According to an ancient truism, "you can't fight city hall." In the old days, that was true. Particularly when it came to public works projects, if the city wanted to do it, there was no one to say "no," except at the ballot box, when it was generally too late. Then, in the second half of the 20th century the historical preservation and environmental movements arose changing everything. Now, not only can you fight city hall, you can win, but not every time. Battling against city hall's army of lawyers requires picking the right battle, the right plaintiff, the right statute, and the right forum.

The Right Battle

The axis of any battle is the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)1 required under federal, state, and city law. The process requires not just that there be a study of the various impacts, but that the public be given an opportunity to comment on it. A revised study takes comments into account.2 Thus, for the attorney "fighting city hall," the job often lies in preventing litigation, by marshaling what would be adversely affected by the project, having the hard science to show the impact, and making the presentation to the decision makers, in New York City, often the local community boards.

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