Thursday, July 17, 2008

Statement of Walter South: Empire State Development Corporation 17Jul08

Statement of Walter South:

For the hearing before the Empire State Development Corporation on 17 Jul 08.
On the proposed approval of a GPP of Columbia University for Manhattanville

My name is Walter South,

The key to understand this application is an article which appeared in The Wall Street Journal last October. The article reported that Yale had a profit in their last fiscal year of 4.5 billion dollars on their endowment Funds. Yale’s profit on their endowment last year almost exceeded Columbia’s total endowment. This is the bottom line rationale for this application.

Columbia was rated this year by the U.S. News and World Report as 9th among the best schools in the Nation. They rated behind Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and even Duke. But, Columbia wants to “belly up to the table with the big boy’s”. There is only one little problem. Columbia cannot even pick up their own tab

So their President has called for a “Hail Mary” play. Let the Government pick up the tab, so they can score on an end run. A kind of Socialism for the well-connected. Let the City rezone 17 acres for their exclusive use. Let the City pick up the infrastructure expenses. Let the State grab the site by Eminent Domain, and then fund the buildings by the Dormitory Authority, and get Federal Research Bio-Tech Grants to pay off the State tax exempt bonds.

And call the project “Academic Expansion” or a “New Campus” to befuddle the City with a smokescreen.

What’s in this for Columbia? They get 17 acres, on the cheap, plus all the land under all the streets and sidewalks for free, and furthermore they get to keep all income from any future Patents for their endowment fund.

What’s in this for New York City? Columbia will pay no property taxes, no expenses for police, fire, or sewage usage.

Columbia has made several claims about possible future jobs for the City as a benefit. Sometimes it is claimed that 6,000, sometimes 9,000. But, is this in writing? Is there a guarantee? No: bottom-line, its puffery.

Are these jobs for the auto mechanics and warehouse employees that are being displaced?

At present Columbia has about 14,000 employees. If they create 6,000 jobs this means an increase of 43% on payroll. If the number of students is not increasing how is this increase to going to be paid for? It is going to be paid for from Government funds and/or the private business sector: hence their Business Park.

At present over 27% of Columbia students are foreign students. This is one of the largest percentages of foreign students of any college in this country. Columbia’s mission is to educate the elite of the world-not our kids. Would this same amount of money going to City College, make our City better?

Lastly, how does Columbia justify their need to develop this exclusive office park? By claiming that they need to build a seven story deep, 17 acre bathtub, in a known geological fault.

Of course, this bathtub is a complete fantasy. When the bill for this tub comes in, and the logistics for moving probably 100,000 trucks of this dirty dirt out of the City is clarified -it will never be built. In the meantime, the State and City have been snookered!

And of course to guarantee the success of this land grab, the University, asks for the right to use Eminent Domain. They want to steal someone’s private property for their own exclusive use.

This proposal for Eminent Domain is unjust, immoral, unethical, and contrary to the rights as set forth in our Bill of Rights and Constitution.

Our Community welcomes Columbia to expand. If they want to go into business, we have no problem. But, let it be a level playing field. Let them buy land on the open market.

Let the market decide if their business venture warrants their investment. After all Harvard is expanding with no Eminent Domain. University of Penn has expanded without Eminent Domain. NYU has expanded without Eminent Domain.

ESDC should require Columbia adopt the 197-a plan of CB#9 which allows the applicant to expand while respecting and preserving a richly diverse community. The ESDC must eject any forced evictions and the use of Eminent Domain. The ESDC should embrace the significance of historic preservation of Old Manhattanville. The ESDC must require the applicant to integrate within the community, not bulldoze it. We want Columbia to be a part of the Community, not apart from the Community.

Bottom line: until these changes are agreed to ESDC should reject this application.

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