Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Letter to Governor David Paterson

Gov. Paterson: Declare a Moratorium on Eminent Domain, And Drop the Appeal
United for an Open and Strong Community
POST OFFICE BOX 50 - Manhattanville Station
365 West 125th Street
NEW York City, New York 10027
Hon. David A. Paterson
Governor, State of New York
State Capitol
Albany, New York 12224
January 19, 2010

Dear Governor Paterson,
In 2005, as our State Senator, you stood on the steps of City Hall with City Councilmembers Bill Perkins and Letitia James and called for a moratorium on eminent domain. That principled position was welcomed by all of us in New York whose diverse neighborhoods were threatened by massive developments to be achieved, in large part, through eminent domain and the threat of its use.
As voting, tax-paying citizens of West Harlem, we are extremely disheartened by your recent support of ESDC’s appeal of the Supreme Court, Appellate Division’s decision in Kaur et al. v. New York State Urban Development Corporation. You stated that your change of position was based on “changes” Columbia had made to their plan. We are writing to tell you that any changes made by Columbia, the City Planning Commission, the Borough President’s Office, or the City Council have been to the detriment of the community and have in no way reduced the coercive, cruel, and unnecessary effect of the use of eminent domain in Manhattanville. Nor has the corruption, collusion, and pretext the Court’s found the University and ESDC to have practiced during the condemnation process been ameliorated in any way. Columbia’s “all-or-nothing” expansion remains nothing more than a land grab of the homes, jobs and businesses of our primarily working class Black and Latino neighborhood by an elitist institution through its quasi-governmental agent, ESDC. In fact, as we write, Columbia is attempting to force out three more sets of commercial tenants, who provide good paying jobs to local residents, from the University’s Manhattanville buildings. Clearly, the Appellate Division’s finding that Columbia was the engineer of any “blight” in the neighborhood has had no effect on business as usual for the University.
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. The excellent 197A plan created by CB9 required that no eminent domain be used in any development in the District. It demanded that any developer (including the University) coming into the District integrate itself with those owners, workers, and residents who wished to stay in an expansion area. The use and threat of eminent domain makes such democratic community planning meaningless and leads to the wholesale destruction of communities. In our case, the use of “friendly” undercompensated condemnation of the very valuable space under City sidewalks and streets and the no-bid sale of the MTA depot is especially outrageous during this time of fiscal crisis.
As you know, New York is one of only five states which have not revised their eminent domain laws following the Kelo decision. According to the Institute for Justice, New York also has the dubious reputation as the State most abusive of the eminent domain process. You have it in your power to halt the injustice and fear inherent in developer-initiated, developer-driven eminent domain by putting a moratorium on the use of eminent domain in New York State until the legislature can review and overhaul a system that has lost all credibility among New Yorkers as a tool for the “public good.”
As you once did, please take a leadership role in stopping eminent domain abuse in New York State by declaring a moratorium on eminent domain now and by ordering ESDC to drop its appeal of the Kaur decision which found the use of eminent domain in Manhattanville unconstitutional and illegal.
Thank you.
Sincerely, Members of the Coalition to Preserve Community
CONTACT THE COALITION TO PRESERVE COMMUNITY: Call (212) 666-6426, 646-812-5188, or (212) 234-3002 (se habla espanol) or go to and sign up to be on our contact list.

Nellie Bailey testifies at the City Council:

Nellie Bailey speaks at the hearing on the Columbia Expansion at the Empire State Development Corporation, September 3, 2008

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