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]