Sunday, December 26, 2010

Willets Pt. invasion targeted area businesses

Letter to the Flushing Times:

The well-known dialogue between Joseph Welch and then-U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the U.S. Army hearings, when Welch finally toppled McCarthy by accusing the senator of having no shame or decency in his treatment of a young Army lawyer, has been referred to on many parallel occasions when public officials have acted in an outrageous manner.

To those officials I nominate Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his abominable conduct in the case of Willets Point. In pursuing this questionable project for the benefit of his fat cat real estate friends, Bloomberg has been indifferent to the fact that hundreds of small businesses with thousands of their employees and their families will be thrown to the winds, he has failed to live up to his claim that other locations and jobs will be made available and he will prostitute the time-honored fact that eminent domain is only used for a public purpose and not for the benefit of real estate moguls.

To cap it all off, on Dec. 8, in a banana republic fashion, the antithesis of good government, the mayor unleashed his storm troopers onto Willets Point in an obvious attempt to harass and intimidate the small businesses and their employees and customers. Julie Wood, a city Economic Development Corp. spokeswoman, denied the invasion was to target the small businesses, saying, “That’s not how the city does business.”

That is nonsense because that is how the arrogant Bloomberg administration does business (“Ferreras looking into raid at Willets Point,” Flushing Times, Dec. 16-22).

At long last, Mr. Mayor, have you no shame? Have you no sense of decency?

Benjamin M. Haber

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

When the bully wins

From the NY Post:

We often hear politicians and pundits denounce property rights. Property rights, we're told, protect the fat cats against the needs of the public. They're a tool for keeping the little guy down.

Like a lot of what we hear from politicians and pundits, this is exactly the opposite of the truth. The fat cats don't need the protection of property rights, because they already control the political system. It's the little guy (or gal), the one without political juice, who needs strong property rights for protection from the fat cats and the politicians they control.

This was demonstrated again this week, as the last legal barrier (a possible US Supreme Court review) to Columbia University's efforts to condemn and seize two businesses -- Tuck-it-Away Self-Storage and a gas station owned by Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur in West Harlem -- vanished.

Columbia said the condemnation was necessary to support the university's "vision" for a new campus; school President Lee Bollinger called the victory "a very important moment in the history of the university."

It was an important, if not especially proud, moment for Columbia -- but it was surely a bigger moment in the lives of those West Harlem business owners, as their property gets taken away to promote the "vision" of what is, in fact, a multibillion-dollar corporation servicing the daughters and sons of the wealthy, the powerful and the connected.

Traditionally, the "public-domain" power was used to acquire property needed for things like roads and bridges. It's still often defended in those terms, but the "public use" required for such takings has now been interpreted by courts to include pretty much anything the government wants to do with the property -- including handing it over to someone else who just happens to be wealthier or better-connected than the original property holder.

In this case, the government lacks even the weak excuse that the change will boost tax revenues, since -- as Megan McArdle of The Atlantic Monthly pointed out -- the property is being transferred from taxpaying businesses to a largely non-taxpaying enterprise.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

DOS to Willets Point: Yes, We Neglect You

Joseph Ardizzone at his Willets Point residence, which according to DOS does not exist.

The New York City Department of Sanitation ("DOS") has finally admitted, on the record and in writing, what has been common knowledge in Willets Point – that DOS doesn't provide its sanitation services here.

DOS also denies that anyone lives in Joseph Ardizzone's Tudor-style house, located in the center of Willets Point – although Ardizzone has resided there for more than 70 years.

Recently, Willets Point United Inc. ("WPU") received a response from DOS to our Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL") request, which sought any records of various DOS services that are provided routinely to other neighborhoods, but which we don't recall ever seeing here in Willets Point despite our diligent payment of City taxes. The FOIL request covered the 15-year period from 1995 through 2010. Here's the most interesting excerpt of the DOS response:

"The Department has determined that for the area referred to in your request as 'Willets Point' there has not been any street sweeping, basket collection or refuse collection for the stated period. As for the particular address at 126-96 Willets Point Boulevard there is no refuse collection service at this address as there are currently no residential units. Accordingly, the Department does not have any records for street sweeping, basket collection or refuse collection."

Was DOS directed by any City agency or official to withhold sanitation services from Willets Point, or is DOS doing so on its own? In a follow-up letter regarding the FOIL request, DOS writes: "Please be further informed that the Department does not have any communications from any New York City agency, officials, or representatives concerning Department services at Willets Point between January, 1995 and July 13, 2010".

So: Not only does DOS not provide the sanitation services, but it appears that no City agency, official or representative has communicated with DOS to correct this – despite being asked to do so by Willets Point property and business owners.

And the public wonders why Willets Point appears as it does?

Supreme Court will not hear Columbia case

From the Atlantic:

So the Supreme Court will not hear the eminent domain case involving Columbia University, which finagled the state into seizing local land and transferring it to the school. That means that the landowners who don't want to sell have no recourse. Worse, it reinforces the precedent of Kelo--that the government can take land and transfer it to private actors even when there's only a trivial and dubious public gain involved.

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.

Another sad day for property rights in New York State!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Willets Point in multi-agency sweep; press conference today

From the Willets Point Defense Committee (WPDC is not affiliated with Willets Point United)

Marco Neira 347-657-3915
Sergio Aguirre 347-998-4338

Several city agencies have come to Willets Point this morning on December 8, 2010 with the order to close down small businesses. EDC promised they won’t do anything there without letting the tenants know in advance.

The Willets Point Defense Committee is thinking of possible actions in regarding to this abuse.

CM Julissa Ferreras Issues Statement on Raid at Willets Point
Descries “harassment” and “aggressive” tactics in sweep of businesses

In response to the City’s multi-agency raid on Willets Point, local Council Member Julissa Ferreras released the following statement:

“I am deeply disturbed by the City’s action today in holding a multi-agency sweep through Willets Point. I have a number of questions that must be answered.

First of all, why did the City choose to do this now, when we are in the midst of negotiations between business owners and city agencies? Local businesses have long been promised that their removal from the area will be slow and measured, and that they will be compensated for relocation. An aggressive sweep through the area accompanied by dozens of police only serves to reinforce the fears of these struggling small businesspeople that they will be summarily evicted.

Secondly, I have been given to understand that the purpose of the MARCH was to catch car thieves and ‘chop shops’ that allegedly operate in the district. However, arrests have been made for offenses unrelated to these felonies, namely of customers driving without licenses, or for code violations that are normally ticketed or require at most a desk appearance.

The action today smacks of overly aggressive harassment aimed at shutting down businesses that are already preparing to relocate. Some longstanding business owners in Willets Point are undocumented aliens: their arrest for non-criminal business activity will now expose them to the real possibility of deportation if they are sent to Rikers.

I therefore question the intent of this action and demand to know if the arrests that were made match the reasons that were originally stated for the raid, or if those reasons were just a screen for a general crackdown on business in the area. The timing of this operation was also terrible, in that this is the holiday season, and my office has been working very hard to facilitate open dialogue between all parties.

I am trying to obtain information from the NYPD regarding the planning of this operation and number of people arrested. I will work on behalf of the people of my community to assure that justice is done.”

There will be a Press conference organized by the Willets Point Defense Committee today, December 9th at 11:30 pm at Willets Point Blvd and 37th Ave.

The WPDC is made up of small businesses and workers from the Willets Point area.

Workers and tenants of Willets Point will be joined by Council Member Julissa Ferreras and Urban Justice Center.

The press conference is to denounce the government abuse and to reject the brutal raid and closing of the several car repair workshops and the arrest of 15 workers and tenants including the Vice President of the Willets Point Defense Committee Tirso Mier by the police occurred on Wednesday, December 8, 2010.

About 200 police officers arrived in more than 50 vehicles and blocked roads and prevented from entering the area anyone for more than 6 hours. Several local and states agencies such as NYPD, DOB, Auto Crime, IPR, etc created a climate of fear never seen before in Willets Point.

This operation targets a group of low-income workers who are mostly Latino immigrants who are struggling to continue working in the area and now trying to find the way to relocate in a new site before the city displace them from their workplaces.

Date: Thursday, December 9, 2010

Time: 11:30 am

Location: Willets Point Blvd & 37 Ave
Next to Mets Citi Field, Corona NY 11368

Supreme Court to decide whether to hear Sprayregen case

Op-Ed by Nick Sprayregen, originally published in Huffington Post:

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to decide whether to accept my appeal and help me stop the theft of my family's property. Although you have undoubtedly never heard of me, my legal challenge has the potential to impact the lives of ordinary Americans more than most cases seeking U.S. Supreme Court consideration. After more than six years of fighting for what is rightfully mine, this is my last chance.

I am asking the court to take specific action and stop the taking through eminent domain of my property by an unelected agency of the state of New York merely to give it to a politically powerful private entity. If I am unsuccessful, the fate of my family business could be the fate of your home, your family business or any other property you and your family own.

In 2004 my American Dream started to turn into an American nightmare. Columbia University, an elite private institution, came to the conclusion that what it wanted -- a brand new monolithic campus in West Harlem -- could not be accomplished legally and legitimately through the open market. It therefore secretly went to, solicited and convinced that unelected agency, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), to help it expand its facilities onto the very land where my business (and dozens more) stood. The method: the threatened use of eminent domain.

We then were forced to endure the attempted theft of the neighborhood in broad daylight by Columbia -- not even the state -- using the very public threat of eminent domain to purchase all the property they were unable to through the open market. Businesses that had been solid bedrocks of the area for decades were suddenly shuttered. Jobs were lost; vital services to our community were eliminated and families were thrown apart in bitter struggles over how to stop the Columbia steamroller. By the time the state finally got around to announcing that eminent domain would indeed be utilized in late 2008, its mere threat by Columbia was enough. Only my business and one other were left.

Incredibly, the rationale that the state used to condemn our properties was that the area was blighted. But this designation was fueled by the fact that once Columbia had purchased the vast majority of the land they systematically moved all occupants out and allowed the buildings to decay and deteriorate. Then, to ensure that they got the desired result -- an independent neighborhood study declaring the area blighted -- the state, in collusion with Columbia, hired Columbia's hired gun, who was already lobbying the state to invoke its condemnation powers, to perform the study.

At that point, I had no choice but to go to court. At first, we were successful. New York's Appellate Division invalidated the taking on the grounds that it (and the "blight" designation it was based on) was nothing more than a land-grab designed to advance Columbia's private interests. The court agreed with our contentions of improper pretext, collusion and bad faith. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) reversed that decision, holding that the state's courts were not allowed to second-guess the government's decision to seize private property. The court effectively concluded that if the emperor said he was wearing clothes, then he was wearing clothes!

It is my belief that our highest court should take this case and show that the judiciary needs to protect the rights of all citizens against the tyranny that results from the collusion between executive and legislative branches of our government with favored private entities. It is exactly this responsibility that formed the basis of the checks and balances as laid out in our constitution. Nowadays, courts routinely abdicate their constitutionally mandated responsibilities and merely rubber stamp back-room deals made between our government and favored clients on the grounds that they must defer to decisions made by the other branches of our government.

As envisioned in our constitution, eminent domain is supposed to be for public uses -- projects the public will own and use -- such as a road or a post office. Eminent domain is not for private institutions like Columbia to expand their profit-making efforts beyond what the free market would allow. I believe that what Columbia has been trying to do is illegal, and I hope our highest court will agree. However, regardless of the outcome of my case, I know that what Columbia and New York have done to the people of West Harlem is unfair and un-American.

Nick Sprayregen is president of Tuck-It-Away Associates in West Harlem.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We're back

We were on vacation for awhile, but we're now back. Here are some links to posts that concern Willets Point that were published elsewhere while we were away:

Relocation Travesty [Willets Point Watchdog]

Mocker goes to Willets Point [WPIX]

Awful Legacy [Queens Crap]

EDC's Rampant Incompetence [Neighborhood Retail Alliance]

Saturday, November 20, 2010

City's broke but has money for a boondoggle

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

With the mayor proposing massive layoffs, isn't it time for all of those folks who are concerned about the loss of certain vital city services to join with the businesses of Willets Point United? But first, here's the bad news: "Mayor Bloomberg is outlining stark plans for thousands of city layoffs to close looming budget gaps, and unions are already pushing back. “We’ve kept the City’s financial house in order through these difficult times by planning ahead and never shying away from making the hard decisions, and our current budget remains balanced because of that sound approach,” said Bloomberg. In short, City Hall says, reducing the city’s budget deficit for next year means getting rid of 2,102 employees in the current fiscal year, 2011, and 8,264 in Fiscal Year 2012. That includes 889 layoffs in Fiscal Year 2011 and 5,312 layoffs in Fiscal Year 2012."

In other words, the city is not in good fiscal shape-and needs to drastically cut back: "But we face a significant challenge for next year, as Federal stimulus dollars run dry and the city still suffers from the impacts of the national economic downturn. We began working to attack next year’s deficit immediately after passing this year’s balanced budget, and there is still more work to do. More spending reductions are going to be necessary, and we have to continue to reduce the number of employees we have by not filling positions - we simply cannot afford the size of our current workforce.”

Municipal labor isn't happy with this: "And DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts said, "We have not yet had an opportunity to analyze the Mayor’s budget proposals in depth. However, I have written the Mayor and suggested he focus on enhancing the city’s revenue before slashing services, laying off workers and placing the burden of balancing the budget on public employees and millions of New Yorkers. Layoffs of any city worker will end up costing the city money. Layoffs in the city’s Department of Finance are particularly self-defeating. These are revenue-generating positions. The millions in tax revenue that goes uncollected because the Dept. of Finance is understaffed amount to tax breaks for the wealthy. Everyone should be asked to pay their fair share. The city’s workers should not be asked to bear the burden of this financial crisis."

Philosophical arguments aside, it's clear that the city's revenues are in the dumpster-and Bloomberg's response is to lay off workers; while Lillian Roberts proposes increasing taxes on an already overburdened citizenry. But there are other ways to skinning the budget cat-and pulling back on Bloomberg's massive boondoggle of a legacy project at Willets Point is as good a place as any-and there are billions in proposed infrastructure and buy-out funds that could be put to much better use.

EDC trying to have it both ways

Reblogged from Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

Crain's Insider-in response to our rebuttal of its original post on the long delayed Willets Point/Van Wyck ramp report-now comes forth, courtesy of the serial prevaricators at EDC, with the following explanation for the egregious failure of the agency to follow the Freedom of Information Law: "Willets Point opponents, whose repeated Freedom of Information Law requests for the city's assessment of traffic impacts have been denied and called premature, were shocked to read in the Insider that the assessment is under review by state and federal agencies. A city spokesman says it is just a draft and therefore not public yet."

Hold on for just one minute. The purpose of WPU filing a FOIL request for the revised AMR was precisely so it could review the document before it was publicly released-as it did with the original flawed, and possibly fraudulent, ramp report. It was as a result of that successful FOIL request that we were able to flag the phony data submissions from the EDC consultants that led to the report's rightful demise.

Having lost its appeal of the original AMR FOIL, EDC and NYSDOT simply have no legal right to withhold the revision-and they know it. So, we are left with the simple explanation that there are ample reasons-none that comport with good public policy or the public interest-for the stonewalling. Chief among them is the fear of premature exposure of the agency's continual malfeasance in regard to this matter. What EDC wants to do is to truncate the review process and bum rush another flawed AMR through the state and federal oversight authorities without giving critics-and the impacted communities-adequate time to evaluate the revised ramp report.

All of which dramatizes the need for NYS DOT to initiate an independent evaluation of the feasibility of building Willets Point ramps-as NRDC, the Sierra Club, and eight community groups have asked for. It is our view, bolstered by the work of ace traffic consultant Brian Ketcham, that there is simply no way for these two proposed ramps to accommodate the 80,000 daily car and truck trips that the Willets Point project will generate-not to mention the millions of more feet of development going on in and around the Willets Point area.

EDC's secrecy, delay, and conscious withholding of data in violation of the law, makes abundantly clear that our suspicions are correct-and that this review process needs to be forcefully wrested from EDC's cold dead hands.

Monday, November 15, 2010

EDC's year-long coverup continues

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

It is now approaching a year since Willets Point United and its traffic maven Brian Ketcham blew the whistle on a fraud that was about to be committed by EDC over the application to build ramps off of the Van Wyck Expressway to accommodate.

What has transpired since last February is nothing less than a vaudeville act. The DOT, after promising transparency and cooperation with whistle blower Ketcham, circled its wagons and has refused any direct information exchange with the expert who prevented the agency from looking like a compliant horse's ass. The actions of EDC, however, are even more egregious-it has refused to give up any information on the work product that has gone into the AMR's revision-and this is after DOT promised WPU that it would have a revised AMR by no later than October 1st.

Can any one concerned with accurate and open government defend the actions of these two agencies?

...WPU has got ungatz from either DOT or the NYC EDC-a stonewalling that further compels that this entire process should be opened up for an independent and public review process. But review aside, EDC is breaking the open government law-refusing to hand over documents that it is required to do under the Freedom of Information Act; a refusal that is instructive about the way this quasi-public agency goes about its business.

The Willets Point development is a massive use of tax payer funds that, while forcibly removing property owners, will have a huge impact on, not only the immediate Willets Point/Corona/Flushing neighborhoods, but the entire region. The proposed Van Wyck ramps are the linchpin of this development, and their ability to accommodate and mitigate thousands of daily car and truck trips is essential for the ability of this development to function smoothly-and NYC has admitted this in court papers.

Put simply, if the ramps either aren't built, or can't perform the tasks assigned to them, the entire Willets Point development becomes a collapsing house of cards. Therefore, the review of these ramps is a crucial variable in evaluating the feasibility of the entire Willets Point project.

If, however, the process is suborned by agency collusion-aided and abetted by an administration used to getting its way in spite of any perceived contradictory facts-a disaster awaits Queens County and its road and mass transit infrastructure. EDC is in dire need of an intervention-the people of Queens and the rest of NYC, including the embattled Willets Point property owners deserve no less.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

DDDB Wins Atlantic Yards Lawsuit

Court Rejects NY State's Misrepresentations About Completion Of Atlantic Yards, Sending Project Back To Empire State Development Corp For Reconsideration

New York, New York— State Supreme Court Justice Marcy S. Friedman issued a ruling today in favor of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and associated neighborhood groups, slamming the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) for "what appears to be yet another failure of transparency" in its approval of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project.

Justice Friedman granted the motion by DDDB and the other petitioners for reargument of her March 10, 2010. She held that the December 2009 Master Development Agreement should have been provided to the Court and having now reviewed that agreement, Justice Friedman found that the ESDC did not properly consider the full 25-year schedule. Justice Friedman has sent the case back to ESDC for reconsideration, requiring the ESDC to provide a "detailed, reasoned basis for [its] findings."

"We are thrilled with the Court's decision," said, Candace Carponter, Esq, chair of DDDB's Legal Committee. "It has laid bare the pattern of lies and deception by ESDC and Forest City Ratner that underlie this project. We have always contended that the project will take decades to complete, if ever and the supposed public benefits of affordable housing and open space would never happen. Instead we are faced with decades of developer created blight in an area that may never be redeveloped due to ESDC's and FCRC's malfeasance."

DDDB argued that ESDC had violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) when it considered a 10-year time frame for completion of the project, despite contract documents which demonstrated a 25-year schedule. ESDC had argued that it would require Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) to use "commercially reasonable efforts" to complete the project by 2019. DDDB argued that the only contractual agreements between ESDC and FCRC had penalties and some guarantees for some of Phase I of the project, but there were essentially no guarantees for Phase II and it might never be built. Since most of the purported public benefits (affordable housing, open space, new school space) were included in Phase II, it affected the SEQRA determination.

In today's decision, Justice Friedman chastised ESDC for not being forthright to the Court and not providing her with a copy of the Master Development Agreement and for arguing at the January 2010 hearing that there were meaningful obligations in the development agreement, when they knew that was not case. Given the fact that ESDC misrepresented the facts to the Court and that the ESDC Board did not ever consider the 25-year schedule when it issued its SEQRA decision in September 2009, the Court has sent the matter back to ESDC to reconsider its decision.

Ms. Carponter continued, "Justice Friedman's decision puts the entire project in doubt. ESDC approved the project as an integrated development with a variety of alleged benefits. ESDC cannot proceed with just an arena or only with Phase I without considering the lasting effects of the resulting blight caused by FCRC. Such a truncated project is not what was contemplated or approved by New York State. We call upon ESDC to suspend all construction on this project which is so wasteful of public resources and consider a feasible and comprehensive development that is consistent with the surrounding area."

DDDB co-founder Daniel Goldstein said, "With today's ruling it is more evident than ever that the new Governor has a job to do with the Atlantic Yards debacle. The blight Ratner has created in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn can be fixed if Governor Cuomo is willing to take the much needed fresh look at Atlantic Yards that today's Court ruling demands."

"The Court properly found that ESDC misrepresented the facts of the contracts and there were no requirements that FCRC complete the project" said DDDB lead counsel Jeffrey S. Baker of the Albany, New York law firm of Young, Sommer, Ward, Ritzenberg, Baker & Moore, LLC. "ESDC's lack of transparency was not just with respect to its own deliberations, but extended to trying to hide material facts from the Court. We are very pleased that Justice Friedman did not tolerate that behavior."

The Court's ruling can be found at:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

EDC doesn't think they have to abide by the same rules

The Daily News has an interesting article about the agency looking to take our properties:

Top officials at the city agency that doles out tax breaks to businesses have spent thousands of public dollars on perks - from booze and fancy chairs to gold-plated shovels.

An examination of Economic Development Corp. honchos' credit cards from July 2008 through March unearthed a stunning collection of unusual purchases on the taxpayer's dime. The bills generally have risen month by month during the past two fiscal years, growing from $5,870 in July 2008 to $18,226 in March. In December, they topped $20,000.

EDC executives have used their agency American Express cards:

* To buy four gold- and silver-plated shovels for grip-and-grin groundbreaking ceremonies. Total cost: $494.

* To fly participants in a "Next Idea" contest from India and Argentina and put them up for a week in the Manhattan Holiday Inn in January. The tab: $13,861. Winners and others that month got gold-engraved plaques valued at $370.

* For interoffice wining and dining.

Most city agencies follow rules that say payment for "modest meals and light refreshments" should be regarded as "an exceptional event." But officials at the EDC, a quasi-city agency that also collects rent on city properties, say they aren't subject to the same rules.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Politics as usual

Reporting on the mixed record of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the NY Times writes the following: investigation into whether the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and some public officials violated lobbying laws in their redevelopment efforts is still unresolved after two years. (Mr. Bloomberg last month endorsed Mr. Cuomo’s campaign for governor.)

They are referring to our request for an investigation into Claire Shulman's illegal lobbying efforts as well as a request submitted by Atlantic Yards reporter Norman Oder.

Bloomberg endorsed Cuomo for governor.

Neighborhood Retail Alliance has more.

Photo from the Daily News

Perkins steps up against eminent domain abuse

From the Columbia Spectator:

As opponents to Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion seek to get their case heard before the nation’s highest court, one prominent Harlem politician has officially stepped into the fray.

State Senator Bill Perkins urged the United States Supreme Court to accept the case by filing an amicus brief with the court on Oct. 25—a document, literally meaning “friend of the court,” written by a party not directly related to the litigation, but who has an interest in the case under consideration.

Perkins, a Harlem representative opposed to the use of eminent domain for Columbia’s campus, has long been an advocate of reforming New York state laws concerning eminent domain—the process by which the state can seize private property for “public use” in exchange for market-rate compensation. New York State Eminent Domain Procedure Law lacks transparency, accountability, and a set of explicitly defined terms, according to Perkins. As one of the few, if only, local politicians vocally against the University’s use of eminent domain for its construction, he has argued that the current state laws are rigged in favor of condemnors, who use the system’s ill-defined language and numerous loopholes to unlawfully seize private property.

“We’ve been concerned with questions of eminent domain and its abuse, and this is a case we think is significant in that regard, especially in terms of what is meant by ‘public use,’” said Perkins, who has held a series of eminent domain hearings across the state of New York in an effort to garner support for reform of the laws, but has been unable to get a bill passed in the state legislature. “When the door to the legislative process is hard to get through, there’s always the judicial process.”

Monday, October 25, 2010


Members of Willets Point United Inc. ("WPU") recently accepted the invitation of the Property Rights Foundation of America ("PRFA") to address its annual conference, held this year in Lake George, New York. The day-long event drew attendees and guest speakers from prestigious organizations across the United States, many of whom are now allied with WPU as it actively opposes the City of New York's inappropriate plan to forcibly acquire Willets Point properties in order to deliver them to a private developer.

WPU members Irene Prestigiacomo and Joseph Ardizzone presented jointly to the conference. "What you just need to know," said Prestigiacomo, "is what we're trying to do to stop the abuses – the egregious abuse – of eminent domain in New York State."

Irene Prestigiacomo and Joseph Ardizzone share the podium.

Speaking extemporaneously, Prestigiacomo recalled how she was approached by Jake Bono, a fellow Willets Point property owner, for the purpose of forming WPU to oppose the City's attempted land grab after decades of neglect: "Mr. Bono and the 20 other property owners decided we're not going to let them do this; we decided to keep fighting ... We are fighting. We've hired a lot of people to help us. But we're finding out that it doesn't just matter to be right; it doesn't matter to have all the facts on your side."

Prestigiacomo described the City of New York's long-standing mistreatment of the Willets Point property owners, who have paid their property taxes for many decades but have received virtually no City services or infrastructure in return, resulting in dilapidated conditions in Willets Point today. As a prime example of the City's bad faith, Prestigiacomo highlighted the promises of former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman to G.L. Soni, the owner of House of Spices, a Willets Point business, regarding the installation of infrastructure – promises blatantly broken by Shulman as soon as she made them. Prestigiacomo also blasted New York State Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, who promises to "root out corruption", yet who has taken no enforcement action in connection with several complaints made by WPU alleging unlawful acts by City officials and others involved with the proposed Willets Point development. "You're dealing with corruption and collusion on the parts of the people that you elected to be the watchdogs to stop the corruption and the collusion," Prestigiacomo told the conference. "And I'm finding this out every time I turn around."

The sole resident of Willets Point, Joseph Ardizzone, prepares to address the conference as Irene Prestigiacomo identifies Ardizzone's house in a photograph.

Conference attendees were especially delighted that Joseph Ardizzone, the sole resident of Willets Point, traveled to Lake George to address the crowd. As Prestigiacomo identified Ardizzone's house in a photograph displayed to the audience, Ardizzone spoke about the impacts of the City's proposed development plan: "I was born and raised at Willets Point. I am now 78 years of age. And the government has decided to cast me aside. I live at Willets Point for one reason: I like living there. It may sound strange; I've seen a lot of changes in the area; a tremendous amount of growth. And that's called 'free enterprise!' If all the people in the United States lose free enterprise, free enterprise is going to fold. I think this is entirely wrong. We separated ourselves from England; God bless us."

As the audience gasps, WPU unfurls a scroll that depicts the business cards of 250 Willets Point businesses that are jeopardized by the City's proposed development plan.

WPU was accompanied at the conference by filmmaker Robert LoScalzo, who is producing a comprehensive documentary program about Willets Point and the far-reaching consequences of the City's development plan. As a result of his documentary research, LoScalzo has amassed what is believed to be the most extensive private collection of Willets Point artifacts, documents and interviews, some of which he shared with conference participants.

Roger Pilon of Cato Institute characterizes the attempted takeover of Willets Point by City "elites".

Roger Pilon, Ph.D., J.D., Vice President for Legal Studies, B. Kenneth Simon Chair in Constitutional Studies and Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at Cato Institute, delivered the conference's opening address concerning the erosion of property rights by the elite class. Following WPU's presentation, he told the audience: "What you've got here is a textbook example of what's going on all across the country. All the people who are in [Willets Point], are in there because they saw an opportunity to make a living, to set up a business – A radiator business, a sawdust business, you name it. It's what the Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek called 'spontaneous order'. Nobody planned this [Willets Point industrial district], right? Nobody sat up above them, and said "Now, this is where the radiator place goes; this is where the muffler place goes; this is where the transmission place goes. And the thing is, nobody could have planned that from above, as efficiently as the people from below have planned it. They are the ones who saw the opportunity. They are the ones who moved in there. Now, what you've got in contrast to that, is these elites, as I spoke of earlier, coming in and saying 'We know better than you folks know. You know, you really don't understand. You have false consciousness,' to put it in Marxist terms, right? 'You don't understand what's in your best interest. We do. And so we're going to take over this, for you.' You've got a human interest story here ... that really needs to be brought out to the public."

Irene Prestigiacomo and Joseph Ardizzone in Lake George, New York, attending the 2010 conference of the Property Rights Foundation of America.

All photographs by Peter J. LaGrasse.

Monday, October 18, 2010

34th Avenue crater filled in

NEW YORK (WPIX) — Less than 72 hours after PIX 11 News reporter Greg Mocker reported on a disastrously rough and pothole-laden road in Willits Point, residents, business owners, and motorcyclists are enjoying a smooth ride – on fresh asphalt.

Mocker says the New York City Department of Transportation took incredibly swift action after his report, dispatching crews to clean and then pave the long-neglected stretch of 34th Ave. near Citi Field.

Members of the Queensboro Motorcycle Club, which is located on the road, originally asked Mocker to help get the road fixed when their attempts had been stymied. Today, club members were elated.

"We've been doing this for three years to get this road fixed," said club president Billy Goldstein. "In two days you were able to do this. As we say here, it was off the hook."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Same old story from DOT

QUEENS (WPIX) — Neighbors in Willets Point are tired of complaining to the city about potholes on their roads. One group called PIX 11's Greg Mocker and invited him to a meeting off 34th Ave and 126th Street in Queens.

The Queensboro Motrocycle Club owns a clubhouse on 34th Avenue. Auto shops and industrial yards make up the rest of the area. Traditionally, it is known as the "iron triangle." The biggest neighbor is Citi Field, right across the street.

The club, which was founded 100 years ago, feel neglected by the city. Cars and trucks have to weave around giant potholes. For the past few years, members of the club have contacted department of transportation officials and representatives from the borough president's office. They showed Mocker paperwork from various agencies that indicates the road has been inspected and work could be forthcoming.

Members say it has taken years to get anything done. For decades, there has been a debate about how to develop Willets Point. Members of the club say they pay their taxes and they're getting no city services.

Mocker contacted the Transportation Department which is researching it's involvement. A spokesman told Mocker: "DOT is aggressively resurfacing and re-engineering New York City's streets to make them safer for everyone who uses them. We filled more than and repaved nearly 900 lane miles in the last fiscal year and we encourage New Yorkers to report potholes that need to be addressed to 311."


The NYS Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, unanimously affirmed the dismissal of all claims made by EHARM in their fight against the East Harlem M/E/C LLC. East 125th Street project; despite the misuse of municipal might, power, and procedure to take private, productive commercial property and hand it over to a secretly selected development group, beset by trouble.

Justice Catterson issued a separate statement warning that: “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.”

We are responsible owners,” said Fancy Dry Cleaner’s Damon Bae, one of the property owners who filed the Petition and a spokesman for the group. “We maintained our land and grew our businesses over the past decades, but we are also being victimized by the City. The City neglects its own property, and then cries ‘blight’ so it can take our property and give it to some politically connected developer.”

“What all this points to is that a rich guy can pay his way to hire the government to seize private land so that he can make more money”, said Bae. “Say for example that you had a single-family house in a large parcel of land that was passed down from generation to generation in what all of a sudden became the next up and coming neighborhood. A large developer with deep pockets can now come in, make significant payments to a few very well connected individuals, hire the government to call
your house “underutilized” (since after all, you are only one family occupying a large parcel of land only for yourself, while a large condo building can be built that can house 100 families) and have your house condemned. And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Scary, but this is what is going on today in America, the land of opportunity.*

Monday, October 4, 2010

Willets Point United Inc. Exposes Shulman Grant Ineligibility; DiNapoli Involved After Cuomo's Failure to Act

The following is a letter from Willets Point United attorney Michael Gerrard of Arnold and Porter to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli about the disbursal of $1.5M+ state grant money to ineligible applicant, Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corporation. How can he betray the trust of the taxpayers of New York and allow this to go on?

Letter to Tom DiNapoli

Friday, September 24, 2010

Columbia University case appealed to U.S. Supreme Court

Tuck-it-Away's Supreme Court appeal

From Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

Put simply, Sprayregen believes that the NY court erred in its application of the SC guidelines in the Kelo case-and he emphasizes in particular the bad faith and favoritism that we have discussed on this blog-with the collusion of the consultants being case one of a fix being in for the benefit of Columbia University. In the second instance, Sprayregen is directly challenging the total lack of due process in the eminent domain procedure laws of NYS-laws that afford the property owners zero due process to argue against the state's use of the eminent domain right.

In essence Sprayregen is arguing that the Columbia expansion-and the ESDC collusion in it-exhibit exactly the kind of private transfer that Judge Stevens said Kelo was designed to prevent.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who will stand up for Queens?

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

In a survey of the best lawyers from around the world, Willets Point United's legal advocate Mike Gerrard was listed as the best environmental lawyer in New York-and in our view, it's not even close. But the recognition should put the state and the federal regulatory authorities-NYSDOT and FHWA-on notice that their lack of due diligence (and potential collusion) over the Willets Point/Van Wyck ramps will not go unchallenged if they fail to subject the proposed Access Modification Report to a full independent review under the National Environmental Policy act.

Given that the state's roads are in a state of current disrepair-owing in large part to DOT's incapacities-the allowance of ramps that will flood the highwayss and lead to the wasting of the billion dollar being spent to upgrade of the Kew Gardens Interchange, is simply unconscionable. Queens electeds need to wake up-much as those on Staten Island have because of the poor state of that borough's roads.

In Queens...pols still seem reluctant to challenge a Willets Point project that was falsely sold to them on the basis of environmental sustainability. But the proverbial stuff is already hitting the fan and the three blind mice routine is gonna come back and bite Queens residents on their collective butts. WPU may be in the eye of the storm, but that organization's fate is akin to the canary in the mine-a warning to all those borough residents, and the folks who are supposed to represent them, that a Category 5 traffic storm is on the way.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The great city-state coverup

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

It has been seven months since Willets Point United, and its traffic consultant Brian Ketcham, demonstrated the blatant deficiency of a Van Wyck ramp report submitted by NYC EDC to the NYSDOT. The state agency is responsible for initially approving these ramps-or not-with the Federal Highway Administration having the last word on their feasibility. So the question that we ask, is there a cover up at NYSDOT?

In this interim seven month period, EDC and its consultants, in apparent secrecy and collusion with the oversight agency, have been working feverishly-to address the gross defects of their original submission (a revised ramp report was first slated to be ready in March). But, the WPU and Ketcham, after having been the key actors in insuring that the original report was sent back for revision, (in spite of promises from NYSDOT that they would be included in the revision process) have been left out; leaving EDC's original axe to grind consultant as the sole interlocutor with the state on the ramps feasibility.

As a result of the agency's reneging on an open, professional review process, WPU has been forced to file numerous Freedom of Information requests just to obtain information that, if transparency was valued, would be shared collegially in the interest of insuring that the impact of the ramps on the entire Queens highway grid system would be honestly evaluated. Instead the EDC consultant, AKRF, whose work was not only deficient but, arguably deceptive, has been allowed to act as the sole provider of technical knowledge to the agency.

The compelling question is, why has NYSDOT circled the wagons and resisted the free and open exchange of information? This is the question that WPU's Ketcham has asked DOT Commissioner Stanley Gee in a letter to the agency head. In particular, Ketcham raises the issue of NYSDOT's accountability to the public: "Given your distinguished career at the Federal Highway Administration and more recently at New York State Department of Transportation, I am bringing to your attention current Departmental practices that undermine your objective of improving its performance, accountability and communication within and outside the agency."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bloomberg a private property rights champion, when it's convenient

New York City is known for rigidly regulating the location and specifications of buildings within its jurisdiction. But officials of the City That Never Sleeps have suddenly turned into extreme libertarians about protecting the religious and property rights of the prospective owners of the Ground Zero mosque. That's the $100 million, 15-story mosque scheduled to be built one block from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. The city's Landmark Preservation Committee eagerly approved the GZM application, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has dismissed as religious bigots all who disagree with that decision.

Could these same defenders of every Muslim man's right to build a mosque wherever he owns property be the same ones who previously had no qualms about seizing private property to redevelop Times Square, condemning small businesses for a $6.3 billion expansion of Columbia University, or confiscating another parcel on Sixth Avenue to make way for Bank of America? Is this the same Bloomberg who led the successful opposition to a recent state legislative proposal to limit local officials' ability to use eminent domain against private property owners? Surely it was a different Bloomberg who claimed that the Empire State Development Corp. should be able to force the sale of property for any "civic purpose."

Read more at the Washington Examiner.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Traffic hearing must be rescheduled

Letter in this week's Times Ledger:

In addition to the loss of hundreds of small businesses and the jobs of thousands of employees and their dependents, the proposed Willets Point project also involves the general public, whose daily lives will be affected by the huge increase in the volume of vehicular traffic on the Grand Central Parkway and the Van Wyck Expressway.

Suffice it to say, the Willets Point businesses and their employees and the general public are entitled to a full and fair discussion of the issues, something the Bloomberg administration and the city Economic Development Corp. have sought to avoid. They are now joined by state Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn), who announced the cancellation of a much-awaited and -needed meeting to consider the traffic concerns the proposed project will generate (“State cancels Willets meet,” TimesLedger Newspapers, April 12).

Dilan’s claim that the meeting was cancelled because of an “unavoidable scheduling conflict” without even describing the claimed conflict and rescheduling an early date is patent political nonsense. An investigation is called for to determine the real reason and at whose request the meeting was cancelled. The public is entitled to no less.

Benjamin M. Haber

Friday, August 20, 2010

Round one goes to the City

Justice Joan Madden's decision was handed down today with regard to Willets Point United's article 78 challenge of the City's Environmental Impact Statement. She has ruled in favor of the City of New York. Our official statement is after the judge's decision below.

Doc 001

"This decision is a two-edged sword for the City. It dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the environmental impact statement adequately disclosed the project’s impacts. But in so doing, it stressed the terrible traffic effects forecast by the EIS; the need for federal approval for the Van Wyck ramps; and the fact that if the ramps are not approved, the project cannot go forward. It will be interesting to see how the City will now back away from its recent claims that the project wouldn’t be so bad for traffic after all. The City can’t paint one picture to the court and a completely different picture to the federal government." - Attorney Michael Gerrard of the law firm Arnold and Porter, representing Willets Point United.

Friday, August 13, 2010

State DOT unhappy with EDC's made-up traffic stats

From the NY Times:

Even as the Bloomberg administration promotes the $3 billion development of Willets Point in Queens as one of its signature projects, state officials whose approval is needed have privately raised concerns over highway ramps crucial to the proposal and have questioned whether the development will ever get off the ground.

State officials have repeatedly expressed frustration with the city’s inability to provide reliable information and the pressure it was placing on them to expedite their analysis, according to a review of hundreds of e-mails involving the Willets Point project that were provided to The New York Times by an opponent of the project.

Michael Bergmann, a structural engineer for the State Department of Transportation who was part of the team reviewing the city’s application, wrote to the department’s regional director and other colleagues on Dec. 28: “Unless the preparers of this report start accepting the idea that it is seriously flawed, we are going nowhere.”

About a month later, after pointing out a mistake in a document that put the development’s completion date as 2107 instead of 2017, Peter King, a project manager for the state, wrote to a colleague, “Perhaps that reference to 2107 may have been closer to the truth than anyone realizes.”

By that point, the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which was overseeing the project, was pushing state officials to finish their work so that the ramps, which would connect Willets Point to the Van Wyck Expressway, could move on to the final stage of approval by the Federal Highway Administration.

Several months later, state officials did not seem very optimistic about the project’s future.

“If I were a betting man, I’d start dropping the odds regarding success for E.D.C. on this project,” Mr. King said in an e-mail to a state transportation analyst on May 11. “Resistance seems to be building.”

He was reacting in part to a group of business and property owners in Willets Point who had organized an effort to try to derail the project. As part of that, the opponents had filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the State Transportation Department seeking copies of all communications on the plan, hoping to pry open a behind-the-scenes bureaucratic process the public often knows very little about.

They also were hoping the e-mails would provide fodder for their campaign. The messages — about 200 from May 2007 to May 2010, among State Transportation Department staff members, federal highway officials, city officials and private consultants — show the state’s concern about the safety, design and traffic impact of the ramps.

What seems unusual is the annoyance state regulators expressed with the work of the consultants hired by the city to work on the ramps’ design. The consultants submitted numerous written responses and clarifications to questions and sat with the regulators in several meetings, but still failed to satisfy them, the messages show.

This NY Times article scratches the surface, but does not describe how the involved agencies are rigging the process to ensure approval of ramps. The article also lets EDC spokesperson David Lombino get away with remarking that EDC routinely collaborates to optimize projects, which is contrary to information found in the responses to our FOIL requests.

But don't worry...more is coming to set the record straight!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

EDC afraid of allowing the sun to shine in

From the Daily News:

...some land owners - bitter over a cancelled state hearing on the project scheduled for this week - said a controversial ramp project for the Van Wyck Expressway should red light the plan.

"We could be at the beginning of a long process," said Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for the local business owners' group, Willets Point United. "This deal can't be done behind closed doors."

Some business owners had hoped to use the state Senate hearing as a platform to call for an independent review of the plan.

The meeting was to be chaired by state Sen. Martin Malave Dilan (D-Brooklyn), head of the Transportation Committee. It was cancelled two days after it was planned because of a scheduling conflict, a Dilan spokesman said.

"It's disappointing to us and mysterious that it was cancelled within 48 hours [of being scheduled]," said Lipsky...

Dozens of land owners in the so-called Iron Triangle are also calling for more transparency in conversations between the city Economic Development Corp. and state Department of Transportation as they try to hammer out an environmental assessment of building on- and off-ramps near Citi Field.

"There's too cozy a relationship," Lipsky charged of the two agencies.

Still, the city doesn't expect plans to redevelop the area to be hindered in any way.

The EDC plans to submit the environmental assessment by early next month, sources said.

The plans will then go under public review to create a revised Access Modification Report - a detailed summary of the project. It must be approved by both the state DOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

The EDC obviously is scared of allowing the public to hear and see what has been going on behind closed doors. We're here to lift the veil.

Stay tuned, this is going to get good.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Garbage in, garbage out

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

...there has been a great deal of prattling on about how the Willets Point development will somehow become the culmination of Mike Bloomberg's 2030 vision of sustainable development-and much of the prattling is unmoored from any sense of what kind of impact the project-as it is currently envisioned-will have on the immediate surrounding neighborhoods; as well as on Queens County as a whole.

Just a cursory look at what is planned for the site-and a concomitant look at the site itself-should instill a note of caution to anyone with sustainable development dreams (and that includes some misguided-and perhaps deluded with some incentives-environmental groups that rushed to the mayor;'s side to sing praises to the EDC-driven new Willets Point vision).

Now for a reality check. Willets Point, unlike, say, Battery Park City, isn't a nice short walk from not only the city's financial sector, but to as many mass transit options as any Transportation Alternatives aficionado could ever want. Willets Point is relatively isolated, and the major mass transit option-as we have been writing about in respect to the Flushing Commons project-is the already overcrowded 7 Line. The same goes for the myriad bus lines that move in and out of the Flushing transit hub.

Now, according to the Willets Point EIS-which will have to stand in for a definitive document until something a bit more accurate can be commissioned-the development will generate around 80,000 car and truck trips a day onto the already gridlocked intersections that plague the surrounding communities of Corona, East Elmhurst and Flushing. Now keep in mind boys and girls that this 80,000 trip estimate devolves from a methodology that projects almost half of all the Willets Point activity will be somehow effected through the use of the aforementioned over-capacitied train and buses.

The three card monte scammers at AKRF-through the active collusion of its subcontractor Eng Wang Taub-came to this conclusion by the use of a neat methodological sleight of hand: basing the car trip generation on the assertion that only around 70% of Queens residents own cars (and not the over 90% that NYMTC concludes). You get it? Garbage in, garbage out.

Friday, July 16, 2010

CB 7 has done much disservice to the neighborhood of Flushing

Letter to the editor of the Times Ledger:

The editorial page of a newspaper is where its publisher and editors express their opinions on a wide variety of subjects, as is their right. Letters to the editor are where a responsible company, like TimesLedger Newspapers, give readers an opportunity to express their views on articles, including editorials.

A case in point is the Flushing Times editorial “CB 7 Deserves A ‘Well Done’” that appeared in the July 1-7, 2010, edition. CB 7 and Chairman Eugene Kelty, glowingly described, are not the ones I know.

The ones I know thought it was fine to destroy more than 100 trees in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and build a grand prix race track in an urban park — an absurdity that was finally brought down by public outrage and the criminal exposure of a discredited and now-deceased Queens borough president, the prime backer for the track.

The ones I know thought it was fine to double the space in Flushing Meadows for the United States Tennis Association, notwithstanding when they were first given intrusion in our park they promised never to ask for more parkland, but once given more land moved their head offices out of Manhattan to Harrison, N.Y. — a cuckolding of taxpayers if their ever was one.

The ones I know over the years have shown no or little interest in protecting the integrity of the park as an important and non-renewable urban space.

The ones I know think it fine to destroy more than 200 small businesses and the lives of thousands of workers and their families in Willets Point for the benefit of fat cat real estate moguls.

I note in passing there are members of CB 7 who may have disagreed with Kelty, but of course majority rules. While I believe there is more to urban living than fat cat real estate developments, with much evidence in downtown Flushing, others may disagree.

In the end, it will be for the public to decide the merits.

Benjamin M. Haber

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

DOT responds to NRDC letter

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

NYSDOT has finally responded to the NRDC request in a letter dated July, 2, 2010-but is claiming that there is no need for an independent review: "The NEPA documents that are being developed are an Environmental Assessment and a revised Access Modification Report....We understand the request for an independent review but believe that working closely with NYCEDC, we can assure that the data will be based on sound data."

This is, without a doubt, a simply breathtaking assertion in the light of the contradictory and fallacious submissions from the very development corp that is now been made a valued collaborator with the state agency empowered to render fair and accurate judgments in these kinds of matters. It is, at the same time, inexplicable in the light of the Ketcham findings that the Van Wyck Expressway cannot accommodate even a tiny fraction of Willets Point traffic. The only way to do so would be to widen the expressway to four lanes in each direction for several miles. NYSDOT simply does not have the money to do this and the cost of widening the elevated structures would total a billion of dollars or more, another subsidy to developers when critical transportation projects all over New York State are being shelved.

All of this implies a gross negligence by NYSDOT of its statutory oversight responsibility-and indicates that the agency, instead of clearing the air-as NRDC suggests-through an independent review, is actively colluding in a bag job; as its resistance to WPU's freedom of information requests dramatizes quite well. The question now is where does the FHWA stand? Will they really rubber stamp this buffoonery or will they step up and kill what has already been demonstrated as an abject failure?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Columbia U. ruling's impact on Willets Point

From the NY Times:

New York’s highest court handed Columbia University a major victory on Thursday for its $6.3 billion plan to build a satellite campus in Harlem, ruling that the state could seize private property for the project.

Nicholas Sprayregen owns four Tuck-it-Away Self Storage buildings in the area including this one at Broadway in between 131 St. and 132 St. The storage facility at left is on the land that is being taken over by Columbia University.

In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that prohibited the state from using eminent domain to take property in the 17-acre expansion zone west of Broadway, known as Manhattanville, without the owners’ consent. The ruling held that the courts must give deference to the state’s determination that the area was “blighted” and that condemnation on behalf of a university served a public purpose, two ways that the project could qualify for eminent domain under state law.

Norman Siegel, who represented the losing owners, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the decision and would appeal to the Supreme Court. Although state law allows eminent domain to be used for educational purposes, he argued that it did not explicitly permit a private institution to benefit from it.

“The decision sets a terrible precedent regarding the use of eminent domain,” he said.

Still, the decision was not unexpected, said Michael Rikon, a lawyer who specializes in condemnation law and real estate litigation.

“It is virtually impossible to stop a condemnation in New York because of the courts’ deference to agencies’ determination,” Mr. Rikon said. “Even though the courts say they won’t be a rubber stamp, that’s in essence what they’ve become.”

The ruling does not bode well for property owners in Willets Point, Queens, a neglected neighborhood near Citi Field, who oppose the city’s effort to take their land for a redevelopment plan, Mr. Rikon said.

Those owners, who are considering a lawsuit against condemnation, contend that the area is blighted only because the city has refused to pave the streets properly and install sewers. But their current lawsuit challenging the city’s plan on environmental grounds is unaffected by the ruling.

“It’s time for the State of New York to do something about this,” Mr. Rikon said. “They should create a commission on eminent domain to revise the law.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

New York’s High Court Slams Door On Property Owners in the Empire State

If you own a piece of property in New York State, you won’t like today’s ruling by the state’s high court.

The New York Court of Appeals—that state’s highest court—today overturned a lower court’s ruling that had blocked the New York State Urban Development Corporation from using eminent domain to take property away from a group of small-business owners in upper Manhattan and turn it over to Columbia University for private development. Today’s decision comes on the heels of the court’s decision last year in Goldstein v. Urban Development Corporation, which allowed homes and businesses in Brooklyn to be turned over to wealthy developer Bruce Ratner to build luxury condominiums and a basketball arena.

“Once again, New York’s courts have completely ignored the abuse of power by government bureaucrats and politically connected developers,” said Dana Berliner, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. IJ litigates nationwide against eminent domain abuse and filed a brief with the Court in favor of Harlem property owners. “The sad truth is that, in New York, the government not only can hand your property over to private developers for no better reason than that it likes them more than it likes you, but it does so on an alarmingly regular basis.” Last year, IJ catalogued the staggering rate at which properties are taken for private use in the Empire State in a report, Building Empires, Destroying Homes, available at

According to another report by the Institute for Justice on eminent domain abuse in New York, titled Empire State Eminent Domain: Robin Hood in Reverse, eminent domain abuse disproportionately targets those who are less well-off and less educated, as well as ethnic and racial minorities—populations least able to fight back and thus most in need of protection from abuse. In New York, more than elsewhere in the country, this means taking from the poor to give to the rich. A copy of that report is available at:

A lower court had previously refused to allow the condemnations to go forward, noting that the state agency’s assertion that it was taking the properties to eliminate “blight” was clearly nothing but a pretext for using government power to further Columbia’s pre-existing expansion plans. In today’s ruling, Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, Judge Carmen Ciparick wrote that the lower court should not have looked so closely at the agency’s blight findings, which should be “entitled to deference by the judiciary.”

“In other words, the court is saying that judges shouldn’t judge,” said IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor.

Associate Judge Robert S. Smith concurred in the result, noting that he was bound by the court’s earlier decision in the Goldstein case. “The finding of ‘blight’ in this case seems to me strained and pretextual,” Judge Smith wrote, “but it is no more so than the comparable finding in Goldstein.”

“No one taking a fair look at the state’s finding of ‘blight’—which is based on a report that was commissioned years after Columbia decided it wanted these properties—could think it is anything but a pretext for handing over these properties to another private owner,” explained Robert McNamara, an Institute for Justice staff attorney. “This isn’t judicial ‘deference.’ It’s judicial blindness.”

The New York opinion comes only one day after the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. That opinion—which allowed the government to condemn homes in the name of “economic development”—spurred a national backlash, leading to legislative changes and court decisions providing property owners with greater protection in 43 states. Political and judicial leaders in New York, however, have refused to reform their eminent domain laws, which are among the worst in the nation. More information on the post-Kelo backlash is available at:

“New York remains one of only seven states that has failed to provide any legislative reform of eminent domain, and it is the only state whose highest court has allowed private property to be taken for private use since the Kelo decision,” explained Christina Walsh, IJ’s director of activism and coalitions. “Every state high court to hear an eminent domain case since Kelo has applied greater judicial scrutiny—every state, that is, except New York. The New York Court of Appeals is the only state high court that gives complete and abject deference to the actions of condemning agencies, no matter how suspicious.”

“Today’s decision confirms what we already knew: Judicial review of eminent domain in New York is fundamentally broken,” concluded McNamara. “Unless the Legislature takes meaningful steps to protect property rights, New York property owners will find themselves out in the cold—in some cases all too literally.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kelo: Five Years Later

Kelo Ruling Marks 5-Year Anniversary Wednesday

43 State Legislatures & Many State Supreme Courts Reject Ruling,
Act to Protect Property from Eminent Domain Abuse

Arlington, Va.—Kelo was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that became the property rights shot heard ’round the world. Wednesday marks its fifth anniversary.

In the merely five years since that infamous ruling, the vast majority of state legislatures, many state supreme courts and the public itself have acted to limit Kelo, which took away the homes of seven New London, Conn., families for private development and sparked a nationwide backlash against eminent domain for private gain.

And what now stands on the land where 75 homes once stood around Susette Kelo’s little pink house? Nothing but barren fields, weeds and feral cats. Ten years lost and more than $80 million in taxpayer money spent. Even Pfizer, which received massive corporate welfare to move to New London and sparked the abuses of eminent domain, has now announced that it will close its research and development headquarters and leave New London.

These dramatic changes are addressed in a new report issued today by the Institute for Justice: “Five Years After Kelo: The Sweeping Backlash Against One of the Supreme Court’s Most-Despised Decisions,” available at: IJ also created a brief video (available at outlining the successes in the five years since the Kelo ruling.

“For property owners nationwide, Kelo remains the classic example of losing the battle but winning the war,” said Scott Bullock, an Institute for Justice senior attorney who argued the case on behalf of the homeowners. “After the Supreme Court completely abdicated its role as guardian of rights under the U.S. Constitution, there has been an unprecedented public revolt against the decision in terms of public opinion, citizen activism, legislative changes, state court decisions and lessons learned from the New London debacle. More work needs to be done, but the results of the Kelo backlash have been striking. The Institute for Justice used to get continual requests for assistance in fighting eminent domain for private gain. Now, we receive far fewer and, of those, many are defeated by activism in the court of public opinion before they ever reach a court of law.”

In the five years since Kelo was handed down:

* 43 states have passed either constitutional amendments or statutes that reformed their eminent domain laws to better protect private property rights. Although the quality and type of reform varies, the bottom line is that virtually all of the reforms amount to net increases in protections for property owners faced with eminent domain abuse. (For a state-by-state grading of all state eminent domain reforms, see:
* Nine state high courts restricted the use of eminent domain for private development while only one (New York) has so far refused to do so.
* Kelo educated the public about eminent domain abuse, and polls consistently show that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to Kelo and support efforts to change the law to better protect property rights. Among the most-recent surveys was one conducted by the Associated Press, which found 87 percent of respondents said government shouldn’t have the power of eminent domain for redevelopment, 75 percent opposed government taking private property and handing it over to a developer, and 88 percent of respondents said property rights are just as important as freedom of speech and religion.
* Citizen activists defeated at least 44 projects that sought to abuse eminent domain for private gain in the five-year period since Kelo.

“This significant public opposition to eminent domain abuse led to a complete change in the public’s view on this issue,” said Christina Walsh, IJ’s director of activism and coalitions. “Although public officials, planners and developers in the past could keep condemnations for private gain under the public’s radar screen and thus usually get away with the seizure of homes and small businesses, that is no longer the case.”

“One of the other reasons for this fundamental shift in eminent domain policy has been the response of state courts to Kelo,” said Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney and co-counsel in the Kelo case. “When the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to correctly interpret the U.S. Constitution, the state high courts began to fill that void. For example, the courts in Hawaii, Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania—all states that used to regularly abuse eminent domain—each decided that, unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, they would closely scrutinize municipal takings and prevent unconstitutional abuses.”

There is one significant exception to this good news for property owners in state courts—New York. The Court of Appeals (New York’s highest court) routinely ignores evidence of eminent domain abuse, refusing to give the facts any real scrutiny. The Court of Appeals does have a chance to redeem itself in another challenge to a completely trumped-up claim of blight, combined with concealment of relevant evidence, in another case currently pending before it involving the use of eminent domain to expand Columbia (a private university) in Harlem. New Yorkers can only hope the Court of Appeals will remove its head from the sand before reaching its final decision.

“Even though the Fort Trumbull neighborhood was lost, Susette Kelo’s little pink house, where this fight all began, still stands, now in downtown New London about one mile away from Fort Trumbull,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice. “Like Betsy Ross’ house in Philadelphia and Paul Revere’s home in Boston, Susette Kelo’s pink cottage stands as a monument to her and her neighbors’ struggle, one that has changed this nation for the better.”

For a compelling account of the history and back-story of the New London controversy, read Jeff Benedict’s “Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage” published in 2009 by Grand Central Publishing.