By Dave Russell
"That will be overturned,” was the first sentence out of my mouth when I heard about Kelo vs. New London, the Supreme Court case expanding the power of local governments to seize property via eminent domain.
“This was the Supreme Court. Who are they going to appeal to? There is no judge after this except St. Peter,” replied my equally-incredulous friend on the phone.
Five months after the June 23 decision, eminent domain remains a hot topic. Using the Internet search engine Google, one can find 2,070 news stories searching on the words, “eminent domain” and 540 on “Kelo.”
The Los Angeles Times, in the story, “An Eminent Domain High Tide,” notes that the town of Riviera Beach, Fla., “wants to displace about 6,000 (of its 32,500) residents and raze their homes to build a yachting and residential complex.”
In what is called the largest eminent domain case in the country, Riviera Beach Mayor Michael D. Brown said the goal of the $1 billion plan is to “forever change the landscape” and generate jobs to pull Riviera Beach out of economic doldrums. Local resident Martha Babson, 60, a house painter who lives near the Intracoastal Waterway and would be affected by the seizure, sees it differently: “What they mean is that the view I have is too good for me, and should go to some millionaire.”
At least there is a plan behind that land-grab. That’s not always the case. Sometimes all local governments have to have to justify seizing property is a “vision.”
From the Pioneer Press, based in Park Ridge, Ill., comes the headline, “Trustees OK use of eminent domain.”
According to the story, village officials in Skokie, Ill., want to seize Value Transmission from owner Avery Tarshis, despite his protest that, “My business has been predicated on being on this corner for years. Is taking this property away good for Skokie or good for a developer?”
But there is no developer. Not yet. “Village officials maintain that upgrading the area now officially known as the West Dempster Street Business Redevelopment District is good for the village. The village has not been in contact with any developer and maintains its only motivation is to improve the area.”
The village manager, Al Rigoni, notes that Skokie will offer to relocate the shop and pay some of the costs, saying, “We’re under no obligation, but we would want to do that because it’s the right thing to do.”
Perhaps just as powerful as eminent domain itself is the threat. The words “Threat of eminent domain” brought 25 news stories on Google.
According to the Bridgeport News of Bridgeport, Conn., the city is wrangling with United Illuminating Co. (UI) over 15 acres it owns. The Bridgeport City Council recently passed a resolution giving the mayor the power to “pursue eminent domain to take the land if UI continues to hold out for sale terms unacceptable to the city.” The story goes on to say, “City officials hope the threat of eminent domain will bring UI to its senses.”
From the Examiner of Washington, D.C.: “The Michigan-based developer already owns that site after buying out the owners of 69 single-family residences, some of whom were pressured to sell under the threat of eminent domain.”
Owners of professional sports teams wanting a new stadium needn’t worry if someone lives where they want to play. Eminent domain is being used (either directly or as a threat) in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Texas, to make room for teams to play and fans to park.
Oklahoma State University is looking to build an athletic village that would displace about 400 homes and businesses on 100 acres. As KOTV stated, “OSU could buy the land under its right of eminent domain if homeowners do not agree to sell their property.”
Other headlines reveal a predictable backlash against eminent domain use (or abuse, depending upon which end of the gun you are on).
From the Tri-Town News of New Jersey comes the headline, “Mayor seeks eminent domain limits.”
“Lawmakers may curb eminent domain use” says a headline in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
The San Luis Obispo (Calif.) Tribune: “Walls built against eminent domain.”
“Bill gets tough on eminent domain,” says the Boston Herald.
This month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4128, the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005, which will deny federal funding to any local government that uses eminent domain for private economic development in which property is transferred from one private owner to another.
The Castle Coalition, a libertarian group fighting eminent domain abuse, lists 38 states (N.C. is not one) with current proposed state legislation on eminent domain.
Legislative sessions nationwide in 2006 will most likely see a wave of proposals to limit eminent domain. Let’s hope the Old North State is among them.