Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Testimony of Walter South at the Public Hearing before the

Testimony of Walter South at the Public Hearing before the
Committee of Corporations, Authorities & Commissions on
the use of eminent domain by the State and City of New
York, convened by ranking member Senator Bill Perkins

My name is Walter South. I am pleased to testify today as Bill Perkins is one politician in our community who has had the integrity not only to say what needs to be said, but also to do what is right. I am sorry to say I cannot make this statement about many other of our local politicians.

I am a member of CB#9, but speak here as an individual. I have Graduate Degrees in Sociology, Urban Planning, and Historic Preservation. I only mention this background to indicate that I do bring to the table a certain amount of academic understanding of urban issues and, in particular, an understanding of the dangers in the abuse of Eminent Domain.

First, I would like to make clear the premise of my remarks. And that is this: If you have good political connections and if you have money, you can actually rent the State of New York.

Now some people may think that this is a joke, but all you have to do is to walk from here to Broadway and 125th. There you can see where Columbia University has rented from the State the right to use eminent domain. It is here that the University is planning a new office park for business. Columbia is in the process of acquiring eighteen acres of prime Manhattan real estate on the cheap for a new office park for biotech research. This is not academic expansion. There will not be a single classroom in these buildings. This is pure and simple a for-profit venture. Columbia wants to eat at the table with the big boys (Harvard and Yale) but cannot pick up the tab and needs the State of New York to help.

If you want to rent the powers of the State, as Columbia has, the process is actually quite simple. It requires only ten easy steps.

(1) Study the census tracts in your community to find where poor people live. Poor people are usually people of color and are least likely to have the power or the money to protest effectively. Of course, it is a bonus if this area has waterfront exposure. In addition, in an area of the poor your opposition can either be bought-off or rolled-over. For example, right down the street one of the local clergy came out against the Columbia expansion plan. I was quite surprised and discussed this good news with a local wag. His reply was that the clergyman in question was only negotiating. I was told later that Columbia staff talked to him. That convinced him to be in favor of the expansion. The only serious question was the cost to Columbia. Later in public meetings he testified for Columbia. And, the local politicians can be rolled over by contributions for re-election. The fee here is higher. It is around $2,500.

(2) Fantasize about what you could do if you owned their property. At this point you only need nothing more than a fanciful notion. You do not have to have any real plans or even any real money to do the development; you only have to have a dream, and only to claim you need their property to fulfill your dream. You do not even have to prove a need. Again look at Columbia. They only claim they need more space. This claim has never been substantiated. In addition, they even today have no real plans and they do not have the funding to build.

(3) Hire a big name or famous architect to create a drawing of your fantasy. For this purpose color is important. Even a good Powerpoint presentation can help. Someone like Rizzo Piano will dazzle Amanda Burden at City Planning, and help bat a home run on zoning issues. I might add that Rizzo may need to associate with a City firm like SOM to get the support of the local boys.

(4) Next, talk to the Mayor and Governor to get them on Board. Promise them an increase in taxable income. Of course this is difficult when you are actually planning to take the property off the tax rolls as Columbia plans to do with it’s for profit business venture. But above all, promise jobs. A round number is best because you have to remember what you said and a figure like 5,672 is difficult. So 6,000 is a better choice. The only problem with Columbia, with 13,000 employees at present, is that 6,000 new employees represents an increase of about 46-47% employees. This is a stretch. But, not to worry. Very few will remember, and afterall a promise is not a contract. It is a sort of MOU which Columbia prefers to any contract. For example, look at the Poletown Case in Michigan. Big job promises and GM closed the new factory.

(5) Once the key politicians are comfortable, you have to pay the rent. You go to the Empire State Development Corporation and bear the freight. In the case of Columbia the down payment was around $327,000. It is necessary to understand that ESDC is a fee driven agency. Pay the fee and they do your bidding. Put it another way; it is a kind of Livery Service for the well connected rich. You pay what’s on the meter and they will drive you home. Don’t expect them to put up front money for your fantasy life.

(6) Next hire a “Planning” Firm to do an Environment Impact Statement. Firms like AKRF can be had. AFRK probably has never had an EIS that was not favorable to the applicant. These new “Planning” firms in the field of American Literature have replaced Herman Melville. AKRF can now develop the greatest fish story ever told. In their offices they have reams of mimeographed sections of an EIS which have passed muster with the Agencies, and they can put together a new one which will be approved for any new applicant. I must warn you, this is pricey. It could run over a million dollars. But you have to understand the amount of work that is required to collate and staple multiple copies of a new application. In addition they have to fill the blanks with the new applicants name and the location of the new development.

(7) The EIS is filed next with the local Planning Agency who as the Lead Agency graciously agrees to review it. Any objections to the EIS will be drafted by the applicant’s employee, in this case AKRF. In the case of Columbia we raised any number of objections to the EIS with City Planning. The changes in the text that came back were straight out of the mouth of Columbia’s PR department. I asked in a meeting with City Planning who exactly had drafted these changes. We were told that the applicant actually has the EIS prepared and is responsible for any changes at their expense, and furthermore this was standard procedure with City Planning. You must understand that the Lead Agency’s job is to get the EIS approved, not to protect the public. This may be shocking, but the Lead Agency is not writing the EIS with public money. The applicant is paying for the drafting of the EIS and as such what is in the EIS is at the bidding of the employer and not the Lead Agency. If you question this process ask Ray Gastil or Robert Dobruskin at New York City Planning. What was supposed to be a public protection has morphed into a justification for the applicant’s development which the Government can use to hide behind if they are criticized by the community.

(8) In the meantime the developer begins to buy land in the target area. He always promises to only use Eminent Domain as a last resort. Actually by using this promise the developer is actually using Eminent Domain. What this actually means that if you do not voluntarily “sell”, your property will be condemned by ESDC and it will be given to Columbia. After getting a “sale’ you bind the “seller” with a gag order in the purchase agreement. This gag clause prohibits the “seller” from discussing the terms of the sale, or even criticizing the buyer. In some cases it even requires the “seller” to give public support as to the good intentions of the buyer. Not only have you “sold” your property but you have also agreed to become a slave of the buyer. This reinforces the image of the free market aspect of Eminent Domain. This does not mean anything will actually be built on your site by the developer. For example, in New London, on the site of the Kelo Case, to date the New London has spent $78 million and there has not been any new construction. In a case on the East Side near the UN, a site taken by Con Edison was in fact resold by Con Edison at a profit for new condos and a hotel! Columbia claims that their plan is for the next thirty years and they are asking for the right to use Eminent Domain anytime for their buildout. With no real plans and no financing what this expansion really means in the final analysis is merely a land grab.

(9) The purpose of buying land in the target area is to create blight. This is done by first doing research on the property to determine if there are any violations on the property you want or own. In the case of Reality House, Columbia found that the building had no C of O and was operating illegally. Columbia forced the State Agency, Oasis which had for years been knowingly funding the program, to terminate the funding and to facilitate a sale to the University. In the case of the auto mechanics building on Broadway they found all kinds of Building violations and forced the occupants to close shop and move. In the case of the old bookie joint next to Anne Whitman they gave someone permission to store junk cars there so a picture could be taken with junk in the foreground. They left up “For Rent” signs for years. But when you called the number you were told the building had actually just been rented. The only problem was no one ever moved in. They left up the stripped Fried Chicken canopy on 125th Street and Broadway to show how abandoned that site was. Even stranger just before the Blight Study began in both cases (both the first and second study) new graffiti suddenly appeared in the area, for example among other cases, on the Hudson Storage Building on Broadway. The purpose for the Blight is to be rewarded for your own neglect.

(10) With the approval of City Planning and with the roll over of City Council, Columbia now returns to the Empire State Development Corporation for the payoff. This is why they paid the rent money in the first place. The ESDC now finds Blight and proceeds to condemn not only the few remaining “holdouts”, but even the property of the City and Columbia. Understand that Columbia wants the land under all of the streets and sidewalks to be given to them for free. (This is in most urban sites about 40% of the land mass.) This will facilitate the creation of a gated business park. If you question this go up to their campus at 116th Street and explain why 116th Street, a public street, is gated. And, by condemning their own property Columbia can cancel any pesky leaseholds still in existence in property they have already purchased. They now own what was once yours and are basically free to do anything they want. There is nothing which cannot be changed in the future in their plans or their promises. They own.

What is to be done about this abuse of State power which is for rent?

Should the definition of Blight be changed?
At present the word Blight and means anything and everything and a word which means anything actually means nothing. This is not a solution.

Should the word just compensation be changed to mean something more than mere?
No, this too is not a solution. The problem is the taking of private property and giving it to another more powerful private party. The money is only a part of the scandal.

Should the hearing process be reformed?
No, the hearing process is a sham. When during this process only a Hearing Officer makes a record and no Commissioners actually sit, as was done in the case of the Blight hearing by ESDC on the Columbia designation, it is obvious that this is only to create a façade to fulfill the word of the law. This is not a dialog.

Should the bureaucracy be reformed?
No, why should some petty bureaucrat be able to decide to take your property.

The answer is simple. The taking of private property by the State and the conveyance of this property to another private entity is immoral, unethical, and contrary to the principals on which this country was founded. The Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights are being compromised. And the abuse of the power of the State is being seriously corrupted by this rental scheme.

In short, this practice must be abolished. The answer is Abolished.

And, in the case where Eminent Domain is being used for a real public purpose this too needs modification and needs be limited. This practice also has been subject to abuse. Just look at our surplus schools, highways, and urban renewal sites. These takings need be subject to a more comprehensive community review process. And the “sellers” of these sites should be rewarded for their giving something to the public. The law should be changed so that these sellers would be paid 200% of the appraised future value of the takings. This step would quickly put an end to the rash takings for the public use. Furthermore, an economic analysis should be required of the real cost and the real benefits to the community in any takings. Columbia is removing 18 acres from the tax rolls. Columbia will add to the cost of public transit, police, and fire protection. What are the true infrastructure costs? What will be the expense of nontaxable bond financing by the State Dormitory Authority for all of their new buildings? When all of these costs are summed they will exceed the benefits. This is but another example of State supporting the rich private interests with public funds.

When the State Government believes what I am saying, then the public will see change. When the State Government restores the rights which this country was founded on in the 1700’s and begins once again to protect private property, only then will we have a State Government that has integrity. Only then can the public respect its elected officials. Afterall to date 43 other states have passed either constitutional amendments or legislation that gives greater protection for property owners facing Eminent Domain abuse. Why hasn’t New York State done anything? New York State has the most abusive procedures of any state in this country and has done nothing. This is, in short, a scandal and to our shame.

Walter South
17 Sept 08

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Some in Area Concerned About Avalon Diversity

Some in Area Concerned About Avalon Diversity
By Lydia Wileden

Stretching up into the sky, its glass walls reflecting the sun, Avalon Morningside Park is hard to miss.

Despite sitting like a shining beacon at the corner of 110th Street and Morningside Drive, the newly finished apartment complex has long been shrouded in controversy. When the project first broke ground in early 2007, over 1,300 signatures were gathered from local residents opposing the development. Today, the building’s neighbors wonder what place the ritzy building, which stands in stark contrast to nearby aging buildings, has in a neighborhood struggling to retain its economic diversity.

Avalon Morningside’s 296 rental units sit on the property of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. According to the St. John’s Web site, the property was obtained through a 99-year lease between St. John’s and AvalonBay Communities, Inc., a real estate investment trust. The lease, signed in 2006, permits Avalon to build and manage a 20-story residential rental property filled with a mix of studio, one-, two-, and three- bedroom apartments.

Carolyn Kent, chair of Community Board 9’s Parks and Landmarks Committee, led the charge against the building originally, and vowed in 2007 to “work against the construction of such an inappropriate building.” Kent said that Avalon is inappropriate for the neighborhood both because of the proportion of “luxury housing, and in its architectural design.”

Kent’s concerns about the building being unaffordable for local residents only increased as the building was completed. St. John’s stipulated that Avalon must include some affordable housing units in their lease contract.

What has become particularly contentious is how Avalon will meet the criteria of the New York City Housing Development Corporation 80/20 Program. The program, as described in an HDC term sheet, issues loans “for projects where at least 20% of the units are affordable to low and moderate-income households.” The remaining 80 percent of units may be set at market levels and rented to households of any income.

In keeping with the 80/20 guidelines, Avalon has set aside 59 apartments to exist as affordable housing. Yet who these apartments are available to is unclear. While the program stipulates maximum rent levels and minimum square footage, it does not mandate how many people may live in each space.

Management at Avalon Morningside Park did not respond to requests for comment.According to information on the building from St. John’s, preference for the 59 units “will be given to working individuals and families in the surrounding neighborhood.”

According to an HDC press release, the building will receive “$100 million in tax-exempt bonds.” The affordable housing units will also be supported by the church’s Housing Mission Fund that will contribute $200,000 annually.

According to the agreement with St. John’s, AvalonBay will give back to the community in other ways, playing an important role in helping rebuild some crumbling features of the church.

View Comments ( 2) Post a Comment

As the Chairman of Community Board 9 Manhattan from 2004 to December 31, 2007 I feel compelled to clarify that Ms. Carolyn Kents activities regarding the Cathedral were carried out strictly in her private capacity and as part of the Morningside Historic Preservation organization and NEVER as Chair of the CB9M Landmarks Committee.

The Cathedral's project was an "as of right" project and CB9M had nothing to say about it.
I have met on several occasions with the Dean James Kowalski who explained the financial situation of the Church Cathedral and the need to develop their properties.

I also met with opponents in the Community and asked how many were members of the Church Cathedral - no one was.

As my suggestion that if the opposers wanted to help the Church Catedral not to develop their property they should do fund-raisers for the Church Cathedral I received a mute "you must be crazy" look and not further communtications ensued.

As a cradle Episcopalian I privately and personally have supported the plans moved ahead by Dean Kowalski.

I believe the community will benefit by the mixed income population.

Now as far as the allocation of the affordable units half will go the CB9M residents and the other half to residents of CB7M adjacent directly south. All this information was made available at the CB9M July 08 Housing Committee Meeting which I now Chair.

My personal and private comments for your benefit.

J. Reyes-Montblanc11 Sept 2008

Posted by: anonymous (not verified) September 11th, 2008 @ 6:07pm

If critics are truly interested in "economic diversity" -- as they claim to and should be -- then the Avalon building is actually a great thing for the neighborhood. If the ideal is having a diverse range of incomes, then higher-income people are needed in the area to balance out a disproportionately high population of low-income and working-class individuals.

Personally, I would never pay that much in rent (even if I could), but obviously some do. I think it's a good thing that they will be contributing to the local economy, and an especially good thing that this development will provide an income stream to support the renovation and expansion of the Cathedral of St. John Divine, which is just on the other side of the park from where I live in Harlem.

If they're saying that the 59 "low income" units weren't allocated using a proper lottery system, then that is a valid criticism. If it is handled in accordance with HPD standards, however, here again I fail to see the issue.

As for aesthetics, I, for one, find the building to be rather striking in appearance. Perhaps I'm more architecturally open-minded than your average community naysayer...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Racism Is Charged of Opponents of Voting Rights for Noncitizens

--- On Tue, 9/9/08, Richard Nuñez-Lawrence wrote:

From: Richard Nuñez-Lawrence

Subject: Racism Is Charged of Opponents of Voting Rights for Noncitizens
To: r_nunez_lawrence
Date: Tuesday, September 9, 2008, 8:08 AM

Racism Is Charged of Opponents of Voting Rights for Noncitizens
By GRACE RAUH, Staff Reporter of the Sun September 8, 2008

In advance of the 2009 citywide elections, a coalition of immigrant and advocacy organizations is reigniting a fight to give noncitizens the right to vote in municipal elections, drawing the ire of opponents who argue that voting is a right for American citizens only.

At a rally outside City Hall yesterday organized by the New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights, supporters of a City Council bill that would extend voting rights to 1.3 million noncitizen New Yorkers said it's unfair that immigrant residents pay more than $18 billion in state income taxes when they can't vote for their representatives. The group is planning to pressure elected officials to back the legislation, which has been on file for more than two years but hasn't moved forward.

A supporter of the bill, Council Member Robert Jackson of Harlem, said in his district alone there are about 40,000 people who are paying taxes and don't have the right to vote. He said the coalition needed to publicize the position of every council member on the proposal and the reasons for their stances.

He suggested that those opposed to giving noncitizens the right to vote might be motivated by racism, and noted that in the early years of American history noncitizens were allowed to vote. That ended after World War I.

"This was the law in the United States of America for many, many years and why don't they support it now? Is it what somebody said earlier — because if you look at the skin complexion of the immigrants now they are mainly people of color versus 100 years ago, when they mainly were white," he said. "These are questions that people have to start asking."

The question of whether noncitizens should be allowed to vote has surfaced in the city within the past few years, but has never gained sufficient momentum among the city's elected officials. Supporters of the plan said yesterday that they aim to capitalize on the attention that will be paid to the 2009 municipal elections, when every citywide office will be up for grabs, as well as 36 council seats.

Noncitizens in New York with children in public school had been allowed to vote in school board elections until the boards were abolished in 2002.
Any campaign to extend voting rights to noncitizens would be expected to face fierce opposition from the mayor and other council members who have held back their support from the bill.

A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, Stuart Loeser, wrote in an e-mail message yesterday that the mayor "is superlatively pro-immigration and vehemently disagrees with those who demonize immigrants to score cheap points, but he believes just as strongly that the right to vote is a privilege and a responsibility for citizens only."

The Republican leader of the council, James Oddo of Staten Island, said it's a ridiculous idea to allow noncitizens to vote, and that supporters of the council bill should be using their energy to help noncitizens become citizens.
"Citizenship is a privilege that gives birth to certain rights and included in that is the ability to vote in these elections," he said. Mr. Oddo said he'd rather focus on "aggressively weeding out" the noncitizens who have registered to vote.

"To me, that's unacceptable," he said.


Commentary by J. Reyes-Montblanc

I find it alarming and offensive that serious people are so confused as to what constitute civil rights and even more so about what is racism.

As a foreign-born American I am offended and feel dishonored by the attempts to give non-citizens the vote.

I came to United States with a permanent resident visa, I served honorably in the US Marine Corps and obtained my citizenship in one of the proudest moments of my life.

The efforts to equate legal resident and illegal aliens to be the same kind of immigrants is in and by itself obsene and un-american. The efforts to grant voting rights to non-citizens is an outrage.

The day that "citizenship" becomes irrelevant is the the day when Americans will cease to be Americans. Beign an American is a state of mind: learn our national language English; learn the history of our country and make it part of your experiences; say in your heart and mind "I am American and the American people are my people" It does not take anything away on the contrary it adds to your personality and being without losing your basic identity.

Most of all the legal residents who are non-citizens qualify for US citizenship but do not accept it as they do not really intend to become one of the many but want their cake and eat it too. Illegal aliens should not be consider in any way as equal to legal immigrants for a basic concept of "common law" is that an illegal cannot result in a legal benefit, something that the "progressives" promoting these ideas do not recognize.

No one who is not a citizen of the United States has the right to vote regardless of how much taxes they suppossedly pay to the municipality, the state or Federal governments.

Instead of this travesty of giving the vote to non-citizens efforts should go into encouraging and facilitating their becoming US Citizens the same as untold millions of other, me included, have done through the years.

I beesech those elected officials, many of them personal friends of mine to cease and desist and rethink the objective which is to encourage those qualified to become US Citizens.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

When Academia Puts Profit Ahead of Wonder

From Today's Times

Sunday, September 7, 2008 12:12 PM
"Jordi Reyes-Montblanc" , "Kent, Edward "


When Academia Puts Profit Ahead of Wonder

James Yang

Published: September 6, 2008

“It is the policy and objective of the Congress to use the patent system to promote the utilization of inventions arising from federally supported research or development” and “to promote collaboration between commercial concerns and nonprofit organizations, including universities.”

— The Bayh-Dole Act, a k a the University Small Business Patent Procedures Act

THE law of unintended consequences is perhaps less a “law” than a simple statement of fact: We cannot accurately predict all the results of our actions. We may do something with the best of intentions, and sometimes even accomplish the good toward which we aim. Yet, at the same time, we are all too often surprised by results that didn’t occur to us beforehand.

The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 started out with the best of intentions. By clearing away the thicket of conflicting rules and regulations at various federal agencies, it set out to encourage universities to patent and license results of federally financed research. For the first time, academicians were able to profit personally from the market transfer of their work. For the first time, academia could be powered as much by a profit motive as by the psychic reward of new discovery.

University “tech transfer” offices have boomed from a couple dozen before the law’s passage to nearly 300 today. University patents have leapt a hundredfold. Professors are stepping away from the lab and lecture hall to navigate the thicket of venture capital, business regulations and commercial competition.

None of these are necessarily negative outcomes. But more than a quarter-century after President Jimmy Carter signed it into law, the Bayh-Dole Act, sponsored by the former Senators Birch Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, and Robert Dole, Republican of Kansas, is under increasing scrutiny by swelling ranks of critics. The primary concern is that its original intent — to infuse the American marketplace with the fruits of academic innovation — has also distorted the fundamental mission of universities.

In the past, discovery for its own sake provided academic motivation, but today’s universities function more like corporate research laboratories. Rather than freely sharing techniques and results, researchers increasingly keep new findings under wraps to maintain a competitive edge. What used to be peer-reviewed is now proprietary. “Share and share alike” has devolved into “every laboratory for itself.”

In trying to power the innovation economy, we have turned America’s universities into cutthroat business competitors, zealously guarding the very innovations we so desperately want behind a hopelessly tangled web of patents and royalty licenses.

Of course, there is precedent for scientific secrecy, notes Daniel S. Greenberg , author of “Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards and Delusions of Campus Capitalism” (University of Chicago Press, 2007). When James Watson and Francis Crick were homing in on DNA’s double-helix structure in the 1950s, they zealously guarded their work from prying eyes until they could publish their findings, to be certain that they would get the credit for making the discovery.

“They didn’t try to patent it,” Mr. Greenberg notes, “but somebody doing the same work today would certainly take a crack at patenting the double helix.”

In fact, it was the life sciences — in particular, biotechnology — that started universities down the slippery commercial slope in the first place. Even before the Bayh-Dole Act, pharmaceutical companies were eagerly trolling campuses, looking for projects to finance. After the law was passed, they stepped up their efforts, but now with renewed zeal for keeping potential trade secrets from competitors.

While patients have benefited from the growing supply of new medications, the universities have obtained patents not only for the actual substances but also for the processes and methods used to make them, potentially hampering discovery of even more beneficial treatments.

“Bayh-Dole tore down the taboos that existed against universities engaging in overtly commercial activity. Universities really thought that they were going to make it rich,” said Jennifer Washburn, author of “University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education” (Basic Books, 2005). “Each school was convinced that if they came up with that one blockbuster invention, they could solve all their financial problems.”

Ms. Washburn says that was “extremely wrong-headed.” Initially reacting to the law by slapping patents on every possible innovation, universities quickly discovered that patents were an expensive proposition. The fees and legal costs involved in obtaining a single patent can run upward of $15,000, and that doesn’t count the salaries of administrative staff members. Instead of bringing home the bacon, university tech transfer offices were throwing money into the void with little hope of returns.

To date, Ms. Washburn says, data gathered by the Association of University Technology Managers, a trade group, show that fewer than half of the 300 research universities actively seeking patents have managed to break even from technology transfer efforts. Instead, two-thirds of the revenue tracked by the association has gone to only 13 institutions.

Part of the problem has been a lingering misunderstanding about where the value lies in innovation. Patenting a new basic science technique, or platform technology, puts it out of the reach of graduate students who might have made tremendous progress using it.

Similarly, exclusive licensing of a discovery to a single company thwarts that innovation’s use in any number of other fields. R. Stanley Williams, a nanotechnologist from Hewlett-Packard, testified to Congress in 2002 that much of the academic research to which H.P. has had difficulty gaining access could be licensed to several companies without eroding its intellectual property value.

“Severe disagreements have arisen over conflicting interpretations of the Bayh-Dole Act,” he said. “Large U.S.-based corporations have become so disheartened and disgusted with the situation, they are now working with foreign universities, especially the elite institutions in France, Russia and China.”

THE issue is further clouded by “reach through” licenses, complex arrangements used by many tech transfer offices. A reach-through lets the patent holder claim a share of any profits that result from using, say, an enabling technology, even if those profits come several steps down the market transfer line. Several universities are already embroiled in messy lawsuits trying to sort out who is entitled to what.

Perhaps the most troublesome aspect of campus commercialization is that research decisions are now being based on possible profits, not on the inherent value of knowledge. “Blue sky” research — the kind of basic experimentation that leads to a greater understanding of how the world works — has largely been set aside in favor of projects considered to have more immediate market potential.

In academia’s continuing pursuit of profit, the wonder of simple serendipitous discovery has been left on the curb.

Janet Rae-Dupree writes about science and emerging technology in Silicon Valley.

Friday, September 5, 2008

CB9M PUBLIC HEARING NOTICE on theProposed Columbia University Educational Mixed Use Development Project (Manhattanville Expansion) and on the Neighbor

To: Board Members/Community Residents
From: Hon. Patricia Jones, Chair
Date: September 5, 2008

Manhattan Community Board No. 9 will be holding a Public Hearing on theProposed Columbia University Educational Mixed Use Development Project (Manhattanville Expansion) and on the Neighborhood Conditions Studies commissioned by ESDC...

Please find the following documents attached for your review.

1]. Public Hearing Notice;
2]. Community Board 9 Residents and Stakeholders Notice;
3]. Chair's Remarks to ESDC's Public Hearing;
All Community Board Members and Residents are encouraged to attend. Also written and oral testimony will be accepted.

Thank you,

Patricia Jones, Chair

To: Community Board 9 Residents and Stakeholders:

As you may be aware, the Columbia University proposed expansion plan is currently under review by New York State - specifically the Empire State Development Corporation (“ESDC”). ESDC conducted public hearings on September 2, 2008 and September 4, 2008.

Community Board No. 9 testified at these hearings. In addition, CB9 will be submitting written comments, which are due on October 10, 2008. In order to ensure that the Board’s written response reflects the breadth of CB9 residents and stakeholders, we are conducting a public hearing on Tuesday, September 16, 2008 beginning at 6:30 P.M. The transcript of this hearing will be included with CB9’s written comments.


What area is encompassed by the project?

The proposed Project is located in the Manhattanville neighborhood of West Harlem in northern Manhattan, on an approximately 17-acre site, the principal portion of which is bounded by West 125th Street on the south, West 133rd Street on the north, Broadway on the east and Twelfth Avenue on the west, as well as certain areas located beneath City streets within this area and beneath other City streets in the Project Site. The remaining portion of the Project Site consists of an area which is bounded by Broadway on the west, West 133rd and West 134th Streets on the south and north, respectively, and a line between West 133rd and West 134th Streets approximately 200 feet east of Broadway, along with an irregularly-shaped block enclosed by and including Broadway on the west, Old Broadway on the east, West 131st Street on the south and West 133rd Street on the north.

What is being proposed?

The Project consists of the development of an expanded campus for Columbia University. The new campus would comprise a total of approximately 6.8 million gross square feet of new, state-of-the-art facilities housed in up to 16 new buildings and in an adaptively reused existing building that would be used primarily for teaching facilities, academic research, Columbia housing, and recreational and open active ground floor uses. Approximately 2 million gross square feet of the Project total would be developed as a continuous, multi-level, below-grade facility of up to approximately 80 feet in depth which would be used for activities that support the academic, academic research, housing, recreation and teaching programs of Columbia and other occupants of the Project Site. The Below-Grade Facility would extend in part below City owned streets, and would connect most of the buildings on the principal portion of the Project Site. In addition, approximately two acres (94,000 square feet) of publicly accessible, grade-level, open space and a market zone along Twelfth Avenue would be created, and sidewalks would be widened. Build out of the Project is anticipated to occur in two phases over an approximately 25-year period.

What benefits will this bring to the area?

The Project would: (i) maintain and improve the status of the City and State of New York as centers for higher education and scientific research, (ii) eliminate an underutilized urban landscape in order to accommodate new educational facilities with open areas accessible to the local community, (iii) create new, permanent jobs in the community and thereby help preserve Columbia’s position as the seventh largest private employer in the City, (iv) further scientific research into neurological ailments and other diseases, (v) expand the number of affordable housing units in proximity to the Project Site; (vi) provide tangible community benefits in terms of new publicly accessible, park-like open spaces, recreational opportunities and other civic amenities; and (vii) improve connection from 125th Street to the West Harlem Piers Park.

What properties are subject to acquisition?

The General Project Plan contemplates that ESDC would assist Columbia in assembling the Project Site through exercise of its statutory powers under the UDC Act, including the power of eminent domain. If authorized by the Directors after this public hearing and their consideration of the comments on the General Project Plan and the proposed acquisitions, any acquisitions by ESDC would be considered in stages as necessary or appropriate in ESDC’s discretion to carry out the development of the Project. Initially, ESDC would acquire certain properties and property interests needed for the first ten-year phase of the Project’s development, including, subsurface interests underlying and adjacent to City streets within the Project Site which are needed for tie backs and supports and for the construction, maintenance and development of the Below-Grade Facility beneath West 130th, West 131st, and West 132nd Streets. Later, to facilitate the Project’s second phase of development, ESDC would consider the exercise of its power of eminent domain to acquire any remaining property interests on or in the Project Site as may be necessary.

Will residential properties be subject to acquisition?

ESDC would not use its eminent domain power to acquire the seven residential properties on the Project Site while they remain occupied by residential tenants.

The General Project Plan states “ESDC would not use its eminent domain power to acquire possession of any legal residential unit prior to 2018.”

Copies of the General Project Plan and the Neighborhood Conditions Studies are available at the ESDC web site at A copy of the General Project Plan can also be read at the offices of Community Board No. 9 located at 16-18 Old Broadway (between 125th and 126th Streets).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

J. Reyes-Montblanc Before the Empire State Development Corporation Public Hearing on Columbia University Expansion and Eminent Domain 4Sep08

The HDFC Council
601 West 136th Street, Suite 1, New York, NY 10031-8101
Tel: (212) 922-6425 Fax: 212-926-1765
Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, President

J. Reyes-Montblanc


The Empire State Development Corporation
Public Hearing
Columbia Expansion, Blight Studies and Eminent Domain

September 4th, 2008

Good afternoon, my name is Jordi Reyes-Montblanc and I am the President of the HDFC Council a City-wide association of Housing Development Fund Cooperatives for persons of low and middle income. Within Community District 9 there are not less that 140 HDFC Cooperatives and over 30 Tenant Interim Lease buildings that will become HDFC Cooperatives in the next several years. The HDFCs represent the largest number of home owners, property tax payers and whose financial impact in the District’s exceeds $15 million a year.

As the major stakeholders in the whole area of West Harlem, from West 110th Street to West 155th Street and from a line that includes, Manhattan Ave., Morningside Ave., St. Nicholas Ave., Bradhurst Ave., the west at 145th Street follows Edgecombe Ave., to West 155th Street then West to the Hudson River, we want to express our position regarding these proceedings.

The General Project Plan is flawed as already testify by many locals including the Chairwoman of Community Board 9, and many others so I will not bore myself or you by repeating what has already been said so loquaciously by others.

Regarding the Neighborhood Conditions Studies upon which the ESDC has declared the West Manhattanville area as “Blighted” we believe it to be a total fabrication, purposely done to satisfy the University of Columbia’s ambitions and not for the good of the Community, or the City.

The invocation of Eminent Domain for the benefit of a private, well endowed institution is obscene in and by itself. Applying Eminent Domain to privately owned property of any kind seems to go against everything this Country stands for and most definitely against the principles laid down by our Founding Fathers who considered private property as sacrosanct.

The use of Eminent Domain on residential buildings two of which are Tenant Interim Lease buildings that will become HDFC Cooperatives, is a particular odious action bordering on the criminal not to mention immoral.

Where is the much vaulted institutional integrity and honor when it proceeds in this fashion?

J. Reyes-Montblanc

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Columbia University Has No Right to My Land

Columbia University Has No Right to My Land
By NICK SPRAYREGENSeptember 3, 2008; Page A21

In the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the government is permitted to take private property only for "public use."

This clause was once limited to true public projects such as the construction of highways, fire houses and public libraries. But over the last 50 years it has been bastardized by the powerful (in collusion with compliant politicians and the acquiescence of the courts) into a weapon used routinely to forcibly take other people's property for nonpublic uses. What is occurring in West Harlem today is a prime example of this abuse.

Columbia University , a private institution, officially announced its desire for a new campus five years ago. The university zeroed in on the Manhattanville area of Harlem -- between 125th and 134th Streets, and between Broadway and the Hudson River . Since that time, while wielding the sledgehammer of the possible use of eminent domain, Columbia has purchased roughly 80% of Manhattanville.

My family has owned for almost 30 years four commercial Manhattanville properties. We run a self-storage business, plus we lease to various large retailers such as a discount store and a supermarket. For over four years we have been fighting the state and Columbia in their joint attempts to condemn my properties for the school's expansion.

This week, the board of directors of the state agency threatening the condemnation -- the Empire State Development Corporation -- will hold two legally required public hearings, ostensibly to give the public a chance to be "heard." I believe that this is merely perfunctory.

Under New York state law, in order to condemn property the state first has to undertake a "neighborhood conditions study" and declare the area in question "blighted." Earlier this summer the state released its study, which concluded that Manhattanville is indeed "blighted."

This gives the state the legal green light to condemn my four buildings and hand them over to the university.

The study's conclusion was unsurprising. Since the commencement of acquisitions in Manhattanville by Columbia , the school has made a solid effort to create the appearance of "blight." Once active buildings became vacant as Columbia either refused to renew leases, pressured small businesses to vacate, or made unreasonable demands that resulted in the businesses moving elsewhere. Columbia also let their holdings decay and left code violations unaddressed.

Only a few years ago, this area was undergoing a resurgence. Virtually all property was occupied, many by long-standing family operations such as my own. Now most of those businesses are gone -- forced out by the university. Still, Columbia has not been able to freeze all positive change in the neighborhood. Just in the past few years, three upscale restaurants have opened here. They seem to be thriving.

There is also a conflict of interest in the condemnation process. The firm the state hired to perform the "impartial" blight study -- the planning, engineering and environmental consultant Allee King Rosen & Fleming, Inc. (AKRF) -- had been retained by Columbia two years earlier to advocate for governmental approval of the university's expansion, including the possible use of eminent domain.

When I go to court in a few months to contest the condemnation, I will face an overwhelmingly unfair process particular to New York , and to eminent domain trials. I will not be permitted to question any of the state or Columbia 's representatives, nor will I be allowed to have anyone take the witness stand on my behalf. My attorney will only be provided with 15 minutes to speak to the court on a matter that Columbia and the state have been working on for over four years.

Another problem is that in New York , the precise definition of what is blighted is nowhere to be found. It is virtually impossible to defend oneself from something that is not properly defined.

I am still denied access to documents with facts surrounding the Columbia expansion plan, asked for through Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. I filed 12 different FOIL requests and have gone to court four times. The courts have now twice ruled that it was improper for the state to refuse to hand over all communication between it and AKRF.

Still, I look forward to my day in court. I am cautiously optimistic that it will expose as unconstitutional what Columbia and the state are attempting to do.

Mr. Sprayregen is the president of Tuck-It-Away, a West Harlem based self-storage company.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

REMARKS OF PATRICIA A. JONES, CHAIRPERSON CB9M Before Empire State Development Corporation Public Hearing on Eminent Domain


Good evening. My name is Patricia Jones and I am the Chair of Manhattan Community Board 9.

On August 20, 2007, Community Board 9 voted to oppose Columbia University’s proposed expansion into Manhattanville unless certain changes to proposal were made. Among other important items, changes required were the withdrawal of the proposed use of Eminent Domain along with a binding commitment that Columbia build only on property owned by the University and obtained through negotiations with owners without coercion and without the threat of Eminent Domain AND the withdrawal of the proposed below grade structure.

Today, September 2, 2008 – almost one year later – on behalf of Manhattan Community Board 9, I have no choice but to continue to oppose Columbia University’s project plan.

The use of Eminent Domain or even it threat cannot be tolerated. We support any owner of properties that refuses to sell and stand with them against Eminent Domain for the benefit of any private entity.

Ratification of the General Project Plan in its current form eliminates any credible expectation of fair and balanced negotiations between property owners and the University.

Further, we object to the language in the General Project Plan regarding the use of ESDC’s Eminent Domain power as it relates to the seven residential properties described in Section H2 – specifically, “ESDC would not use its Eminent Domain power to acquire possession of any legal residential unit prior to 2018.” The commitment that ESDC will not use its Eminent Domain power to acquire such resident units at any time must be unequivocal and subject to no deadline.

It is stated that ESDC’s Directors would not take final action on the GPP unless and until ESDC has made findings in accordance with SEQRA and other applicable laws. CB9 continues to take the position that a key flaw in the CU plan is the proposal to create what is called the Below Grade Service Area – or the Bathtub – a key driver of the need to invoke the State’s use of Eminent Domain. The resolution of engineering issues associated with flooding and earthquake risks must not be “theoretical” in nature where our Community may be at risk. Requests that questions of how the Bathtub would be engineered, the cost of the Bathtub, even whether it is even economically feasible, whether the Bathtub would be engineered in a manner that would adequately protect it and the surrounding neighborhood from earthquakes and storm surges have yet to be answered. Narrow legal interpretations provide no protection to our Community.

Clearly the time allotted does not provide us with the opportunity to explore the host of concerns we continue to express.

Therefore, the Community Board will be submitting more detailed written comments on these and other elements of the General Project Plan, as well as the Neighborhood Conditions Studies.

We expect that these elements will include, but not be limited to: 1) environmental issues; 2) displacement of long-time residents; AND the preferred benefits of implementation of a CU expansion consistent with CB9’s 197-a Plan.

Additionally, we will provide comments on the various benefit initiatives outlined in the GPP. It will likely never be possible to quantify a satisfactory value of benefits that will justify the claim of “public good.” Further, the expiration of the majority of these benefits is 2033 – the expected completion of Phase II. It is a clear indication that the University is not looking to forge a true partnership with the Community for the duration of its existence in Manhattanville. We will accept that Columbia’s faculty, students and employees are “extraordinary people” as earlier stated,

PROVIDED the University cedes that the existing residents and property owners in Manhattanville, as well as West Harlem as a whole, are as well “extraordinary” and their value, contributions and desires must similarly be respected.

The Community Board will be conducting a Public Hearing on Tuesday, September 16th at 6:30 PM at the Fortune Society located at 140th Street and Riverside Drive to ensure that the Board’s comments are as comprehensive and inclusive of our Board members’ and Community District 9 residents’ views and concerns.