Government exceeds its domain: (Yucca Valley CA) Hi-Desert Star, 3/2/05

The Hi-Desert Star's view

In a small Connecticut city, a struggle is taking place between homeowners and their local government - a struggle that reaches far beyond the East Coast, and into every county and town in America.

The New London, Conn., city government wants to buy the properties of seven residents, to bulldoze the houses and make way for a development project that would include a hotel, conference center, offices and health club.

All would be owned by private companies.

The city says it has the right to seize the property thanks to eminent domain - the government's right to buy private property for public use.

The Fifth Amendment allows governments to take private property - as long as they pay the owners "just compensation" and as long as they use the property for the public good.

Eminent domain is used all the time across America, to secure land for schools, roads and other public uses. In Yucca Valley, the town government is seizing property to secure land for a community center in the south side of town.

We have questioned the wisdom of the Town's declaring eminent domain on private property to build its new community center, arguing the town council is setting a dangerous precedent.

We still wonder if building a second community center in this area is worth the act of seizing private property - albeit for "just compensation."

But by seizing land for private companies, the City of New London has the Town of Yucca Valley beat by a mile.

The New London government argues it needs the offices, hotel and other projects to boost jobs and sales-tax revenue for its struggling city.

It has offered the homeowners money for their property - but that's not the issue. They simply do not want to leave their homes.

The property owners have taken their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

In the past, the Supreme Court has been unwilling to interfere when eminent domain has been challenged. The judges have deferred to state and local elected officials.

We hope they do not fail to issue a ruling in this case. They are not being asked to expand the Constitution or even to reduce local powers - because seizing land for private development is a power local governments should not have. It is a power no government should have.

To allow such a practice to stand is to ignore an implicit threat to all property owners in the country - right down to the Morongo Basin.

Hi-Desert Star: www.hidesertstar.com