Monthly Archives: August 2009

Atlantic Yards Update

          For a good summary of the status of the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards case, see Ryan Thompson, Atlantic Yards Opponents File Another Motion Alongside Eminent Domain Challenge, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 4, 2009. For the whole story, click on http://www.brooklyneagle.com/categories/category.php?category_id=26&id=29952  This article reports that the redevelopment area owners have filed a motion in the New York Court of Appeals to review the lower court decision agaianst them.

This case raises an environmental law challenge to the Atlantic Yards redevelopment project. We blogged about that in our posts of  May 13, 2009, (click on  http://gideonstrumpet.info/?p=230) and more recently on  on July 1, 2009 (click on http://gideonstrumpet.info/?p=252). Check it out.

          This is not the Goldstein case which challenged the condemnor’s right to take. Rather in this one (Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn), the Atlantic Yards area owners are arguing that New York environmental laws have not been followed. The opinion of the New York Appellate Division (New York’s intermediate appelate court) that we quoted in the original post of May 13th is fascinating because for all practical purposes it concedes that the history of New York’s use of  eminent domain for redevelopment has been a history of outrageous abuses, but ruled for the condemnor anyway. Now we shall see whether the New York Court of Appeals cares about such abuses.

         Stay tuned.

Arabian Tales

                 It isn’t every day that a local title dispute makes the New York Times, but, hey man, when it comes to the Middle East anything makes it into the august pages of the Grey Lady, as long as the news can be spinned unfavorably to Israel, and favorably to Arab claims, no matter how outlandish. And so, unsurprisingly, the recent eviction of Arab squatters in a Jerusalem neighborhood, following a successful quiet title action by the buildings’ Jewish owners has become a Big Deal.  

                  Case in point: the August 3, 2009, issue of the NY Times (Isabel Kershner, Israel Defiantly Evicts Some Palestinians From Their Homes, at p. A4). Defiantly? Golly. That sounds bad. But is it? Not really. Not if you get past the provocative headline and actually read the facts disclosed in the article that follows. The thrust of that article is that Jewish Israelis have filed a successful action to quiet title to some buildings in the Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and have won. The Times won’t have any of that. After all, when it comes to reporting from that part of the world, the Times takes it as axiomatic that the Arabs are right and the Jews wrong, especially when the Jews can be charged with being – gasp! shudder! – “settlers,” even where, as here, they are the lawful owners of the subject property and the Arabs are the “settlers” who grabbed those buildings by force of Jordanian arms in 1948. This title dispute may make for some politically correct copy, but if you are into property law, a whole other picture emerges, and you don’t have to look beyond the four corners of the Times’ own article.  

               Before 1948, the neighborhood was mixed – both Jews and Arabs lived there. But when in 1948 the Jordanian Army crossed the Jordan river and invaded what is now called the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Jordanians (or Trans-Jordanians as they were then called) drove out the Jewish population and, as the Times puts it, “gave the [Arab] families ownership of the houses.” Actually, what they did was to give those Arabs possession, not title. As the Times concedes, they failed to observe a persnickety detail; they “had not formally registered the building in their names.” 

                 After the Arabs’ unsuccessful 1967 attempt to “drive the Jews into the sea,” as they were fond of putting it, the Israelis recaptured all of Jerusalem, and the day of reckoning came. The rightful owners of the subject building then sued to quiet title, relying on deeds in a chain of title going back to the Turkish Ottoman Empire days before World War I. Guess what? They won. Even before that, when first confronted with reality, the Arab occupants of the property conceded their lack of title, accepted their status as tenants, and duly paid rent to the Jewish building owners for years. It was only later that they had an epiphany and realized that their Jewish landlords’ deeds were – gasp! – forged. The problem is that, putting aside their inability to prove their contention in court, as readers trained in law know, you don’t get to win a quiet title action on the asserted weakness of your adversary’s position – you have to do it on the strength of your own title. And the Arab tenants’ belated claim of title was BS because, as is uncontested, they did not own the property when the Jordanians let them move onto it, and they concededly acquired no title to it afterward.  

               If that had happened in, say, Van Nuys, a story of this kind  wouldn’t see the light of day, not even in the local paper, much less the New York Times. But as we said, hey man, it’s the Middle East where, as far as the Times is concerned, the Israelis can do no right and the Arabs no wrong, not even when the Arabs de facto concede they’re wrong.. 

Good News – Bad News in California

          There has been an interesting fallout from California’s recent budget crisis in which our betters in Sacramento were forced to acknowledge the existence of an economic equivalent of the first law of thermodynamics, namely, that you can’t create wealth out of thin air, and that if you continuously spend more than you have coming in, you wind up dead-broke. After months of higgle-haggling between the legislature and our governator, California finally came up with a budget that may, but probably will not solve the problem, and will likely precipitate another “budget crisis” in a few months.

         One of the interesting features of that budget is that it transfers some $1.7 billion  from redevelopment agencies to the state. As you can imagine, that has caused anguish within those agencies and much outrage on their part, that reduces itself to a cry of “They can’t do that to us!” Ah, but they can and they did, and in the process the California legislature rejected a sneaky amendment to the redevelopment act, that would have extended the life of redevelopment agencies for another 40 years without a need to show the existence of blight.

          What provides an element of poetic justice to this events is that, even though redevelopment agencies are plainly local, municipal entities, California law deems them to be state agencies — a legislative gimmick that was inserted into the law to make local challenges to redevelopment more difficult, but has now bitten those agencies good and proper. After all, if they are “state agencies” then the state can control their finances.

         For commentary on this point, see the column in the Orange County Register by Steven Greenhut, a knowledgeable reporter who has written a book on eminent domain abuses. His article is entitled Budget Blindsides Blight Barons. Check it out.

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/redevelopment-agencies-tax-2515286-local-new

Update. Hold everything! According to the Los Angeles Times of August 10, 2009 (Evan Halper, Lawsuits Are the Latest Roadblock for California Budget) the redevelopment agencies are fighting back. They have hired lawyers and are about to sue to recover the money tranfered from them to the state general fund. We are not into that stuff, but the mavens to whom the Times spoke, feel that the redevelopment agencies may win. If they do, we will be treated to the spectacle of a State committing an act of self-strangulation. We can’t wait.

Paid-For Redevelopment Propaganda on PBS?

      In an article by Jessica Garrison, Another Casualty of State Budget Crisis? L.A. Times, Aug. 2, 2009, at p. A31, the Los Angeles Times reports that Huell Howser, the big, handsome fellow with the deep fried, honey-drippin’ Southern accent, who hosts the local California Gold  PBS program on KCET, has accepted $320,000 from the California Redevelopment Association as partial funding of a TV program in which Howser — in the words of the L.A. Times — “gushed about the marvels of redevelopment policy.” See  http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-redevelopment2-2009aug02,0,2684843.story  So much for the vaunted integrity of PBS, those wonderful folks who are forever extolling their own virtues during their interminable commercial pitches for financial support.

          We haven’t seen the program yet, but we intend to, after which we will likely have more to say on this topic. So stay tuned, folks. This one should be a doozy.

Follow up.

Go on line to http://www.calredevelop.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=4291 

There, you will find The California Redevelopment Association’s call to its members to submit redevelopment “success stories” for Howser’s program. The submissions so far, that will be the subject of that program are: The historical downtown in Winters, the downtown in Clovis, the “old town” in Temecula, Redding, the “Alkali Flats” neighborhood in Sacramento, the Victorian train depot in Perris, the site of the old Naval Training Station is San Diego, affordable housing in Signal Hill,  and housing for the homeless in Santa Barbara. None of these are what you might call major redevelopment projects of a kind that have been the subject of controversy.

          We see no sign of any of the — shall we say? — less than successful redevelopment projects like the ones in Hawthorne, Redondo Beach, North Hollywood, Pasadena, etc. Nor do we see any mention of redevelopment projects that are renowned for their — shall we say? — creative financial arrangements, like the City of Industry, for example, or how the North Hollywood redevelopment project blew through $100 million in public funds with nothing to show for it, and indeed, if the Los Angeles Times is to be believed, made things worse.

          We do not intend to commit here the sin of cherry picking with which we charge the California Redevelopment Association. But it seems to us that when a well regarded broadcast medium like PBS and its local TV station KCET set out to tell the story of redevelopment, they should tell a balanced story that while understandably perhaps bragging about the CRA successes also acknowledges the failures, and does not mislead the public by providing a one-sided view of a highly controversial activity.

         As the media people never tire of telling us, their function is to inform the public, not to propagandize it.

A Dispatch From La-La Land

         This is one of those “can-you-believe-this?” things  from California. In Santa Barbara County, north of Los Angeles, there is a magnificent arch bridge in the mountains, the Cold Spring Canyon bridge. It spans a deep gorge. It is widely admired and often photographed. Unfortunately, like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, it has an unfortunate appeal to people who want to commit suicide and go out in style. Since the bridge opened, 47 people have jumped off it to their death.

           So the California Department of Transportation decided to do something about it and save these poor wretches from themselves (and here you thought that good ol’ CalTrans was heartless). To that end CalTrans decided to install a 9-foot suicide barrier along the sides of the bridge. But guess what? The Los Angeles Times (Steve Chawkins, Santa Barbara: Suit Filed to Block Suicide Barriers, July 25, 2009, at p. A13) reports that environmentalists have filed a lawsuit to bar CalTrans from constructing the barrier. They argue — are you ready? — that the barriers will be ineffective because they will  “merely” — got that? — force people bent on committing suicide to kill themselves elsewhere.

          The plaintiffs are evidently unconcerned with the negative impact on the environment, caused by all those bodies going splat! below the bridge, just as long as you don’t interfere with their aesthetic pleasure of enjoying their “view shed,” as they are wont to call it.

         Only in California!

How Do You Say “Chutzpa” In Hawaiian?

          Bellows Air Force Station on the windward side of Oahu is our all-time favorite military installation in the whole world. We are not sure what the Air Force does there, but its beaches are astonishing. Since the public is admitted there at times, we took advantage of the opportunity and during our recent trips to Hawaii got to spend some time on its magnificent beach, with nary a tourist in sight (most tourists evidently prefer the glitz of Waikiki). What a place!

         Given the beauty of the place and its use for recreation, it was not surprising that the Air Force decided to build some facilities serving that purpose, namely 48 vacation rentals and some golf facilities that would be available to military personnel. Ah, but this is 21st century America, folks. The local NIMBYs were promptly heard from. No, this wasn’t a case of the Air Force plans desecrating an old tribal burial grounds or imposing on the turf of an endangered plant or animal.  No, sir. According to the local Paper (Kaylee  Noborikawa, Air Force Reduces Plans to Develop 400 Bellows Acres, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Jul. 18, 2009) what the locals wanted was for the Air Force give the land back to the state so the locals, not the service people, could enjoy it instead. What chutzpa. And while they were at it, some of them based their demand on “Hawaiian sovereignty.” No, we are not making this up.

          And guess what? The Air Force capitulated in part.  No, it did not give Bellows to the state, but reenacting the familiar NIMBY Kabuki dance, where proposed development plans are scaled back after the NIMBYs do their thing, it agreed to reduce the number of vacation cabins from 48 to 16.

          We find this performance disgraceful. You may or may not approve of the wars in the Middle East, but we are at war, and one would think that the country that calls upon its military to shed blood in a far off place, would manage to provide its Airmen with recreation when it can be so easily done as in this case, without kowtowing to local NIMBYs.