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