Thursday, April 20, 2006

Eminent Domain Seizures On The Rise In The Lower 48

On April 12th, 2006, WorldNetDaily reported that eminent domain seizures of private property are on the rise throughout the Lower 48 as a result of the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in favor of the city of New London, CT last year in the Kelo v. City of New London case. The case arose from a decision by the city of New London to use eminent domain to condemn privately-owned property so that it could be used as part of a comprehensive redevopment plan to be executed by a private developer for profit. The Court, in upholding the city's position, ruled that the "city's proposed disposition of this property qualifies as a 'public use' within the meaning of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment."

Here are some of the more egregious examples quoted from the story:

--Oakland, CA: A week after the Kelo ruling, Oakland city officials used eminent domain to evict John Revelli from the downtown tire shop his family has owned since 1949. Revelli and a neighboring business owner had refused to sell their property to make way for a new housing development. Said Revelli of his fight with the City, "We thought we'd win, but the Supreme Court took away my last chance."

--Boynton Beach, FL: Under the threat of eminent domain, the 50-year-old Alex Sims Barber Shop is selling to the City of Boynton Beach to make way for new residences and storefronts. Guarn Sims called the Kelo ruling "the nail in the coffin" that ended his hope of saving the business.

--Baltimore, MD: Baltimore’s redevelopment agency, the Baltimore Development Corp., is exercising eminent domain to acquire more than 2,000 properties in East Baltimore for a biotech park and new residences. BDC Executive Vice President Andrew B. Frank told the Daily Record the Kelo decision "is very good news. It means many of the projects on which we’ve been working for the last several years can continue."

--Boston, MA: Two days after the Kelo decision, Boston City Council President Michael Flaherty called on the mayor of Boston to seize South Boston waterfront property from unwilling sellers for a private development project.

--Richmond Heights, MO: City officials are taking bids to demolish 200 homes in the Hadley Township Neighborhood, just to turn the land over to a private developer who will build more homes.

--Spring Valley, NY: Less than a week after the Kelo decision, Spring Valley officials asked the New York Supreme Court to authorize the condemnation of 15 downtown properties in an area where a private developer plans to construct residential and retail buildings.

--Ventnor City, NJ: (incorrectly identified in the story as Ventor City) Mayor Tim Kreischer wants to demolish 126 buildings – mom-and-pop shops, $200,000 homes, and apartments – to erect luxury condos, high-end specialty stores, and a parking garage.

Baltimore's decision is particularly inexplicable since, at the same time, thanks to a court order by Federal Judge Marvin Garbis, they must seek to place low-income public housing developments out in selected mostly-white Baltimore suburbs to aggressively "desegregate" public housing, using the standard litany of excuses like "they need to go to suburban schools to get a better education", etc. Judge Garbis, like so many of his cloistered, insulated colleagues, completely disregards the fact that low-income Baltimore residents, less likely to own cars, will not have the transportation opportunities out in the suburbs that they would have in East Baltimore. My premise here is that it would have been a sounder decision to use the East Baltimore property in question for the low-income housing, where public transportation is more widely available and shops and amenities more accessible to the residents. It would also be less disruptive in the demographic sense; many suburbanites are concerned about low-income housing in their midst because of the accompanying social and cultural problems which invariably arise.

While similar questions have arisen here in Anchorage in the past, the Anchorage Assembly reacted to the decision by reaffirming their intent not to use eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to another private owner. The proposed Creekside Town Center has been delayed as a result of increased public scrutiny. And this leads to what I believe was the true intent of the Supreme Court. The Kelo decision can be best interpreted as transferring final responsibility back into the hands of local people. In places like Anchorage, where regard for the sanctity of private property is high, deliberative bodies will act to protect private property rights. However, in other places like those on the list above, deliberative bodies will not act to protect private property rights unless the citizenry gets involved, participates in city council meetings, and votes in candidates who specifically pledge to protect private property rights by limiting eminent domain to public works projects. Other private sector enterprises can act to minimize abuse of public domain. Branch Banking & Trust of Charleston, WV, refuses to make loans available for public projects resulting from abuse of public domain. We need an informed, intelligent, and activist public working as a team to prevent government abuse.

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