Eminent Domain! Huh! What Is It Good For?

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Today at noon a group of activists (and a bunch of reporters) gathered at Floridita to celebrate the recent decision by the New York State Court to annul claims of eminent domain in the Manhattanville area. Speakers included Manhattanville landowner Nicholas Sprayregen, lawyer Norman Siegel, and state senator Bill Perkins. Bwog was there with a camera to document the festivities.



Film crews wait outisde Floridita on 125th St. & Broadway.



Norman Siegel, former head of NYCLU and the lawyer representing anti-eminent domain groups


New York State Senator Bill Perkins


Crowds of supporters and press gathered inside the restaurant.


Preparing to march on PrezBo's mansion


Guitar-slinging alum revives the spirit of '68


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  1. ...  

    complete nutjobs. "YAAAY! a complete shithole can now be preserved forever*! what good would a multi-billion dollar research facility bring?"

    * (at least until Mr. Sprayregen shows his true intentions and develops his land into luxury condominiums, as he has been known to do in the past)

    • Columbia is Columbia  

      It's only a shithole because Columbia made it a shit hole. Read the decision ass hat. The law's on their side.

      • ummmm  

        yeah that's not entirely accurate. The US Supreme Court decided a few years ago in Kelo v. New London that eminent domain was cool. More or less.

        • Pro expansion  

          Yeah, see? If you'd read the decision, you'd know that eminent domain was overturned using the exact standard of review of the Kelo case. In other words, it wasn't necessary for them to disagree with the findings in Kelo to disagree with Columbia. Why? because Columbia and the ESDC were in bed together. Not the case with Phizer in New London. I don't suppose you'd wanna, I dunno, READ the decision before you decide whether it's legal or not.

      • ...  

        Oh how stupid of me! Laws are always correct and can never be changed! (See Dred Scott v Sandford).

        • Pro expansion  

          So, you're comparing this to Dredd Scot? That's the argument you're going for? You ignorant little frosh. I empathize with you. Your elitist parents must have never told you about white priviledge. If they had then you would know that the decision was a win for civil rights. 4.5 million people have been displaced by eminent domain, the vast majority of them minorities.

          • ...  

            I'm black, you fucktard. Don't you dare try to sit there and preach about my "elitist parents" when I went to high school in one of the shittiest public school districts in the Southeast.

            My point was that laws -- and their interpretations by the courts -- change. They evolve. Right now the majority of the anti-expansionist movement is made up of: 1) bleeding hearts like yourself, who think that everything that Columbia or any other major institution does is inherently wrong, 2) self-interested land developers like Nick Sprayregen, or 3) the, what, 4,000 people who live in Manhattanville?

            The problem with the anti-expansionist movement is that they fail to see the larger picture. Sprayregen or the Singhs aren't interested in preserving the neighborhood. They're interested in their own profits. Columbia can be a douche sometimes, but the public benefits that'll arise from this benefit far outweigh any anti-expanionist argument.

          • Anonymous  

            whoa. Now we're getting personal. First of all, never said you were white. I said you had elitist parents. If it's true that your highschool was shitty, then maybe that's the better explanation for your ignorance.

            Columbia can be a douche is quite right, so I won't argue with you there. They're being a "douche" by trying to expand using eminent domain. The "benefits that will follow this benefit" is actually not too far from their logic on the subject. The actual benefits they're promising, are weak as shit and will probably never materialize. The union jobs will not be local hires, for example. I could go on.

            You just lectured me about making assumptions. Then you go on to make some pretty bold ones about the two property owners. I'm going to go out on another limb here and guess you've never met or spoken to either of them, so you have no grounds to speak on their motives. What you are doing here, is deducing their motives from what you see as the facts at hand. That's precisely what I was doing when I said you had elitist parents. I'll amend my statement. Your parents have an elitist child. Which is worse?

          • Actually,  

            there's some pretty strong evidence that Sprayregen doesn't care about the neighborhood, and is just using this situation to his own advantage. Like that he has been converting many of his storage facilities in similarly "blighted" areas into condos. He doesn't want Columbia to profit from this, so that he can. Also, he's a major douche on a personal level.

          • Hmm...  

            "The union jobs will not be local hires, for example. I could go on."

            You do realize that most people in this city don't work in the same neighborhood in which they live, right? People commute, and as long as Columbia hires people who live within the NYC metropolitan area, then people in the city are benefitting from those wages. Unless you're rich enough to live and work on Park Ave, you're probably taking the subway to work everyday. I'd wager that most of the current Columbia non-faculty workers live in the outer boroughs, and I'm not really quite sure why you have a problem with that.

            "I’m going to go out on another limb here and guess you’ve never met or spoken to either of them, so you have no grounds to speak on their motives. What you are doing here, is deducing their motives from what you see as the facts at hand."

            Are you FUCKING SERIOUS? Are you REALLY trying to tell me that, in order to judge someone's motives, I have to have had a personal conversation with them? How the hell do you think society works? Person A does something, Person B looks at Person A's actions and then makes a judgement. You aren't doing anything different. You're looking at every pro-expansionist argument and then making assumptions about those pro-expansion people based on their beliefs. In this regard, you are the elitist one here. Welcome to reality.

          • Anonymous  

            Okay, so we both agree that the construction jobs won't be local hires. I figured those were the benefits you thought would "arise" for the local community from the expansion. If they're not getting employment out of it (and M'ville and West Harlem generally suffer from huge amounts of unemployment), then what exactly is the benefit?

            They used to live and work in those 17 acres before we pushed out every owner and tenant except two using the [false] threat of eminent domain. In return Columbia will profit enormously at their expense. The surrounding neighborhood will see its rents go sky-high. Is that a benefit?

            They won't be able to actually attend Columbia, except for a token number of scholarships. I'd hardly call that a benefit worthy of consideration in the context of this massive endeavor.

            They'll face polutants in the air during 20 years of construction in a neighborhood that already suffers high athsma rates from the bus dept. Is that what you consider a benefit that arises?

            Here's the real question for you: the only evidence you cite for why you don't trust Sprayregan is that he has built luxury condos in place of his own storage units. Given your definition of how neighborhoods benefit from development, how does that make him a bad person? I'll tell you my opinion: I think that if he was a bad person he would have sold to Columbia a long time ago rather than run the risk of spending millions of dollars on a long-shot legal battle. Clearly he has something more than calculated self-interest in mind here. As far as luxury condos go: they're not the problem in and of themselves. It's when they replace affordable housing that I tend to oppose their development. Sprayregan can build whatever he wants on his property and I don't mind. I may not love his choice, but it's his property. I don't see how any of this makes him bad.

          • Well  

            "If they’re not getting employment out of it (and M’ville and West Harlem generally suffer from huge amounts of unemployment), then what exactly is the benefit?"

            Regardless of where the employees actually live, as long as they live somewhere in New York, the simple fact is that Columbia would be hiring thousands of maintenance, construction, food preparers, etc. that either don't have jobs now, or would make more money working for Columbia. You are obsessed with the notion that the new hires must come from Manhattanville, but let's face it: upper Manhattan is going to gentrify, whether or not Columbia expands into Manhattanville. New York City has one of the most affordable and far-reaching subway and bus systems in the world. If you live in upper Manhattan and your sole excuse for remaining unemployed is that you HAVE to work near where you live, then your unemployment is your own fault. Millions of New Yorkers commute every single day; if you live in West Harlem and Columbia doesn't hire you, then guess what? Find a job somewhere else in the city, one that may require a bit of a commute to get to. If you want to live near where you work, then move to a smaller city. Regardless of where the workers live, the fact is that Columbia will be paying thousands of currently unemployed/underpaid New Yorkers a better wage once the campus is up and running.

            "In return Columbia will profit enormously at their expense. The surrounding neighborhood will see its rents go sky-high. Is that a benefit?"

            1) Columbia is a non-profit. Any profits the school makes go back into the general endowment and are then used to make the quality of education/research better. In that regard, it's not like this expansion is lining a Columbia administrator's pocket.

            2) Like I said above, upper Manhattan is gentrifying whether you like it or not, and regardless of what Columbia does in Manhattanville. Hell, look at Sprayregen himself. You think his luxury condos are going to save the affordable housing in the area?

            Also, the Manhattanville campus is not going to be up and running, in its entirety, until 2030, at the EARLIEST. If you really think rents in upper Manhattan are going to stay as low as they are now 5, 10, 15, and 20 years from now, then you lack foresight.

            "They won’t be able to actually attend Columbia, except for a token number of scholarships"

            Right, because Columbia is ONLY an education institute, not a research facility. No one in Manhattanville/West Harlem could possibly benefit from the research done at Columbia's new campus.

            "They’ll face polutants in the air during 20 years of construction in a neighborhood that already suffers high athsma rates from the bus dept. Is that what you consider a benefit that arises?"

            This is possibly your weakest argument. Manhattan is the densest, most congested county in America. You don't want pollutants in the air? Then move to Oregon. A 17-acre construction site that takes 20 years to build isn't going to harm anyone anymore than the thousands of cars that throw pollutants into the air everyday on the West Side Highway just west of Manhattanville.

            What the campus WILL do is spur development in the region. Restaurants, banks, bookstores, new apartment buildings, hot dog vendors, you name it will set up shop in the neighborhood once the campus is complete, and people will spend money at those places. That's a benefit to the neighborhood.

          • Anonymous  

            at least someone knows what they're talking about...

    • ...

      how cute... someone has borrowed both my psuedonym and one of my arguments from the last post on this.

  2. one more

    entry into the tradition of white people standing up for minorities against other white people. those ladies are so so proud of their signs.

  3. Anonymous  

    White people aren't allowed to have an opinion on the expansion? Then shut up.

  4. Pro expansion  

    Why can't these poor people just fall in line? Columbia is on a mission from GOD! We need to educate the next Oliver Norths and Henry Kissingers of the world, and we can't do that without a 7-story deep, 17 acre wide germ lab in Manhattanville. These people think things like "community" and "family" mean something. They obviously haven't attended Columbia. Infinitely sad.

    • Alum

      There are good arguments to be made against the use of eminent domain. This isn't one of them.

      The only remaining holdouts are some warehouses and gas stations. Just how integral do you think they are to the community? And if they leave because Columbia buys them out rather than because of eminent domain, how will the community be any better off?

      • Anonymous  

        I'd make the case that the city will be better off because of the legal precedent. Eminent Domain is a major problem in this city that affects poor people and minorities dispropotionately; this case would prove that the most egregious instances of it can and should be stopped. It would therefore force the ESDC to change their steamrolling tactics and the community wins by nature of a much stronger bargaining position.

  5. hmm

    I like expansion, but it is a bit whack that Columbia will seize this land using Eminent Domain and then rent it out to small businesses that they hand-pick and extort them.

  6. Anonymous  

    I think everyone agrees that Columbia needs to expand. The point of the rally was that eminent domain is an abuse of elite power. It's worth noting that COlumbia is using our tuition dollars to the ESDC's legal expenses for all these court proceedings. I wonder how much Columbia had to pay the ESDC to get them to cook the books on the blight study and essentially use eminent domain to allow Columbia to vacate the neighborhood. We need to expand, but if we can't pay people to leave, then we look elsewhere. That's the American way. These contiguous campuses in New York City just aren't workable. How about infill expansion ala NYU? Is that so bad?
    How about paying for affordable housing grants to CDC's that will prevent the rents from rising in West Harlem? We can afford to be philathropists when we're encroaching on their community for our massive benefit.

  7. nonsense..

    about Columbia being on some sort of God-sanctioned crusade is merely you projecting your own paranoia onto this whole ordeal. the indisputable facts are that the research centers we plan to build in Manhattanville will benefit humanity as a whole--that's the entire point of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS research, etc. to claim that Manhattanville expansion is solely for Columbia's benefit is to willfully ignore the tremendous good the school hopes to achieve. now, it's up for debate as to whether the two properties in question are necessary for the university's plans as conceived--that's what these court cases are all about, and i doubt anyone on here is really familiar enough with the details of the case to say for sure. in the meantime, it'd help if ppl stopped the nonsensical screaming about minority oppression and the like (nick sprayregen is no minority, after all).

    • Anonymous  

      But the Singhs are a minority, after all. Talk about willful ignorance.

      As to the curing of Parkinson's, Alzheimers, etc. It's not a debate. Those things will either happen or not, regardless of the outcome of the case. Columbia will profit handsomely off the patents for vaccines and cures that come from those buildings, and so will the world. That's the free market way. And no one is arguing with it.

      What's not the American way is for research facilities to be considered a public benefit as such. Legally there is no line there. The law right now stops at hospitals and highways, things of this nature. Universities do a lot of things that are generally positive, but very few of them benefit the outside world in a direct way. Everything hospitals and prisons do is designed to benefit the public in a direct way.

      Ironically, this argument probably wouldn't have held up in court. The courts are deferential to the legislature, which defines public benefit in such a way as to include Universities IF the neighborhood is indeed blighted. Actually, this demonstrates my slippery slope argument perfectly. WALMART could even have eminent domain claim if the neighborhood it was building in were indeed blighted.

      You say nobody here understands the decision. Speak for yourself. The decision found that there was no blight, except whatever blight that Columbia had created to its own decrepit properties.

      • nonsense..

        you clearly have little understanding of/appreciation for what science has and will continue to accomplish. you can thank university-sponsored research for the fact for the fact you're protected from hundreds of diseases that weren't even understood a century ago. maybe you should retake frontiers. also, the fact that the singhs belong to a minority group does not imply some sort of crusade against minorities (as suggests the woman's sign in the first image posted)--rather simple-minded to draw broad conclusions from isolated instances (see Statistics 101). furthermore, the law isn't a static organism with black and white definitions--that's why we have lawyers and trials; there would be no need for these otherwise. if you have a problem with the legal concept of eminent domain, then that's fair--so do lots of other people. lastly, if you understand the nuances of the arguments in this case so well (i.e. why columbia does or does not need the particular properties in question), then please englighten everyone.

        • Anonymous  

          This is supposed to be a refutation? It reads like a bathroom-wall argument.

          First you say that people should stop screaming about minority oppression because Sprayregan isn't a minority. (the neighborhood overwhelmingly is, but never mind.) I pointed out that the other petitioner in the case in fact is. To which you said that I can't take one text out of it's statistical context? Am I missing something or is that not exactly what you did when you brought up Sprayregan's ethnicity. For the real statistical context, refer to the decision, where Catterson points out that eminent domain has been used to displace 4.5 million people since WWII, the vast majority of them both minority and low income. Also, Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented in the Kelo decision because she feels that as a result this trend will get even worse.

          You mention that the law is not static, as if I said it was. If you had read your US constitution, you'd know that it was the legal, static, takings clause to which I was referring in my discussion of what constitutes a public benefit. This is widely known stuff, and upheld, again statically, in thu NY state constitution article 1, § 7. So while the legislature can offer their own interpretations, and this is where the whole blight thing came about after WWII, they can not directly overrule the takings clause, which defines public benefit in terms of hospitals and prisons. Sorry you disagree. There are a lot of other countries out there. Can I suggest Russia?

          I understand the nuances of the case, by the way, to know that whether or not Columbia can carry out its research without six parcels in question is irrelevant to the legality of this decision. The courts don't decide what's legal or not based on whether it is convenient for a private institution. What I will say, though, is that neither Bollinger nor anyone else has come forward to make a compelling case for why they would be so screwed without this last 9% of the land. We're a smart bunch of people, I bet dollars to donuts we'll figure something out.

          • fictions inflammation  

            The land is needed because Columbia is planning to build a large basement that will extend 7 stories below ground for all, or at least a large portion of the portion of the campus. Doesn't take an engineer to figure out why you can't have 2 random buildings sitting above that.

          • Anonymous  

            So you build around them then. There. Maybe I ought to be an engineer after all.

          • damion Wegener  

            Sure. Maybe the buildings will stay standing out of sheer willpower.

            Think about excavating 7 floors down around a building. You have a building sitting on top of an unstable 7-story column of earth. What happens next? Hint: building won't be there long. Even if it was possible to build around the buildings without damaging them, it would be prohibitively expensive. Should Columbia work with the owners to find an alternative location for the owners? Sure. But it's simply not practical to build around the existing buildings, like you're suggesting.

          • Christ  

            Whatever process they use to build a 7 story basement will be expensive no matter what, since they're building in a middle of a fucking city, right next door to a fucking river. Considering that the properties in question are at the edge of the street, and it's 99.9% likely they're gonna use slurry walls, just redraw the fucking borders of the basement.

          • critique kansas  

            They might be on the street, but I believe they're not at the edge of the expansion zone, in which case the argument still holds as the basement will extend under the entire expansion zone, not just individual blocks.

  8. Anonymous  

    This is America where people take over someone else's land all the time. Funny how everyone complains about gentrification and Mville, where you're actually improving the neighborhood conditions (less crime, better schools, etc.) but no one complains about illegal immigrants or whoever taking over a community, pushing residents out and increasing crime,

    • wow  

      i never though there were any glenn beck-head nuts at this school. congratulations! you're an idiot!

    • haha this guy  

      is insane. I love the attacks against those with no power.

      Many of the economic arguments of the pro-expansion crowd--i.e. it'll increase wages--do not take into account the harms inherent in this "progress." It's the same thing when they argue that sweatshops in Indonesia increase wages. In reality, we're completely altering people's lives for the sake of so-called economic progress. In Indonesia, they had an agrarian/fishing economy that we turned into a market based on sweatshop production and exploitation from American corporations. For West Harlem, we're forcing people to move their homes, families, occupations, community, etc. so future people might make another dollar per hour. There are important things other than money. When you ask the majority of people, they aren't all that into material bullshit.

  9. Anonymous  

    Out of curiosity, what makes Columbia a "big fat liar," as that woman says?

    I'm not saying that the way they're going about it is a good thing, but it seems as though they've been pretty straightforward--they want to expand above the 125th, and they're willing to spend a hell of a lot of money and use controversial legal tactics to get there.

  10. Hooah  

    Expand! Manifest Destiny! Expand!

  11. 01  

    Expand! Manifest Destiny! Expand!

  12. anonymous  

    Why doesn't Columbia pay these people enough to buy them out? Someone please fill me in as I'm assuming that was explained a few years ago.

    Personally, I think that eminent domain sounds just when it is used in a democratic system.

  13. anonymous  

    Is it legal to let the land we have already bought go into extreme disrepair and thus crash the property values of the tenets we can't buy out?

    Or offer whoever it is free classes through GS?

  14. CC 11  

    Good news, women's track team just ran through butler 209 in only their bras and panties. It's the most wonderful time of the year.

  15. hmm  

    is it fiscally viable to keep the expansion goals so lofty after our endowment took a hit?

  16. finals

    I'm amazed at how many people have time to rehash these arguments during finals. I for one am almost too busy to read all of these postings. Jeesh.

  17. ...

    i think sprayregen and friends should find a rich donor, get them on board to donate a shit-ton to ccny, sell their land to them cheap and let ccny acquire columbia's land via eminent domain.

  18. You people  

    need to get laid

  19. irony

    theyre protesting - in a building that columbia already owns...

  20. hahah  

    the gas station owner and he warehouse guy only didnt agree to sell their land because Columbia wouldn't pay the un reasonable amount the demanded and then once the offer was gone now they are upset, that under eminent domain they will only get fair value of the land and not 10x what its worth, like that wanted.

    also for all of you stupid enough to believe that that the gas station owner and the warehouse guy give a shit about the people in the neighbor hood, over their own profit you are beyond stupid...

    • Anonymous  

      who cares what they think? it has nothing to do with whether Columbia exploiting its influence/$$$ to get what it wants is ethical - the real reason to oppose the expansion, in my opinion. I agree with the commenter above who pointed out that this issue is important for the city in terms of the legal precedent it sets regarding eminent domain. And as a Columbia student, I don't feel comfortable having my school push around who- and whatever is in its way in an ethically questionable manner.

    • Person  

      And why are they the last two buildings left? Columbia went around making offers on the various properties - which they never negotiated. Anything other than an unqualified yes and they went to the lawyers immediately. When Columbia gives them a choice between a shit offer and a lawsuit that is unwinnable, are they going to turn it down? I say unwinnable because if you win you lose - the lawyer fees will bankrupt you and there's no way an institution as powerful and savy as Columbia will ever have to pay your costs. So all that's left is two shitty parcels - should the government allow eminent domain upon them simply because the threat was of it was enough to drive off everyone else? It's like the RIAA suits, in rolling over will always be less expensive than defending yourself, even if you're 100% correct. Most of the effect of eminent domain comes from just the threat of it.

  21. ...

    in all seriousness: they probably took a look at harvard's ditch in allston and rightfully determined that the risk exists for the same thing to happen here. regardless of how rosey a picture columbia paints about its finances, one of its peers has just proven that supposedly rich private educational institutions may not be all that rich and can be relatively untrustworthy. an unfinished columbia manhattanville hole, brought to you in part by eminent domain, would be a giant clusterfuck. one which no one, regardless of the political insulation provided by the judge's bench, would want to have anything to do with.

  22. Laura

    As someone who lives on 133rd between Broadway and Amsterdam, who goes to Columbia and who bought their apartment when it was still a sketchy neighbourhood, I wish that people fighting to "preserve the neighbourhood" would stfu.

    There was a murder. In front of my building, over this past summer. They threw the body down the stairs of my trash area. Tuck It Away storage is FULL of RATS (I know because I have a storage locker there). And, whether Columbia comes up here or not, the neighbourhood is changing, just like every neighbourhood in New York does eventually. The abandoned lot two buildings to the left of mine in in the process of being transformed into luxury condos going for a half mil to a million dollars each.

    Have you been down to 12th ave? With Fairway, Dinosaur BBQ and the whole host of really fancy, expensive restaurants down there, the neighbourhood is gentrifying and people crying about it probably eat there often. Talk to my neighbours who had to sleep in their bathtubs five years ago because of the sounds of gunfire. Maybe then they'll stop crying about subjugation of a neighbourhood.

    Mr TuckItAway is just going for profits, just like everyone else. He should stop crying too.

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