Tuesday, February 21, 2006


A Times roundup on eminent domain: no mention of Brooklyn or the newspaper's own history

The New York Times offers a front-page article on eminent domain today, headlined States Curbing Right to Seize Private Homes. It's one of those national roundups, covering a lot of bases, with a nod to issues in the tristate area. There's no mention of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn or the parent Times Company's own use of eminent domain.

There's a finite amount of space for such an article, so it's a judgment call about what to include. And the New York Times is a national newspaper. Still, its center of gravity is New York City, and there's a strong case that even roundup articles should mention its home city where eminent domain is at issue--such as the Atlantic Yards project. Perhaps this is caused by balkanization of coverage. As noted in Chapter 9 of my report, the national desk's coverage of the Supreme Court's Kelo decision--the ruling that sparked the new state legislation discussed today--neglected the local angle.

[Update: a reader comments that the reporter was writing a roundup of state legislative efforts, not the eminent domain issue in general, so the failure to mention the Brooklyn issue was defensible. Yes, I should've been more precise. Still, the article did mention some the impact of state reforms on some specific projects: a new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys, a Texas highway project, and a case in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood. The issue in Brooklyn may not be as prominent in New York, relatively speaking, as the other cases mentioned are in their states. Then again, the Times should think of its local readers as well.]

There's also a case that the Times should disclose its own corporate role; it has not done so regularly but did in a 1/26/06 article (from the business/financial desk) headlined Bank to Deny Loans if Land Was Seized: "The New York Times Company used eminent domain to acquire the land for its new headquarters under construction in Midtown." [Addendum: After some discussion, I'll suggest that it is a judgment call, and the case is strongest when the Times is writing about the use of eminent domain in New York--which was not the subject of this article.]

Today's article included these passages:
The issue was one of the first raised when Connecticut lawmakers returned to session early this month. There are bills pending in the Legislature to impose new restrictions on the use of eminent domain by local governments and to assure that displaced businesses and homeowners receive fair compensation.
(The New London project is essentially delayed, even after the Supreme Court go-ahead, because of contractual disputes and an unwillingness to forcibly remove the homeowners who sued to save their properties.)
In the New Jersey Legislature, Senator Nia H. Gill, a Democrat from Montclair who is chairwoman of the Commerce Committee, proposed a bill to outlaw the use of eminent domain to condemn residential property that is not completely run down to make room for a redevelopment project. The bill, which is pending, would require public hearings before any taking of private property to benefit a private project.
In New York, State Senator John A. DeFrancisco, a Republican, has proposed a measure similar to one in other states that would remove the right to exercise condemnation power from unelected bodies like an urban redevelopment authority or an industrial development agency.

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