Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Times's eminent domain blind spot, again

On July 29, the New York Times ran a round-up article on eminent domain controversies in the tri-state area, as I wrote, "portraying some victims of eminent domain abuse sympathetically while giving advocates, who consider it an important tool in the redevelopment toolbox, their due."

The article appeared only in the weekly Sunday regional sections (Westchester, Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut), not the City section that circulates within the five boroughs. So city residents missed learning that the region is "long seen by property-rights advocates as home to some of the worst abuses of eminent domain" and that there's been relatively little legislative response.

Oops, did it again

And this past Sunday, the Times did it again, running an article sympathetic to the "little guy" in the Westchester section but not elsewhere.

The article, headlined How Eminent Should Domain Be?, portrayed Nicholas J. Bianco of Yorktown, who, as a member of the Town Council, the Times reports, engineered passage of a law barring the town from condemning private property for commercial purposes, while allowing it for traditional public uses, like the building of roads, sewers and schools. A vague declaration that a neighborhood is blighted or dangling a promise of jobs and taxes could not be used to expropriate a home or shop for a developer’s benefit.

The need for condemnation

The article does quote New Rochelle’s mayor, Noam Bramson, who supports eminent domain for development, “judiciously and only when the broad public interest demands it,” pointing out that it's needed for site assemblage. But the article is essentially sympathetic to Bianco's crusade.

Bramson raises legitimate issues about the use of eminent domain. And, yes, this article was about Westchester.

The bigger picture

But when is the Times going to look more broadly and ask how eminent domain reforms in other jurisdictions, if applied in New York City, would affect controversial projects like Atlantic Yards?

After all, vague and contested declarations of blight and shifting promises about jobs and new tax revenues are hallmarks of the Atlantic Yards plan. And were standards recently adopted by New Jersey courts applied in Brooklyn, the exercise of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards might be stalled.

Times disclosure

The Times article Sunday contained this disclosure:
(Some of the property for the new headquarters of The New York Times was acquired through eminent domain.)

The Times usually has not printed such a disclosure when covering eminent domain. Maybe this is the beginning of a trend.

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