Skip to main content

A Crystal Eagle Award for me: "a champion of property rights" vs. "a champion of good government"

On February 5, I got an award for my Atlantic Yards coverage:
Owners' Counsel of America (OCA) will honor two journalists in 2010 with the Crystal Eagle Award for their remarkable journalism and unwavering effort to be critical and objective, specifically with respect to their investigative reportage and balanced analysis regarding the government’s use of eminent domain.

Annually, OCA identifies individuals who have made a substantial contribution toward advancing private property rights, presenting the Crystal Eagle Award to each as a symbol of the freedoms protected through their work. Past recipients include Gideon Kanner, Esq. (Professor Emeritus, Loyola School of Law and of-counsel, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, Los Angeles), Dana Berliner, Esq. (Senior Attorney, Institute for Justice), Dean Starkman (Journalist), Professor James Ely (Vanderbilt University and author of The Guardian of Every Other Right), Dennis Hartig (former Journalist and News Editor, The Virginian-Pilot) as well as Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes (Fox News Channel talk show co-hosts).
The group is watchful of eminent domain abuse:
Owners' Counsel of America is a voluntary network of experienced eminent domain attorneys from every state of the nation, representing property owners facing condemnation or other infringement to their constitutional right to own property, and dedicated to advancing the cause of property rights.
Champion of property rights?

I traveled on the OCA's dime to the OCA meeting this past weekend in Scottsdale, AZ, to accept the award and speak about my work. (The amount of time I spent in transit was about the same as the time I spent awake in Scottsdale.)

I had qualms about being described, at least according to some OCA members, as a "champion of property rights."

I responded that I was a "champion of good government" and if that, in the context of examining eminent domain in New York makes me appear to be a "champion of property rights," so be it.

After all, I started looking into Atlantic Yards as a media critic and then expanded into reportage and commentary; eminent domain wasn't on my radar screen.

I said that I saw my job as bridging the gap between reality and the state's self-serving record, a record to which courts defer. After all, the Blight Study submitted by the Empire State Development Corporation was produced by a consultant (AKRF) that always finds blight, using the flexible terms "substandard" and "insanitary."

So with the deck stacked in favor of the state, it's rational, I said, to become a critic of the process.

(I point back to Daniel Okrent, former New York Times Public Editor, who wrote, 11/14/04: "Fairness requires the consideration of all sides of an issue; it doesn't require the uncritical reporting of any. Yet even the best reporters will sometimes display a disappointing reluctance to set things straight.")

The AY context

I talked about Atlantic Yards, with a slide show, and saw some knowing reactions when I showed a slide of the Blight Study's documentation that cracks in the sidewalk constitute blight.

In several conversations, I got a much stronger sense of how New York is seen by the eminent domain bar--at least this side of the bar--as an outlier, a state with notably condemnor-friendly laws and procedures.

(Eminent domain opponents aren't the only ones raising questions; planning professor Alexander Galvin wrote in a textbook that the ESDC has "truly amazing powers.")

Awards and advocacy

I recognize that accepting an award from an advocacy group can be dicey. Though several journalists have won the OCA award, it would likely violate a New York Times ethics guideline:
Staff members may not enter local, national or international competitions sponsored by individuals or groups who have a direct interest in the tenor of our coverage.
And guidelines from the Society of Professional Journalists also raise questions:
Journalism contests sponsored by corporations or by trade, education or other non-journalistic associations... should meet the following specifications:
1) The contest purpose should not state or imply favorable treatment of a cause or subject and should seek journalistic excellence.
But what if a critical approach toward AY seeks journalistic excellence?

I queried a couple of journalist friends, both of whom said my track record is the most important thing. As I've said, I'm not neutral but I aim to pursue the journalism of verification.

The big picture

Do others in the media pursue the journalism of verification when it comes to AY?

Why have so few raised questions about the ESDC, when it punts on questions of blight, claims there would be no development without the project, and claims an arm's length relationship with developer Forest City Ratner when negotiating the AY development agreement?

And why didn't anyone else notice the bogus report on crime in the AY footprint? Or the dubious claim that the ESDC board, not AKRF, finds blight? Or the KPMG report to the ESDC that made up numbers about the percentage of condos sold in some prominent developments?

The Rikon connection

I didn't apply for the award; the nominations come from OCA members. I was nominated by the New York OCA member, Michael Rikon, a prominent eminent domain attorney who reads my blog and has been quoted periodically.

He represents clients in the Atlantic Yards footprint on compensation issues, though not the larger challenges to the project. I will have to footnote future references to him.


  1. Go Norman! Well deserved.

    Izzy Stone would have been proud. (He would have probably accepted the award, too. I wonder if he would have blasted some of the previous winner sin his acceptance!)
    Paul Bass


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in November 2017, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won't be so cheap.


Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…