“It's not a New London thing, it's a national thing. My great grandparents came to this country as immigrants, worked hard to buy their little houses. The dream is gone. They could take it from you now. The American dream is now shattered.” – Kathleen Moroney, New York resident
In an odd way, the Supreme Court’s eminent domain ruling in Kelo v. New London has turned the tide in favor of the property owner.
On the face of it, property owners were expressing doom and gloom when the 5-4 ruling allowing eminent domain takings for economic benefit was announced. But the public outcry was overwhelming against both the ruling and the Supreme Court. Last week in New London, Connecticut, more than a few New Jersey property owners joined the protest of hundreds on the steps of City Hall as reported in The [New London] Day:
Among them were brothers John and George Mytrowitz of the Mulberry Street Coalition of Newark, N.J., who said they are facing the loss of their family business, an auto body shop that's been in the city for 92 years, to eminent domain.
“They want to take it away and give it to a developer who's connected with city hall officials,” George Mytrowitz said.
“A convicted drug felon, also,” John added.
“They want to take it away and give it to him, and I guess they're all going to get rich off of everybody else's property,” George said.
“We're here in support of Susette Kelo,” John said, “and of anybody that's being abused by this plague of eminent domain across the country.”
The public outcry has resulted in increasing numbers of the New Jersey legislature leaping on board to protect the residential home owner. Will we see legislation preventing takings for economic benefit? And at what price? Thomas Jefferson said, “Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have…The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases.”
Assemblyman and attorney Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morristown) is offering us ACR256 [http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/bills/BillsByNumber.asp] which proposes to limit use of condemnation to traditional public purposes and repeals constitutional provision allowing condemnation and long-term tax exemptions for redevelopment projects.
The Morris Daily Record (July 4) quoted the assemblyman. “There is a lot of argument made in towns like Long Branch, that the local government wants to take away homes in relatively desirable areas to build expensive condos, under the assumption people will pay higher taxes," Carroll said. “This will deprive some number of people of their property.”
The Jersey Reporter (July 5) quoted Assemblyman Louis Manzo (D-Hudson), who has also proposed legislation. "New Jersey is one of the worst abusers of eminent domain laws," Manzo said. "As a result of the Supreme Court's decision, the legislature must act to counter the unwarranted use of eminent domain. These bills will ensure that towns across New Jersey focus on truly blighted areas that are deserving of redevelopment, rather than stretching the boundaries of existing laws for unwarranted condemnation."
The Atlanticville (July 8) reported Assemblymen Michael J. Panter and Robert L. Morgan (D-Mercer/Monmouth) introduced Assembly Bill 4393. Panter said: “Property rights are one of the key liberties that distinguish us from more authoritarian governments. People know their property cannot be taken by others or the government absent an emergency public use like bridges or highways. To take them away for private development in the name of job creation and to add tax ratables means nobody’s home is ever safe as long as an argument can be made that revitalization is needed.”
Meanwhile, we have had discussions with large developers and pointed out that even they are not safe in the present climate. What is to prevent a mega-player making a deal with a municipality for a new super-mall which could wipe out a smaller strip mall in the process? The possibilities are endless and no less frightening when you play it out. No one is safe in the real estate food chain.
After all, doesn’t history repeat itself? So let us review and let us remember the beginning of the eminent domain lesson. This land, which I call my land and which you call your land, was once not our land at all. When the U.S. delegates asked for his signature on one of the first land treaties, the Blackfoot chief said:
OUR LAND IS MORE VALUABLE THAN YOUR MONEY; IT WILL LAST forever. It will not even perish by the flames of fire. As long as the sun shines and the waters flow, this land will be here to give life to men and animals. We cannot sell the lives of men and animals, therefore we cannot sell this land. It was put here for us by the Great Spirit and we cannot sell it because it does not belong to us. You can count your money and burn it within the nod of a buffalo’s head, but only the Great Spirit can count the grains of sand and the blades of grass of these plains. As a present to you, we will give you anything we have that you can take with you; but the land, never.
(Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence, compiled by T.C. McLuhan © Simon & Schuster, 1971)
New Jersey Eminent Domain Law Blog: www.njeminentdomain.com