Eminent Domain Hurts Our Most Vulnerable Citizens By John Murtagh

eHezi Archives 13 Comments

Murtagh_John The Westchester County Legislature is presently considering a law to curb the use of taxpayer money in cases where wealthy developers try to get the government to use the power of "Eminent Domain" to take private property for new development.  The County Board should pass this law quickly and local legislatures like our own City Council should do the same.

In a nutshell, the so-called power of "eminent domain" allows the government to take private land if it is necessary for a public purpose.  The landowner has to be compensated, but that is no comfort to a landowner who does not want to sell in the first place. Traditionally, a "public purpose" was understood to mean things like building roads, schools or hospitals that clearly had a necessary public purpose. In recent years, however, the term has been twisted to allow the government to take land from one private owner and turn it over to another, usually a wealthy and politically connected developer.  The required "public purpose" is usually justified by claiming that the new development will generate more taxes and jobs. Unfortunately, this entire process has led to widespread abuse.

Nearly a year ago, The Institute For justice, a Washington , D.C. think tank released a report entitled "Building Empires, Destroying Homes: Eminent Domain Abuse in New York. That report concluded: "It is no secret that things are bad in New York. In nearly every respect, eminent domain law is written to favor the very entities that engage in eminent domain abuse…". 

Since that report, things have gotten worse, not better,  Only a few months ago, New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals ruled against small private property owners and in favor of wealthy developers when it upheld the actions of Columbia University and the New York State Economic Development Corporation in condemning large tracts of productive land in the Manhattanville neighborhood on  the west side of Manhattan.

Current New York law aids and abets wealthy private developers as they manipulate the eminent domain process for their own economic benefit at the same time destroying the livelihoods and lives of small business people, seniors and families that have the misfortune to be in their way. Often those who suffer at the hands of eminent domain are poor, minority and elderly, in other words, those most vulnerable and least able to protect their own rights.

Worse yet, time and again these wealthy developers do little more than sell their government enablers a "bill of goods".  Witness New London Connecticut, birthplace of the Kelo case, the Supreme Court decision which upheld the twisted definition of "public purpose".  Based on the promises of a large manufacturer in New London that it would greatly expand its operations (and thereby the tax base) the City of New London wiped Mrs. Kelo's home and, indeed, her entire neighborhood off the map. Four years later, not only has the promised development not taken place, but the manufacturer in question has announced its plans to close even its existing operations and will be leaving New London altogether. Meantime, a once thriving residential neighborhood is now a flat, empty stretch of weed filled lots.

With the legislation now before it, the Westchester County Legislature has the opportunity to prevent this kind of waste and injustice in the future. There is no time to waste in reining in the abuse of eminent domain.

John Murtagh is Yonkers City Council Minority Leader representing the 5th District.

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eHeziEminent Domain Hurts Our Most Vulnerable Citizens By John Murtagh

Comments 13

  1. saw Mutagh in BxVille yesterday near langes deli, this is like the 3rd time I have seen him over there as I drive thru. I have also seen regan and Ammicone there too…here is a great idea. Why dont you 3 assholes move there and become a 100% true blue WASP elitists among a whole town of WASP’s like you are dieing too become.
    Murtagh is straight up full of shit after approving the LDA, MDA, and all of the other SFC crap. I hope Yonkers political leaders get what comming to them all sooner than soon…like this week. The FEDS are a comming boys, guess that is why Ammicone filed bankruptcy a 2 yrs ago.

  2. C’mon people, let’s get back to the more important issue. How big is this guy’s head? They could probably justify adding another council district just for Murty’s giant head!

  3. excuse me Mr. Murtagh but you already signed a MDDA – Master Developer Designating Agreement – for the SFC project, giving the IDA and the Empire State Development Corp. powers of eminent domain. If you think you are akin to Pontious Pilate, washing your hands of any guilt simply because you are passing the dirty ED task to another entity, think again. This is another of your dog and pony shows, after you have given the store away.

  4. Those of us who have faced the threat of eminent domain know two things: It is a sobering experience and private property owners do not stand on a level playing field legally, politically or economically.
    The challenge is that more eminent domain is on its way through many back doors. In addition to economic development takings using the Kelo or “blight” approach, we are in the midst of natural resource development takings in pursuit of shale gas (as in Barnett shale, Marcellus shale, and more).
    The pursuit of these gas-rich shales brings with it more pipelines and more underground gas storage fields — and that (pipelines & storage fields) always means eminent domain. And in some states like Pennsylvania, the gas industry and some legislators are talking up “forced pooling” which will permit gas companies to seize gas under your property, even if you refuse to sign a lease.
    Unfortunately, the otherwise excellent Institute for Justice of Kelo fame declines to intervene in energy/utility takings because, they told me, of the “public good” premise. Instead, the Institute should reconsider and offer support in this expanding “market” for eminent domain abuse.
    But property owners can fight back. Our two-year battle against Houston-based Spectra Energy which seized our property rights for an underground gas storage field led to the development of a website. If you want to learn from our experience and understand this type of eminent domain, refer to this post (and see what’s happening in Jersey City): Spectra Energy
    Or here: http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=706
    Private property rights are so fundamental that founding fathers such as Samuel Adams described it as an “essential” right and wrote, “that no man can justly take the property of another without his consent.”

  5. from the same article– Lesnick is now covering his butt:
    “With the passage of this bill and with the next vacancy, the Yonkers City Council will not only have a voice on the city’s Industrial Development Agency but also eyes and ears. As the Council sets the municipal tax rate and makes land use decisions, it is essential that we have the necessary information on what is before the YIDA before it votes so that both bodies can perform their due diligence in a timely and transparent manner,” said Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick.

  6. and to add an interesting development.
    something is definitely cooking for Phil and company.
    Did they have a problem with how the Yonkers IDA conducted business? apparently they did.
    and so do I.
    New law changes Yonkers IDA appointments
    September
    10
    Legislation signed into law last week will change how board members are appointed to the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency.
    Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone, who is chair of the YIDA’s board, currently appoints all the members, but the new law allows for the City Council to appoint one of the seven board members.
    State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced the new law on Sept. 8, saying in a statement that she pushed for the law because City Council members advocated for it “as a necessary measure for increasing accountability and oversight.”
    the rest is here:
    http://polhudson.lohudblogs.com/2010/09/10/new-law-changes-yonkers-ida-appointments/

  7. The game is simple.
    He’s covering his backside for his failed SFC decisions.
    There’s liability issues ahead.
    SFC’s MDA and LDA will cost Yonkers a fortune.
    Mark these words.

  8. so wait, we are going to let the dregs of society in south yonkers keep living in their run down roach and rat infested hovels instead of letting people build modern useful buildings ?? I thought murtagh was a friggen moron before this but now he has gone over the top. Everything is for the “vunerable” people in society, what about US, the ones on whose backs this friggen country runs but you don’t care about us do you …. friggen ginormous headed jerkwad

  9. the politicians continue to ruin yonkers…business as usual!
    they keep talking about a ballpark that will never be built and a waterfront that is turning section 8 already.
    the school system is an absolute mess and noone is accountable yet the average salary between teachers/administrators is 6 figures.
    same with police. crime continues to go up along with the salaries and pensions with cops – yonkers is long gone!
    but hey pat mcdowd, keep the midnight basketball league going because we need it. what a mess and what a bunch of unprofessional and not so smart people running this city and abusing their power!

  10. ***…these wealthy developers do little more than sell their government enablers a “bill of goods***
    All well and good except it doesn’t include daylighting the river for the exclusive benefit of a developer.
    Considering the approvals you and your colleagues presented to SFC, you’ve sold Yonkers down the river.

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