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September 5, 2008

Hearing on Columbia Plan Elicits Emotional Speeches

The NY Times
By Timothy Williams

The Empire State Development Corporation board this week held its only public hearing before it decides whether to use eminent domain to allow for the $6.3 billion expansion of Columbia University into Manhattanville.

But while the two-day hearing featured testimony from a former mayor, members of the State Legislature and the president of Columbia University, the group that will make the ultimate decision, the development corporation’s board, was not there.

Instead, a lone hearing officer, a lawyer named Edward C. Kramer, listened stoically to more than 13 hours of often emotional testimony.

The public hearing, which was held on Tuesday and Thursday, followed a pattern: Speakers who were employed by, seeking employment with or otherwise had business ties to the university came out in support of the plan. Most other speakers opposed it.
Some speakers pointed to the absence of the development corporation’s board members at the public hearing as a sign that the agency had already decided to grant the university eminent domain rights.

But Warner Johnston, a spokesman for the development corporation, said it was the agency’s practice to hire a hearing officer during eminent domain testimony rather than having the board listen to testimony firsthand to ensure that “the process is as judicial and impartial as possible.”


Atlantic Yards Report, ESDC: hearing officer in Columbia case makes for "judicial and impartial" process

Norman Oder points out that the absence of Empire State Develop Corporation board officials at the Atlantic Yards hearings and subsequent vote had some unfortunate consequences:

No ESDC board member attended the Atlantic Yards public hearing two years ago, though ESDC staff members were there. ESDC board members, upon voting approval of the Atlantic Yards plan in December 2006, showed themselves to be rather uninformed.

NoLandGrab, reality check: The ESDC wants us to beleve that in order for the process to be "as judicial and impartial as possible," boardmembers do not attend the hearing, even though there's no evidence during the board vote that boardmembers read or understand any of the testimony. What's the point of having a hearing officer, if no one really gets heard?

This week's hearings illustrate that there's a total breakdown in the system to the point of absurdity.

Posted by lumi at September 5, 2008 5:15 AM