Sunday, November 29, 2009

`Columbiagate': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 18

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 17)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] colluded with Columbia, asking it to provide a basis for the finding of blight and allowing it to create conditions that could be used to try and establish such a basis.

“ESDC colluded with Columbia in hiring Columbia’s consultant AKRF to perform the blight study, in tailoring with AKRF the methodology of such a study to achieve a predetermined result, and in allowing Columbia to participate in and control the gathering of evidence, and in allowing Columbia to review and direct such a study.

“ESDC engaged in deception in its allegations of the neutrality of Columbia’s consultant AKRF…ESDC engaged in deception in its repeated misrepresentation of what records it possessed in relation to the Columbia Project…

“…The City Planning Commission [CPC]…failed to consider impacts of the threatened use of eminent domain in driving sales to Columbia, and consequent loss of businesses and jobs, and in causing the neglect of building repairs, and in fueling speculative run up of real estate prices in the wider West Harlem area…”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 17

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 16)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] failed to prepare a carefully considered plan when it failed to determine the public purposes of the project prior to selection of Columbia for the overwhelming benefit of such a project.

“ESDC failed to prepare a carefully considered plan when it failed to consider any competing proposal to Columbia’s General Project Plan [GPP], including as-of-right development under the Community Board [CB] 9 197 (a) plan.

“ESDC failed to prepare a carefully considered plan when it placed no limitation on Columbia’s GPP…limiting its displacement of current West Harlem business and residents or preventing it from defeating the intent of the community as expressed in the CB 9 197 (a) plan.

“ESDC made no effort to achieve public benefits proportional to the private benefits likely to flow from Columbia’s proposal.

“ESDC, together with NYC Economic Development Corporation [EDC], Department of City Planning [DEP], the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Development, the New York City Law Department and other agencies worked to keep planning secret…and time the project for Columbia’s convenience and political advantage…”

Friday, November 27, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 16

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 15)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“…Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] has cooperated in a developer driven project, conceived by Columbia, initiated by Columbia, configured and defined by Columbia to maximize its own private benefit, and timed and directed by Columbia.

“ESDC, together with Economic Development Corporation [EDC] and Department of City Planning [DCP], failed to prepare a carefully considered plan when it showed favoritism to Columbia over other development proposals, cooperating with it in secret to subvert prior public planning commitments, allowing Columbia to choose the dual prong re-zoning and General Project plan [GPP] strategy, and assisting Columbia in developing such a strategy so as to maximize Columbia’s chances of realizing its maximal private benefit…”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 15

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 14)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“…Article I, section 7 of the New York State Constitution and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution limit takings to public use. Under the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Kelo v. City of New London, the majority limited the reliance upon economic development as public use, benefit or purpose to projects that are the result of a carefully considered plan. 54 U.S. 469, 478.

“The deciding concurring opinion of Justice Kennedy further required courts to be vigilant against pretextual purposes and favoritism in developer driven development projects…

“The stated public use, benefit or purpose of redeveloping a substandard and insanitary, or blighted, area is null and void because the finding that the Manhattanville industrial area was blighted was made in bad faith, in error of law, and without basis, and what blight-like symptoms are present are overwhelmingly caused, maintained or exacerbated by Columbia with Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC]’s knowledge and consent…

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 14

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 13)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“…Calling privately funded and directed academic research a `civic purpose’ is…inappropriate when the knowledge gained from such research is not required to be made public, but in fact, through partnership with private pharmaceutical companies and other for-profit entities is proprietary and subject to patent.

“Further alleged civic purposes such as widening of street walls, increasing sight line and 125th street access to the Hudson waterfront, planting, and transparency requirements, and creation of a 12th Avenue market area cannot be civic purposes of the Project because they are already mandated in any development pursuant to the Re-zoning of December 18, 2007…

“Additional alleged civic purposes associated with the project are not only incidental, but pretextual because they were extraneous to the dominant use and purpose of the project…

“Such pretextual `civic purposes’ include the operation subsidy for a largely Columbia used waterfront park, lighting improvements, subway escalator improvements, funding of certain Harlem…organizations, a playground, rent free lease of other property on which New York City Department of Education may or may not build a school, the provision of a $20 million housing fund that will at most cover the cost of relocating residential tenants directly displaced from the area, limited use of Columbia facilities, and various scholarships and health, educational, business development and legal assistance programs, all amounting to no more than $200 million in value, or 3% of the total project cost…”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 13

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 12)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“There is no legal precedent recognizing private institutions of higher education as a civic facility, or an entity carrying out a community, municipal, public service, or other civic purpose. The term `civic’ implies use and participation of the public, and has heretofore required at least use by invitees from the public.

“A private university, with selective admission, charging high tuition, and offering its graduates valuable credentials for their private advantage, cannot qualify as a civic facility or provider of a civic purpose. If it did, there is no project sought by or benefiting…any land hungry private university that would not also qualify as a `civic purpose.’.

“In so far as `educational’ services or purposes can constitute civic purposes, the education must be for public education, open to the public, and subject to public governance.

“Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC]’s finding of need for educational facilities in New York City and State is made in bad faith, and without rational basis, for it has not established any public duty to provide private university facilities…”

Monday, November 23, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE: Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 12

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 11)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] acted in bad faith when it hired Columbia’s consultant AKRF to produce a study allegedly to ascertain whether the area was blighted, then collaborated with Columbia’s consultant AKRF to design, or consented to the use of, a methodology that would yield a predetermined conclusion.

“AKRF’s methodology excluded evidence the area was not blighted, that ignored causal links, such as that between Columbia ownership and vacancy, or between building condition and Columbia acquisition, management or control, and inferred causality without basis, such as between building conditions and supposed disinvestments in Manhattanville, even as Columbia itself was aggressively investing in Manhattanville.

“By excluding the ownership and occupancy history and economic context of the Manhattanville industrial area, AKRF, with ESDC’s knowledge and consent, deliberately engaged in an effort to color the evidence, and shape it to fit the pre-determined conclusion that the area was blighted…”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 11

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 10)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] acted in bad faith when it continued to participate in advancing Columbia’s Project when it knew in December, 2004 that the…Urbitran blight study did not adequately show the area to be blighted, when it communicated that concern to Columbia’s attorney…

“ESDC acted in bad faith, and in illegal delegation of its authority to make public findings, when it asked Columbia on August 1, 2005 to provide a `basis for a finding of blight,’ and when it requested a progress report on Columbia acquisition in Manhattanville.

“In doing so ESDC effectively communicated to Columbia that the realization of Columbia’s project would depend upon Columbia’s acquiring as much as Manhattanville as possible, and by direct control of the property, creating the conditions that could be used as a basis for a finding.

“Columbia proceeded to do so, refusing to renew leases, pressuring tenants to leave, and intentionally not performing adequate maintenance and repairs on buildings, even when economical to do so and minor repairs would ensure long productive lives of the buildings…”

Friday, November 20, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 10

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 9)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“Though Columbia held a series of three meetings with community leaders in 2004 and 2005 that it called `community consultation,’ Columbia treated them merely as informational meetings to present the alleged benefits of the project. Participants alleged Columbia was unresponsive to concerns expressed in those meetings…

“Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC]’s finding that the area was blighted was made in bad faith and violated its statutory authority, the New York State Constitution and the United States Constitution (UDCA Sec. 10 c; Article 1, section 7 of the New York State Constitution; 5th and 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution)…”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 9

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 8)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“From the outset, Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] let Columbia define the scale, scope, and design of the Project solely for Columbia’s benefit…

“From the outset, Columbia dictated the area it wished to control and the square footage it wished to build…

“Why Columbia must control the entire Manhattanville area, or why it must have precisely the number of square feet it desired was never questioned by ESDC…

“This Project has only been about what Columbia wants, not what the public needs…”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 8

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 7)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“Overwhelmingly, the West Harlem community has consistently opposed the Columbia project so long as it was premised upon the use of eminent domain.

“On September 23, 2005, West Harlem Community Board 9 opposed the use of eminent domain in Manhattanville by a resolution adopted 29-0…

“…In August 2007…Community Board 9 voted 34 to 3 against the project…

“Community Board 9’s 197 (a) plan called for the creation of an entity which could negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement [CBA] with Columbia. The West Harlem Local Development Corporation [LDC] was established in 2006…

“…Columbia…was unwilling to negotiate over the scale, configuration, or program use of its Project…”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 7

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 6)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“…Compared to most of the rest of New York City, Manhattanville is not deprived of open space.

“Not only would the Project contribute little open space suitable for West Harlem community use, but the Project, by its height and the shadows it cast, would degrade existing Manhattanville Houses and Shieflin Park open space…

“Additional allegedly `civic and community benefits’ were offered in the Modified General Project Plan [GPP] of which Columbia would be the principal beneficiary. These include 12,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, for which Columbia will collect market rents, a $500,000 per year subsidy for 24 years for the operation of the Harlem Piers Park, the use of which will likely be more Columbia’s than West Harlem’s, lighting improvements under the Riverside Drive viaduct, or free wireless access throughout its campus…

“What all of these alleged `civic community benefits’ share in common is that they are extraneous to the dominant uses, benefits and purposes of the project…

“The total value of all these `goodies’ amount to no more than $200 million, or approximately 3% of the $6.5 billion projected cost of the Project.

“This package of `goodies’ was not agreed upon by the local community as adequate compensation for the impact of Columbia’s proposed project…”

Monday, November 16, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal--Part 6

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 5)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“In summary, Allee King Rosen and Flemming [AKRF] provided a study with a methodology effectively tailored to deliver the result that the area was blighted, despite a fundamental absence of background economic conditions associated with blight. AKRF, with the knowledge, participation and approval of Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC], suppressed contrary evidence, avoided evaluation of casual relationships, and, most importantly, avoided any accounting for activity, omissions, and responsibility of the single most important player and causal factor in Manhattanville: Columbia’s activity as a purchaser, owner, and operator of over 75% of the properties in the area.

“…The New York State Supreme Court, Justice Shirley Kornreich presiding, found AKRF to not only be serving an advocacy function on behalf of its client Columbia, but also that AKRF itself had an interest in ESDC’s adoption of Columbia’s General Project Plan [GPP]…ESDC took an appeal to the Appellate Division, First Department.

“On July 15, 2008, this Appellate Division issued its decision…finding AKRF’s relationship with Columbia to be `tangled.’…

“…Of the 37 buildings AKRF…determined to be in poor conditions, at least 16, or 43%, are likely to have crossed that line during the time of Columbia’s ownership or control due to Columbia’s discontinuation of maintenance and its failure to perform repairs…”

Sunday, November 15, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 5

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] decision to allow the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 4)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“Columbia did undertake cosmetic interior renovations in certain properties, but left underlying waterproofing conditions unaddressed, allowing structural elements to deteriorate…

“Columbia also posted on buildings it owned `For Rent’ signs, creating the appearance of available commercial rental property and flagging demand, even as Columbia had no intention of renting its vacant properties. Calls to the phone numbers listed on such signs, by both Manhattanville owners, and other prospective renters, yielded only answering machines and unreturned calls. In May, 2007, an attorney representing a number of businesses being forced out of a Columbia owned building upon inquiring as to the possibility of relocation into one of the vacant Columbia owned buildings in the area was informed by Columbia’s attorney that `There is no space available in Manhattanville.’

“In late March, 2006, Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] turned to Columbia’s Consultant, Allee King Rosen and Flemming, Inc. [AKRF,] to perform a new blight study of Manhattanville.

“In sworn affidavits, AKRF and ESDC stated that in retaining AKRF, ESDC had required the erection of a `Chinese Wall’ separating employees working on the Blight Study for ESDC from those working on the environmental review for Columbia, and that such separation had been strictly maintained…On May 19, 2008, ESDC admitted that such a wall had not in fact been maintained. Billing records indicate that as many as six AKRF employees worked on both sides of the alleged barrier…

“Far from keeping the study confidential from Columbia, ESDC permitted Columbia to control access to the properties, accompany surveyors, review and comment on reports, and to be present at meetings and reviews…”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhatanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 4

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street.

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“In properties Columbia acquired, Columbia allowed or maintained accumulation of garbage and trash.

“In most buildings it acquired, Columbia refrained from attending to even minor repairs or preventive maintenance, causing existing conditions from water infiltration to become significantly exacerbated. At 635 West 125th Street, for instance, for failure to repair a broken pane in a skylight, sufficient water entered the building as to cause flooring to buckle and ceilings to collapse, such as a building identified as in `fair’ condition in 2006 was in `poor’ condition by 2008. At 623 W. 129th Street, a roof drain was left clogged, causing significant water damage in the building below.

“On the basis of Petitioner’s review of individual building reports, it appears that in 34 out of 51 Columbia owned buildings, or 66.6%, conditions were allowed to deteriorate significantly over that period…”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 3

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street.

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“Manhattanville is a riverfront community in West Harlem…

“…The number of jobs in the area was rising until Columbia began buying the area up in 2002.

“…At least since the 1960s Columbia has been looking to expand beyond the confines of its Morningside Heights campus, to acquire land and to build in Manhattanville and West Harlem. Already in 1960 Columbia was seeking to take over the Manhattanville industrial area with a…development scheme. Columbia’s attempt to take over part of nearby Morningside Park to build an athletic facility brought community relations to a boil in 1968…

“After 2002, Columbia’s acquisition activity in Manhattanville accelerated. By the end of 2005 it had acquired or entered into contract on 28 of 67 properties in the area. In approaching property owners, Columbia sought to portray the use of eminent domain as certain and inevitable, urging owners to sell now at the low price they were being offered or have their property taken by eminent domain.

“As Columbia acquired property, it applied pressure to remove all tenants except for the few it intended to incorporate into ground floor retail spaces in its proposed campus.

“Columbia refused to renew leases except on commercially unreasonable one year terms, and with provisions effectively providing for summary termination at Columbia’s sole discretion.

“Columbia exaggerated alleged building defects as a pretext to require tenants to relocate, but in relocation, offered smaller spaces and covered only a fraction of relocation costs.

“Columbia refused to perform repairs when asked by tenants. At 609 West 125th Street, for example, Columbia refused to repair major leaks from skylights and roof over the space rented by the Eritrean Community Center of Greater New York, a tenant it sought to remove, even while it replaced the roof over the section of the same building rented by Floridita, a restaurant it had designated for incorporation into the new project.

“Columbia refused to conduct fa├žade repairs, and left in place indefinitely sidewalk sheds obscuring tenants’ store fronts and signage, without compensation.

“Columbia added inappropriate charges to rent, including for structural repairs that were the owner’s responsibility, and refused to recognize lease modifications by the prior owner.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 2

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street.

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“This case raises the question of whether allegedly public purposes attributed to a project long after it was fully conceived, and that involve almost no use of the land or facilities proposed to be developed, or that are diminutive in relation to the private benefit conferred by the project, constitute `civic’ or `public’ purposes, or whether they are not, in fact, pretext.

“This case presents the question of whether the desire of any private university to expand, or the acquisition of proprietary knowledge, constitute a `civic’ purpose.

“And this case raises the constitutional question of whether the use of eminent domain for economic development alone, under the Supreme Court of the United States’s 2006 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, constitutes a public use, benefit or purpose in the absence of a carefully considered plan with public purposes determined prior to selection of a developer and reached through a transparent and accountable public process.

“…Columbia and Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] have refused to compromise, and ESDC…has condoned and enabled Columbia in its drive to achieve 100% physical, economic, and cultural control of the entire area…For Columbia’s preference to have it all is what this struggle is being fought for. Columbia’s preference to have it all does not constitute a public use, benefit or purpose…”

Saturday, November 7, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 1

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against allowing the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street.

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“This case is about the abuse of the government’s power of eminent domain to secure for a developer a contested area of West Harlem it had long sought to control and for which it had formed a fully blown plan.

“This case is about the secret collaboration between Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] and New York City agencies in a complex plan to give that developer, an elite private university, everything it wanted, without compromise or limitation, while evading public review and accountability.

“This case is about favoritism shown to an elite private university over community interests, clearly and consistently expressed through the local Community Planning Board, over multiple well established public planning processes, and over competing development proposals for existing local business and property owners, for purposes that in the end amount to no more than the speculative estimation that what is good for Columbia University is good for New York.

“And this case is about how ESDC, in its determination to maximize Columbia’s private benefit, overreached its statutory authorization, made findings in bad faith, and fabricated pretextual purposes to cover up the illegality of its dominant purpose…”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Columbia University's Goldman Sachs Connection & West Harlem Construction Project

Columbia University Trustee Armen Avanessians is Goldman Sachs' director of FICC Strategies, Equity Strategies, Investment Banking and Financial Group Strategies and became a partner in Goldman Sachs in 1994.

In addition, Columbia University Trustee Ann Kaplan is a member of the Goldman Sachs Bank USA board of directors and Columbia University Trustee Esta Stecher is Goldman Sachs Group's executive vice president and general counsel.

Also, Columbia University Trustee Richard Witten was a Goldman Sachs partner and managing director from 1990 to 2002.

Coincidentally, if Goldman Sachs merges with the M&T Bank Corporation, the head of the Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] which approved the use of eminent domain in Columbia University’s 17-acre West Harlem-Manhattanville construction project, M&T Bank Corporation CEO Bob Wilmers, may personally benefit from a business relationship with the Columbia University-linked Goldman Sachs firm.

As Thomas Hartley observed in the October 1, 2008 issue of the Baltimore Business Journal, one of Ireland’s largest independent securities firms, NCB Stockbrokers, noted in a 2008 report that: “Remember that M&T’s CEO, septuagenarian Bob Wilmers, has been at the bank for 25 years [and] might be tempted to roll his 10 percent holding into something larger driven by Goldman Sachs.”

Speaking of the latest real estate development and land grabbing project of the tax-exempt “Goldman Sachs University of Morningside Heights,” an interesting article by Damon W. Root, was posted on the www.reason.com website. In his February 9, 2009 article, titled “Exposing Columbia University’s eminent domain abuse,” Root noted:

“Consider the following: In 2006, the Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] hired the planning and engineering firm Allee King Rosen & Fleming, Inc. (AKRF) to perform an `impartial' neighborhood blight study. AKRF was certainly a bold choice, given that the firm was already on Columbia's payroll and actively working on the contested Manhattanville plan. According to billing records that…civil libertarian Norman Siegel, turned up via the state's Freedom of Information Law, as many as six AKRF employees worked on both the blight study and the redevelopment project, which is practically the definition of a conflict of interests.

“The report itself proved to be just as flawed. For starters, AKRF failed to mention that Columbia owns 76 percent of the neighborhood and was thus directly responsible for the overwhelming majority of blight that the report alleged, ranging from overflowing basement trash heaps to major roof and skylight leaks. (Columbia has been performing maintenance on several buildings it plans to preserve for their historical significance.) As numerous tenants have now reported, the university refused to perform basic and necessary repairs, which both pushed tenants out and manufactured the ugly conditions that later advanced Columbia's long-term interests….

“AKRF admitted as much in preliminary findings delivered to the ESDC, which identified `Open violations in CU Buildings' and `History of CU repairs to properties' among its `issues of concern.' On top of that, AKRF relied on misleading and in some cases inappropriate evidence, including irrelevant crime statistics and building code violations that had zero relationship to actual physical conditions (such as the failure to file an annual boiler inspection).

“In fact, the ESDC-Columbia redevelopment scheme fails to meet even the generous standards set by the Supreme Court's notoriously eminent domain-friendly decision in Kelo v. City of New London (2005), which permitted the transfer of property from one private party to another so long as the taking was part of a `comprehensive redevelopment plan.’ But as Justice Anthony Kennedy's concurring opinion in the case also made perfectly clear, `transfers intended to confer benefits on particular, favored private entities, and with only incidental or pretextual public benefits, are forbidden by the Public Use Clause.’… “