Friday, December 23, 2005
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit,
my best wishes for an environmentally conscious,
socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive,
gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice
holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions
of the religious persuasion or secular practices of your
choice, with respect for the religious/secular
persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice
not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.
I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally
fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of
the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2006,
but not without due respect for the calendars of choice
of other cultures whose contributions to society have
helped make America great. Not to imply that America is
necessarily greater than any other country nor the only
America in the Western Hemisphere. And without regard to
the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious
faith or sexual preference of the wishee.
By accepting these greetings you are accepting these
terms. This greeting is not subject to clarification or
withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration
to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the
wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for
herself or himself or others, is void where prohibited
by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the
wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected
within the usual application of good tidings for a
period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent
holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is
limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new
wish at the sole discretion of the wisher."
Subj: News from the NYC Office of Emergency Management Regarding End of Transit Strike
Date: 12/22/2005 7:49:01 PM Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
December 22, 2005
THIS IS THE NYC.gov NEWS FOR: Emergency Preparedness Notifications & Alerts and OEM News & Event
Below, please find the remarks by Mayor Bloomberg on the end of the transit strike. The City's contingency plan will end at 12:00AM Friday morning. For questions regarding service by a specific transportation provider, please contact that provider directly.
STATEMENT BY MAYOR BLOOMBERG ON END OF ILLEGAL TRANSIT STRIKE
Remarks by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as prepared for delivery:
"Good afternoon to everyone. I am pleased that the TWU Executive Board has followed the recommendation of its leadership and the New York State mediators and voted to return to work.
"Based on that vote, the New York City Transit Authority is asking its workers to report to their next shift at 4pm. Keep in mind, we have an enormous mass transit system and it can't be turned on with the flip of the switch. There are a lot of logistics that need to be dealt with in order to get the subways and buses moving again. The Transit Authority will need between 10 and 18 hours after workers show up to get the system up to full capacity but we would expect buses to be running later this evening and hopefully, most subways in the morning.
"We will know later this afternoon what type of worker turnout there is. If it's big enough to get the system up and running, we hope to end the City's contingency plan at midnight tonight.
"As for this morning, rush hour was marred by a serious injury. An off-duty Firefighter was hit by a bus in midtown as he biked to work. He was taken to New York Hospital. His condition is grave, and I ask all New Yorkers to say a prayer for him.
"Other than that accident, the rush was similar in numbers to yesterday's numbers. There were slightly more cars and more people per car on the East River crossings.
"911 call volume is slightly higher than normal but response times are holding steady. School attendance today is slightly higher than yesterday.
"On the economic front, the news continues to be negative. I was in Brooklyn this morning where I met with some members of our business community and heard firsthand how difficult the strike has been for them.
"As I said yesterday, the New York Blood Center is in a state of emergency and desperately needs donors. You can get information through 311 or by visiting http://www.nybloodcenter.org/ and I encourage everyone to help.
"On a brighter note, it's a great time of year in New York City. We have a lot of tourists; people are enjoying our great Broadway shows; Christmas is on Sunday; and there's still plenty of time for people to shop, see the tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skate in Central Park, and enjoy the holiday season here in the greatest City in the world.
"Many of our cultural institutions, in response to the current situation, are offering discounts on tickets or gift shop purchases to patrons who present a Metrocard. Participants include the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Theaterworks/USA, the Brooklyn Museum, Repertorio Espagnol, the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Whitney Museum. A list of all organizations participating in the Metrocard Cultural Discount Program can be found on the Department of Cultural Affairs website: www.nyc.gov/culture.
"When the subways and buses start running again, things will get back to normal, our economy will get back on track, and I hope we can salvage the rest of the week.
"One thing is clear: This was a big test for this city and I think it passed with flying colors. It wasn't easy, and certainly serious economic harm was inflicted, but we did what we had to do to keep this City running and running safely. Public safety was our first priority and it never was in jeopardy.
"I would like to thank the Office of Emergency Management for developing a very effective contingency plan, as well as our Department of Transportation, Police Department, Fire Department and other city agencies for doing whatever was needed to make this City work."
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Thursday, December 22, 2005
Date: 23-Dec-05 21:57:09 Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
The Strike Everybody Lost;
How to Stop the Next One.
By Henry J. Stern
December 23, 2005
The three-day transit strike, now mercifully ended, was an expensive exercise in machismo. It cost the city economy hundreds of millions of dollars in lost wages, sales and other economic activity. The loss has been estimated at a billion dollars, but who really knows? It cost the Transit Workers Union $3 million in fines, unless they are able to weasel out of their punishment, which is already relatively modest considering the economic damage they caused innocent people and businesses by their illegal acts.
It will cost the workers about a thousand dollars each, at the rate of two days pay for each day on strike. In this case, their high wages serve to increase the penalty for striking. However, they will more than make it back in the first year of the contract. Whether they would have received the same increase without going on strike remains to be seen.
It must in fairness be said that the MTA is no better than the union, and they have less of an excuse for incompetence because the senior staff is highly paid and the trustees are largely appointees of the governor, although some are recommended by the mayor and by county executives. The weakness begins at the top, since the chairman is a crony of the man who, almost single-handedly, created Governor Pataki. There are no shining lights on that board, and knowledge of transportation is a scarce commodity among the appointees. Our over-the-top recommendation is to bring back David Gunn, recently fired by politicians at Amtrak, as executive director, promote Kathy Lapp to chair the board, and to make Mr. Kalikow the chair emeritus, since he has worked long hours without pay for many years doing what he thought was right.
In case you wonder why we have low regard for the MTA, look at 2 Broadway, which they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars renovating but do not even own. Using the building was a mistake in the first place, since it was a Class A office building at Bowling Green Park, overlooking New York harbor. It is an extravagant waste of tax funds to put thousands of government employees in very expensive real estate. The MTA staff can as easily work in or near the other relatively new MTA office building at 130 Livingston Street, in Brooklyn, which is across Boerum Place from 110 Livingston Street, the old Board of Education headquarters which became a symbol for bureaucracy and waste. 110 was sold by the city, and is now being converted into taxpaying condos.
The MTA's failure to acquire title to 2 Broadway means that the owner of the property, one Tamir Sapir, a Russian immigrant who once drove a cab in New York City and now owns a billion-dollar real estate empire and a home in Trump Tower. Mr. Sapir would make a better chairman for the MTA than the bureaucrats whom he hornswoggled. On top of that, the construction job was taken over by the mob and various unions, who paid off MTA employees, some of whom have since gone to jail for brief terms. To be fair to Mr. Kalikow, this horror was initiated before he became Chairman, but since his fortune is based on his father's success as a real estate developer, he might have used whatever gifts he inherited to clean up the mess. Mr. Kalikow was also, briefly, publisher of the New York Post, and played a commendable role in keeping that newspaper going until Rupert Murdoch relieved him of making up its deficits.
This is not the time and place to disparage the union, we gave our opinion on that Wednesday, in a New York Sun article, Held Hostage, published Wednesday, day 2 of what the mayor kept calling "the illegal, selfish strike". On Tuesday and Wednesday, the mayor walked across the bridge, in very cold weather and without a hat, which he should have worn because so much of the heat of the body is lost through the head. Because he did not dally to chat up enough people, he was the victim of a somewhat catty article in the Times, which did its usual fine job reporting all aspects of the strike, as did the News, Post, Newsday and the Sun. The press does really well with these big stories, perhaps following the playbook of quondam Timesman Howell Raines, to whom is attributed the order, "Flood the zone."
We have to find a better way to prevent these ruinous strikes. A union which could sell its West Side headquarters for 80 million dollars (it's location is 80 West End Avenue) can pay a million dollars a day for as long as it took Phileas Fogg to circumnavigate the globe. The Transit Workers Union could rationally be held liable for the economic damage caused by the illegal strike, just as corporations are now routinely forced to pay for the consequences of the illegal (and sometimes even legal) pollution that they cause. If the house of labor were auctioned off to pay those who could prove strike-related damages, the victims would still receive a modest percentage of their losses. BTW, individuals who paid extra money to get to work, or who lost wages because they were unable to come in, also deserve compensation, perhaps at a higher rate. Leave it to the courts.
Being a just, merciful and liberal, we do NOT recommend such action. Just issue a warning that it will happen the next time they take a strike vote. In fact, the strike vote could be enjoined because it contemplates an illegal act, like the purchase of an accelerant in order to commit arson. The MTA hierarchy is no better than the TWU's leadership, but as a public agency it should be held to a higher standard. It is facile to say that the MTA and the TWU deserve each other, much like the cobra and the mongoose. But the City of New York and its people deserve more from both of them.
A suggestion we made in an op-ed piece in Tuesday's Times was that the city take greater responsibilities for local transit. Congressman Anthony Weiner e-mailed to say he had made a similar suggestion in his 2005 campaign for mayor. He sent us the document and, although there are questions of liability and practicality involved in breaking up the MTA, we both agree that the city should have a greater voice in mass transit. We should note that Comptroller Bill Thompson was the only Democrat who we heard say that the union should go back to work, although both he and Weiner have supported the union at TWU rallies, as they do for other unions, the Democrats being the party of the working people
What would these solons do if they had any authority to make decisions in these matters, other than rely on their skills at exhortation? What would any of the other prospective candidates do? Tell us. These are questions that Democrats have not had to face for a dozen years, and presumably will not confront for at least another four.
Enjoy the holidays, Christmas, Hannukah (however it is spelled), Kwanzaa, New Year's Day, the Feast of the Three Kings, any others you may observe for which parking rules are suspended.
#273 12.23.05 1216wds
Henry J. Stern0
New York Civic
520 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
(212) 564-5588 (fax)
AOL News - "El Gordo" Lottery Hands Out $2.4 Billion in Winnings - Spain's Traditional Lottery Includes 1,700 Winners in One Town
Updated: 10:19 AM EST
'El Gordo' Lottery Hands Out $2.4 Billion in Winnings
Spain's Traditional Lottery Includes 1,700 Winners in One Town
By MANU FERNANDEZ, AP
VIC, Spain (Dec. 22) - A lottery known as "El Gordo" -- the Fat One -- sprinkled more than 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) in Christmas cheer around Spain on Thursday, with this Catalan town known for its churches and convents blessed with a quarter of the windfall.
Andrea Comas, Reuters
Schoolchildren call out winning numbers during the televised drawing for "El Gordo" -- Spain's annual Christmas lottery. The lottery is a complex system that hands out 1,700 first-place prizes.
AOL Latino: Story in Spanish
There are lots of ways to win at least something in Spain's nearly 200-year-old Christmas sweepstakes but the luckiest gamblers this year held the first-prize number 20085.
The lottery features a complex system of shared numbers designed to spread wealth rather than concentrate it in a jackpot. Each five-digit number ranging from 00001 to 85000 appeared on 1,700 tickets costing $24 apiece.
And this year all 1,700 tickets with the number 20085 were sold by one lottery office in Vic, 40 miles north of Barcelona. Each was worth $360,000. So in one fell swoop, winnings of $612 million rained on Vic.
The office regularly offered that number among its tickets every year but it had never struck lucky until now, said Miquel Codina, son of the lottery office manager. "We have been waiting for this for years," he told the news agency Efe.
That lottery office sold tickets both to individuals and to bars and restaurants, which, as per Spanish custom, then turned around and sold them to customers, either as they were or divying them up into smaller shares.
Vic restaurant owner Carme Criviller did that, selling shares that ended up fetching $216 million in winnings for employees and customers.
But two of her 10 employees, a cook and a waitress named Diana and Ana, decided not to gamble "because they are anti-lottery."
"I think we are going to have to do something for them, give them a gift," Criviller told Efe.
With bottles of sparkling wine popping all around her, Criviller -- she and her husband won $1.4 million -- said she had already turned away three customers Thursday because of the merry mayhem that has engulfed her eatery.
"A group of 40 people were coming today for lunch. I don't know what we are going to do because it is all out of control," she said.
The lottery is a hallowed Spanish tradition that marks the official start of the holiday season. It takes more than three hours because nearly 1,800 of the numbers read out after falling from a large gold tumbler bring some kind of prize. They range from the face value of the ticket to the main prize, known as El Gordo.
This year's version was full of suspense because it took about two-and-a-half hours for the luckiest number to emerge.
The lottery is billed as the world's richest for the total sum of prize money dished out, although other lotteries have bigger individual top prizes.
Keeping with a nearly 200-year-old tradition, children from a school that was once an orphanage sang out the five-digit lottery numbers and corresponding prizes in a pageant broadcast live on virtually every Spanish TV channel.
The idea is for the big money to trickle through Spanish society, where office workers, relatives, sports clubs and other groups often pitch in to buy tickets together.
The total prize money is up from 1.8 billion euros last year.
12/22/05 09:18 EST
Date: 12/22/2005 12:34:07 PM Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
From the Chicago Tribune
Recipe of the week
Lamb stew makes a great holiday potluck dish (Photo by Bill Hogan)
Lamb stew and vegetables
3 1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes
1 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsps. salt
1 to 3 Tbsps. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tsps. ground cumin
2 tsps. ground coriander
2 cups water
1 (14- to 16-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice
6 medium carrots, cut into 21/2-inch lengths
1 bunch spinach, discard coarse stems
1. Pat lamb dry. Sprinkle with pepper and 1 teaspoon salt. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. Brown lamb in batches, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes per batch, adding more oil as needed. Transfer to a Dutch oven.
2. Pour all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet. Add onion and celery and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, cumin and coriander and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Deglaze with 1 cup water, then pour mixture over lamb.
3. Pour juice from the can of tomatoes into stew, then coarsely chop tomatoes and add them along with the remaining 1 cup water and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt (liquid should almost cover meat). Bring to a boil.
4. Cover pot and braise lamb in middle of a 350-degree oven 1 1/2 hours. Stir in carrots and continue to braise until carrots and lamb are tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
5. Cool, uncovered, then chill, covered, overnight. You can skip this step, but it does deepen the flavors.
6. Lift off any solidified fat. Reheat stew over medium heat on the stovetop. Add spinach by handfuls. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until spinach is tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
--From the pages of Gourmet and adapted
DEP Acquires Conservation Easement on 880-Acre Watershed Parcel as Part of Ongoing Watershed Protection Efforts
December 21, 2005
DEP Acquires Conservation Easement on 880-Acre Watershed Parcel as Part of Ongoing Watershed Protection Efforts
Commissioner Emily Lloyd announced that as part of its continuing watershed protection program the DEP has acquired a conservation easement on 880 acres in an area that includes the towns of Woodstock, Hurley and Olive in Ulster County. The easement abuts several other properties purchased by the City, including a 20-acre tract acquired in November, and will help to protect important tributaries to the Ashokan Reservoir, the major component of the City�s Catskill water supply system. The conservation easement represents a major step forward in the City�s ongoing watershed protection program, which has now protected over 55,000 acres of watershed land under its Land Acquisition Program, and has provided the funding to the Watershed Agricultural Council to protect another 12,000 acres. More
Hamden Hill Ridge Riders Snowmobiling Club and DEP Reach Agreement on Use of Historic Trail
DEP has given the Hamden Hill Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club permission to maintain and use an established snowmobile trail that crosses a parcel of land in Hamden that was recently purchased by New York City as part of its Land Acquisition Program. The site is located near Hamden Town Hall and will give the Club better access to the emergency sled that is stored there. The access agreement is the result of a working collaboration between DEP, the Club and the Town of Hamden, with input from the New York State Snowmobile Association and Delaware County Planning Department. DEP aims to reach similar agreements with other groups that will make the City�s property even more accessible after the land has been protected for water supply purposes. More
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Date: 12/20/2005 8:18:29 AM Eastern Standard Time
Please be reminded that CB9M scheduled meetings will be cancelled during Transit Strike duration.
Tonight's Housing, Land Use and Zoning Committee Meeting is cancelled.
CB9M Offices will not be open.
Communication through e-mail will be reviewed and replied as needed.
I can be reached at my private office number (212) 862-5051
Please pass the word to your friends and neighbors and mailing lists.
Wishing you all the best of luck during the Transit Strike and a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah to all.
Jordi (George) Reyes-Montblanc, Chair
Community Board 9 Manhattan
565 West 125th Street
New York, NY 10027-2301
Tel: (212) 864-6200
Tel: (212) 862-5051
Chair's Blog: Click here: CB9M Chair's Blog, (http://cb9m.blogspot.com/atom.xml)
CB9M Web Calendar: CB9M - Community Board 9 ManhattanCommunity Calendar www.neighborhoodlink.com/public/events.html?nneighid=979042641&nsupercity=396025635&ncity=962051086
Monday, December 19, 2005
China Covers Up the Dongzhou Massacre
The Chinese government is doing everything possible to prevent the outside world from learning of the massacre of protestors in the village of Dongzhou, in the Pearl River Delta just north of Hong Kong. Howard Stevenson reports for the New York Times:
... the government had decided to re-educate the entire population. Banners hang everywhere, with slogans in big red characters proclaiming things like, �Stability is paramount� and �Don�t trust instigators.�
Many facts remain unclear about the police crackdown on a Dongzhou demonstration on Dec. 6, which residents say ended in the deaths of 20 or more people, but one thing is certain: The government is doing everything possible to prevent witnesses� accounts of what happened from emerging.
The government forces are playing for keeps. Residents speak of having endured beatings, bribes and threats at the hands of security forces in the week and a half after their protest against the construction of a power plant was violently put down. Others said that the corpses of the dead had been withheld, apparently because they were so riddled with bullets that they would contradict the government�s version of events. And residents have been warned that if they must explain the deaths of loved ones � many of whom were shot dead during a tense standoff with the police in which fireworks, blasting caps and crude gasoline bombs were thrown by the villagers � they should simply say their relatives were blown up by their own explosives.
So much for any illusions that the regime is turning over any new leaves for the present. There is undoubtedly a a gain in personal freedom continuing slowly if not steadily. But when push comes to shove, old ways return. The only way the regime will permanently change its repressive behavior is if there is a price to be paid. That is why the world�s attention must be focused on Dongzhou. The regime is attempting a cover-up precisely because it fears this attention.
Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympics on the theory that China�s opening to market forces has made it an ordinary or normal state. Of course, the Olympics were held in Hitler�s Germany and the USSR, so a free and democratic society doesn�t seem to be prerequisite to fitting in with the so-called Olympic ideals.China is very heavily depending on the Olympics to legitimize it in the world�s eyes. It isn therefore important that the Dongzhou Massacre be raised as in issue in determining the fitness of Beijing to host the athletic festival.
New York Times
Chinese Pressing to Keep Village Silent on Clash
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
Published: December 17, 2005
SHANGHAI, Dec. 16 - Ten days ago, the sleepy fishing village of Dongzhou was the scene of a deadly face-off, with protesters hurling homemade bombs and the police gunning them down in the streets.
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Enlarge This Image
Ng Han Guan/Associated Press
In Dongzhou, where some residents
say the police killed 20 or more
demonstrators during a clash last
week over building a power plant,
people drove under banners on
Wednesday encouraging them
to obey the law.
Now, a stilted calm prevails, a cover-up so carefully planned that the small town looks like a relic from the Cultural Revolution, as if the government had decided to re-educate the entire population. Banners hang everywhere, with slogans in big red characters proclaiming things like, "Stability is paramount" and "Don't trust instigators."
Many facts remain unclear about the police crackdown on a Dongzhou demonstration on Dec. 6, which residents say ended in the deaths of 20 or more people, but one thing is certain: The government is doing everything possible to prevent witnesses' accounts of what happened from emerging.
Residents of Dongzhou, a small town now cordoned off by heavy police roadblocks and patrols, said in scores of interviews on the telephone and with visitors that they had endured beatings, bribes and threats at the hands of security forces in the week and a half after their protest against the construction of a power plant was violently put down. Others said that the corpses of the dead had been withheld, apparently because they were so riddled with bullets that they would contradict the government's version of events. And residents have been warned that if they must explain the deaths of loved ones - many of whom were shot dead during a tense standoff with the police in which fireworks, blasting caps and crude gasoline bombs were thrown by the villagers - they should simply say their relatives were blown up by their own explosives.
"Local officials are talking to families that had relatives killed in the incident, telling them that if they tell higher officials and outsiders that they died by accident, by explosives, while confronting the police, they must make it sound convincing," said one resident of the besieged town in an interview. "If the family members speak this way they are being promised 50,000 yuan ($6,193), and if not, they will be beaten and get nothing out of it."
Another villager, who, like other residents, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear or reprisals, said families of the dead who agreed to invoke accidental explosion as the cause of death had been offered $15,000 each.
"The story is being spread around the village that people were not killed by bullets, but by bombs," said one man interviewed Friday by telephone. "That's rubbish. Everybody knows they were killed by gunfire."
The bomb story was also being spread at a hospital in the nearby city of Shanwei, where villagers injured in the protest are being treated. Plainclothes police surrounded a Chinese man who entered the hospital seeking to see the wounded, denying him access to a tightly guarded ward even when he said his relative was among the injured. Later, hospital staff members told the man that the injured had all been warned to stick to the same story, of being injured by their own explosives.
The attempt to enforce a concocted story may help explain why residents have reported difficulty in recovering the bodies of their loved ones.
The official New China News Agency has said that only three people were killed and eight others injured when security forces shot at protesters, so the existence of more bodies riddled with bullets could destroy the official version of events and provide proof of tremendous force against a lightly armed, if restive, crowd.
"The relatives went in tears to the county offices to search for the dead and missing, and they were beaten by electric truncheon, wounded and dispersed," one resident said.
"They offered 50,000 yuan, and told us we could only get back the body at night and bury it on the mountain immediately, without any mourning ceremony or fireworks, without anyone knowing about this," a relative of Wei Jin, a man killed during the demonstration, said in an account of an attempted bribe involving his relative's corpse.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Date: 12/18/2005 6:40:25 AM Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
December 18, 2005
By SAM WATERSTON
THE General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, at Ninth Avenue
between 20th and 21st Streets, is an oasis amid the bustle of Chelsea.
Visitors stroll through the seminary's landscaped quadrangles nearly every
day, especially parents with young children and those who wish to worship
in the century-old Chapel of the Good Shepherd.
But lately, the seminary has been known more for controversy than for
serenity. The seminary wants to tear down a four-story building and replace
it with a 17-story one that will include residential space that will
generate millions of dollars. Some neighbors are upset because the new
building would be taller than historic district codes ordinarily allow, but
seminary officials point out that the structure they want to tear down,
which was constructed in 1960, is in desperate need of repair and is hardly
historic. According to the seminary, the income that the new building would
generate offers its only chance to pay for the preservation of the historic
On Friday, the seminary submitted its plans to the Landmarks Preservation
Commission, which must determine whether the project is appropriate for the
historic district. I hope the commission says yes, because as I see it,
it's the only way to truly protect a place I've come to love.
Having first lived in Chelsea in the early 60's and in an apartment near
the seminary since 1993, I literally stumbled on the campus quadrangles,
known as the Close, several years ago. It is a beautiful secluded park that
offers peace and spirituality in a busy, fast-growing neighborhood. "Law &
Order" has used the seminary as a filming location, and I seek out the
campus and the chapel whenever I can.
But sadly, the seminary's historic, landmark buildings, the earliest of
which dates to 1836, are in urgent need of repair. Since 1999, the seminary
has spent $9 million on preservation efforts, but experts estimate that $15
million to $20 million more is necessary immediately.
Unfortunately, some of the seminary's neighbors have fixated on one element
of the seminary's overall preservation plan - the part that calls for the
17-story building on Ninth Avenue. No doubt their objections are well
intended and spring from the desire to protect and preserve the historic
character of the area. But this is exactly the goal of the seminary as
well, and I believe the neighbors' opposition overlooks the role the new
building will play in preserving the very heart of Chelsea.
The Chelsea neighborhood was literally formed around the seminary, which
was originally an apple orchard deeded to the school in 1819 by Clement
Clark Moore, who taught Hebrew and Greek to the seminarians (and, in his
spare time, wrote "A Visit From St. Nicholas").
In the late 19th century, the wonderful Gothic Revival buildings of the
present campus took shape under the guidance of Dean Eugene A. Hoffman. In
the 1950's and 60's, when large stretches of Chelsea were being cleared for
high-rise housing projects, the area immediately around the seminary was
spared. This is precisely the part of the neighborhood that was later
designated the historic district.
Simply because of its location, one of the structures included in the
district is Sherrill Hall, an ugly, dilapidated, nonhistoric building on
Ninth Avenue. In its place, the seminary wants to construct a building
designed by a firm known for its sensitive blending of new and historic
architecture. Built in partnership with a private developer, which will
sell or rent the upper floors as residences, the new building will provide
revenue for the seminary that will be earmarked, by law, for the
preservation of its older, landmark buildings. This is money that the
seminary cannot generate in any other way.
The choice is simple. If the seminary is allowed to proceed with its
proposal, it will be able to continue rescuing the most beautiful and
historic part of Chelsea. If the seminary is not allowed to proceed, it
will have to raise millions of dollars to pour into repairing a broken,
nonhistoric building - a diversion of energy and resources that will
further threaten a campus already in dire condition.
So why would anyone oppose the seminary's plan? Only because the proposed
building would be 17 stories tall. But this is - not at all by chance - the
exact height of a building that stands on Ninth Avenue directly opposite
the seminary. Such is the care that the seminary is taking to match its
proposal to its immediate surroundings.
The seminary's goal is to preserve and protect into the indefinite future
the beauty, history, quiet and, yes, the spirit, that has been at the heart
of Chelsea's historic district from the start. The history, the buildings
and the Close are inextricably linked. Their fate is inextricably connected
to the fate of the whole neighborhood. If you accept that, as I do, then
nothing would do more to preserve historic Chelsea than to allow the
seminary to construct its new building.
Sam Waterston is an actor.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Date: 12/17/2005 4:54:58 AM Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
This report measures and compares the impact of unaffordability across the
country. The San Francisco metropolitan area tops the list along with
Westchester County, NY. New York City, while having strong measures of
unaffordability, is not in the top tier. New York state, however, is the
fifth most expensive.
Measures of unaffordability in this report relate directly to level of
wages and expenses to maintain properties, which have a large roll in
setting the level of rent.
However the report does not measure -- or attempt to assess -- the impact
of the real estate market in certain jurisdictions. Areas such as New York
City will experience sharp increases of unaffordability for reasons
unrelated to expenses (utilities, maintenance, financing costs, taxes,
etc.). Market forces and development pressures, exacerbated by rezonings,
weakening of housing and building regulations, and secondary displacement
forces created by so-called Inclusionary Housing programs -- arguably have
greater impact on housing costs and unaffordability than traditional factors.
USA 12 13 15
Unsupportable Affordable Housing
The Slatin Report
Indexes offering relatively good news about consumer sentiment or economic
growth are proliferating. But an index that debuted in 1998 was released
Tuesday that offers something more basic to chew on, especially as we mull
the latest bump in short-term interest rates from the Federal Reserve and
the shape and size of a housing bubble..
The National Low-Income Housing Coalition came out with its aptly named
index, Out of Reach 2005. It calculates, according to the NLIHC, "the
hourly wage that someone must earn - working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a
year - to be able to afford rent and utilities in the private local housing
market in every state, metropolitan area and county in the country."
The dollar figure the NLIHC came up with, which they call the housing wage,
is $15.78 an hour, up from $15.37 an hour in 2004 and $15.21 in 2003.
NLIHC lays the blame "for much of the increase in renter housing costs" on
what it says was a 13%-plus rise in housing-related fuel and utitily costs
last year. With fuel costs up significantly, that number will likely be
even harsher in the next index..
The impact of increasing fuel costs underscores what NLIHC says is an
unfortunate element of this year's report: For the first time, NLIHC's data
shows that a full-time worker at minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom
apartment anywhere in the U.S. And the report notes that a family with two
full-time workers earning federal minimum wage would make just $21,424,
significantly less than the $32,822 annually they would need to afford a
modest two-bedroom apartment.
According to the report, 81% of American family renters live in counties
where a two full-time minimum-wage workers will be unable to afford a
Not surprisingly, the most expensive city in the nation for renters: San
Francisco. The highest-cost state: Hawaii. California, Massachusetts, New
Jersey and New York round out the top five states.
To see the full list of state rankings, go to:
For state ranks based on two-bedroom housing wage, New York $19.73
For a list of the least affordable jurisdictions, go to:
To read the full report, go to
The Tenant Network(Tm) for Residential Tenants
Information from TenantNet is from experienced non-attorney tenant
activists and is not considered legal advice.
The Slatin Report Real Estate Intelligence
USA 12 13 15
UNSUPPORTABLE AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Indexes offering relatively good news about consumer sentiment or economic growth are proliferating. But an index that debuted in 1998 was released Tuesday that offers something more basic to chew on, especially as we mull the latest bump in short-term interest rates from the Federal Reserve and the shape and size of a housing bubble..
The National Low-Income Housing Coalition came out with its aptly named index, Out of Reach 2005. It calculates, according to the NLIHC, "the hourly wage that someone must earn - working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year - to be able to afford rent and utilities in the private local housing market in every state, metropolitan area and county in the country."
The dollar figure the NLIHC came up with, which they call the housing wage, is $15.78 an hour, up from $15.37 an hour in 2004 and $15.21 in 2003.
NLIHC lays the blame "for much of the increase in renter housing costs" on what it says was a 13%-plus rise in housing-related fuel and utitily costs last year. With fuel costs up significantly, that number will likely be even harsher in the next index..
The impact of increasing fuel costs underscores what NLIHC says is an unfortunate element of this year's report: For the first time, NLIHC�s data shows that a full-time worker at minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S. And the report notes that a family with two full-time workers earning federal minimum wage would make just $21,424, significantly less than the $32,822 annually they would need to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.
According to the report, 81% of American family renters live in counties where a two full-time minimum-wage workers will be unable to afford a two-bedroom apartment.
Not surprisingly, the most expensive city in the nation for renters: San Francisco. The highest-cost state: Hawaii. California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York round out the top five states.
To see the full list of state rankings, click here.
Click here for a list of the least affordable jurisdictions.
To read the full report, please to to
Date: 12/16/2005 9:36:46 PM Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
To Alms. To Alms.
By Henry J. Stern
December 16, 2005
Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of New York Civic.
That is a modified and updated version of the line used a generation ago for typing practice: "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party."
The reason that now is the time is that 2005 will come to an end in two weeks. We have not written to our readers for help since December 2004. This month, a number of readers have iasked us when are we going to ask us for money, like the other causes they support.
We realize that people make out lists at this time (some check them twice), motivated by good will, generosity of spirit, and appreciation for the work of the group you are helping. The tax calendar also helps to incentivize a few donors. We hope you like the quality of the reports we write and send to you. In 2005 so far, there were 86 articles and 35 Q�s. You can get on the Q list simply by asking us.
The way honest organizations work, as you know, is that the more money they get, the more work they can do. New York Civic is particularly frugal, our principal expense is for the indispensable Corgi, (the person) and his salary is modest. We would like to be able to afford Lexis-Nexis, which would significantly increase our capacity for research. We would also like to sponsor more free forums on city affairs for our members. We would co-sponsor some with other groups.
New York Civic, now four years old, has three primary goals: One is to describe to you, as best we can, what is going on in city government and politics. Since I am no longer a city employee, I am free to say what I believe. I want to share my views, based on experience, with you, and we invite your responses which we publish in our blog.
Our second goal is to bring people together to work collectively for honesty and integrity in city government. We want to build a bridge between individuals' intelligence and idealism, on one hand, and people with authority to act, on the other. We have a decent and honest government in New York City, for which we thank the mayor and the voters. They could do much more, however, if they knew some things about the city and how it could work.
Our third goal is to follow up on news stories exposing wrongdoing and mismanagement. All too often, these stories are published and nothing happens in response. The story dies. Insiders know that if you ignore charges, the problem is likely to disappear, because other newspapers are reluctant to write on a story that was broken by a rival. The first paper can't keep repeating its charges without looking futile. We can help keep serious issues alive until they are resolved.
We also have the opportunity to attempt to persuade members of this administration, to make some improvements in operations. That possibility will be enhanced if we have the resources to reach more people more frequently. We would like to recruit citizens not in government to participate in this work
We are grateful to you for considering our request for support, and we hope you will respond favorably. One way to do that is to send a check in an envelope addressed to New York Civic, 520 Eighth Avenue, 22nd floor, New York, NY 10018. If it is more convenient for you, or you are afraid you will not translate your sentiment into action, we invite you to use "Paypal". They take a modest part of your gift, but we get the lion's share.
We appreciate your thinking of us, and we extend our best wishes to you, your family, and your friends for Christmas, Hanukah, and the New Year. May 2006 bring you health and happiness.
All the best,
P.S.: If you feel this letter is too long, just go to the last two paragraphs. SQ
#272 12.16.05 691wds
Henry J. Stern
New York Civic
520 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
(212) 564-5588 (fax)
Friday, December 16, 2005
WHERE: Quaker Meeting House
15 Rutherford Place
(15th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues)
[ - Manhattan - not far from Union Square subway stop ]
WHEN: Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Thursday, February 23, 2006
WHAT: Faith-Based Energy Politics (interfaith)
The Cross and the Windmill (ecumenical)
SPONSORS: Neighborhood Energy Network
WBAI Eco-Logic's Ken Gale
Community of the Holy Spirit
Friends in Unity with Nature
CB9 Chair Re-elected to Third Term
By Tanveer Ali
Spectator Senior Staff Writer
December 16, 2005
Community Board 9 members restlessly awaited the results of its Executive Committee�s election at last night�s full board meeting, not because of the suspense but just because they wanted to go home.
After an unusually long delay in counting 31 votes and several proposals by one CB9 member to start playing cards or sing karaoke to kill the time, the votes were finally tallied and the results were announced for who would serve as CB9 chair for 2006.
Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, who has served as chair for the past two years, was overwhelmingly re-elected by fellow CB9 members, receiving 27 votes to the two votes received by his challenger, George Goodwill.
�There will be more of the same,� Reyes-Montblanc said about the next year. �We still have the 197-a plan. We have Columbia�s 197-c and we have a lot of other issues in the community that we are not going to ignore.�
Reyes-Montblanc has spent much of his tenure supporting the 197-a plan, a CB9-devised framework for development of the community district which differs in many respects from Columbia�s 197-c plan for the proposed Manhattanville campus.
None of the other elected offices for the Executive Committee were contested.
Among the other issues discussed at the meeting were the rezoning process for Manhattanville and the status of the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
�For the Katrina evacuees the issue is really of permanent housing. They have to find permanent housing because FEMA won�t pay the hotel bill [for much longer],� said Nellie Bailey, director of the Harlem Tenants Council.
Tom DeMott, member of Coalition to Preserve Community, asked representatives from the offices of City Councilman Robert Jackson (D-West Harlem) and State Assemblyman Keith Wright (D-Harlem) whether they have sent in their comments on the draft scope prepared by Columbia for its Environmental Impact Statement. Both representatives said their offices have yet to submit official comments. The commenting period will end Jan. 6.
DeMott also said that Columbia has yet to approach community members about a possible community benefits agreement, a legal contract between a developer and community addressing community needs. �Negotiations should be happening at this community board,� he said. �Unless we do it that way, we�re screwed.�
Columbia officials have previously said that the University hopes to start negotiations in January.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Date: 12/15/2005 4:56:02 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
December 15, 2005
Today's edition of Managing Diabetes was provided by guest
columnist Jordan S. Rubin.
Tip of the Day
Not Getting Enough Sleep Increases Your Diabetes Risk
If you are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, your body can become less sensitive to insulin over time, raising your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Dr. Eve Van Cauter at the University of Chicago found that chronic sleep deprivation � that means 6.5 hours or less of sleep a night � had the same effect on insulin resistance as aging.
Just like poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress, and aging, sleep loss is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body loses its ability to respond to insulin, the body's key blood sugar-regulating hormone. This insulin resistance causes blood sugar levels to rise, which in turn can increase the risk for a number of serious medical complications, including kidney damage, heart disease, blindness, and lower limb amputations.
According to the study, healthy adults who averaged 316 minutes of sleep a night � about 5.2 hours � over 8 consecutive nights secreted 50 percent more insulin than their more rested counterparts who averaged 477 minutes of sleep a night, or about 8 hours. As a result, "short sleepers'' were 40 percent less sensitive to insulin.
The researchers suggest that sleep deprivation, which is becoming commonplace in industrialized countries, may play a role in the current epidemic of type 2 diabetes. A poll by the National Sleep Foundation found a steady decline in the number of hours Americans sleep each night. In 1975, the average American slept 7.5 hours, down from 9 hours in 1910. Today, adults sleep about 7 hours a night.
This tip is excerpted from The Great Physician's Rx for Health and Wellness, by Jordan S. Rubin, New York Times best-selling author of The Maker's Diet.
Vegetable Frittata The filling in a frittata is mixed with the eggs, and the entire blend is cooked slowly in a skillet until set. You can serve a whole frittata as an entree or half portions as side dishes or appetizers. Frittatas are just as delicious chilled or at room temperature, as they are hot. Get the full recipe here.
De-Stress for Your Diabetes
Stress and anxiety can have a significant impact on your blood glucose levels. Learn a simple method for building more time into your day � a great way to help you relax and control your diabetes better. Get the full article here.
Waterfront Media is the publisher of the South Beach Diet Online, Dr. Andrew Weil's My Optimum Health plan, Denise Austin Online, and the Zone Diet.
To add to, remove, or change the newsletters you receive from us, click here.
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Copyright � 2005 Waterfront Media, Inc. All rights reserved.
Date: 12/13/2005 4:59:10 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
Publication: The New York Sun;
Date: Dec 13, 2005; Section: Editorial & Opinion; Page: 7
Landmarking Historic Businesses
JOHN P. AVLON
What do the Sky Club, CBGB�s, and Billy�s 1870 have in common?
All three iconic New York destinations have faced extinction during our
city�s recent economic boom.
Some people believe that business closings are inevitable functions of
the always-wise market. But even in a city defined by commercial ventures
and constant change, some businesses carry unquantifiable value that adds
to the character of New York. Some classic restaurants become important
destinations for tourists and residents who want to commune with the best
of the past by visiting the places they have read about in novels or seen
The Sky Club offered food, drinks, and great views of New York City
from more than 50 floors above Park Avenue. It embodied a certain mid-20th
Century Manhattan man-in-grey-flannel suit club-iness, but it will close
its doors for good on December 22nd, after 43 years in business. In the
future, you'll have to visit an office in the Met Life building to enjoy
those views � drinks and dinner will presumably not be offered.
CBGB�s on the Lower East Side is known internationally as the
birthplace of punk rock. Bands that began here have sold millions. Its
tshirts can be seen around the world. My college band even played there �
proving they would let anyone take the stage. But in the process the club
also produced bands like The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith,
and influenced literally thousands of others, from the Clash to U2. But a
rent dispute with a new landlord � the Bowery Residents� Committee,
ironically a nonprofit group that serves homeless people � threatened to
make this worldrenowned concert venue homeless itself. A court recently
gave CBGB�s a stay of execution until Halloween of next year, but the
fundamental conflict remains unresolved.
It appears to be too late, however, for patrons of the much-loved
135-year 1st Avenue institution Billy�s. A bar begun by the Irish immigrant
great-grandfather of owner Joan Borkowski, it was one of the oldest
family-owned restaurants in New York City. Its original gaslights and
African Mohagony bar served a never-ending list of legendary New Yorkers
including Diamond Jim Brady, Helen Hayes, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe,
Gloria Vanderbilt, Walter Cronkite, Jackie Kennedy, William F. Buckley,
I.M. Pei, and a pre-mayoral Michael Bloomberg. On its 125th anniversary in
1995, Senator Moynihan had the history of Billy�s read into the
Congressional Record. Now it is boarded up and empty, with apologetic signs
to long-time customers and passers-by.
I went by Billy�s a week ago and spoke to a heart-broken Joan as
workers dismantled the legendary 1880 wooden bar behind her with crowbars.
�Everybody I meet on the street is just so devastated,� she said. �They
come up to me and say �It�s like the neighborhood has just died.The
neighborhood will never be the same. The city will never be the same.��
�Billy�s managed to survive stock market crashes and prohibition,� she
said, �but today anybody who�s in the middle class or even the upper middle
class are struggling to survive in the city�The landlords are getting
tremendously greedy and the mom and pop businesses are just disappearing.
I�m the fourth generation. My daughter is the fifth. I lost it. And it�s
the Blockbuster�s that are coming in.�
These businesses could no longer compete in the rising tide of New
York�s real estate market. Landlords could get better tenants � but as many
New York City neighborhood residents know, the better tenants are too often
chain stores such as Starbucks, Dunkin� Donuts, and Northfork Bank.These
businesses may be more profitable and predictable for the landlords, but
their proliferation does not add to the unique character of a neighborhood
as nearly much as longstanding neighborhood landmarks.
And so perhaps it is time to consider a new sort of landmark status.
Not just for architectural merit, but one for preserving certain historic
businesses that have achieved a kind of cultural landmark status themselves.
I�m not suggesting a government imposition on landlords which would
paralyze their investments and require them to perpetually subsidize
unprofitable businesses, but instead the creation of a new local
tax-incentive that would make it easier to keep classic businesses in place.
Currently the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission is
forbidden from land-marking �use.� The case of Brooklyn�s Gage & Tollner
indicates the limits of this logic.The seafood and steakhouse opened in
1879 on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, and merited both an entry in the
Encyclopedia of New York City and landmark status of both its interior and
exterior. Gage & Tollner survived the bad old days of decaying Brooklyn in
the 1970s and 80s, changed ownership, but its waiters continued to light
its gas-lamps at dinner until 2004, when it closed its historic doors to be
replaced by a TGI Friday�s chain restaurant and bar, which can also be
enjoyed in places such as the Pittsburgh airport. This move may make short
term economic sense for the landlord, but it�s a bad trade for the
neighborhood and the city as a whole.
New York City�s success as a destination depends in part on the
diversity of its offerings, the uniqueness of the stores and restaurants
that can be found here. When the businesses that help define us are
replaced by a business that could exist in any mall in America, it is time
for a new piece of local legislation or administrative action to address
this downside to our city�s economic success. A new reducedtax status might
provide a market-palatable solution � the landlord should not be penalized
for having the privilege of a landmark business in their building, but it
should be easier to keep such businesses in place. It may be an innovative
approach, but it can help preserve our city�s cultural heritage � and
Date: 12/13/2005 4:12:06 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
December 13, 2005
Rule by Law
Legal Gadfly Bites Hard, and Beijing Slaps Him
By JOSEPH KAHN
New York Times
BEIJING, Dec. 12 - One November morning, the Beijing Judicial Bureau
convened a hearing on its decree that one of China's best-known law firms
must shut down for a year because it failed to file a change of address
form when it moved offices.
The same morning, Gao Zhisheng, the firm's founder and star litigator, was
1,800 miles away in Xinjiang, in the remote west. He skipped what he called
the "absurd and corrupt" hearing so he could rally members of an
underground Christian church to sue China's secret police.
"I can't guarantee that you will win the lawsuit - in fact you will almost
certainly lose," Mr. Gao told one church member who had been detained in a
raid. "But I warn you that if you are too timid to confront their barbaric
behavior, you will be completely defeated."
The advice could well summarize Mr. Gao's own fateful clash with the
authorities. Bold, brusque and often roused to fiery indignation, Mr. Gao,
41, is one of a handful of self-proclaimed legal "rights defenders."
He travels the country filing lawsuits over corruption, land seizures,
police abuses and religious freedom. His opponent is usually the same: the
ruling Communist Party.
Now, the party has told him to cease and desist. The order to suspend his
firm's operating license was expanded last week to include his personal
permit to practice law. The authorities threatened to confiscate it by
force if Mr. Gao fails to hand it over voluntarily by Wednesday.
Secret police now watch his home and follow him wherever he goes, he says.
He has become the most prominent in a string of outspoken lawyers facing
persecution. One was jailed this summer while helping clients appeal the
confiscation of their oil wells. A second was driven into exile last spring
after he zealously defended a third lawyer, who was convicted of leaking
Together, they have effectively put the rule of law itself on trial, with
lawyers often acting as both plaintiffs and defendants.
"People across this country are awakening to their rights and seizing on
the promise of the law," Mr. Gao says. "But you cannot be a rights lawyer
in this country without becoming a rights case yourself."
Ordinary citizens in fact have embraced the law as eagerly as they have
welcomed another Western-inspired import, capitalism. The number of civil
cases heard last year hit 4.3 million, up 30 percent in five years, and
lawyers have encouraged the notion that the courts can hold anyone, even
party bosses, responsible for their actions.
Chinese leaders do not discourage such ideas, entirely. They need the law
to check corruption and to persuade the outside world that China is not
governed by the whims of party leaders.
But the officials draw the line at any fundamental challenge to their
monopoly on power.
Judges take orders from party-controlled trial committees. Lawyers operate
more autonomously but often face criminal prosecution if they stir up
public disorder or disclose details about legal matters that the party
The struggle of Mr. Gao and others like him may well determine whether
China's legal system evolves from its subordinate role into something
grander, an independent force that can curtail abuses of power at all
levels and, ultimately, protect the rights of individuals against the state.
"We have all tried to shine sunlight on the abuses in the system," says Li
Heping, another Beijing-based lawyer who has accepted political cases. "Gao
has his own special style. He is fearless. And he knows the law."
An Air of Authority
Mr. Gao can cite chapter and verse of China's legal code, having committed
it to memory in intensive self-study. He is an army veteran and a longtime
member of the Communist Party.
On a recent trip to rural Shaanxi Province, where he sneaked into a coal
mine to gather evidence in a lawsuit against mine owners, he wore a crisp
white shirt and tie and shiny black loafers, as if preparing for a day in
He is also a flagrant dissident. Tall and big-boned, he has the booming
voice of a person used to commanding a room. When he holds forth, it is
often on the evils of one-party rule. "Barbaric" and "reactionary" are his
favorite adjectives for describing party leaders.
"Most officials in China are basically mafia bosses who use extreme
barbaric methods to terrorize the people and keep them from using the law
to protect their rights," Mr. Gao wrote on one essay that circulated widely
on the Web this fall.
After an early career that racked up notable courtroom victories, he has
plunged headlong into cases that he knows are unwinnable. He has done pro
bono work for members of the Falun Gong religious sect, displaced
homeowners, underground Christians, fellow lawyers and democracy activists.
When the courts reject his filings, as they often do, he uses the Internet
to rally public opinion.
His fevered assaults have a messianic ring. But although he became a
Christian this fall and began attending services in an underground church,
the motivation to pursue the most sensitive cases - and put his practice
and possibly his freedom at risk - began a couple of years earlier. It was
then that his idealistic beginnings as a peasant boy turned big-city lawyer
gave way to simmering rage.
Mr. Gao was born in a cave. His family lived in a mud-walled home dug out
of a hillside in the loess plateau in Shaanxi Province, in northwestern
China. His father died at age 40. For years the boy climbed into bed at
dusk because his family could not afford oil for its lamp, he recalled.
Nor could they pay for elementary school for Mr. Gao and his six siblings.
But he said he listened outside the classroom window. Later, with the help
of an uncle, he attended junior high and became adept enough at reading and
writing to achieve what was then his dream: to join the People's Liberation
Stationed at a base in Kashgar, in Xinjiang region, he received a
secondary-school education and became a party member. But his fate changed
even more decisively after he left the service and began working as a food
vendor. One day in 1991 he browsed a newspaper used to wrap a bundle of
garlic. He spotted an article that mentioned a plan by Deng Xiaoping, then
China's paramount leader, to train 150,000 new lawyers and develop the
"Deng said China must be governed by law," Mr. Gao said. "I believed him."
He scraped together the funds to take a self-taught course on the law. The
course mostly required a prodigious memory for titles and clauses, which he
had. He passed the tests easily. Anticipating a future as a public figure,
he took walks in the early morning light, pretending fields of wheat were
auditoriums full of important officials. He delivered full-throated
lectures to quivering stalks.
By the late 1990's, though based in remote Xinjiang, he developed a winning
reputation. He represented the family of a boy who sank into a coma when a
doctor mistakenly gave him an intravenous dose of ethanol. He won a
$100,000 payout, then a headline-generating sum, in a case involving a boy
who had lost his hearing in a botched operation.
He also won a lawsuit on behalf of a private businessman in Xinjiang. The
entrepreneur had taken control of a troubled state-owned company, but a
district government used force to reclaim it after the businessmen turned
it into a profit-making entity. China's highest court backed the
businessman and Mr. Gao.
"It felt like a golden age," he said, "when the law seemed to have real power."
That optimism did not last long. His victory in the privatization case made
him a target of local leaders in Xinjiang, who warned clients and court
officials to shun him, he said. He moved to Beijing in 2000 and set up a
new practice with half a dozen lawyers. But he said he felt like an
outsider in the capital, battling an impenetrable bureaucracy.
The Beijing Judicial Bureau, an administrative agency that has supervisory
authority over law firms registered in the capital, charged high fees and
often interfered in what he considered his private business.
One of his first big cases in Beijing involved a client who had his home
confiscated for a building project connected with the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Like many residents of inner-city courtyard homes, his client received what
he considered paltry compensation to make way for developers.
When Mr. Gao attempted to file a lawsuit on his client's behalf, he was
handed an internal document drafted by the central government that
instructed all district courts to reject cases involving such land
disputes. "It was a blatantly illegal document, but every court in Beijing
blindly obeyed it," he said.
In the spring of 2003, Beijing was panicking about the spread of SARS, a
sometimes fatal respiratory affliction, and Mr. Gao was fuming about forced
removals. He gave an interview to a reporter for The China Economic Times
arguing that SARS was much less scary than collusion between officials and
"The law is designed precisely to resolve these sorts of competing
interests," he said in that interview. "But their orders strip away the
original logic of the law and make it a pawn of the powerful and the corrupt."
An Empty Promise
Mr. Gao is not the first lawyer to test China's commitment to the law. Even
in the earliest days of market-oriented economic reforms, when the legal
system was still a hollow shell, a few defense lawyers quixotically
challenged the ruling party to respect international legal norms.
One such advocate is Zhang Sizhi, a dean of defense lawyers, who has
accepted dozens of long-shot cases that he views as advancing the law. He
defended Jiang Qing, Mao's wife, when she faced trial after the Cultural
Revolution. He also represented Wei Jingsheng, perhaps China's best-known
Mr. Zhang argues that lawyers have prodded the party to develop a more
impartial judiciary. But, he says, they must do so with small, carefully
calibrated jolts of legal pressure.
"The system is improving incrementally," he said. "If you go too far, you
will only hurt the chances of legal reform, as well as the interests of
That view may reflect a consensus among seasoned legal scholars. But Mr.
Gao is 37 years younger than Mr. Zhang, far less patient, and after his
initial burst of idealism, deeply cynical.
If Mr. Zhang's benchmark for progress is that every criminal suspect has
the right to a legal defense, Mr. Gao's became the 1989 Administrative
Procedure Law, which for the first time gave Chinese citizens the right to
sue state agencies. By his reckoning, it remains an empty promise.
"The leaders of China see no other purpose for the law but to protect and
disguise their own power," Mr. Gao said. "As a lawyer, my goal is to turn
their charade into a reality."
Following his defeat in the Beijing land dispute he plunged into the
biggest land case he could find, a prolonged battle over hundreds of acres
of farmland that Guangdong Province had seized to construct a university.
Legally, he hit another brick wall. But he fired off scores of angry
missives about the "brazen murderous schemes" of Guangdong officials. The
storm of public anger he helped stir up got his clients more generous
Mr. Gao said he was told later that the party secretary of Guangdong, Zhang
Dejiang, had labeled him a mingyun fenzi, a dangerous man on a mission. "He
was right," Mr. Gao said.
This summer, a fellow lawyer-activist named Zhu Jiuhu was detained for
"disturbing public order" while representing private investors in oil wells
that were seized by the government in Shaanxi, Mr. Gao's home province.
Mr. Gao rushed to Mr. Zhu's defense with fellow lawyers, local journalists
and tape recorders. He camped out in local government offices until
officials agreed to meet him. He told one party boss that "he would forever
be on the wrong side of the law and on the wrong side of the conscience of
the people" unless he let Mr. Zhu go, according to a recording of the
After the intensive publicity campaign, Mr. Zhu was freed this fall, though
under a highly restrictive bail arrangement that prevents him from
Most provocatively, Mr. Gao has defended adherents of Falun Gong, a
quasi-Buddhist religious sect that the party outlawed as a major threat to
national security in 1999.
Mr. Gao has been blocked from filing lawsuits on behalf of Falun Gong
members. But in open letters to the leadership, he said the secret police
had tortured sect members to make them renounce Falun Gong. He described a
police-run, extra-judicial "brainwashing base" where, he said, one client
was first starved and then force-fed until he threw up. Another of his
Falun Gong clients, he says, was raped while in police custody.
"These calamitous deeds did not begin with the two of you," he wrote in a
letter addressed to President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. "But
they have continued under your political watch, and it is a crime that you
have not stopped them."
The Police Circle
The crackdown came first as a courtesy call.
Two men wearing suit jackets and ties, having set up an appointment,
visited his office. They identified themselves as agents of State Security,
the internal secret police, but mostly made small talk until one of them
mentioned the open letter Mr. Gao had written on Falun Gong.
"They suggested that Falun Gong was more of a political issue than a legal
issue and maybe it was best left to the politicians," Mr. Gao recalled.
"They were very polite."
When they prepared to leave, however, one of them said, "You must be proud
of what you have achieved as a lawyer after your self-study. Certainly you
must be worried should something happen to derail that."
Mr. Gao said he talked to his wife and considered the future of his two
children. He wondered whether he could still afford his Beijing apartment
and his car if his business collapsed.
"Anyone who says he does not consider this kind of pressure is lying," Mr.
Gao said. "But I also felt more than ever that I was putting pressure on
this reactionary system. I did not want to give that up."
His resistance hardened. The Beijing Judicial Bureau handed him a list of
cases and clients that were off limits, including Falun Gong, the Shaanxi
oil case and a recent incident of political unrest in Taishi, a village in
Guangdong. He refused to drop any of them, arguing that the bureau had no
legal authority to dictate what cases he accepts or rejects.
This fall, he said, security agents have followed him constantly. He said
his apartment courtyard has become a "plainclothes policeman's club," with
up to 20 officers stationed outside. He and his wife bring them hot water
on cold nights.
On Nov. 4, shortly after being warned to retract a second open letter about
his Falun Gong cases, Mr. Gao received a new summons from the judicial bureau.
This time, the bureau provided a written notice that said it had conducted
routine inspections of 58 law firms in Beijing. Mr. Gao's, it was
discovered, had moved offices and failed to promptly register the new
address, which it called a serious violation of the Law on Managing the
Registration of Law Firms. He was ordered to suspend operations for a year.
When the requisite public hearing was held, Mr. Gao sent two lawyers to
represent him. But he boarded a plane for Xinjiang, where he had a medical
case pending and where he wanted to inquire about abuses against members of
an underground Christian church.
The edict was not only not overturned after the hearing, it was broadened.
By late November, the bureau issued a new notice demanding that Mr. Gao
hand over his personal law license as well as his firm's operating permit.
Both had to be in the hands of the bureau by Dec. 14. The authority would
otherwise "use force according to law to carry it out."
When he received that second order, Mr. Gao had escaped his police tail and
traveled to a location in northern China that he asked to keep secret. He
was conducting a new investigation into torture of Falun Gong adherents. A
steady stream of sect members visited him in the ramshackle apartment he is
using as a safe house. He tries to meet at least four each day, taking
their stories down long hand.
"I'm not sure how much time I have left to conduct my work," Mr. Gao said.
"But I will use every minute to expose the barbaric tactics of our leadership."
New Jersey court decisions have evidenced a heightened awareness by trial
judges to eminent domain abuse.
12 7 2005 Posted By Bill Ward
Eminent Domain Knock Out: Recent cases on the right to take
New Jersey court decisions have evidenced a heightened awareness by trial judges to eminent domain abuse. The abuse for the most part comes about in redevelopment projects implemented under the Local Redevelopment Housing Law (LRHL) 40A:12A-1 et seq. through the relationships between developers and local municipal officials.
The New Jersey Constitution, Article VIII, paragraph 3, says takings for
blight are a public purpose. The abuse has come about through the
legislature's broad definition of blight, most recently in the amendments
to the LRHL in 1992:
"Redevelopment area" or "area in need of redevelopment" means an area
determined to be in need of redevelopment pursuant to sections 5 and 6 of
P.L. 1992, c.79 (C.40A:12A-5 and 40A:12A-6) or determined heretofore to be
a "blighted area" pursuant to P.L.1949, c.187 (C.40:55-21.1 et seq.)
repealed by this act, both determinations as made pursuant to the authority
of Article VIII, Section III, paragraph 1 of the Constitution. A
redevelopment area may include lands, buildings, or improvements which of
themselves are not detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare, but
the inclusion of which is found necessary, with or without change in their
condition, for the effective redevelopment of the area of which they are a
part. An area determined to be in need of redevelopment pursuant to this
section shall be deemed to be a "blighted area" for the purposes of Article
VIII, Section III, paragraph 1 of the Constitution. If an area is
determined to be a redevelopment area and a redevelopment plan is adopted
for that area in accordance with the provisions of this act, the
municipality is authorized to utilize all those powers provided in section
8 of P.L. 1992, c.79 (C.40A:12A-8).
This definition could include just about any property - and it has. "Blight
is in the eye of the beholder," Justice Kennedy said during the Kelo oral
arguments. We have not seen a planning report yet where the consultant
hired by the municipality rejected blight for the study area. Particularly
problematic is the all-inclusive 40A:12A-5. Determination of need for
redevelopment (section d):
Areas with buildings or improvements which, by reason of dilapidation,
obsolescence, overcrowding, faulty arrangement or design, lack of
ventilation, light and sanitary facilities, excessive land coverage,
deleterious land use or obsolete layout, or any combination of these or
other factors, are detrimental to the safety, health, morals, or welfare of
Justice Kennedy, in his concurring opinion in Kelo v. New London, said the
"A court confronted with a plausible accusation of impermissible favoritism
to private parties should treat the objection as a serious one and review
the record to see if it has merit." This is exactly what Essex County
Assignment Judge Patricia Costello and Judge Richard Donohue cite in the
recent cases Township of Bloomfield v. 110 Washington Street Associates,
ESX-L-2318-05 and LBK Associates, L.L.C, et al v. Borough of Lodi,
BER-L-8766-03 and Costa Realty Co., Inc. et al v. Borough of Lodi,
BER-L-8768-03. Download Lodi decisions Although these decisions aren't
published, they are available online and frequently requested.
The 110 Washington Street case turned on two critical issues. Judge
Costello found there was an impermissible conflict of interest in the
Township of Bloomfield utilizing the services of the same attorney who
represented the board of adjustment, the planning board, and the mayor and
council. This is a blatant violation of the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL).
Thus, the conflict tainted the whole process underlying the municipality's
eminent domain complaint. In addition, the court found that Bloomfield's
consultant, Heyer & Gruel, did not include in its study a finding that the
conditions complained of were detrimental to the public health, safety and
welfare. All these defenses were properly raised with the trial judge on
the return date of the order to show cause for the appointment of
condemnation commissioners. The condemnation complaint and order to show
cause were filed in a summary manner consistent with Rule 4:67-1.
Recent case law in Hirth v. City of Hoboken, 337 N.J. Super. 149 (App. Div
2001), and the unreported cases of Township of North Bergen v. Shiva
Properties, et als, (HUD-L-6587-03) and Township of North Bergen v.Spylen
of North Bergen, Inc (A-6868-03T2), clearly give a property owner the right
to raise all these defenses to the eminent domain taking.
It should be noted there was a prerogative writ suit in the matter of 110
Washington Street v. Township of Bloomfield that was heard by Judge Claude
M. Coleman and dismissed because it was filed beyond the 45-days to contest
municipal action. Judge Coleman made no findings of fact or conclusions of
law on the merits of the prerogative writ case, which effectively prevented
Bloomfield's counsel from arguing judicial
In the consolidated Lodi cases - actions in lieu of prerogative writ
contesting the municipality's determination of blight - Judge Donohue found
the municipality had not established by substantial evidence the premises
in question were in need of redevelopment. The court concluded the
municipality's actions were arbitrary and capricious. The standard for
judicial review of a blight declaration is limited to whether the
municipality's action is supported by substantial evidence. See Hirth v.
City of Hoboken Supra 337 N.J. Super. at 161; Levin v. Township of
Bridgewater, 57 N.J. 506 (1971).
Consistent with the decisions of Judges Costello and Donohue cited above,
the Appellate Division approved for publication an opinion by Judge Parker
in the matter of ERETC, L.L.C. v. City of Perth Amboy A-2035-04T2, decided
Nov. 15, 2005. Download the decision The plaintiff, ERETC, owns a light
manufacturing building located in the proposed redevelopment area. ERETC
uses part of the building, which is in good condition, and rents the
remainder. The preliminary report of the city's planner identified criteria
D and E of the LRHL applicable to the area. At trial the plaintiff 's
expert testified she found the plaintiff 's property to be neat, maintained
and painted, with no apparent structural flaws. She concluded the city
planner's report was "inadequate and void of any information that would
lead to the conclusion that was obtained by the City which was that the
area was in need of redevelopment." A mere recitation of the criteria of
the statute without substantiation of the criteria is not enough to declare
a property in need of redevelopment. In the appeal, the court states that
nowhere in the report did the city planner "undertake an analysis of the
statutory criteria as it applied to each of the properties in the
designated area." The court reversed and remanded to the planning board for
This is an example of a win, but the redevelopment plan could proceed
once the errors and defects in the report are corrected. The developer
behind the municipality will keep funding legal maneuvers. The power of
eminent domain doesn't go away. Even if municipalities such as Bogota pass
resolutions that they are not going to use it, they cannot abolish it.
Agencies can't abolish it. Only the legislature can change it.
To read the full article Download KO'ing Kelo article from the December 5
issue of the New Jersey Lawyer.