New Documentary on Brooklyn Eminent Domain Abuse

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Filmmakers Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky have just released a 6-minute trailer for their new documentary Battle of Brooklyn, which tells the story of a group of Brooklyn, New York property owners who have waged a five-year battle against state and local officials that want to seize their land on behalf of real estate developer Bruce Ratner. The cause of this eminent domain abuse is the so-called Atlantic Yards project, a 22-acre redevelopment boondoggle centered on a new sports arena for the New Jersey Nets, a professional basketball team that just happens to be owned by Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner. Watch the trailer here. And click here for Reason's Atlantic Yards coverage.

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  1. Protecting people from having their land grabbed is one of the reasons why we create governments. When the government colludes to do the land-grabbing, it becomes illegitimate.

    -jcr

  2. Any use of eminent domain is abuse.

  3. That “jobs, housing and hoops!” chant is disturbing.

    I guess chanting “Bread & Circuses!” would have been a little too obvious.

  4. @qwerty: Let’s take a hypothetical. Suppose there is an isolated town up in the mountains and a massive land slide comes down and fills up the path taken by the only road in or out. Now let’s also suppose that there is some privately held land in the only other pass leading out of the town and the owner-a right bastard-decides he has everyone else there by the short hairs and wants to charge a million dollars each time someone goes through and that they can all starve for all he cares if they don’t pay it (since he never liked them anyway). Furthermore, he puts up a sign saying that anyone who comes onto his land without a million dollars to pay for passage is a trespasser and shall be shot. Would it be eminent domain abuse for the town to take that land to build a new road? If not, what should they do?

    I think there are some legitimate uses of eminent domain when the good of the many does outweigh the rights of the one. Perhaps only a tiny fraction of eminent domain uses are legitimate, but that doesn’t mean that all uses are, unless you can explain what the hypothetical town above should do that doesn’t involve eminent domain (or its equivalent).

  5. OT: Reason’s most treasured contributor speaks! Reason sure knows how to pick them, don’t they?

  6. Untermensch,

    Is that the best you can come up with?

  7. Cut a new pass, and the townsfolk can choose to not do business of any sort with the jackass land owner.

  8. When the Battle gets to the SCOTUS we’ll see if empathy prevails.

  9. Untermensch, I would agree with Kevin.

    OK, I guess if aliens were attacking Earth and the only possible defense was the Crystal of ZNSGDIH which was buried in Billy Bob’s backyard, and he refused to give it up, then maybe I would support eminent domain. But, for any real example, including yours, I would be against it. I have never in my life read an article about a use of eminent domain and thought, “Well, I guess that’s a reasonable use of it.”

    The 5th amendment states that “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation”. When the Bill of Rights was being debated, Jefferson wanted the phrase “without just compensation” removed. I wish he had gotten his way. (although I’m sure the Supreme Court would have found some lame excuse to get around it)

  10. This article proceeds of a lot of!

  11. Untermensch,

    They already solved that problem: It was called the Berlin Airlift.

  12. Why is everyone slacking? Shut the fuck up, Lonewacko.

  13. OK, I guess if aliens were attacking Earth and the only possible defense was the Crystal of ZNSGDIH which was buried in Billy Bob’s backyard, and he refused to give it up, then maybe I would support eminent domain.

    Fuck that.

    Just gang up and steal it, give it back when the world is saved, apologize to the guy and buy him drinks and blow him or something, then don’t do that kind of shit anymore.

    If he’s still pissed and turns it against you, oh well. That’s better than inventing an unstoppable eternal machinery of evil to rob one dude.

  14. This article proceeds of a lot of!

    Indeed. Truer words have never been spoken.

    Why is everyone slacking?

    I think it’s a reaction to the acknowledgement that Mr. Kelly barely even tries anymore. He’s robbing us of our trolljoy.

  15. Since he got rid of the disclaimer, it’s just not the same. :::sniffles, wipes tear from eye.:::

  16. OK, I guess if aliens were attacking Earth and the only possible defense was the Crystal of ZNSGDIH which was buried in Billy Bob’s backyard, and he refused to give it up, then maybe I would support eminent domain.

    No. There is no threshhold. There is no way for the collective action to redem the individual’s malicious purpose.

    In this scenario, you take what you need and you suffer the consequences. It’s likely here those consequences will be null, but it’s up to that property owner and you to argue in front of an arbiter of your choice.

  17. OK Here’s a hypothetical. GE wants to install several wind turbine farms in the Midwest. Let’s say, they spent several million dollars purchasing the land. These wind farms need to be tied together with high tension power lines. But the path between the wind farms cuts through Farmer Brown’s corn fields. Farmer Brown doesn’t want these power lines going through his farm and refuses to sell.

    This is what I see as the next big string of eminent domain cases. I live in rural Southern New Jersey. There are many miles of power lines cutting through farms, mostly coming from the Salem Nuclear Power Plant.

  18. Does the language “public use” necessarily mean “use as public property?” I’m not sure it does.

    I think eminent domain abuse is terrifying to be honest, but I think the language in the 5th is a poor tool for fighting it. It’s seems to me to be at least susceptible to Kelo type conclusions. Instead, perhaps a clear Amendment should be passed, or this should be fought through statutory means.

  19. If the town of Pittsburgh can build the new arena using eminent domain, then I suppose I can go to any game or concert there ticket free? It’s public use right???

    It’s all BS. I can agree with some very limited uses, but I think the compensation should be MORE than just… Perhaps DOUBLE just compensation. That alone should prevent most of this bullshit.

  20. This is supposed to be for the New Jersey Nets? Everybody knows they suck and aren’t going to make the playoffs. Why reward failure with new digs?

  21. Is anyone really surprised by this?

    RT
    http://www.online-privacy.tk

  22. You know, it occurs to me that if public use=public property (the government must own the taken land for a public use) then wouldn’t those who sue for compensation in cases of inverse condemnation (when the government puts restrictions on your land that make it impossible for you to use the land) be SOL? After all, the government doesn’t actually own the land or turn it over to public use, right? Therefore the “public use” part not being triggered the “just compensation” part would not be either…

  23. “Let’s take a hypothetical. Suppose there is an isolated town up in the mountains and a massive land slide comes down and fills up the path taken by the only road in or out. Now let’s also suppose that there is some privately held land in the only other pass leading out of the town and the owner-a right bastard-decides he has everyone else there by the short hairs and wants to charge a million dollars each time someone goes through and that they can all starve for all he cares if they don’t pay it (since he never liked them anyway). Furthermore, he puts up a sign saying that anyone who comes onto his land without a million dollars to pay for passage is a trespasser and shall be shot. Would it be eminent domain abuse for the town to take that land to build a new road?”

    yes.

    “OK, I guess if aliens were attacking Earth and the only possible defense was the Crystal of ZNSGDIH which was buried in Billy Bob’s backyard, and he refused to give it up, then maybe I would support eminent domain.”

    I still wouldn’t support it. Now here’s the “but”. Say I assume that the government’s primary function is to secure the safety of its citizens, and that the social contract is entered into voluntarily. If it finds itself constrained by its own laws to where it cannot do this, would it not be reasonable to say the government has the right to cease doing business with its citizens? Simply put, if one jackass (citizen) is hoarding the only artifact that can save mankind, the government lacks the right to take it from him, but it reserves the right to cease collecting taxes and providing services. If it disbands itself the greedy jackass will be dead before the public announcement has time to repeat itself. The angry mob can then recreate whatever style of government they prefer and get what they deserve.

  24. Eminent domain for legitamate public use, I’ll grudgingly accept. Eminent Domain so a fuckhead billionaire can get a taxpayer subsudized playpen for his millionaire employees doesn’t even come within parsecs of legitimate public use.

    Build a highway, a canal, a school (maybe*) a fire station or a cop shop, I can live with it. Supporters of the senior citizens center, the water park and the New York Times can go fuck themselves.

    * Go with my public funded, privately provided education scheme and this is no longer an issue. Hence the maybe.

  25. Eminent Domain so a fuckhead billionaire can get a taxpayer subsudized playpen for his millionaire employees doesn’t even come within parsecs of legitimate public use.

    Very true. But for everyone involved other than Ratner, what this is really about is doling out expensive union jobs to loyal voters, with a healthy dose of so-called “affordable” housing to make it easier to swallow for the rest of us. The “affordable” housing is largely out now, due to the economy, but they’re gamely pressing on anyway.

  26. This is the kind of thing that drives a man to weld armor on his bulldozer and go apeshit.

    I would monkeywrench that developer’s projects to the end of my days.

  27. But for everyone involved other than Ratner, what this is really about is doling out expensive union jobs to loyal voters,


    Ahhh.
    The Pennsauken Mart. Eminent Domain was used to seize ownership of the land to build a minor league hockey arena. Shop owners fought unsuccessfully to block it. However, they did score a partial victory. Along with “fair value” for the property, the County was ordered to pay both relocation costs and all attorney fees. And guess who ultimately got stuck with the bill? Here’s part of the reason why the County wanted it:

    Skeptics also note Norcross’ involvement in a planned $65 million Camden County civic center and arena. Norcross originally owned part of a minor-league hockey franchise that is to play in the 6,400-seat arena but sold his $500,000 interest in the team last year following criticism of his involvement.
    Blocked by the Republicans, the state Senate didn’t vote on funding the civic center in 2002. So arena backers turned to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which in November 2002 approved $24 million for the project. The balance is being funded through the Camden County Improvement Authority, whose members are appointed by the Camden freeholders — all of whom were elected with Norcross’ backing.

    Unhappy residents resisted early efforts to put the civic center first in Lawnside, then in Gloucester Township. It now is to rise on the site of the Pennsauken Mart, where merchants facing forced relocation fought the venture without success.

    The project’s supporters include a key Norcross ally, the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO Central Labor Council.

    The labor group is led by Donald Norcross, 46, of Voorhees, who is co-chairman of the Camden County Democratic Committee and George Norcross’ brother.County officials say the arena will create up to 400 construction jobs and spur more than $100 million in new development.

    See George E. Norcross III.

    Also involved was State Senator Steve Sweeney, whose bother is President of the local Iron Worker’s Union.

    So, the arena deal fell through so here’s what they plan to do with it now.

  28. MNG,

    You know, some of us think even true public use ED is wrong.

    So, arguing with people who say that all ED is wrong with “but Kelo might be technically right”, is, well stupid.

  29. MNG,

    Therefore the “public use” part not being triggered the “just compensation” part would not be either…

    You are smarter than that. In that case, they couldnt take it at all.

    The 5th doesnt mean “You can take for free is you dont use it for public use”.

  30. Why ED, even following the 5th, can never be constitutional:

    The 5th requires just compensation. The only JUST compensation is fair market value, which is whatever a buyer and seller agree to. If the seller says, “I have lived in this home my entire life, due to sentimental value, it is worth 47 brazillian dollars to me”, who are we to say that isnt the fair market value?

  31. The point being, you dont need ED if the seller agrees to a price and the only just compensation is the price they agree to, hence the 5th is BS. A number of the Founders struggled with basic econ.

  32. Well, that’s not what fair market value is to the rest of the world.

    My point is that if a taking is what triggers the just compensation, and the only legitimate taking is when private property is taken in full by the government, then simply regulating private land that falls short of such a full taking would not trigger just compensation. So in order to save Kelo et al., you end up screwing those who sue for compensation for inverse condemnation.

  33. “that’s not what fair market value is to the rest of the world.”

    And of course more to the point, that can’t be the meaning of the just compensation in the 5th, as you note if just compensation was “what the buyer in question would be willing to sell for” there would be no “taking of private property for public use”, there would just be sales…

  34. I have no issue with land being taken for large projects. I have a problem with the “just compensation” part, which is often skirted by big developers and their political allies.

    Displaced people should be given enough money to buy a BETTER home, a moving company should be hired on the developers’ dime, and the displaced should get at least $20,000 for the bother of moving. Businesses should get more, probably based on sales.

    I disagree with robc. It is precisely the irrational idiots who value their current home at “47 brazillion” that necessitate eminant domain in these situations. This is a well-understood flaw in human reaonsing. Combined with the monopoly/oligopoly that is created by the last few holdouts that lie in front of any major development, these two market failures make big projects far more difficult than they should be.

    But of course, you would never admit markets fail, even when the theory’s major assumptions are violated.

  35. Yeah, wanting to keep something you own is a “well-understood flaw”. They should be punished for their stupidity.

  36. I like to quote O’Connor’s dissent in Kelo to any person who calls themselves a liberal and approves of unlimited eminent domain: “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. ”

    How any person who calls themselves a liberal can be for that is beyond me.

  37. you end up screwing those who sue for compensation for inverse condemnation.

    Nope, you end up banning inverse condemnation too.

  38. It is precisely the irrational idiots who value their current home at “47 brazillion” that necessitate eminant domain in these situations.

    Irrational? Who am I to say that dying on the piece of property that has been in your family for 6 generations doesnt have enormous value? It is very rational, if a little odd.

  39. >This is supposed to be for the New Jersey Nets? >Everybody knows they suck and aren’t going to >make the playoffs. Why reward failure with new >digs?

    I thought that nowadaze rewarding failure is officially “in?”

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