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Greg David of Crain's gets it very wrong: "New Yorkers, through their political process" decided "Atlantic Yards was in the best interest of the city"

In a column headlined An eminent name in domain debate, Crain's New York Business editorial director Greg David defends eminent domain for Atlantic Yards while, astonishingly, neglecting to acknowledge how local elected officials were ignored.

David writes:
In the aftermath of the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision on eminent domain—the famous Kelo v. City of New London case—I tried to explain my uncertain views on the topic in a Dec. 5 column:

“The once-esoteric legal doctrine of eminent domain has put me in the middle of an unusual lobbying blitz. On one side are people who support important development projects like Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn or the expansion of Columbia University, both of which will need to involve eminent domain. On the other is my daughter, who has taken up the issue as part of her American government class and is sure eminent domain needs to be outlawed. More and more, I think my daughter is right.”

At 9:30 that Monday morning, my phone rang. “Hold for Mayor Bloomberg.” Then came the voice, unmistakable and firm. “I couldn't disagree with you more,'' the mayor said. “Without eminent domain, we will get nothing accomplished in this city!”
Eminent domain for Atlantic Yards, however, is not a process overseen by local elected officials but rather the unelected, quasi-public Empire State Development Corporation. Forest City Ratner drew the very curious map it needed and the state dutifully found blight--"relatively mild conditions of urban blight,” according to the Court of Appeals--on the project site, while across the street businesses thrive.

Missing the point

David continues:
I always tell that story to my class on the New York City economy when we study commercial development issues. Then I explain how the indomitable Brooklyn gadfly Daniel Goldstein—who last week finally gave up his long fight to stop the Atlantic Yards project—convinced me the mayor was right.

Historically, eminent domain allowed governments to seize land for public purposes such as roads, schools, parks and airports. In Kelo, the Supreme Court said it was constitutional for states and cities to take private property on behalf of private interests for a public purpose such as improving the economy.

The complications are obvious. The government is putting the interests of one private party, in this case Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, above those of another, in this case some existing Brooklyn residents and businesses.

Critics of the Kelo decision say that the doctrine is unfair and creates opportunities for abuse by powerful interests and that developers like Forest City can and should use their resources to buy out the other parties.

But Mr. Goldstein wasn't interested in the money. He grudgingly sold his condo last week only because his choice was to accept a $3 million offer today and move out in two weeks or wait two months for a court to evict him and award him less money. He could have gotten much more months ago, maybe years ago.

He didn't do that because his mission was to impose his vision of what was best for Brooklyn, even though New Yorkers, through their political process, had decided that Atlantic Yards was in the best interest of the city.

Without eminent domain, he would have succeeded.
Hold on. Goldstein was reacting to the developer's vision, one the city supported from the start. There was no political process, no role for the City Council, no role for any local elected officials. In fact, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff told the New York Observer in December 2007:
“I am a huge believer in the ULURP process. I think it makes sense. It allows the issues to be aired in an appropriate way. If it happened again, and the state were to ask if I would encourage them to take Atlantic Yards through the ULURP process, I would say yes.”
The project was approved by the board of the unelected ESDC and the state funding was upheld by the Public Authorities Control Board--the "three men in a room": the governor, Assembly Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader.

Goldstein's comment

Goldstein wrote in response:
Mr. David, your argument almost made some sense until the very end. I wasn't trying to "impose my vision on what was best for Brooklyn even though New Yorkers, through their political process, had decided that Atlantic Yards was in the best interest of the city."

There WAS no political process. Not a single elected official ever voted on Atlantic Yards. ULURP and NYC's zoning laws were overridden, and the unaccountable, unelected ESDC and MTA made all the key decisions. New Yorkers had no political process to make any decisions about Atlantic Yards.

That is the fundamental problem with Atlantic Yards that so many have been shouting and fighting about all this time.

Furthermore, all of the benefits of Atlantic Yards, including the arena and the housing, could have been built without using eminent domain, without taking my home. All of them. But that wouldn't have been the huge gift to Forest City Ratner that the use of eminent domain has been.

So while I and many others certainly have ideas of what would be good for Brooklyn and what urban planning ideas could work and wouldn't work, I didn't impose my vision on some publicly and politically approved project. I resisted, along with thousands of others and numerous politicians, the imposed vision of one developer.

Comments

  1. I sent the following to Greg David.

    Dear Mr. David,

    I read your article on Eminent domain in the latest Crains. I was a bit shocked by the end.

    Quote -

    But Mr. Goldstein wasn't interested in the money. He grudgingly sold his condo last week only because his choice was to accept a $3 million offer today and move out in two weeks or wait two months for a court to evict him and award him less money. He could have gotten much more months ago, maybe years ago.

    He didn't do that because his mission was to impose his vision of what was best for Brooklyn, even though New Yorkers, through their political process, had decided that Atlantic Yards was in the best interest of the city.

    Without eminent domain, he would have succeeded.

    - End Quote

    Mr. Goldstein objects that the political process didn't exist, and it was basically the imposition of Ratner's plan over everyone else. This is a bit irrelevant as the political process can be the imposition by the majority or a small minority of one. Regardless of how many people agree with forcing Mr. Goldstein to sell, the problem with this is that 'the political process' forced Mr. Goldstein to sell. There is no principled argument explaining why it is ok to force someone to sell. Since there are no principles involved 'the political process' could decide that forcing Mr. Goldstein to sell anything and everything he owns. Which is to say that nothing is really his. How can he have a vision for what is best for him if the city can take property away?

    The argument you use is the unprincipled on of expediency. A vision like Atlantic Yards won't happen without the state forcing everyone to sell. Yet there are lots of conflicting visions, so why is Atlantic Yards any better than the owners of the property? What happened to equal rights? I'm sure Mr. Ratner is assuming that no one else will come along and take his property away at the market price (which is now presumably lower.)

    As we saw with Mr. Goldstein he clearly valued his property more than the money offered. He only sold when he realized that his apartment would be taken away no matter what he did. He therefore suffered a loss. This was theft.

    If you can take something as valuable as a home away, what else is sacred? Can one take an artists work and put it in a museum? Can one take children? Heirlooms? Can one take an entrepreneur's business?

    Because there is no principled argument economist and historian Murray Rothbard argues that Eminent Domain is wrong and destructive.
    http://mises.org/rothbard/mes/chap15d.asp

    Best regards,

    -Anders Mikkelsen

    ReplyDelete

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