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The Sheriff Rides Out /ED Stampedes
August 1, 2005: Though a heat wave hovered, New York State residents caught a cool breeze in late July when news broke that State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, aka the Sheriff of Wall Street, had once again hit the justice trail. Was he tracking Medicaid bandits, or reconsidering his tenderfoot treatment of the New York Racing Association and New York State Canal Corporation? Digging into dicey state contract procurements? Are a herd of organized drug traders headed for the last round-up? Or was it possible the Sheriff would investigate all those yarns about New York's powerful, albeit semi-public development agencies, and the political cronyism some say has flourished like the green bay tree during the administration of Governor George Pataki?

Nope. Sheriff Spitzer (who may be Pataki's successor; cross your fingers reformers!) is on the trail of something far more serious. Payola in the music biz. After Spitzer cleans up Tune Town you can be sure the thugs who shoot to the top of the charts will do so strictly on merit. And Jennie Lynds like Lil' Kim will never be toppled by some bribe pumped ho from Hohokus. Yup. After the Sheriff poses for some daguerreotypes, and collects a hefty re-ward from the tune tweakers and makes them promise to reform their culture of corruption, we can all

RELAX!

Don't do it, if you're thinking of buying a home. So say a growing number of financial experts, referencing the housing bubble. On the other hand, some industry enthusiasts are still saying go go go. Figuring there will always be enough illegal aliens to sign on for another round of sugar shack mortgages. The real estate industry as a group (as opposed to individuals within it) tends to be against measures to curb illegal immigration. U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer of New York deserve their thanks. Both reps recently voted to decrease a proposed increase in the U. S. Border Patrol. Since neither are lax about terrorism-- both are pursuing Homeland Security funding for various initiatives in New York State-- they must have done so to protect the American Dream. Knowing people residing illegally in this country pose little threat to it. The 9/11 hijackers being the exception that proved the rule.

Hit Parade

The Castle Coalition is a Washington based organization devoted to battling government misuse of eminent domain (ED). They don't object to traditional ED uses (roads, bridges, etc.) but to the increased use of it as a redevelopment tool-- with local governments forcing people to sell their property to whichever private developer government chooses. The rationale being projected tax profits and revitalization. The process sometimes involves a declaration of "blight" but in many instances, all that's needed is for a bigger entity to come along with a master plan.

Consider an ED case near Syracuse, New York. Where, to quote the "Current Controversies" list on the Castle Coalition website, "29 successful businesses in Salina are being threatened with condemnation for a research and development park" that will "compliment" Destiny Park. A humongous mall and entertainment center. Critics have raised reasonable doubt whether the result of the overall plan will be as successful as proponents claim. But then, ED is often used on spec. And vacant lots left behind by failed grand plans make dandy places for parking junkers, dumping bodies and raising crops of weeds.

The "Current Controversies" list is sort of a hit parade of ED. The top slots, in terms of numbers, are filled respectively by California, New Jersey and New York. The cases covered aren't the only instances of ED in these states, just ones garnering some attention. Among the New York places that score are the Park South neighborhood in the state capital of Albany, and the Manhattanville area of West Harlem in New York City. The Empire State Development Corporation, the mother of all powerful, albeit semi-public state development agencies is involved in West Harlem. Also on the list is Spring Valley. Where local government says some of the downtown businesses being told to leave want to sell, but don't like the price the city wants to pay. Which goes to the question of the fair recompense people are supposed to receive in exchange for having their property "taken"*. In a free market buyers can offer any price they like: in an unfree market sellers are forced by law to take it.

New Jersey's Current Controversies include a case in Newark. A redevelopment plan which would waste 65 homes and businesses was initially rejected "but following sizable donations to city council members...was approved 8 months later". For some reason this reminds me of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Where Mayor John Street, when not busy denying knowledge of graft and extortion by close associates, has been snapping up private property. His Neighborhood Transformation Initiative has claimed 5,500 properties to date. Meanwhile in Washington, Pennsylvania, it's time for Shorty's Lunch and Jerry's Shoe Repair to take a hike. Developers need their space for a hotel and retail complex.

Ohio does ED too. Often. The Flats section of Cleveland, on the Cuyahoga River, is the oldest part of the city. By the 1970's, an industrial wasteland. A club called the Pirate's Cove started featuring proto Punk bands. Pere Ubu among them. A few decades later, Cleveland mystery writer Les Roberts painted the Flats as hip, happening and revitalized. But the rebirth was fueled by bars and entertainment. Rowdy drunks, a string of drownings and the overall poverty of Cleveland fizzled it. Bar owners and local pols went back to the drawing board. Next up-- casinos! If Ohio voters say yes legalized gambling will come to the Flats. (Doubtless only soft drinks will be served and low income Clevelanders won't be encouraged to gamble.) Developer Scott Wolstein hopes to enhance this vision with a $225 million residential and retail development and use ED to flatten any hold-outs. Mayor Jane Campbell is on board with the bulldozers.

Then there's Connecticut. And Texas. Illinois, Missouri and Florida. As well as many other states. California tops the hit list. Which suits Mayor Jerry Brown of Oakland just fine. Mister Nice Guy has plans. California Girl and U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi positively worships ED. Upon hearing of the June 23rd Supreme Court decision (Kelo v. City of New London, Connecticut) which narrowly cleared ED as redevelopment tool, Pelosi declared it was "almost as if God has spoken."** Of course she didn't say which God. Horror author H. P. Lovecraft often wrote of a race of bygone evil deities called the Old Ones; who now exist on another plane but are always trying to break through time and space and make earth their home once again. What better way to do it than by invoking eminent domain?

Since the Supreme Court ruling allows states to make their own law as to eminent domain, the fight to rein in ED has metastasized into a nationwide battle. Many states are already rushing to craft some kind of anti-ED legislation. ED is widely unpopular and pols want to be seen as standing up for small property owners. But many of the same pols want the mega contributions developers and related special interests deliver, plus the political clout of ambitious development deals and the federal and state funding that typically flows into them. Furthermore, those powerful albeit semi-public development agencies have become a national phenomena and are woven into layers of state, county and municipal governments. On the positive side, the Kelo decision has focused attention on how ubiquitous such agencies have become-- and how removed they are, both philosophically and in terms of oversight, from democratic process.

As the ED wars rage it will be interesting to see which states emulate Utah, which has banned the use of ED by redevelopment agencies. In Congress, a proposal by New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett to deny federal transportation funds to projects using ED was recently voted down. Though the margin wasn't immense: 231-189. But expect a goodly number of pols to go for legislation crafted to look tough and concerned, but riddled with holes big enough to drive a stagecoach through.

OK. I know I'm working the western motif. I got off on the Sheriff of Wall Street thing and just couldn't let it go. Thank goodness the New York State gubernatorial election is still more than a year away; giving me plenty of time to get it out of my system. Till then podners--

Yeee haaa!

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

"...when you're taking someone's private property and transferring it to another private owner, we need to be extremely careful and protective."

New York Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, Eminent domain protections sought, 07/14/05, Newsday Inc.

"I'm gonna swing me a lasso and ride (ride) till you're roped and tied"

Ride, Dee Dee Sharp, 1962

*"Taken" is an older term for government condemnation and eminent domain. It's also used when describing the experience of people abducted by extraterrestrials.

**It takes a village...of property owners, 07/21/05, Larry Elder, 2005 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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Copyright (c) 2005 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.


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