The Kelo backlash (and yes, I know many of you do not like it when I use the word backlash) continues, with Kevin Drum highlighting another outrage:
THE BEST KELO CASE YET….For those of you who felt that I was insufficiently outraged over the Kelo eminent domain decision, I’ve got just the story for you. This isn’t about a city condemning blighted land for redevelopment. It’s not even about a city condemning good land for redevelopment. It’s about a city condemning good land for a project that’s almost identical to the project the land’s current owner wants to put up himself. The city is Union Township in New Jersey and the owner is Carol Segal:
On May 24, the five-member township committee voted unanimously to authorize the municipality to seize Segal’s land through eminent domain and name its own developer.
“They want to steal my land,” Segal said. “What right do they have when I intend to do the exact same thing they want to do with my property?”
…. Segal…signed a contract last week to sell his property to Centex Homes for about $13 million, contingent upon local approval. Centex, a nationally known developer with projects in Middlesex, Morris and Monmouth counties, would then build 100 townhouses on Segal’s property….
Florio and Capodice [the mayor and deputy mayor] said they preferred AMJM because it is a local company.
“I’ve never heard of Centex,” Capodice said. “They’re not Union County people.”
It’s worth noting that the Star-Ledger story quoted above strongly implies that there’s some fairly sleazy political corruption involved in all this, and it’s possible that this might be a bigger factor than the Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo. Hey, this is Jersey we’re talking about.
And here is another one for you:
Florida’s Riviera Beach is a poor, predominantly black, coastal community that intends to revitalize its economy by using eminent domain, if necessary, to displace about 6,000 local residents and build a billion-dollar waterfront yachting and housing complex.
“This is a community that’s in dire need of jobs, which has a median income of less than $19,000 a year,” said Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown.
He defends the use of eminent domain by saying the city is “using tools that have been available to governments for years to bring communities like ours out of the economic doldrums and the trauma centers.”
Mr. Brown said Riviera Beach is doing what the city of New London, Conn., is trying to do and what the U.S. Supreme Court said is proper in its ruling June 23 in Kelo v. City of New London. That decision upheld the right of government to seize private properties for use by private developers for projects designed to generate jobs and increase the tax base.
“Now eminent domain is affecting people who never had to deal with it before and who have political connections,” Mr. Brown said. “But if we don’t use this power, cities will die.”
Jacqui Loriol insists she and her husband will fight the loss of their 80-year-old home in Riviera Beach.
“This is a very [racially] mixed area that’s also very stable,” she said. “But no one seems to care … Riviera Beach needs economic redevelopment. But there’s got to be another way.”
While planning for a new Dallas Cowboys stadium, Mayor Robert Cluck said the city would use eminent domain only as a last resort to assemble the needed land.
But condemnation has become the rule rather than the exception.
The City Council has condemned or sought to condemn more than three-quarters of the properties it has acted on in the past four months, an analysis has found.
“We were hoping that this would be the last resort,” Dr. Cluck said last week. “We were hoping there would be more willing sellers.”
He said that before the land acquisition started, city officials had no idea what percentage of property owners would sell willingly.
Although the number of condemnations is much higher than he would like, Dr. Cluck said, the city is making fair offers, and sometimes eminent domain is the only option.
Glenn Sodd, an attorney representing some people in the affected area, said the high percentage of eminent domain cases shows that the city has low-balled residents and business owners and that its incentive program is inadequate.
“The offers obviously aren’t sufficient otherwise they wouldn’t be hiring lawyers and forcing condemnations to be filed,” Mr. Sodd said.
In comparable cases, he said, he would expect three-quarters or more of the property owners to sell and the rest to go to court, not the other way around.
In fairness, the last story can not be traced directly to the Kelo decision, but it is a shocking display of what governments will do- to give away land and money to billionaire sports team owners.
The good news is that you can act, you can do something, and that people are sick of this and demanding changes. Recent polling data shows the attitude of folks in New Jersey:
Overwhelming majorities of New Jerseyans said in a recent poll the local government power of eminent domain is being abused and benefits only private developers.
The widespread distaste for eminent domain, taking private land for projects serving the public good, emerged in a newly released poll by Monmouth University and the Gannett New Jersey newspapers.
For example, about nine of every 10 adults who know the issue say it is wrong to take low-value homes to build a shopping center. A similar majority — 86 percent — say it is wrong to bulldoze a low-value home in order to replace it with a higher-value unit.
But 88 percent said it was OK to take vacant and run-down buildings to build a school, while 65 percent said it was OK to take land from a developer to preserve open space.
All over the country, however, municipalities and legislatures are acting to reign in eminent domain in the wake of the Kelo decision. You can check Google News every day, and you will find more and more stories like this, in Connecticut:
Cities and towns in Connecticut are taking the lead in seeking to block their own officials from seizing private property for the benefit of developers.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June allowed New London to raze a neighborhood to build a privately owned hotel and office space that officials say could add millions of dollars to the tax base. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that states may enact additional laws restricting condemnations if residents are overly burdened.
The General Assembly has yet to act, with Republican lawmakers seeking a binding moratorium on property seizures until the state’s eminent domain laws can be reviewed. Democrats held two public hearings during the summer and called on state and municipal leaders to voluntarily halt any eminent domain proceedings.
Or this, in Ohio:
Legislation to place a one-year hold on using eminent domain for economic development could hit the Ohio Senate floor by Wednesday.
Senate Bill 167, introduced in August, calls for a moratorium on the government’s ability to seize homes and businesses for economic development in non-blighted areas. Legislators propose to use that year to examine Ohio’s eminent domain laws and recommend any changes needed to better protect private property owners.
Or this, in St. Louis:
An effort to put new restrictions on the use of eminent domain in unincorporated areas of St. Charles County began Monday night at a County Council work session.
Council Chairman Doug Funderburk and Councilman Joe Brazil submitted separate proposals after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that said governments can take private property for purposes of economic development.
A Maryland state senator plans to introduce legislation that would make it tougher for governments to seize private property to make way for shopping malls and condominium complexes.
Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel Democrat, wants to keep the state from broadening its power of eminent domain as a result of a recent controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision that has pitted urban renewal proponents against private property advocates.
I could go on and on. It is important to make sure you act quickly and forcefully to protest and slow the horrible abuses listed in the first half of this post, but be mindful that pro-active steps are much more important. Push the changes in eminent domain use through local and state governments is much easier and useful than fighting case by case rear-guard actions after the abuses occur.
So, take the fight to your local government. Vote in city and state elections, because, in reality, they are more important than federal elections.
And keep your head up- we are going to win this.