Thursday, January 28, 2010

Demonstration at Governor Paterson's New York Office and the Empire State Development Corporation

Dennis M. Mullen, President & CEO Empire State Development Corp.
30 South Pearl Street
Albany, NY 12245
January 21, 2010
Dear Mr. Mullen,
We are a six year-old community group of residents, workers, and
businesses in West Harlem writing to urge you to withdraw your recent
appeal of the Supreme Court, Appellate Division’s ruling in Kaur et al.
v. New York State Urban Development Corporation.
As the Court’s ruling in Kaur made clear, the record “overwhelmingly
establishes that the true beneficiary of the scheme to redevelop
Manhattanville is not the community that is supposedly blighted, but
rather Columbia University, a private elite education institution.”
The Court also found that Columbia’s proposed expansion was not a civic
project and that any public benefit was “incremental” to the massive
private benefits to be enjoyed by the University. The Court ruled that
the condemnation process overseen by ESDC had found blight where there was none, violated both the state and federal constitutions, and was
characterized by secrecy, conflict of interest, and collusion.
It was clear to the Court and it is evident to us, that the use of
eminent domain in Manhattanville was developer-initiated and
developer-driven.  The City and State had no plan for Manhattanville
until Columbia provided one to them.  ESDC sought no competitive
proposals and in fact completely disregarded the inclusive, diverse and
intelligent 197A plan created by CB9 over the course of more than ten
years.  The ESDC has merely served as a public tool in effecting the
desires of the University which has funded the condemnation process and
“shared” its consultants.  ESDC’s collusion with the University allowed
Columbia to use the threat of eminent domain to intimidate residents,
commercial tenants, and businesses and to acquire properties at
depressed prices.

We have been especially dismayed by the total disregard of the will of
the community and the democratic process in the condemnation
proceedings.  From the time of the announcement of the proposed
expansion, this community has been steadfastly united in its demand
that eminent domain be taken off the table.  ESDC, however, paid no
attention to the wishes of those most closely affected by its actions.
ESDC’s lack of respect for the community was further evidenced at the
public hearing held by your office.  No officers of ESDC deigned to
appear.  Instead, the hundreds of community members who attended and
scores of people who testified were heard by one hearing officer, a
stenographer, and a tape recorder.  ESDC also refused to provide
documents sought by local businesses facing condemnation despite
multiple court orders and knowing full well that its actions were in
effect excluding those documents from the record the Appellate Division
would review.

“Few policies have done more to destroy community and opportunity for
minorities than eminent domain,” the Appellate Division quoted in Kaur.
  “The instant case is clear evidence of that reality. The unbridled
use of eminent domain not only disproportionately affects minority
communities but threatens the basic principles of property as contained
in the Fifth Amendment.” The destruction of our primarily working class
Black and Latino community can be avoided.  It is time for ESDC to
reassert itself as an independent governmental entity serving the best
interests of all the people of the City and State, not just wealthy
private developers, and acting transparently on their behalf.  Withdraw
your appeal now.
Members of the Coalition to Preserve Community

646-812-5188, or (212) 234-3002 (se habla espanol)  or go to and sign up to be on our contact list.

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