2/24/2005

Escondido school board miswielding eminent-domain weapon: North County (CA) Times, 2/23/05

Opinion

By Allen Hemphill, Escondido

When an arsonist destroys a neighborhood and drives a dozen families from their homes, we instantly recognize that neither insurance payment nor the imprisonment of the terrible offender can staunch the tears of the families.

How much worse when the destruction is the equally purposeful act of local government officials.

Eminent domain is the nuclear weapon of politicians — too easily used when it should be the absolute last resort. Our Founding Fathers placed the "taking clause" into the Fifth Amendment as the final alternative for a federal government stymied by all other alternatives. That terrible power has passed to states, counties and cities, and even down to school boards, creating a tyranny liberally wielded by even the most minor elected officials.

The Escondido Union High School District seriously considered seizing a dozen homes and at least one thriving business. At least an arsonist's fire has the advantage of being a quick death for the home, but the school board was threatening to destroy the homes, thereby terrorizing the families over long periods of time and placing them under psychological duress for month after month.

The Founding Fathers would roll in their graves if they considered the terrible power of eminent domain being used by school boards. In fact, they had never heard of a school board.

Obviously, the choice of the particular site where families lived was not the only alternative for the school board. One has to ask if the members of the school board's families lived in homes on the "Hidden Meadows" site, would this site be under serious consideration? If the superintendent owned the threatened nursery, would the site be under serious consideration?

A dozen families were seriously threatened. The threat to them was real. These are not houses. They are homes! Real people live in those homes! Men who have painted and planted; women who have designed and planned and tended the home and gardens; and children — some of whom have lived nowhere else — have chosen the colors of their rooms and left their handprints in paint on the walls.

When a security guard arsonist destroyed unoccupied homes recently in Maryland, it made national TV for days. How much worse is this purposeful destruction of homes occupied by our innocent neighbors.

This site proposal was an arson fire, played out in slow motion. I urge everyone to always rally to the side of their neighbors and put out any government-directed fire before it destroys the homes of a dozen families. If their home can be so cavalierly destroyed, your home is never safe.

There are legitimate uses for this highly destructive power, but this was not one of them — and those legitimate uses should be rare instead of common.

Unfortunately, eminent domain is common, and you can read "eminent domain" almost every time you see the word "redevelopment."


North County Times: www.nctimes.com