Friday, September 17, 2004

 

Keep Your Eyes on The Supreme Court on October 4


None other than arch-conservative, George Will, explains why the Supreme Court must hear the appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision to uphold the taking of private property for private development. If the Supreme Court takes the appeal, as it must, it will be a victory for those fighting eminent domain abuse across the country and here in Brooklyn. And the Court should then be expected to do the right thing and return eminent domain laws back to their original intention and meaning of "public use."

Court may weigh judicial vandalism under guise of Fifth Amendment

By George F. Will

THE U.S. Constitution, properly construed by a vigilant Supreme Court, prevents untrammeled power, which is the definition of despotism. But the human propensity for abusing power a propensity the Constitution's unsentimental framers understood and tried to shackle with prudent language is perennial. There always are people trying to carve crevices in constitutional terminology to allow scope for despotism. Such carving is occurring in Connecticut.

Soon perhaps on the first Monday in October the court will announce whether it will hear an appeal against a 4-3 ruling last March by Connecticut's Supreme Court. That ruling effectively repeals a crucial portion of the Bill of Rights. If you think the term "despotism' exaggerates what this repeal permits, consider the life-shattering power wielded by the government of New London, Conn.

That city, like many cities, needs more revenues. To enhance the Pfizer pharmaceutical company's $270 million research facility, it empowered a private entity, the New London Development Corporation, to exercise the power of eminent domain to condemn most of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood along the Thames River. The aim is to make space for upscale condominiums, a luxury hotel and private offices that would yield the city more tax revenues than can be extracted from the neighborhood's middle-class homeowners.

The question is: Does the Constitution empower governments to seize a person's most precious property a home, a business and give it to more wealthy interests so that the government can reap, in taxes, ancillary benefits of that wealth? Connecticut's court says yes, which turns the Fifth Amendment from a protection of the individual against overbearing government into a license for government to coerce individuals on behalf of society's strongest interests. Henceforth, what home or business will be safe from grasping governments pursuing their own convenience?

But the Fifth Amendment says, inter alia: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation' (emphasis added). Every state constitution also stipulates takings only for "public use.' The framers of the Bill of Rights used language carefully; clearly they intended the adjective "public' to restrict government takings to uses that are directly owned or primarily used by the general public, such as roads, bridges or public buildings.

The Connecticut court, like the courts of six other states, says the "public use' restriction does not really restrict takings at all: It merely means a taking must have some anticipated public benefit, however indirect and derivative, at the end of some chain of causation. Hence New London can evict Wilhelmina Dery from the home in which she has lived since her birth there in 1918.

Fifty years have passed since the court considered whether the "public use' clause allows condemnation for private development. The 1954 case from southwest Washington, D.C., concerned "urban renewal,' as such social engineering was confidently called before it became accurately known as "Negro removal.'

To empower government to condemn slum property most dwellings had no baths, indoor toilets or central heating; the neighborhood's tuberculosis and syphilis rates were high the court held that "public use' can mean "public purpose' when the aim is to cure blight harmful to the larger community.

But the Fort Trumbull neighborhood what remains of it; many residents have been bullied into moving is middle class. That is the "problem': Residents are not rich enough to pay the sort of taxes that can be extracted from the wealthy interests to whom New London's government wants to give other people's property.

Another step in cutting the Constitution's leash on the awesome power of eminent domain came in 1981. Michigan's Supreme Court allowed the bulldozing of Detroit's Poletown neighborhood more than 1,000 residences, 600 businesses and many churches so the property could be given to a more lucrative revenue source, a General Motors plant.

In the New London decision, Connecticut's Supreme Court relied on the Michigan decision, which was the principal precedent justifying seizure of individuals' properties in order to increase tax revenues.

But just 149 days after Connecticut's court ruled, Michigan's Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Poletown decision, denouncing it as "a radical departure from fundamental constitutional principles.'

In considering whether to take the New London case, the U.S. Supreme Court surely sees, at a minimum, the dangerous emptying of meaning from the Fifth Amendment's "public use' provision.

If the court refuses to review the Connecticut ruling, its silence will effectively ratify state-level judicial vandalism that is draining the phrase "public use' of its power to perform the framers' clearly intended function. That function is to prevent untrammeled government power in a word, despotism.

Monday, September 13, 2004

 

The Fascists of Flatbush


From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Eminent Domain Abuses

Those who follow eminent domain abuses were cheered by the Michigan Supreme Court's ruling this summer that it is illegal for the government to seize private land and transfer it to another private owner for public "benefit."

But that's one state. The abuses will not end until the U.S. Supreme Court stops the land-grabbers.

The predicate for these abusive eminent domain cases is that a private entity -- the government's good buddy, naturally -- will make better use of the land by providing more jobs or greater tax revenue. (Here in Western Pennsylvania, we've never heard such overblown promises, have we?)

In economically distressed New London, Conn., the drug company Pfizer built a research center. Nearby, a piece of waterfront land caught the eye of the government. Why, with the new plant in town, a private developer could turn the 90 acres into a real tax generator.

Some property owners balked at selling, and the city resorted to eminent domain, upheld by the Connecticut Supreme Court, 4-3. The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to take up the case -- which it must.

Even the communist land reformers operated under the pretense that the farms would go to the people. This is more the naked fascist model: the government in concert with the corporatists against the sacred rights of the individual.

And no wonder: The fascists always leaned a little farther left.

Friday, August 27, 2004

 

Say What???! Mr. Gargano, Meet Mr. Bloomberg


Empire State Development Corporation Chief says "We don't care about the arena." Really? Then why are you forcing it down our throats, and why does the Mayor say we NEED it for the Olympics. You guys better have a conversation.


NYSun: There seems to be an explosion in the number of stadiums New Yorkers may soon see built, including for the Jets on the West Side, the Nets in Brooklyn, and now possibly the Yankees and the Mets. What will this mean for New York taxpayers?

Gargano: The governor and I have made it clear for nine-plus years that no taxpayer money will go to build a sports arena...

NYSun: Your agency is putting in a lot of money to develop Downtown Brooklyn. How important is the stadium in this area’s development?

Gargano: The Brooklyn development has 2.1 million square feet of commercial space, 300,000 square feet of retail space,and 4.4 million square feet of residential. It is a $2.1 billion project, and only $500 million is for the arena. Our support is primarily for the commercial, retail, and residential development — not the arena. We don’t care about the arena. We aren’t opposed to it, but our assistance is primarily to provide support for the other parts of the plan.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

 

Good-bye Dolly!


City Planning Commissioner, Dolly Williams is a $1million investor in Caring Bruce Ratner's Nets arena complex. Conflict of interest, you ask? Dolly says no in this Brooklyn Papers article:

Contacted this week, Williams said she is an investor in both the team and Ratner’s plan to build a new Nets arena, three soaring office towers and 4,500 housing units extending from Downtown Brooklyn into Prospect Heights. She said she “had not thought about” whether her company would be involved in the 8 million square feet of construction.

“It is not a conflict, otherwise I would not do it,” said Williams, a minor investor whose nearly 30-year-old construction company is worth millions. She receives a $45,131 salary for her City Planning Commission post.


Fact is, Ms. Williams, not only is it a conflict, its illegal. The only remedy for this problem is for Dolly Williams to resign from her position on city planning, recuse herself from any discussions at all about the project, or divest her interest in the project. Here is the law she is breaking:

Chapter 68 of the City Charter:
The conflicts of interest law was enacted to preserve the public trust, to promote public confidence in government, to protect the integrity of government decision-making, and to enhance government efficiency. It established a basic set of rules regarding, among other things:

- Gifts
- Moonlighting/Part-Time Jobs
- Volunteer Activities
- Post-City Employment
- Use of Confidential Information
- Political Activities
- Use of City Position for Personal Gain
- Ownership Interest in Firms Doing Business with the City
- Relationships Between Employees and Supervisors

Who is Covered By Chapter 68 of the City Charter, the Conflicts of Interests Law

All paid City officers, employees, and officials, regardless of salary or rank, whether full-time, part-time, or per diem, are covered by the Conflicts of Interest Law. Some of these rules also apply to those who are not paid for City service, but who play an important role in government, such as members of Community Boards.

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How does Marty "Former Tenants Rights Activist" Markowitz feel about this?

Responding to the conflict of interest charge, Michael Kadish, a spokesman for Markowitz said, “As with any planning commissioner, we would expect that Dolly Williams would recuse herself from voting or discussing any matter before the commission in which she has a commercial interest.”

Ok Marty. This isn't hypothetical. There is a clear conflict of interest. Time to take action, action other than cheerleading for Bruce.

Friday, August 13, 2004

 

RATNER = LIAR


From the Daily News today:

"A spokesman for Ratner said it was too early to discuss the review process because a lead agency had yet to be assigned to the project."

This is a lie. As recently as two days ago and for nearly a year now Forest City Ratner has said that the Empire State Development Corporation will be the lead agency on this project. They lie to the press.

They always say, "we'll follow whatever procedure the government employs." Well of course they will do that, they have to. But thats a non-statement. The real statement is, "we will tell the government what procedures we want to follow."

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

 

One court tries to curb the misuse of eminent domain

SunHerald.com, James Kilpatrick

On July 19, counsel for Susette Kelo filed a petition for review in the U.S. Supreme Court. On July 30, the Michigan Supreme Court filed a blockbuster opinion in the case of Edward Hathcock and others. We are talking big news here - news of potentially huge importance to property owners, legislators and developers everywhere.

Specifically, we are talking about restraining the power of "eminent domain," the power of a government to take private property for public use. The power is widely abused.

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This is one of many reasons Ratner is trying to avoid using eminent domain. He has already egregiously abused it by using it as a threat.

Monday, August 09, 2004

 

One More Underinformed Journalist


MAKING IT OFFICIAL
Steve Kyler, Hoopsworld

Bruce Ratner gets the nod of approval from the NBA governing committees, making it all but a formality for the New Jersey Nets new owner to be confirmed. This move will set in motion some very unpopular events that will ultimately have the Nets playing in Brooklyn, and media outlets pondering how long before Ratner becomes Donald Sterling [the real estate magnate owner of the perennial loser Los Angeles Clippers] East. Click to the article and scroll down

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Read the whole thing, then you might want to SEND EMAIL Mr. Kyler's way.

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