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June 27, 2008

The balance of power?

The Brooklyn Paper

At its core, the issue in this case is New York State’s insistence that Bruce Ratner’s basketball arena, office and housing mega-project will bring about a “public benefit.” The declaration of such a “public benefit” enables the state to use its eminent domain power to seize the 11 properties from their owners and give them to Ratner.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that when states condemn private property for a public benefit, they do not violate the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

But in its most-recent ruling on such takings — the 2005 Kelo decision — the High Court declared that the “public benefit” cannot merely be a pretext for handing over one person’s land to another person.

In a word, the benefit must be real.

But who determines if the public actually benefits from a development? In its brief to the High Court, state officials said that only the state itself has the power to make that determination.

The 11 plaintiffs in Goldstein v. Pataki allege that a corrupt and cronyism-riddled Empire State Development Corporation simply used the pretext of public benefit to hand over properties so Ratner could make millions. Two federal courts have declined to examine this claim, saying that judges have no role in hearing challenges to a state’s determination that a project is a “public benefit.”

So, if a state agency says that a project is a “public benefit,” it is, de facto, a public benefit.

But what if the so-called “public benefit” isn’t a benefit at all?


Posted by eric at June 27, 2008 9:55 AM