregg Wasser, demanded $800,000 as the price for permission to proceed with that project, Mr. Didden said in court papers. The alternative, Mr. Wasser said, according to the papers, was to have the village condemn Mr. Didden’s property so that Mr. Wasser’s company could put a Walgreen’s in the same place. “Here is a private person standing in the shoes of the government with the power to condemn or not condemn,” Mr. Didden said. “The $800,000 wasn’t going to rehabilitate a public park or build a soccer stadium. It was going into his pocket.”

We hope that the senate probes this issue thoroughly. There's a great deal at stake.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thank you, Benjamin Haber!

We were happy to read Benjamin Haber's letter to the editor in this week's Queens Courier:

Notwithstanding Bloomberg’s claim to the contrary, he has consistently been a vigorous supporter of fat cat real estate interests and had disdain for the welfare of the poor and the middle class.

It should come as no surprise consistent with Bloomberg’s arrogance and indifference to the plight of the hundreds of small businesses in Willets Point and their thousands of employees, that the city is now pursuing eminent domain to turn private property over to private developers. The claim they will be relocated and retrained is nonsense and it will never happen.

It's good to see that people out there understand what is really going on at Willets Point and are not fooled by the false claims of the EDC, Mayor Bloomberg or Claire Shulman.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bloomberg says eminent domain unlikely at Willets Point

From an interview with Mayor Bloomberg by the Queens Chronicle -

Question: What is the status of the Willets Point redevelopment project and do you expect to use eminent domain there?

Answer: [Regarding eminent domain] No, people will move. It will take 10 years and a stronger economy to build it up, but we’re already working on the infrastructure. The zoning issues for Willets Point started for the 1964 World’s Fair, so it took 45 years to do. But at least now it will be built up.

Actually, sir, it will take 10 years just for the City to get the people who made deals to stay to vacate. And with the lawsuits that will be filed, you can add another 5 years onto that.

How's that Atlantic Yards project coming along, Mr. Mayor?

Bloomberg-opoly graphic courtesy of The Angry New Yorker

Friday, July 3, 2009

Coney Island just like Willets Point (almost)

From the Daily News:

The city's Coney Island plan suffered a major setback Wednesday as officials admitted they had not ruled out the use of eminent domain to acquire land for the project.

The admission, which threatens property owned by developer Thor Equities, came as some City Council members strongly indicated they would vote against the zoning plan this month when it goes before the full Council.

Hmmm...this sounds familiar...

And from the NY Observer:

There’s a common tactic that accompanies most development fights: packing a public hearing.

Usually this is carried out by a variety of groups fighting or supporting a given project—advocates, unions, angry neighbors, wary businesses—who enlist (ideally) scores of people to testify at a hearing in favor of their position, filling a room with sign-holding supporters and making it seem like their argument has more support than the opposition's.

But for a City Council hearing on Coney Island on Wednesday, the Bloomberg administration bused in supporters of its own plan, only to provoke sharp criticism from the Council, as members alleged a misuse of taxpayer funds.

“Why should a city agency be spending taxpayers’ money to bus people in, in order to try to get their proposal?” Councilman Jackson, who was in attendance, told me Thursday afternoon. “Basically, you have the dealer stacking the deck.”

The city paid $1,360 for the three buses, according to Mr. Lombino

Value aside, the act is emblematic of broader Bloomberg administration efforts to counter opposition to its own development plans, efforts that can often be deafening and that threaten initiatives.

The CIDC, which is also a local community development organization, has spent considerable time and resources trying to publicize the city’s plans for Coney Island. In addition to organizing the buses, it’s enlisted the lobbying and community outreach firm Yoswein New York, and has rounded up mailing lists and signatures in favor of the plan at Brooklyn events. When another controversial project, the proposed mega-development for Willets Point in Queens, came up for public review last year, the Bloomberg administration committed $250,000 in funds to a group set up to effectively lobby community members, elected officials, business leaders and others in favor of the controversial project.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The numbers don't add up!

From Queens Crap:

Willets Point's magical mystery numbers

Lie #1 - Job Creation

"The project will create the equivalent of more than 25,000 person-years (?????) of construction employment, about 5,000 permanent jobs in a diverse array of sectors including retail, office, entertainment, restaurant, education and hospitality, among others, as well as nearly 1,000 indirect jobs associated with the convention center." - current numbers on EDC website

"The city says its plan would create 20,000 construction jobs and 6,100 permanent jobs." - Newsday, 11/29/07

"The NYCEDC has estimated that it can offset industrial job loss with 7,000 new permanent jobs and 20,000 construction jobs." - The Christian Science Monitor, 5/22/08

"You're going to get 6,000 permanent jobs, 20,000 construction jobs." - Claire Shulman to NY1, 6/24/08***

"The development project will support 18,000 construction jobs and create more than 5,300 permanent jobs." - Claire Shulman op-ed in NY Sun, 8/14/08***

" and ongoing operation of the project, which is projected to create 5,500 permanent jobs and 18,000 construction jobs..." - Helen Marshall press release, 9/29/08

"...development of the overall project and the creation of 5,300 permanent and 18,000 construction jobs, at a time that will coincide with economic recovery." - NYCEDC president Seth W. Pinsky to Real Estate Weekly, 4/29/09

"The project will also create about 18,000 construction jobs and 5,000 permanent jobs." - EDC press release, 5/29/09

:::::::::::::::::::::::DRUMROLL PLEASE:::::::::::::::::::::::

"It is estimated that the development will produce 10 years of construction jobs for 2500 workers and will also yield up to 5,000 permanent positions." - Claire Shulman (FWPCLDC - click "benefits")***


Lie #2 - Economic Benefits:

"...a total positive economic impact on the New York City economy over the next 30 years of more than $1.5 billion." - Bloomberg press release, 5/1/07***

"In addition, the development would produce temporary and permanent construction jobs and could produce up to $3 billion in revenue for the city during the next 30 years." - Queens Chamber of Commerce, 8/08 newsletter

"It is also predicted that the overall fiscal impact of the Willets Point development will reach more than 4.2 billion dollars over 30 years." - Claire & EDC, current info

:::::::::::::::::::::::DRUMROLL PLEASE:::::::::::::::::::::::

"...projected to generate $25 billion in economic activity over next 30 years." - Helen Marshall press release, 9/29/08 & Bloomberg press release, 11/1/08***