Thursday, April 12, 2012

Eminent domain press conference today

Willets Point Property owners, workers, community leaders, and elected officials come together to support H.R. 1433, The Private Property Protection Act that has been sent to the Senate after passing the House in February.

When: April, 12, 2012

Time: Noon

Where: 127-48 Northern Boulevard; Flushing, New York 11368 (The Sunoco gas station is located on the perimeter of Willets Point on Northern Boulevard, accessed by traveling eastbound on Northern Boulevard).

On February, 28, 2012, in a voice vote the House passed H.R. 1433, a bill that would prohibit the use of federal funds for any local economic development project that uses condemnation of private property for anything aside from a public use-such as a bridge, a school or a road. The bi-partisan bill was co-sponsored by Republican James Sensenbrenner and Democrat Maxine Waters and has been conveyed to the senate for consideration.

Willets Point is the front line, in the entire United States, of the important battle between private property rights and the controversial abuse of eminent domain for economic development purposes. Accordingly, Willets Point property and business owners are taking the lead to support and publicize the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2012 (H.R. 1433) – a proposed fed33eral law that strongly discourages eminent domain abuse by withholding, from any state where eminent domain is used for economic development purposes, all federal economic development funds for a period of two years. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on February 28, 2012 by an overwhelming bipartisan voice vote, and is now at the Senate Judiciary Committee. A similar bill reached the Committee during 2006 but did not progress. New York especially needs this federal legislation, as the Institute for Justice has identified New York State as possibly the worst abuser of eminent domain in the nation.

The congressional legislation recognizes the justice of the WPU fight and, if the bill is passed into law, it would mean not only that the city would not be able to access any federal money for the project; but the State of New York would lose ALL federal economic development funding for a period of two years-a severe punishment, for what the House has determined is a most inappropriate and egregious use of eminent domain.

It has been reported that EDC is looking to obtain federal money to defray the cost of controversial ramps slated to be built to accommodate the estimated 80,000 car and truck trips a day generated by the 62 acre development. If the bill passes, however, NYC tax payers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure costs.

The bill now is at the Senate Judiciary Committee and at the press conference WPU, local Queens civic leaders, and an assortment of elected officials will be calling on the US Senate to hold immediate hearings on the bill and move swiftly to vote it into law. All congressional and senate candidates have been invited to the event and Councilman Halloran have tentatively agreed to attend. Also scheduled to attend are State Senators Bill Perkins and Tony Avella. Perkins is the state senate sponsor of an eminent domain reform bill that would restrict the use of condemnation for anything other than a public use.

As Senator Perkins says, “It is time that the rights of small property owners, racial minorities and immigrant workers were legally protected from the land grabs orchestrated by rich developers and their political friends."

Senator Avella agrees: “Too often development schemes use eminent domain to harm small property owners for the benefit of a rich cohort of real estate developers. Willets Point is the front line in the fight to stop harmful eminent domain seizures. Here, the City is trying to uproot small businesses that have been in the area for decades in order to sell out to real estate moguls. It is an absolute disgrace that these businesses need to defend themselves from the City they chose to do business in.”

The proposed federal law, passed by the House via an overwhelming voice vote, confirms what Willets Point United Inc. has been saying since 2008: That eminent domain is NOT properly used for economic development purposes. Now the U.S. House of Representatives, along with 44 states -- other than New York -- that have already passed their own local legislation to limit eminent domain for economic development purposes, are all now on record opposing precisely the use of eminent domain that the Bloomberg administration is attempting at Willets Point. The press conference will demonstrate that the people of Queens want the federal law passed so that New Yorkers will finally have the benefit of some property rights protection-something which does not currently exist in New York today.

Councilman Dan Halloran, running for the congressional seat in the 6th CD, agrees; “Willets Point could have been the site of a responsible development that reinvigorates our borough," said Council Member Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone). "Instead, it has witnessed the worst in eminent domain abuse and government overreach. The small businesses here deserve better."

The press conference will also be attended by long time civic leader Ben Haber who will be speaking on behalf of the Bay Terrace Civic, Juniper Civic, College Point Taxpayers and Homeowners, John Bowne Civic, and Comet. These groups collectively represent over 10,000 Queens’ households.

Aside from the issue of eminent domain WPU has been fighting the city’s misguided effort to build ramps off of the Van Wyck because it believes that the traffic that will be generated by the project will overwhelm Queens’ highways and local roads. There is simply no way to accommodate the huge amount of traffic that this project will generate. Eight local civic groups have endorsed the WPU position on eminent domain and the ramps.