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Plaintiff Sheets: "welfare kings," "civic masturbation," and the Michigan cases the Court of Appeals ignored

At the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn press conference on Tuesday, held after the Court of Appeals upheld the use of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards, plaintiff David Sheets (left), a residential tenant, spoke so softly that only those close in could hear him, but the video below captures his words.

In his pointed commentary, he referenced two court cases in Michigan, a state, unlike New York, where the highest court was willing to reverse itself on eminent domain. While those cases were raised in amicus curiae briefs to the court, none of the three opinions--majority, concurrence, dissent--acknowledged them.

(Photo by Tracy Collins)

"It's a scam"

"I'm not an attorney, but I am a paralegal. I know my way around a legal document," said Sheets, who as a tenant is in a precarious position serving as a plaintiff in the case, since comparable housing is not at all guaranteed. "This is a scam. It's sucking up to the public trough. These are welfare kings, and it needs to be looked at that way."

There are processes on the books to guarantee public participation, he said, but "the state and developer have done everything they could think of to reduce those to nothing more than occasional acts of civic masturbation. They are utterly meaningless."

Civic masturbation? Well, state Senator Velmanette Montgomery, using different language, pretty much agrees, declaring:
Public participation in the process has been reduced to the occasional “Public Hearing,” which is treated as a meaningless exercise in public theater, a quaint custom, a formality.

(Videography by Jonathan Barkey)

Life on Dean Street

Sheets lives three doors from Freddy's Bar and Backroom, the backdrop for the press conference and a business slated to be evicted via eminent domain, and once worked as a bartender there.

"We should not have to live like this--no one should," Sheets said, a reference to not just the broader battle but the experience of living on a street where utility work and demolition in unoccupied properties can make it very uncomfortable to those still there.

What the court missed

"The judges need to wake up, and surely they have," he said, making reference to another state high court that chose to look closely at eminent domain and change its mind. If they read the Poletown cases from Michigan, and then read the Hathcock opinion--the Michigan state Supreme Court overturned itself. We are not asking the impossible."

Except it does seem impossible regarding Atlantic Yards, unless the longshot strategy proposed by DDDB lawyers can reopen the case.

Also speaking in the video is plaintiff Henry Weinstein, who owns a building and adjacent lots at the corner of Pacific Street and Carlton Avenue.