Friday, August 05, 2005

Senator Urges Gov to 'Just Say No' to Eminent Domain
By Amanda Erickson

Sen. David Paterson called on Governor Pataki Thursday to issue a six-month moratorium on the use of eminent domain.

Paterson (D-Harlem) made his plea hoping to protect private property owners until the legislature reconvenes in January. He wants to fully study the effects of eminent domain, a process by which the state can forcibly buy private property for "public use."

Paterson is the highest ranking state official to weigh in on the growing debate surrounding eminent domain, which climaxed in a Supreme Court decision in June. Columbia University is considering the use of eminent domain for its proposed Manhattanville expansion.

"When Bill Clinton and Clarence Thomas agree on an issue, it is time to take a deep breath and examine all the facts," the Senator said in a statement on his reasons for requesting the moratorium.

"We want to study how eminent domain is going to be applied in New York (in the wake of the court decision)," said Paterson spokesman Fernando Aquino. "The legislature will discuss the issue next year, we wanted to make sure nothing bad happens in the meantime to owners."

Several members of the West Harlem community joined Paterson, the Democratic leader in the Republican controlled state Senate, to express their opposition to eminent domain use. But activists at the conference were quick to stress that they were supporting the measure not only because of Columbia's expansion, but in order to protect land throughout New York.

"This is not just about Columbia, it is about the eminent domain use that is happening all over the city," Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, the chairman of Community Board 9, said.

Bert Gall, a lawyer with the Institute who argued on behalf of homeowners in Connecticut in the case of Kelo v. New London before the Supreme Court also attended the event. The Court ruled for city officials, stating that economic development constituted an acceptable "public use" needed before properties can be acquired using eminent domain.

"Eminent domain is happening all over the city and all over the state," said Steve Anderson, a representative of the Institute for Justice. "It is appropriate for public use only."University officials said that Paterson's stance has not changed the University's expansion plans in any way.
In a statement, they said "the decision to use eminent domain is the State's, and we are not prepared to take the option off the table, however it remains a last resort."

Paterson also proposed creating a task force to study the issue of eminent domain and make suggestions about how the legislature can best protect its citizens against the forcible seizure of property.

Governor Pataki is considering the request, a spokeswoman said, but has made no immediate decision.

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