Reality, Hard-won Victories
Heroic Leaders Stand Fast for the Bulwark of the Constitution
The intensity of the brilliance and courage exhibited by the speakers at the Property Rights Foundation of America's Seventeenth Annual national Conference on Private Property Rights had to be experienced first-hand to be grasped.
The first speaker at the October 26 conference was James Burling
of Pacific Legal Foundation. He had just won a mighty victory
in the U.S. Supreme Court against the federal government. He had
coordinated aspects of his opening address with Roger Pilon of
Cato institute, who delivered the closing address, perhaps as
only he could, bringing alive centuries of history, culminating
in the sabotaging of private property rights with the Progressive
Era. He described, in coordination with Mr. Burling, the way that
private property rights are rising tom the ashes of the 1930s.
Between the opening and closing addresses, the horror of the deprivation of private property rights on the ground was pounded in with a hammer of tears and tight lipped restraint by speakers from places as far flung as Detroit, Michigan, the community of Willets Point near my old home town in New York City, and the historic oil fields in Cattaraugus County in the southwestern corner of New York State.
"The Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., is trying to get across the point and show people how essential and basic private property rights are to the ordinary person's wellbeing. It isn't big business. Big business doesn't donate to the Property Rights Foundation of America. They have their lobbyists in Washington... In all our work from the beginning we faced this issue of people being a sacrificed population. That's a new term I ran into in a book called Conservation Refugees. I said, 'Holy Hannah! That's the type of thing I've been trying to express.'"
The case of Koontz v. St. Johns Water Management District: "We took the case over and we went up to the U.S. Supreme Court and asked them to take the case. As you know, they may take one out of a hundred cases. They took that case and we had our arguments last January and they said the court issues the decision at the end of the term in June. It said a few things. First of all, with respect to the question of whether or not you can challenge a permit condition without accepting the permit if it is clear,...All justices agreed, actually, all nine of them agreed that if it is clear that a permit is denied because a condition would have been imposed if you accepted the permit, then you can challenge those permit conditions."
Without hearing the facts directly, how could the ordinary person imagine that the New York City Administration is working on behalf of chosen developers to destroy a unique, thriving minority-owned community of auto parts and repair places out of business even though they are relied on by ordinary working people throughout the city and region for affordable repair.
"We have come so far and I believe we've stopped the eminent domain process which was in progress with an amicus brief that was filed because of what was said by us here a couple of years ago.
"We have limited time, but a lot more time than they allow you to speak when you go to defend yourself at community boards and City Hall Council meetings. You've got three minutes.
"'Who are you?'
"'Oh, just a private citizen who owns some property and you're taking my life away from me.'
"'You've got three minutes!'
"And you're cut off. But the people who are going there to take it, the developers, the big, big politicians that are connected with the city officials, and the agencies that are supposed to be our checks and balances to protect uscarte blanchespeak as long as you like."
"I'm a documentary video producer who's been following the situation in Willets Point, Queens, since 2007. This is the fourth consecutive year that Irene, Joe, and myself have attended this conference to update the group on what is happening at Willets Point, that is the City's intention to redevelop the entire sixty-two-acre district and the community's opposition to it. I'm going to summarize a little bit of the history of it, not to dwell too long, but for people who are not acquainted with it at all I'll tell you what has happened over the last year. And I think you'll see that the moral of the story is that the land use review procedure in New York City is basically a charade with elected officials going through the motions, having public hearings, people testifying for their two or three minutes, as the case may be, and at the end of the day there's no chance whatsoever of defeating a project like this."
" where they are vulnerable is on the issue of the mall being built on the parkland. The City Council never really analyzed that in any meaningful way. Willets Point United sent legalistic letters there explaining why this cannot be done and there needs to be a lawsuit that challenges the validity of doing that." Robert LoScalzo
"Willets Point is home to a concentration of roughly two hundred and fifty industrial manufacturing and mechanical businesses and it's best known for its network of scores of automotive repair shops. Many of these shops are operated by new immigrants from Latin America, Afghanistan, India, Ukraine, actually from all over the world. And here are just some of their business cards. They provide expert repair services at very low prices and they attract a clientele from the tri-state area and beyond. Many of these property and business owners came together to form Willets Point United in 2009 in response to the City's intended development of the area where they work." Robert LoScalzo
"My father and oldest brother used to buy their auto parts in Willets Point. In fact, my brother remembers their treks to Willets Pint to buy auto parts before my father died in 1970. Even 43 years ago, the city neglected the streets in Willets Point so that they were in shocking condition, as they are now. So the city's hostility toward the cadre of parts places and other worthwhile commercial services in Willets Point is unbroken Today, you Members of the City Council have the opportunity to inaugurate new policies to build up the well-being of the traditional essential businesses of Willets Point." Excerpts from Carol LaGrasse's September 3, 2013 statement at City Hall hearing.
"Glad to see you all, especially Carol LaGrasse. I am the only resident at Willets Point, as of now. Born and raised there years ago and I just want to let everybody know that I kind of like the place. I've lived there all my life. I still live there today and I wish that everyone could have my experiences. I want to let you know that I'm very comfortable there. I get to know all the people of the area. They're had working and sometimes you see the lights on in their businesses until one, two o'clock in the morning, getting prepared and sending out whatever jobs they may have to get done and satisfy each and every customer that they have."
Very few people realize that governments of New York and Pennsylvania are working relentlessly to drive out of business the conventional producers in the historic Pennsylvania oil field where the oil industry was born 153 years ago. The unique Pennsylvania Grade Crude is produced by many small producers in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio tracing their operations back several generations. Their wells feed nearby refineries employing hundreds of people. The crude oil is paraffin-based and contains no asphalt and only traces of sulfur and nitrogen. It is valued to make lube stock, and as a base for petroleum jelly. Its quality makes it an important part of many other products ranging from medications and cosmetics to food products.
Tom Miller delivered a masterful talk documenting the heartbreaking effects of the state persecution of arbitrarily selected oil producers. The production of Penn Grade Crude yields no pollution, but the state keeps jacking up the persecution on alleged environmental grounds. The only purpose of this can be to drive them out of business.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Protection (DEP) set an example with one oil producer. A new owner of a property where oil is produced failed to read his deed, and complained to the DEP that he wasn't receiving a royalty from the producer. Afterwards, the producer was charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor for "discharging produced water on the land or waters of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." (Produced water is almost pure water, and also contains micronutrients that benefit the soil. It is an economic and physical impossibility to transport it to a "treatment plant." This would have no purpose, anyway.)
The producer was threatened with millions of dollars in fines and eight years in prison. He was offered a break if he would turn somebody else in. He hired an attorney. Sixty members of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil Producers (PIPP), of which Tom is a member of the board of directors, attended his trial. In the end, this highly respected man paid a $10,000 fine and $4,000 in investigative costs to settle charges of the alleged pollution. To his humiliation, he was ordered to also make a public apology. On the way to the courthouse, one of the PIPP people saw the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation crew shoveling sand and salt off a bridge into the river.
Another man, Jerry, was well loved by virtually everyone in his little town for his many kindnesses. He was married 21 years. He cared for his bedridden wife for four years until she died. Oil was his life. He worked the wells for 42 years, first with his father. But a neighbor moved in who was new the area. She reported him for violation of the new "zero discharge" regulation. His production was in a valley that once had around six to nine thousand wells. The Pennsylvania DEP ordered him to cease operations. He told Tom that he could handle the physical pain of working the wells in spite of his old age, but he couldn't handle the DEP inspector's orders to shut down his operations. A short time later, he was found dead beside his truck of a heart attack, his phone in his hand.
"Let me tell you where we are two years later I have a kinship with those people. You see, up the road a ways in Cobleskill, I went to college there. Schoharie County at one time was known as the breadbasket of our beloved America during the Civil War. What an agricultural region. What a heritage they have and what a spirit these folks have. Do you know that over 28,000 meals have been served by these volunteers to help their people? Over 35,000 volunteers have coordinated efforts and served.
"You want to know about the spirit of folks. There's an eighty-year-old man up there that just took out a thirty-year mortgage to buy another home. You see, now he's paying property taxes on two parcels because the government hasn't decided yet how much they're going to appraise him on the one that was washed away. Sixty-three percent of the properties are recovered. Fifty percent of them are completed. Eleven percent of them are completely destroyed."
Robert G. Prentiss made the presentation of the Property Rights Foundation of America's oldest and most prestigious award to Robert LoScalzo. In addition to the engraving of the occasion and Mr. LoScalzo's name on the plaque, these words appear:
Robert Prentiss presented the Property Rights Foundation of America's Grassroots Leadership Award to two individuals who have been of paramount importance to the Willets Point effort to block the City of New York from destroying the Willets Point Community under continually changing schemes to benefit wealthy developers. Irene Prestigiacomo owns property where an automotive-related business is located, and stands with her tenants, who are under duress because of the threats by the city.
Irene Prestigiacomo: "I want to thank you all for being here, for supporting the Property Rights Foundation. Your support and your attendance is enormously, gratefully accepted and acknowledged by Willets Point United "
"I just want to say one more thing. Joe. Without Joe's assistance he's the only resident there. This man is eight-one years old and he's done everything. He has more energy than I do. And I just thank him immensely, and I have to say it publicly because he's just a wonderful person and he contributes so much."
The engraving on Joe Ardizzone's and Irene Prestigiacomo's
plaques includes similar words.
His leadership was recognized with the following words:
Speaking at the conference, Joe Ardizzone said, "I've
been there my whole life. But now I have to leave the area. It's
quite disheartening to me. I'm eighty-one years of age and I can't
see leaving As far as I'm concerned the deceit and deception of
all the community boards that I've been to and the changes, it's
really astounding and appalling to me. I want to thank Carol LaGrasse
for coming over and speaking for us, defending my Constitutional
rights, but they don't seem to count. Thank you very much."
The thirteenth annual New York State Private Property Rights Defender Award was engraved with the words:
The photo depicts M. Sheila Galvin delivering an impassioned call for the restoration of constitutional private property rights.
James Morgan acknowledged the recognition of the policy change that Carol LaGrasse pointed out, which came about as a direct result of the major lawsuit that he and Sheila Galvin brought on behalf Carol's group of plaintiffs against the state, to stop the state acquisition of the Champion International lands in 1999.
When introducing James Morgan and Sheila Galvin, Carol had pointed out that ten years after the lawsuit was brought, and after it was thrown out of court on an arbitrarily applied technicality, the state filed a revised conservation easement on 110,000 acres of the Champion lands and allowed 220 of the condemned 298 hunting camps to remain on the tract in perpetuity, according to the will of the timber company holder of the residual title.
When he received the New York State Private Property Rights Defender Award, James Morgan pointed out the second policy change that the state made as a result of the lawsuit. The state stopped its violation of the state land acquisition law while acquiring land in towns that opposed such acquisition. After the lawsuit, which garnered a great deal of publicity, the state established a policy of seeking written resolutions of support for such acquisitions. The opportunity was thereby given for a town to veto state land acquisition.
Unless a person visited the PRFA web site, read our newsletters or came to our many conferences, how would someone know about the inscrutable subtleties of dealing with land trusts: Eric Francis Coppolino, an independent journalist from Newburgh, spoke at the conference about the finagling by land trusts with historic boundaries in the region of Mohonk House in Ulster County.
Eric Francis Coppolino's opening words as he began to present a stack of photos, drawings, and surveys, all transmuted into his PowerPoint presentation, were "Sky Top Tower: You're the queen of all that you survey! It would be funny if it were a cartoon or a book, but it's not because it's real."
He spend the beginning of his talk pointing out the relationships between the top team, OSIthe Open Space Instituteand Mohonk Preserve, which he termed "one and the same," and the satellite conservancies, leading to the Land Trust Alliance; and then narrated the connections and characters in view of the Sky Top Tower and adjacent to the lands held by the conservancies. His talk became a sort of detective story about manipulation of title using old survey documents to challenge established ownership under the ancient law of long occupancy and the existence of physical boundaries on the ground.
Martha Boneta, who set out to restore rundown, overgrown farmland in Paris, Virginia, into an organic sustainable farm operation, told a personal story that brought home the harshness of dealing with a land trust. She had never heard of conservation easements or land trusts, but she idealistically allowed a land trust, the Piedmont Environmental Council, to impose a conservation easement on the farmland, never realizing that she would be subject to the inspection and criticism of minutia and face battles with local officials over trumped up animal abuse charges and imagined infringements on the viewshed. The conservation easement was used to challenge the visibility and style of her fences to constrain the farm animals and to protect an old grave, and even the visibility of the hose needed to water vegetables for her farm stand. When she questioned the intolerable impositions on her ability to farm, things got worse.
"Then the PEC, a 501(c)(3) land trust, entered into a joint litigation agreement with a private citizen,...a neighbor that owned the farm next to me In so doing, my neighbor became empowered and stated to the press he would stop at nothing to preserve the viewshed. In fact, my neighbor had been awarded Conservationist of the Year by this same land trust. Soon, my tiny village of Paris with less than sixty human inhabitants had become citizen police for the land trust. They were advised by the PEC of the horrible things 'that woman' was doing on her farm. It mattered not if the allegations were true or not; what mattered was that I had made the PEC angry...By challenging their authority, my family and I would soon realize that our lives would become a living nightmare.
Heidi Peterson returned from a trip to find that a woman who claimed a "human right" to housing had moved into her house while she was away. She could not get the police to evict the invader. Not only did the woman occupy the house, but she tore out the furnishings and damaged the interior, ripped up the landscaping, damaged the plumbing, and flooded the house. She incurred water and utility bills that were attributed to Ms. Peterson, which took a nearly insurmountable effort to settle.
"Although I was the title holder and I owned the house a hundred percent and I had no mortgage and my neighbors called the police and they took pictures of the police at the scene of the crimes while people were chopping down my trees and shrubs, the police never took police reports and never arrested anyone for trespass, property damage, home invasion, or theft. But it wasn't just the theft of my radiators, which were probably scrapped for scrap metal, or my heating system, or my French doors, or the destruction of my property, it was an attempted theft of my entire house by a squatter who knows the law. This squatter used Thirty-sixth District Court to file a lien on my home and she continues to file claims against me to steal my property."
No agency would assist in ridding the house of the invader and no legal aid was available. Heidi had to become expert in the law and go to court herself. Even after she successfully evicted the woman, she took on the daunting task of suing the City of Detroit in bankruptcy court where the insolvent City's debts were settled. The city had used its police power to protect the invader rather than to protect her private property.
"But the main restraint on overweening government remember they had just fought a revolution to rid themselves of overweening government, they weren't about to impose it in turn on themselves the main restraint took the name of the 'doctrine of enumerated powers.' I can state it no more simply than this: If you want to limit power, don't give it in the first place. And that's exactly what you see when you look at the very first sentence of Article I. 'All legislative Power(s) herein granted shall be vested in a Congress...' By implication not all power was herein granted. You look at Article I, Section 8, and you will see that Congress has only eighteen enumerated powers. And then you look at the Tenth Amendment the last documentary evidence from the founding period and you see that doctrine of enumerated powers spelled out explicitly. And I'll quote, 'The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.'" In other words the Constitution establishes a government of delegated, enumerated, and thus limited powers."
"Now we come to the great watershed: The Progressive Era at the end of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. As I said at the outset, these are the people who were trained in the elite schools of the Northeast. They were looking to Europe for models of good government: Bismarck's Social Security scheme in Germany; English utilitarianism, which had replaced natural rights theory. The idea being that law, policy, judgment, were to be justified not with reference to whether they protected our rights but rather with reference to whether they provided the greatest good for the greatest number. Notice, it was an approach to law that lent itself peculiarly to statutory legislative-made law as opposed to judge-made law based upon principles of right and wrong. It was a policy approach to law. What shall we do as a people? And so this approach, this fundamentally different approach to government, can be captured simply as this: The Progressives thought of government not as a necessary evil as the framers had but as an engine of good, and instrument through which to solve all kinds of social and economic problems, which they set about to do mostly at the state level."
"And so, to sum this all up, what we are suffering from
today is the kind of mindset that came from the Progressives.
It's small 'd' democracy with a vengeance. It's majoritarianism
run amok. At best, it is more often special interest knowing how
to work the system than it is majoritarianism
And so this
is what we've come to under modern Progressivism. And it will
not change until we get in office the kind of people who understand
what has happened to the Constitution. It was never set up as
a small 'd' democratic institution. It was set up to preserve
liberty. That's exactly what Madison had in mind when he said
that the aim of the Constitution and of government is to preserve
property. And by property he meant to preserve lives, liberties
and estates. So we have to go back to those first principles if
we're going to address the kinds of problems that we heard Martha
talking about and that all of you know so well."