Crush Liberalism

Liberalism: Why think when you can “feel”?

Score one for property owners

From RCP:

Opponents of eminent domain finally have something to celebrate. After a public campaign, Target Corp. has decided not to build a store on condemned property in Arlington Heights, Ill.

Five years ago, the Village trustees declared the International Plaza shopping center and other properties blighted, setting the stage for condemnation under eminent domain. The business owners who were to lose their stores fought the “blight” designation in court but failed.

Yet they didn’t give up. They and their supporters held protests at trustee meetings. They were aided by the Sam Adams Alliance and Foundation, which launched a letter, telephone and flyer campaign that threatened to boycott Target if the company went through with its plan to occupy property seized by the government.
In late May, the Alliance triumphantly announced, “Target backed out of their contract with the Village. International Plaza tenants have saved the property from eminent domain abuse, at least for the time being.”

The Village attorney said pending lawsuits by tenants of the shopping center were one reason for Target’s decision.

It’s only a reprieve. The trustees smell big bucks, so they may try to find another major chain to be the principal retailer in the 35-acre development area. In the past, several retailers have been more than willing to build on stolen property. So the residents of Arlington Heights and the Sam Adams Alliance may need to launch another campaign.

Nevertheless, Target’s announcement is good news indeed.

The “takings” clause in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment says government cannot take private property “for public use without just compensation.” I object to anyone having his property taken by force, but at least traditionally, this power of eminent domain (“superior ownership”) was limited to the building of highways, bridges and parks — things meant for general public benefit. But over the last 40 years, governments have redefined “public use” to include private use that they argue has public benefit. Towns began to condemn properties said to be “blighted” and hand them over to private developers, who promised higher tax revenues and jobs.

The use of eminent domain for private profit is the tip of the iceberg of an unappreciated threat to individual freedom. States and municipalities routinely engage in economic planning that would make the old Soviet Union blush. State and local planning boards manipulate the tax laws and hand out cash subsidies to favored retailers and manufacturers, while those without political connections bear the full tax burden or are shut out altogether. The favoritism escalates when governments feverishly compete with one another to attract an auto-assembly plant or a big-box store. Private businesses play each government off against the others to get the most corporate welfare possible.

Who pays? The taxpayers and property owners who are forced to sacrifice for the “common good.”

The Arlington Heights story shows that big companies respond to public protests. There is a lesson in that. Governments will stop stealing private property from the powerless when businesses refuse to cooperate in this larceny. So the next time one of those giants signs on to a development project made possible by eminent domain, give them an earful.

At least the good guys win every once in a while.

June 13, 2007 Posted by | eminent domain, property rights | Leave a comment

Post-Kelo world

To those of you who thought Kelo vs. New London, whereby government was empowered at the expense of the poor (something liberals used to pretend to care about), was a great Supreme Court ruling, look at the havoc it continues to wreak. From Opinion Journal:

The city of Burien, Wash., recently decided that a piece of property owned by the seven Strobel sisters that had long housed a popular diner-style restaurant was not upscale enough for the city’s ambitious “Town Square” development, which will feature condos, shops, restaurants and offices. Rather than condemn the property for a private developer and risk a lawsuit, Burien came up with a plan–it would put a road through the property, and the city manager told his staff to “make damn sure” it did. When a subsequent survey revealed that the road would not affect the building itself, but only sideswipe a small corner of the property, the staff developed yet another site plan that put the road directly through the building. A trial court concluded that the city’s actions might be “oppressive” and “an abuse of power”–but allowed the condemnation anyway. The Washington Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Washington Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Welcome to the post-Kelo world. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision made clear that the federal courts would not stop local governments across the country from condemning private property for economic development. While the court noted that states were free to provide greater protections for homes and small businesses if they chose, Washington state stands as evidence that a strong state constitution means little if the courts do not enforce it and local governments disregard it.

Shortly after Kelo, the Washington Supreme Court allowed the Seattle Monorail to permanently condemn a piece of property it needed only temporarily for a construction staging area. Once the monorail had completed that legitimate public use, it intended to sell the property at a premium to raise revenue. In this way, Washington courts now allow local governments to condemn more land than is necessary, for longer than is necessary, in the hopes that the government can play real-estate speculator with whatever is left.

As if that weren’t bad enough, check this out:

The court also ruled that the meetings at which a local government determines which property to condemn could take place essentially in secret, with the only notice for property owners being a posting on an obscure government Web site. The court ignored the fact that computer usage among minorities, the elderly and the poor is significantly lower than in other segments of the population, and that it is these communities that traditionally have been the target of eminent-domain abuse.

How appalling is THAT? “The only notice for property owners being a posting on an obscure government Web site”? How would you like to be an old woman who sees people show up at your house one day to toss you out, for reasons completely unknown to you, only to hear “We’re taking your land, didn’t you get the memo? Oh, sorry. You should have bookmarked!” Continuing:

Washington courts now defer to even the most extreme examples of governmental exploitation, exemplified by Burien’s treatment of the Strobel sisters. So long as the government can manufacture a fig leaf of public use or possible public use for constitutional cover, local governments can take private property to transfer to other private entities or deliberately target properties not upscale enough for the bureaucrats’ “vision.”

Regardless of strong constitutional protections for private property, governments and courts now view eminent domain as an area where few if any restrictions exist. And not just in Washington. In probably the most appalling example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit let stand a condemnation in which a developer in the Port Chester, N.Y., demanded that Bart Didden give him either $800,000 or a 50% share in Mr. Didden’s property, which was slated to be a CVS pharmacy–or the developer would have the village condemn it. Mr. Didden refused; the next day, the village condemned his property to hand it over to the developer to construct a Walgreens. Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether to take the case.

Meanwhile, state and federal courts are turning redevelopment areas into Constitution-free zones, where the government can do what it wants with few or no restrictions. It doesn’t have to be this way. Courts could force the government to comply with the state and federal constitutions. Local governments could limit their takings only to legitimate public uses. But until all three branches of government begin taking their constitutional obligations seriously, property owners across the country face the continued threat of eminent-domain abuse, regardless of what the state or federal constitution says.

Ask the Strobel sisters, who are now fighting for just compensation for a property that was never for sale in the first place.

Here’s hoping the new Court stops this crap dead in its tracks. However, with the two newer judges replacing anti-Kelo judges, my tally of anti-property rights votes is still reading 5-4.

January 12, 2007 Posted by | eminent domain | Leave a comment

Court to revisit Kelo?

We can only hope so. From Time’s blog:

A private citizen wants to develop on his own property but because part of it is inside a “redevelopment zone”, the land owner must either pay extortion money to a developer or have his city take the land. If that doesn’t sound un-American enough, a Federal Court then ruled that the citizen has no recourse.

It used to be that buying in a neighborhood which wasn’t so great but which had potential to improve provided a real, if risky, investment opportunity. The risk was like that of any other investment: the situation might not improve as expected and the asset would therefore not increase in value. Following Kelo, we now have a much more insidious risk: The better the likelihood that the neighborhood will improve, the greater the chances the government will steal your land.

This is the insane situation that the unconscionable Kelo decision has put all Americans in, and we can only hope that the Supreme Court will use the opportunity in the case of Bart Didden versus Port Chester, NY to clarify what they said in Kelo. By “clarify” I mean we must hope that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the clear villain on the Court in that case, reconsiders his prior disastrous vote with the Courts “liberals”. It simply can not be that a man’s home is his castle unless a government can make more money by giving it to someone else.

I can think of no civilization that refused to recognize property rights that has ever survived, and the court has a chance to keep that same fate from happening here. Banking on Justice Kennedy, though, to do the right thing is as reliable as banking on Bush to veto a non-stem cell bill.

January 4, 2007 Posted by | eminent domain | Leave a comment