Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Eminent domain and The New York Times

Meer weeks after 9/11, The New York Times stepped up to do its part. The newspaper, in response to Kelo v. City of New London (a Supreme Court decision which upheld governments’ broad leeway to use eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to a richer one), wrote "in an editorial entitled 'The Limits of Property Rights,' [that Kelo] is 'a welcome vindication of cities’ ability to act in the public interest' and 'a setback to the ‘property rights’ movement, which is trying to block government from imposing reasonable zoning and environmental regulations.'"

"'We believe there could not be a greater contribution,' [New York Times Co. Vice Chairman and Senior Vice President Michael] Golden told a clutch of city officials and journalists, 'than to have the opportunity to start construction of the first major icon building in New York City after the tragic events of Sept. 11.' Bruce Ratner, president of the real estate development company working with the Times on its proposed new Eighth Avenue headquarters, called the project a 'very important testament to our values, culture and democratic ideals.'"

"Those 'values' and 'democratic ideals' included using eminent domain to forcibly evict 55 businesses — including a trade school, a student housing unit, a Donna Karan outlet, and several mom-and-pop stores — against their will, under the legal cover of erasing 'blight,' in order to clear ground for a 52-story skyscraper. The Times and Ratner, who never bothered making an offer to the property owners, bought the Port Authority–adjacent property at a steep discount ($85 million) from a state agency that seized the 11 buildings on it; should legal settlements with the original tenants exceed that amount, taxpayers will have to make up the difference. On top of that gift, the city and state offered the Times $26 million in tax breaks for the project, and Ratner even lobbied to receive $400 million worth of U.S. Treasury–backed Liberty Bonds — instruments created by Congress to help rebuild Lower Manhattan. Which is four miles away."

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