No, we are not safe from eminent domain! Crime & Federalism, 7/15/05

By Timothy Sandefur

The redevelopment bureaucrats are beginning their counterattack in the wake of the outrage over Kelo. Their spin is that Kelo makes no difference to Californians, because California has a law that limits eminent domain to cases of “blight.”

But this is just the sort of hairsplitting nonsense that gives lawyers a bad name. Sure, the California Redevelopment Act (Health & Safety Code, § 33000, et seq.) requires a city to declare a neighborhood blighted before it can use eminent domain, but look at the criteria that the law establishes for a blight designation (§ 33031):

Factors that…substantially hinder the economically viable use…of buildings [include]:
  • substandard design, inadequate size given present standards and market conditions, lack of parking, or other similar factors.
  • Adjacent or nearby uses that are incompatible with each other and which prevent the economic development of…the project area.
  • The existence of subdivided lots of irregular form and shape and inadequate size for proper usefulness and development that are in multiple ownership.

Factors like these are vague and subjective, and requiring the development barons to write a declaration of blight is a meaningless protection for homeowners; it’s just a procedural hurdle that bureaucrats find it easy to jump over.

And what if they declare property blighted when it’s not, like Ahmad Mesdaq’s cigar store in San Diego? Remember, he went to court to challenge the designation, and the trial court said that he was not allowed to introduce any evidence to challenge the city’s decision to take his property. The Court of Appeal affirmed and the Supreme Court denied review.

Worst of all, the condemnation lords claim that they only use eminent domain as “a last resort.” They love this phrase, but of course they use it as a last resort. A thief only hurts you if he “has to,” right? If you hand over your property, nobody will get hurt. Of course, the redevelopment czars “resorted” to eminent domain 223 times in five years for the benefit of private parties.

Whatever you do, don’t let the bureaucrats lie to you. Kelo put the seal of approval on government programs that take property from those who have less wealth and political influence and give it to those who have more wealth and political influence. It’s a massive injustice that no procedural paperwork is going to help. Eminent domain abuse is a threat to every American, including Californians.

Crime & Federalism: http://federalism.typepad.com/crime_federalism

Timothy Sandefur is an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation: tmsandefur@gmail.com


Three diverse Letters to the Editor: The (New London CT) Day, 7/15/05

Look At All The Facts In Eminent-domain Ruling

By Alan Moger, Waterford CT

I have always enjoyed reading The Day, but feel this time it is failing in reporting both sides of the story regarding eminent domain.

I believe the following are facts that The Day frequently omitted from its pieces on the Supreme Court ruling:
  • The Supreme Court ruling says that each state makes the laws regarding eminent domain and we are not telling Connecticut that its law is wrong.
  • The seven houses in question are in an industrial/commercial zoning section of New London, not residential.
  • Six of the seven homeowners have not lived in the houses in more than 18 months.
  • The homeowners say it is not about money, but in 1999 each one wrote a letter stating they would sell for a certain price.
  • The legislature of the state of Connecticut gave $75 million to the New London Development Corp. for this project after approving the entire plan after a lengthy study.

The Supreme Court has said the laws of Connecticut allow the NLDC to use eminent domain to take the properties. If the people of Connecticut don't like it, change the laws.

No Closure Until There's Eminent-domain Justice

By W R Antonowicz, Ledyard CT

The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court on eminent domain has greatly disturbed the domestic tranquility of our country. The Day's editorial titled “It's time to move ahead,” published June 26, is misleading and erroneous. There can never be closure unless social justice is served.

As we the people understand it, New London's problem is a small land area of 6 square miles, and almost half of that property is tax-exempt. That means New London is losing almost half of potential tax income. Why then, would the city take property from tax-paying citizens such as Susette Kelo and put a tax-exempt Coast Guard museum on it?

So why doesn't New London condemn tax-exempt properties such as Mitchell College and put in a giant waterfront hotel, marina and spa, and surround it by high-priced condominiums? That is prime waterfront land that can be returned to the tax base of New London, and would make more sense instead of taking private property already being taxed.

But then again, isn't this all wrong? The Fifth Amendment specifically says “private property taken for public use.” Public use means the property should be tax-exempt. The danger here is that with the collusion of unscrupulous lawyers, politicians and contractors, any property could be taken if it promises to provide a higher tax base, which is in effect, a license to steal.

The Institute for Justice should request an appeal and demand that any property taken for public use remains that way, a tax-exempt property.

In the meantime, the New London Development Corp. should seize the Mitchell College campus by eminent domain. That's where the big tax dollars are.

Eminent Domain Story Includes Fair Treatment

By Sandra Clarke Oney, New London CT
(The writer is a member of New London Development Corp)

Six years ago, Connecticut's governor, legislators, attorneys and architects reviewed proposals for the Fort Trumbull peninsula and chose the best plan for New London.

They also paid the costs of accomplishing that plan.

The city and New London Development Corp. purchased some 70 properties. NLDC conducted two appraisals of each property and provided the higher of the two to the homeowners. The appraisals were considered very generous by realtors, but a few “residents” wanted more, and the process of acquiring their properties through the courts began.

After five years of litigation, the courts all found in favor of New London and NLDC.

Now the state is considering rewriting eminent-domain laws, first scheduling public meetings, reviewing nearly 80 statutes and creating the new bill. Then officials schedule sessions to discuss the bill and then they might vote on it.

They are also considering pre-dating this bill to stop New London from moving forward.

New London has waited five years and now waits again.

The few remaining Fort Trumbull “residents” are also waiting. Some reside on the peninsula while others left long ago and are collecting rents for these properties. They have lost their case in court but are hoping that these latest circumstances may assist them in demanding even more money.

The state should first consider if it is correct to repeal this plan.

The Day has faithfully reported on the “residents' stories,” but has failed to report on the demands they are making.

What began as a project to help New London has become a matter of national controversy, and the people who are most critical of New London don't know the full story.

Like Paul Harvey, I ask, “When will The Day tell ‘the rest of the story'”?

The Day: www.theday.com

Council seeks eminent domain resolution: Friendswood Journal (Friendswood TX), 7/15/05

By Tom Jacobs

The city has directed its legal advisors to draft a resolution stating that Friendswood won't engage in property condemnation for economic development purposes, in the wake of concerns about a massive new development on the city's east side and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of such a practice.

A number of residents, some living in the West Ranch area where a developer is planning an 800-acre special management district, and others who are keeping an eye on city activities, filled City Council chambers on Monday to see what the council would do.

Council members did take the unusual step of actually engaging residents who spoke about the matter. Following state law, the council normally doesn't respond to any comments from the audience on items not on the agenda, but on Monday they voted to waive such a restriction since a matter had been included among their business to discuss a possible city position on condemnation, or eminent domain.

The issue was addressed for almost 45 minutes during a workshop session before the regular meeting, during which city attorney John Olson said the council could consider a resolution pledging to not use eminent domain to acquire property, but that resolution would not be binding on future councils, or if this council had a change of mind and revoked it. Only amending the city charter to include such a practice would embed it in city law, Olson said. Friendswood's city charter can be reviewed and amended every five years, a date that's still five years off.

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of a Connecticut city that wanted to condemn and acquire some residential properties for transfer to a private business. The vote was along political lines, with the most conservative judges in the minority.

The ruling has sent a wave of worry across the state and the country, with Texas legislators even considering a statewide law on the matter.

Eminent domain in the past has been used in situations where a government needs a particular piece of property for a project deemed in the best interests of the public, such as a road, a drainage facility or land for a new school.

In their Connecticut ruling, the majority of Supreme Court justices took the view that economic development, especially in areas that are experiencing stresses on their tax stream and that want to diversify and build their tax base, can be deemed in the best interests of the public.

But that was small comfort for some Friendswood residents, particularly those who live between the heart of the city and neighboring League City. Friendswood Development Corp., a major developer who is not affiliated with the City of Friendswood, came to the city earlier this year with plans to develop its West Ranch holdings north and south of FM 518. FDC proposed that a management district be created to oversee the development and levy taxes on commercial portions of it.

In the original draft of legislation creating the management district (such districts shave to be authorized by the Texas Legislature), the West Ranch Management District had included among its authorities the right of eminent domain.

Several long-time residents in the area looked at preliminary plats for the project, a mix of high-end residential and light business uses, and said they saw their properties pictured in retention ponds and in the path of other utility projects. They brought their concerns to the city as well as local legislators, who had the language removed from the proposed bills in the House and Senate.

Two weeks ago, Councilman Tracy Goza put the matter before the council for consideration, either in the form of a resolution or some other action to guarantee property owners that their land would not be taken for use by a private concern.

Monday's action was the first official consideration of Goza's proposal.

Olson said that Friendswood has rarely used its condemnation powers, even for vital needs. The last time he said he could remember the city taking such action was to secure easements in the 1970s.

Eminent domain usually is a last resort, after the city has exhausted all other avenues such as financial negotiations with a property owner, the city attorney said.

Even with city assurances that such a practice might never happen in Friendswood, a number of residents have been left with the jittery feeling that homes they have occupied for decades could be taken from them, as is happening in New England.

"I never thought I would have to stand before seven people who turn our lives upside down," said 75-year-old Betty Felts, who lives in the West Ranch area.

Friendswood Journal: www.zwire.com

Towns won't hurry to invoke eminent domain: Windsor-Hights (Hightstown NJ) Herald, 7/15/05


Powerful interests on all sides of the issue have wasted no time weighing in on the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling upholding the right of government to use the power of eminent domain to spur economic development.

Builders, developers, urban mayors, smart-growth advocates and others have hailed the 5-4 ruling as a major victory for taxpayers, whose burdens will henceforth be relieved by the addition of big, bright, shiny new ratables to the tax base. Moreover, the quality of life will improve dramatically as badly neglected neighborhoods are transformed into attractive new developments that lure people — and money — back from the affluent suburbs.

Libertarians, homeowners' associations, virtually every blog on the Internet and a slew of Washington-based nonprofits, including a surprising number of environmental groups, are appalled. For all practical purposes, they say, the Supreme Court has destroyed the very concept of private property rights. The ruling has all but invited local government officials to send in the bulldozers and start knocking down private homes owned by people they happen not to like, and replace them with ones constructed by powerful interests who contribute to their political campaigns.

While our personal favorite in the vitriol department was this sarcastic mock headline culled from the Internet — "D.C. Mayor to Bulldoze Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Home for Homeless Shelter" — most of the criticism has lacked both cleverness and humor. Instead, the New London, Conn., case has occasioned another of those ideological outbursts that have a way of generating a lot more heat than light. And, in the process, both sides have greatly oversimplified the likely effects of the ruling.

For example, nobody should expect our cities to suddenly rise from the ashes, or overburdened property-taxpayers to enjoy overnight relief, because local governments will be inspired by this ruling to start invoking the power of eminent domain. In many states, local governments do not have this power; in others, there are very explicit limits on its use. More important, in the real world, the circumstances that warrant the use of this power are extremely limited — it is for this reason that local governments, in fact, rarely employ it.

On the other hand, the notion that local government might now go out and start invoking this power, willy-nilly, to promote private development is preposterous. Both the majority opinion and Justice Anthony Kennedy's concurring opinion made clear that this power may not be used simply to help a private developer, that it must be part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan in which the public interest is paramount.

In some cases, such a plan cannot be carried out without eminent domain. Baltimore had to use it to build its Inner Harbor. New York couldn't have revitalized Times Square without it. But in other cases, eminent domain isn't necessary for economic development to occur, and government is wise not to exercise it.

Will the Supreme Court decision have an impact? Absolutely. Will it be a major impact? We suspect not.

Windsor-Hights Herald: www.windsorhightsherald.com

California attempts end run around eminent domain: Inman News (Emeryville CA), 7/15/05

Bill would limit government ability to seize real estate

Members of California's senate and assembly have introduced bills that would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot reducing the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on eminent domain.

California Senator Tom McClintock, R-Simi Valley, introduced bill SCA 15 and Assemblymember Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 22, which mirrors SCA 15.

Both bills seek to put a constitutional amendment on the state ballot. One part of the proposed amendment states, "Private property may not be taken or damaged for private use."

It further states, "Private property may be taken by eminent domain only for a stated public use…Property taken by eminent domain shall be owned and occupied by the condemner or may be leased only to entities that are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission."

The move is an attempt at an end run around the recent U.S. eminent domain decision in Kelo v. City of New London, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local governments can seize individuals' homes and businesses against their will to make way for shopping malls and other private economic development.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court said government agencies can take private property for economic development, and even transfer it to another private party.

The ruling was a loss for residents of New London, Conn., who petitioned against the use of eminent domain, arguing that cities have no right to take their properties unless the projects have a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to improve blighted neighborhoods, the AP reported.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the court opinion, affirming that New London's proposed disposition of petitioners' property qualifies as "public use." Stevens was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote a dissenting opinion, arguing that cities should not be able to uproot families with unlimited authority to accommodate developers. She was joined by Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and the Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

Inman News: www.inman.com

Encinitas to curb its power of eminent domain: San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, 7/15/05

By Angela Lau

The [Encinitas] City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to restrict the city's power to take private property.

The council formed a subcommittee of council members Jerome Stocks and Christy Guerin to draft an ordinance and to report back at an unspecified date.

The decision came in the aftermath of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that gives cities power to take private property to help private developers assemble land for economic development.

The fear of eminent domain resonates deeply among Leucadia residents, who recently fought off a city proposal to form a redevelopment agency – which often possesses eminent-domain power – to rebuild the community's drainage system.

Wednesday night, Stocks – who initiated the discussion – suggested that the council pass a law requiring a public vote with a majority greater than two-thirds to approve any city condemnation of private property for private projects.

"I want to render it virtually impossible," he said.

Gene Chapo, a member of the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, urged the council to pass such a law.

"The Self-Realization Fellowship is the largest contiguous land owner in the city. Probably not a day goes by when the (fellowship) is not approached by developers," Chapo said.

San Diego Union-Tribune: www.signonsandiego.com

Eminent domain fight: The Brooklyn (NY) Papers, 7/15/05

By Jess Wisloski

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling last month affirming the right of governments to take private property in the name of economic development, bills are gaining momentum in both the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate that would bar federal tax dollars from being used for projects that employ eminent domain.

The legislation could cut affordable housing subsidies to developer Bruce Ratner’s proposed Atlantic Yards plan, which proposes to build a 19,000-seat basketball arena and 17-tower office and residential complex at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, and which threatens the use of eminent domain for up to 13 acres of private property.

Ratner and his major supporters, who include the mayor and governor, have said the massive development would bring in new tax revenues for the public good, although Ratner executives have long claimed that the area of Prospect Heights where they want to build is blighted, and therefore qualifies for eminent domain regardless of the Supreme Court ruling.

On June 30, conservative-leaning Republicans in the House responded in force to the Supreme Court ruling, which was led by the high court’s liberal voices. Ninety-three congressmen thus far have co-sponsored the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005 — drafted by Republican F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., of Wisconsin — which would forbid allocation of federal funds, many of which go to state and local municipalities for development incentives, to be used for any project employing eminent domain.

Both the House and Senate are considering nearly identical bills that would prevent funding, like the kind that has been committed in the form of tax-exemptions and subsidized mortgages to Ratner for development of affordable housing units, from use for economic development. Only the House has had a hearing, before its Judiciary Committee.

“No state or any political subdivision of a state shall use economic development as a reason for exercising its power of eminent domain if federal funds would contribute in any way,” the bill states, and further threatens to render any violating agency ineligible for federal funding.

The bill defines “economic development” as any activity “including increased tax revenue” that does not involve using the seized property in a “substantial part” for public use.

The bill could stifle federal funding for local and state development corporations seeking incentives such as tax breaks, tax abatements, subsidies and initiatives if those entities put forth projects that required the condemnation of private land.

As reported by The Brooklyn Papers following a May 19 commitment between the city and Ratner in a Memorandum of Understanding, officials from the Housing Development Corporation, a city housing fund that finances development projects, committed $67.5 million in subsidies. An article this week in the New York Sun estimated as much as $76 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies.

The Housing Development Corporation (HDC) would be offering Ratner 1-percent tax-exempt mortgages for the construction of the project’s moderate-income units, financing up to $45,000 a unit to subsidize their construction, said HPD’s commissioner, Shaun Donovan.

Forest City Ratner did not return calls seeking comment for this article.

At the Judiciary Committee’s June 30 hearing, Sensenbrenner, the bill’s sponsor, said that “any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party.

“Government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result,” Sensenbrenner said.

“American taxpayers should not be forced to contribute in any way to the abuse of government power,” he said before asking members to co-sponsor the bill to “assure the American people that we will not allow churches, homes, farms and other private property to be bulldozed in abusive land grabs that solely benefit private individuals whose only claim to that land is that their greater wealth will increase tax revenues.”

Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for Brooklyn Rep. Edolphus Towns, said that although the Democrat was opposed to the Supreme Court’s ruling, he hadn’t yet looked at the bill.

“He didn’t like what the Supreme Court justices did,” Johnson said, but mentioned the affinity of Sensenbrenner to far rightwing causes, and feared the bill might have ulterior motives. “There might be better bills that will be drafted [of the same ilk],” she added.

Rep. Vito Fossella, a Bay Ridge-Staten Island Republican who thus far is the lone member of New York City’s congressional delegation to co-sponsor the bill, this week told The Brooklyn Papers, “What the Supreme Court took away in our Constitutional rights, the Congress must now restore.

We must slam the brakes on any attempt by government to seize our homes and small businesses for private developers to build hotels, supermarkets or office buildings.”

Neither Rep. Nydia Velazquez nor Rep. Major Owens returned calls for comment by press time, but Owens has taken a strong position against the Ratner plan and its reliance on eminent domain.

“My thing is this — if the bill broadly talks about economic development, I would oppose it, because I don’t believe in doing a broad brush like that,” said Chris Owens, the congressman’s son and chief aide, who is expected to run for his retiring father’s seat in 2006.

“I don’t want to see the abuse of eminent domain either, but you have to be very careful on how you approach these things.

“You don’t want to be in a situation where you can’t do anything, but you don’t want to abuse eminent domain, either.”

The Brooklyn Papers: www.brooklynpapers.com

Corzine, Forrester against eminent domain abuses: Trenton (NJ) Times, 7/15/05

By Tom Hester

The U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling allowing local government to seize people's homes for private development wriggled its way into the gubernatorial campaign yesterday, with both major candidates announcing plans to combat it.

Republican Doug Forrester named a task force to study the decision and recommend how New Jersey can change its laws to protect homeowners.

"We're dealing here with fundamental rights," Forrester said.

Democrat Jon Corzine didn't wait for a task force report. Less than two hours after Forrester unveiled his plan at the State House, Corzine released a statement proposing seven changes to state law he said would protect homeowners from eminent domain abuse.

"There should be no taking of homes for economic development except in rare and exceptional circumstances and then only with adequate safeguards to ensure that the process is fair and transparent," Corzine said.

The Supreme Court decision allowed states to set their own rules on eminent domain.

Forrester said the task force would report to him on what changes the state could make to protect citizens.

He said the ruling is particularly troubling for New Jersey, where he said corruption and political influence could play roles in eminent domain proceedings. He called this a "sinister element" and cited Petty's Island, a South Jersey Delaware River island, as an example.

Environmentalists want the island preserved, but officials, including influential Democrats, support seizing the property for redevelopment.

Forrester said the task force would be headed by Candace Straight, a Republican insider who once ran for Essex County executive and was a co-chairwoman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee. Forrester said her broad public service experience qualifies her to lead the task force, which will include several Republican legislators.

Corzine proposed changing state law to limit government's ability to taking homes for economic development, requiring municipalities to explore alternatives to eminent domain, delaying condemnation until a trial and appeals are completed and eliminating no-bid developer contracts and awarding contracts to campaign donors.

He also proposed requiring homeowners who lose their homes receive compensation beyond fair market value, require redevelopment housing plans to include affordable housing for families and senior citizens and commercial plans to include such housing and giving the state public advocate authority to monitor eminent domain.

Trenton Times: www.nj.com

Appeal to MN Supreme Court Seeks “One last chance for justice, 7/15/05

News Release

Danny Orttell, a 25 year resident of Oak Grove [MN], claims his entire Lake George neighborhood was deemed blighted and then bulldozed via Eminent Domain under the false pretense that a low to moderate income senior apartment complex would be built there.

In order to prove the “public’s purpose” in the taking of Mr. Orttell’s home, neighborhood, and the Shoreside restaurant/bar, the city of Oak Grove and the Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority originally proposed that the 54 unit senior apartment structure be built entirely on the old neighborhood property. This proposal was made public in 2001. Orttell’s adjoining 7.2 acre tree nursery was also taken as an extension of the project.

Orttell contends that building the senior complex on his old neighborhood site was never feasible because of its proximity to the lake. The density of the structure requires that it be built 500 or more feet from the shoreline. “I believe the initial site plan was only used to successfully take the West Lake George properties,” Orttell says.

The plan was later radically revised placing the structure completely outside the doomed neighborhood site. One top project official even testified during Orttell’s first Eminent Domain hearing appeal that the revised senior complex could be built in its entirety on the 7.2 acre tree nursery parcel, without requiring the use of the original lakeside neighborhood properties whatsoever.

The fact is, the senior complex is being constructed solely on the 7.2 acre nursery parcel taken by the city. And since the bulldozers pulled out over a year ago, after leveling the village by the bay known as Paradise, no construction or development has ever taken place there. Now that the dust from the rubble has cleared, the very desirable lakeside properties are being sold to private developers. Such sales directly violate original Eminent Domain rules (prior to 06/23/05, the date of the US Supreme Court’s newest decision) concerning the “public’s purpose.” It seems Oak Grove’s hidden agenda was more about social cleansing than it was best serving the public. Only 1 of the 54 apartments will be subsidized, the rest will be unaffordable to any low to moderate income retiree.

In an attempt to mask this atrocity Oak Grove attorneys now claim that the taking of the ill-fated neighborhood was necessary in order to run utilities to the senior complex. Orttell claims, however, that utilities have always been run along boulevard right-of-ways. The senior complex is now being built at the furthest possible point from Lake George within the project area, completely off the old neighborhood site, and only a few feet from existing utility supplies. This being the case, it becomes highly questionable whether the residential demolition and forced relocation of 16 residents and 2 family-owned businesses was ever necessary.

In early arguments regarding the project, Orttell offered to sell vacant land directly across the road from the project area to the city of Oak Grove. Despite the millions of dollars the city could have saved by this more sensible solution, Orttell’s offer was ignored.

Many sources close to this matter allege that several city officials including the Mayor and one council member have voiced their strong dislike for Orttell from the beginning, virtually launching a smear campaign against him. Orttell contends this constitutes a biased vote on the decision to proceed with the project. Under the rules of democratic procedure, this would nullify that vote. The majority of Oak Grove residents were opposed to the project.

“They can think or say what they will about me. I’m no angel, but I am a taxpaying, registered voting citizen, and I’ve always been a fighter,” Orttell says. “Though this has taken far more than one man’s toll on my physical, mental, and financial stability, I will continue to fight for what I believe is right, and against what I think is wrong, and given the US Supreme Court’s decision on June 23, 2005 — virtually handing local government full rein over Eminent Domain, we as Americans should fly our flags at half-mast this Labor Day for the freedom we have lost.”

Danny Orttell: dannyorttell@hotmail.com

Eminent domain raises the stakes: (Long Island NY) Newsday, 7/14/05


By Brian S Stoler

Wrestling with whether the Constitution allows an economically distressed city to acquire private property to reverse its economic decline, the U.S. Supreme Court has just reaffirmed the right of a municipality to redistribute private property.

The justices made it clear that local governments, including Long Island's, do indeed have the powers to make choices for us - choices that could involve the relocation of citizens when their property can be used for a better public purpose.

The decision was sparked by the question of whether New London, Conn., could use eminent domain to achieve its goal of economic revitalization at the expense of uprooting homeowners from their homes and communities. Rather than pass judgment on the city's basis for the acquisition of private property, the court deferred to the judgment of city officials.

The court ensured that the use of eminent domain will be expanded dramatically, limited only by a politician's concern about how such a taking could affect his job tenure. Still, the court made it clear that a local government does not have carte blanche when exercising eminent domain and that the Constitution insists property owners be compensated for such taking. Yet the underlying reason for the public unease with this decision is that the homeowners being displaced may not be "getting just compensation" but rather "just getting compensation."

This issue already is being played out on Long Island. The ability of Gyrodyne, a former defense company with 314 acres in St. James, to put its property to profitable use has been stymied because of the possible exercise of eminent domain by Stony Brook University - which wants to use the land for a technology center.

But one need not own a real-estate holding company to find his land has just come under the shadow of condemnation. Envision these scenarios. You buy your waterfront-view, Victorian-era dream home and make substantial improvements. Or you still reside in the house purchased by your family more than a century ago. Yet the Supreme Court has made it clear that as long as just compensation is paid, a local government can acquire your dream home or uproot you and your family. But until there is a philosophical and legal change concerning the assessment of compensation, homeowners will be "just getting compensation."

Still, municipal government seldom moves quickly. Redevelopment projects include an open process to ensure that the public knows what the consequences of the decision will be and who is making those decisions. Perhaps it is this last point that will serve as the great equalizer for the protectors of property rights. Government officials have to answer to the electorate. Thus, even if a local legislature believes that a certain economic development project is in the best interests of the community, if the community disagrees, the community could have the last word on Election Day.

A prime example of this impact can be found in the Town of Hempstead. The town, faced with the opportunity to acquire property that would serve to improve the community at the expense of one business owner, did not hesitate. Hempstead condemned the Oceanside Motel because it was a purported haven for drugs and prostitution. Other than the hotel's owner, the only opponents to the town's decision were the transients using the hotel for nefarious activity. They will not be at the polls come November, but neighbors who sought the closure will be there.

In a more controversial previous taking, the Town of North Hempstead acquired church-owned property to further the town's goal of redeveloping portions of the New Cassel community that the town viewed as blighted. More recently, the town has sought to acquire another New Cassel property owned by an individual but used, in part, for worship.

Woody Guthrie's famous lyric verse "This land is your land, this land is my land" might need to be revised to include the line "unless of course it's needed for a parking lot."

Newsday: www.newsday.com

Brian S Stolar is an attorney with the law firm of Meyer Suozzi English & Klein, Mineola NY

Farm Bureau calls for eminent domain reform: Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, 7/14/05

News release

With the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain, the protection of private property rights has become an issue that has sparked national attention and discussion. Virginia Farm Bureau Federation [VFBF] has been involved in the ongoing dialogue.

“Farm Bureau has a natural interest in the U.S. Supreme Court decision,” said Susan Rubin, assistant director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Our members have been disproportionately involved in condemnation cases because of the amount of land required for their farming operations.”

Virginia Farm Bureau was at the forefront of eminent domain reform during the 2005 General Assembly session. The organization initiated two bills to tighten the laws regarding rights of property owners in the condemnation process. The bills, sponsored by Del. Terrie L. Suit, R-Virginia Beach, covered landowner issues dealing with right of entry by a condemning authority; and fair compensation in the acquisition process. Both bills overwhelmingly passed in the Senate and House chambers.

“All property owners need to understand eminent domain laws so they can protect themselves and their land,” said VFBF President Bruce L. Hiatt. “Respect for private property rights is a fundamental building block of our nation. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of erosion of those rights.”

VFBF was one of 18 state Farm Bureaus that in early December signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the American Farm Bureau Federation in Kelo v. City of New London.

“Agricultural land is the livelihood of our farmers and ranchers and important for U.S. food and feed production, but land used this way is not the highest income generator for government bodies,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “Tax revenue cannot be the basis for seizing private property.”

Virginia Farm Bureau also serves as a member of the Virginia Housing Commission’s Eminent Domain/Blight Removal/Brownfields Remediation Issues Work Group. The group’s charge includes developing a definition or criteria for the determination of public use; reviewing eminent domain legislation referred to the commission and providing recommendations for action.

“Farm Bureau is aware of the growing interest throughout the state to see changes in Virginia’s laws,” Rubin said. “We support all efforts that increase the rights of property owners and look forward to participating in additional eminent domain reform.”

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation: www.vafb.com

Maplewood Property Owners Continue Fight Against Eminent Domain: KSDK TV5 (St Louis MO), 7/14/05

By Erin O'Neill

Imagine owning your home for years, then one day someone comes along and says you have to sell it. Why? Because a developer wants to build something better in its place. It's called eminent domain and it's happening to property owners in Maplewood.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled five to four local governments can seize property for private development. Since that ruling, many property owners, like Patricia Trout of Maplewood, are trying to prevent it from happening to them.

"We have spent a lot of time and money fixing it." Trout has lived in the same home on the 4700 block of Hazel for 50 years. "We both graduated from the school district and all of our children did so we have deep roots here and I have my business in my home."

Now Trout may have to move her business and her home. Several developers want her property and the other homes on her side of the street to make way for something better. "It's just very unsettling."

They city is accepting proposals from developers until July 29th. Maplewood City Councilman, Tim Dunn, "In terms of the 29th, we get the proposals in then we'll have to talk about you know what are the scopes of the different proposals."

Then the city council must decide if one is worth knocking down homes and businesses. Dunn says, "I think at that point a city has an obligation to the community to move ahead and if that means eminent domain I think that's a proper use of eminent domain."

Trout is one of several hundred Maplewood residents and business owners who attended a meeting on eminent domain Tuesday night. Trout says they were hoping for answers, but she says that didn't happen. "We've heard conflicting things. Oh they're not going to take your home. Well they might and don't worry about it. You just don't know what."

But Trout does know the the fight isn't over yet. "We may have to wait but we're not just sitting around."

When city council votes on the proposals only a simple majority vote is needed. Meantime, Governor Matt Blunt is forming a task force to study eminent domain laws and recommend ways to protect missouri property owners.

KSDK: www.ksdk.com

Eminent domain: The truth behind the spin: Marblehead (MA) Reporter, 7/15/05


By Sean Connolly

Ours is an age of political polarization and shameless media spin. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on eminent domain, Connecticut's Kelo case, is a case in point. Of those seething with rabid vitriol in its wake, I'm sure that only a tiny fraction of them - even those in the media - have even read the decision or analyzed it in the context of other takings cases by the U.S. Supreme Court handed down in the last 25 years.

The truth of the matter is this: The high court has been continually expanding the protection of private property rights over the last two decades. In fact, where a governmental action substantially diminishes the value of private property, even where there is no physical taking, the Court has held that a compensable regulatory taking has occurred, for which the property owner must be compensated.

The political spin-masters decry the recent Supreme Court decision as the end of private property rights, hoping that their audiences will not actually review the case for themselves, nor its important preceding decisions. I encourage everyone to do just that, even non-lawyers. There has been an increasing trend toward writing legal opinions in a way the vast majority of people can easily understand, which is a departure from the Olde English ways of jurisprudence whereby only the most learned and elite of society could understand the language of an official legal opinion or document. It is an important development in the democratization of our American legal system.

Having personally devoted substantial time and effort to study and work in this field of takings law, I think it is important for those individuals who do not have this little intellectual niche as one of their specialties in life to have some context within which to understand the recent U. S. Supreme Court eminent domain decision in the Kelo case from Connecticut.

According to the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, "No person shall be... deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property by taken for public use, without just compensation." The Fifth Amendment is a set of protections for individuals from the federal government, whereas the Fourteenth Amendment confers those same protections on individuals from abuses by the state governments.

The two important issues in a typical takings case are questions of "public use" and "just compensation." In the recent Supreme Court decision, "just compensation" was not even an issue. Anytime there is a physical taking of private property for public use (with extraordinary exceptions for war, natural disasters, etc.), fair market value must be given to the property owner by the government. This is an important balance because, as many of us are aware, governments at the state and local levels are generally pretty tight on discretionary spending allowances. It is a self-checking measure that the exercise of eminent domain powers must be accompanied by a check to the property owner from the government for the full fair market value of the property being taken for a public purpose. Governments simply do not have the money to injudiciously exercise their powers of eminent domain.

"Just compensation" was not even an issue in this recent case eminent domain case - we all know that just compensation is a requirement for the exercise of eminent domain. Unlike the spin-masters would like to have you believe, the government cannot just come in and take your property and give it to someone else because they will pay more taxes than you. Don't believe the hype!

In the recent Supreme Court case, the issue was not the "just compensation" requirement of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It dealt exclusively with the issue of "public use," namely: Is there a public purpose for the government's exercise of its eminent-domain powers? Aside from having studied and worked in the eminent-domain field, I also studied and worked in the public and private sectors as a development planner. Planners, in general, view the recent eminent-domain decision as a victory.

The only reason the high court deemed it be a permissible taking was because it was done pursuant to the local comprehensive plan. The court typically will defer to state and local legislative decisions, such as planning and zoning, unless these local legislative decisions are otherwise held to be unconstitutional.

For over a hundred years, the Supreme Court has held that "public use" includes important public purposes, such as environmental protection and economic development. "Public use" does not necessarily mean that every member of the public could use it as he sees fit, such as a public park - there must, however, be a public purpose and a public benefit. Connecticut's Kelo case was a legitimate exercise of the government's eminent-domain powers because it was implemented pursuant to a comprehensive plan for economic development in that community. It was not a willy-nilly local decision to take someone's house and give it to someone they liked better.

Don't be fooled. Read the opinion for yourself (see the Web site of the U.S. Supreme Court). Do not believe the professional spinners who tell you that this is the end of private property rights and that the government can just take your property and give it to some other private citizen. Such a misstatement of law and fact is untrue and is the irresponsible use of power by those with the great luxury of a modern day bully pulpit.

The seventh page of the Supreme Court opinion reads thusly: "[T]he City would no doubt be forbidden from taking [an owner's] land for the purpose of conferring a private benefit on a particular private party. A purely private taking could not withstand the scrutiny of the public use requirement; it would serve no legitimate purpose of government and would thus be void. Nor would the City be allowed to take property under the mere pretext of a public purpose, when its actual purpose was to bestow a private benefit. The takings before us, however, would be executed pursuant to a 'carefully considered' development plan... the City's development plan was not adopted to benefit a particular class of identifiable individuals."

In the closing pages of its 20-page decision, the Supreme Court states as follows: "In affirming the City's authority to take [the owners'] properties, we do not minimize the hardship that [the use of eminent domain] may entail, notwithstanding the payment of just compensation. We emphasize that nothing in our opinion precludes any State from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power."

I have no doubt that the media spinners are going to push for continued public misinformation and confusion on this and other U.S. Supreme Court issues in the weeks and months to come. It will be the springboard for mustering public sentiment in favor an increasing appetite for new conservative justice(s) to fill the imminent opening(s) on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Instead of all of the extremist spinning and misinformation on the opposite ends of spectrum, we would all be well served to have an independent, freethinking, centrist, moderate ascend to the high court. We need a new justice who will be similar to Sandra Day O'Connor in important ways: a centrist jurist who thinks for herself and approaches each case with unbiased sound judgment; not a prejudicial judge who seeks to impose his/her biases and flawed political views upon the rest of us.

Marblehead Reporter: http://www2.townonline.com/marblehead

Sean Connolly, a Marblehead resident, is an attorney

Commissioners limit eminent domain: The Herald-Zeitung (New Braunfels TX), 7/15/05

By Ron Maloney

Anyone concerned by the June Supreme Court decision upholding New London, Conn.’s right to use eminent domain to condemn land for a shopping center can relax if they live here.

It’s not going to happen in Comal County.

Commissioners voted 4-1 Thursday to repudiate any new power the ruling might offer Comal County to seize land for economic development or commercial purposes.

The June 23 decision that extended eminent domain from public to private use in support of economic development sent shockwaves across the country that reverberated in the very fabric of Texas, a state where property rights are still regarded as paramount to all but the most important needs of the public.

The Texas Legislature is working to define or limit its impact here, and Comal County officials decided they wanted to spell out their view for their own constituents so there is no doubt.

“The bottom line from my perspective, and I hope from this commissioners’ court’s perspective, is that this resolution demonstrates to the public that this court doesn’t plan to expand the limited authority to exercise eminent domain granted us in 1925,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Jay Millikin said. “This is a proactive statement of the intent of this court. In my mind, we do not need to wait for the state or federal Supreme Court or legislatures to tell us what to do.”

Millikin acknowledged the irony of throwing away an opportunity for increased county authority after fighting for years for it in other areas.

“We will not go beyond the authority granted us in the Texas Local Government Code in 1925,” Millikin said.

Millikin made the motion to approve the resolution, which was seconded by Precinct 3 Commissioner Greg Parker.

“We’re taking a symbolic action to show the public that we regard taking of private property in this kind of way is not good for our citizens,” Parker said. “I think it is prudent for us to be proactive in this fight.”

County Judge Danny Scheel told the court that the Texas state Senate had passed a bill just Wednesday prohibiting taking of private property for economic development purposes.

“I don’t think it’s ever been the intention of this court to exercise this kind of power,” Scheel said. “When we were considering the (Mission Valley Mills) TIF [tax increment funding] project, we stated we did not support the taking of any private property to support that development down there.”

Scheel argued that Comal County didn’t need to get involved in the issue — that it would be dealt with by legislators at the state and national levels.

“I don’t think this is something this court needs to get into,” Scheel said. “The Legislature is handling it.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Jack Dawson strongly disagreed.

“I don’t like what the Supreme Court did, so I’m going to support it,” Dawson said.

The resolution passed 4-1 with Scheel’s being the “no” vote.

The Herald-Zeitung: http://web.herald-zeitung.com

Protesters Decry Eminent Domain Ruling: Hundreds demonstrate: Shore Publishing (Madison CT), 7/15/05

By Stephen Chupaska

Just two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the city in Kelo v. New London, the protest against the taking of homes in Fort Trumbull came full circle.

Chanting "Let Them Stay" and flying the Revolutionary War era "Don't Tread on Me" flag, close to 500 protesters rallied at New London' s municipal building on July 5, where five years ago, the City Council voted to authorize the use of eminent domain to seize the homes of Susette Kelo and the six other property owners.

Some demonstrators who could not find room to stand on the sidewalk in front of city hall watched from outside the Crocker House — which is partly owned by New London Development Corporation President Michael Joplin.

The rally took place before a scheduled City Council meeting, which did not have anything related to the decision or future development on its agenda.

Organized by the Washington, D.C., libertarian lobby group, Institute for Justice, it drew supporters from all over the Northeast and as far away as Kentucky and Texas.

"There has not been a Supreme Court case that has had such universal condemnation," said Scott Bullock, the attorney who argued the case before the high court. "There has been outrage at a time America is so divided."

Jim Perry, of Peterborough, N.H, and member of the libertarian Free State Project, said he drove down for the rally because "private property means private property."

Some took exception to the court's interpretation of the Fifth Amendment, which sanctions the takings clause.

Nine-year city resident Allan Nicklaus said the court went above the "original intent of eminent domain."

Fort Trumbull resident Nield Oldham, who called the rally "very encouraging," reiterated that the property owners were never against the NLDC's plans for the peninsula.

"It could have been an attractive neighborhood," he said. "They got it so wrong; now it's time to do it right."

Also present was state House Minority Leader Bob Ward (R-Wallingford), who said he would work on laws designed to curb the use of eminent domain.

Scott Sawyer, the property owners' local counsel, said he would like to find a way to keep the property owners' homes in Fort Trumbull.

"The city of New London," he said, "can become the city of solutions."

Bullock addressed the City Council at its meeting, but the council did not respond to any of the public comment about the Fort Trumbull development.

"It wasn't on the agenda," Councilor Beth Sabilia said.

Shore Publishing: www.shorepublishing.com


Connecticut Declares Eminent Domain Moratorium: RedState.org, 7/13/05

By California Yankee

Connecticut's state legislators declared a moratorium Monday on the use of eminent domain in Connecticut. According to The [New London] Day no municipality, not even New London, can go forward with any eminent domain plans until the legislature revises the law to protect the rights of private homeowners.

Governor Rell issued a statement saying she supported the moratorium and urging the legislature to act without delay:
"This issue is the 21st-century equivalent of the Boston Tea Party: the government taking away the rights and liberties of property owners without giving them a voice," Rell said. "But this time it is not a monarch wearing robes in England we are fighting; it is five robed justices at the Supreme Court in Washington."

The state's overwhelmingly Democratic legislature must be taking a lot of heat over the U.S. Supreme Court's decision involving New London, which made it clear that government can seize your home and give it to a large corporation to build a mall, shopping center or office park. A Republican-led proposal to ban the taking of single-family homes for reasons other than public projects such as highways and government buildings was defeated last month.

RedState.org: www.redstate.org

Editor's note: This report has been found in error. Governor Rell has suggested a moratorium and support has been expressed by some members of the legislature, but no specific action has been taken.

Eminent domain law controversial, but not new: (Manchester CT) Journal Inquirer, 7/13/05

By Tom Breen

For nearly 40 years, [Connecticut] state law has allowed the seizure of property for private economic development under the principle of eminent domain.

But only in the last month has the law become a central focus of state politics — ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city of New London can take homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood for a private development project.

Connecticut politicians, ranging from longtime Republican legislators to "smart growth" advocates in the Green Party, have denounced the ruling and the law that led to it, and have called for immediate changes to the statute.

Such changes are possible since the court ruled that the right to seize property for private development isn't a constitutional right, but can be prohibited by state law.

At least eight states — Maine, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Montana, South Carolina, and Washington — already forbid the use of eminent domain for private development except in cases of blight.

Now, Republicans in the General Assembly are calling for a special session of the legislature this year specifically to handle the eminent domain question.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been more circumspect, calling instead for a voluntary one-year moratorium on municipal uses of eminent domain for private development, and plan to schedule public hearings as early as this month.

"In light of the Supreme Court decision, we all should be concerned about the jeopardy that private property owners have been placed in," Sen. Eric D. Coleman, D-Bloomfield, co-chairman of the Planning and Development Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.

"But," he added, "unlike many, I would like to make the right response to the decision rather than merely a quick response. We need to take a comprehensive look at this issue to ensure that eminent domain is used properly in Connecticut."

However, as some point out, the General Assembly has been able to take just such a comprehensive look at the law since Lyndon Johnson was president.

Why the wait?

"This is not something brand new," Wesley Horton, the lawyer who argued on behalf of New London before the Supreme Court, said in a recent interview.

In his work for New London, Horton traced the law back to Public Act 760, known as the Home Rule Act, approved by the General Assembly and signed into law in 1967.

That law, which was modified slightly in 1972, allowed private companies designated as development agencies to "acquire by eminent domain real property located within the project area and real property and interests therein for rights-of-way and other easements," while acting in the name of the municipality.

Although the law has been in place for 38 years, it never has received close to this amount of attention, although some Republicans in the legislature say that's not for lack of trying.

Sen. David J. Cappiello, R-Danbury, said Monday that Republicans have raised bills in the previous two legislative sessions that would modify or scrap the current law, but that those bills never made it to the floor for a full vote.

"I thought it was a little bit disingenuous to wait two years before taking this issue up," he said.

Cappiello has requested a special session, but says his requests have not been answered so far.

"I hope this isn't breaking down along party lines, because this isn't a partisan issue," he said. "In my view, this is about the blatant abuse of government power."

House Minority Leader Robert M. Ward, R-North Branford, introduced both attempts to revise the law and said he thinks Republicans always have considered it a matter of concern.

"Republicans feel it's an urgent matter, but the Democratic leadership feels it's a matter to study for a long time," he said. He added that he believes pressure from Democratic city leaders has led legislative Democrats to move slowly.

While eminent domain may yet break along party lines in the legislature, outside it already has made for some strange political bedfellows.

"I think it's the first time I've found myself on the same side as Clarence Thomas," says Thomas Sevigny, a state Green Party leader who has been active in development controversies since at least the proposal to build an NFL stadium for the New England Patriots in Hartford.

Sevigny, like the Republicans, opposes the law allowing property to be seized for private development, but doesn't find anything odd in the fact that opposition has only now reached critical mass.

"The Supreme Court decision has obviously brought this to light," he said. "Especially when you have people who are saying, "No, we aren't moving.' It provides something for people to rally around."

When two legislative committees do convene their hearings into the question, they will have more than just the Home Rule Act to consider: According to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research, eminent domain is referenced in at least 80 statutes.

Journal Inquirer: www.zwire.com

Pol Seeks Eminent Domain Law Change: 1010 WINS (New York NY), 7/13/05

Not enough is being done to protect private property owners facing the seizure of their land by local governments pushing economic development projects, a state Assemblyman said Wednesday in announcing a bill to change New York's eminent domain law.

The bill by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat, follows last month's 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court saying cities may bulldoze people's homes to make way for shopping malls or other private development. The ruling gave local governments broad power to seize private property to generate tax revenue.

Brodsky, who has led investigations of industrial development agencies and local development corporations, said while economic growth is a legitimate goal, in many cases local authorities have done more for private companies than public good when seizing property for business development projects.

"You can call this a homeowner protection act," Brodsky said. "In many cases, eminent domain is a necessary part of progress, but when you're taking someone's private property and transferring it to another private owner, we need to be extremely careful and protective."

Under the bill the time property owners have to appeal condemnation decisions would be increased to 90 days from 30 days. Displaced residents would be paid at least 150 percent of the market value of their homes, Brodsky said.

The measure also would require eminent domain be used for economic development purposes only to forward a comprehensive plan developed in public meetings and approved by local legislators.

In the June court decision, Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, said the New London, Conn. could pursue private development under the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property if the land is for public use, since the project the city has in mind promises to bring more jobs and revenue.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the decision bowed to the rich and powerful at the expense of middle-class Americans.

The issue has been a hot topic around the country.

In Texas, lawmakers have proposed a constitutional amendment that would bar state or local governments from seizing private property mainly for economic development. Lawmakers in many states are now proposing new laws to shield property owners.

In Washington, legislation in the works would ban the use of federal funds for any project getting the go-ahead using the Kelo v. City of New London decision.

1010 WINS: http://1010wins.com

GOP candidates lobby to limit eminent domain: The (Hampton Roads VA) Virginian-Pilot , 7/14/05

By Michelle Washington

Republican candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general are calling for changes to state laws defining when a government can seize private property.

Sen. Bill Bolling, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, and Del. Bob McDonnell, the party’s attorney general candidate, held a telephone news conference this week to call for amendments to state laws and the Virginia constitution.

U.S. Del. Thelma Drake, R-2nd District, joined the conversation, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore gave written support.

Their proposals stemmed from the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. New London, Conn., which allows the government to seize land for economic development under powers known as “eminent domain.”

The U.S. Constitution provides that government may seize land “for public use” if it pays the owners “just compensation.”

In the past, public uses have included schools, roads or military bases.

The Supreme Court’s decision expands the definition of public use and allows governments to seize property from unwilling sellers to create jobs or raise tax collections.

But the court also held that states may limit eminent domain power.

McDonnell, Bolling and Drake said they support amendments to Virginia’s constitution and statutes to limit the definition of “public use.”

As written, the state’s constitution says citizens “cannot be taxed, or deprived of, or damaged in, their property for public uses, without their own consent.”

The constitution does not enumerate public uses. The state’s code says: “The term 'public uses’ ... is hereby defined to embrace all uses which are necessary for public purposes.”

The Republicans in Tuesday’s news conference said “public use” should be better defined.

“Whatever public use means, it will not include the primary purpose of economic development or tax enhancement,” McDonnell said.

Drake said their efforts to define “public use” would not affect land on Granby Street in Norfolk that is being developed as a high-rise condominium. The federal government has said it is interested in the land to expand the Walter E. Hoffman U.S. Courthouse, which sits across the street. A courthouse is clearly a public use, Drake said.

Bolling said the state’s definition of “public use” has always been vague.

“There are legitimate ways to promote economic development,” Bolling said. “Don’t do it by seizing private property against the owner’s will.”

The Virginian-Pilot: http://home.hamptonroads.com

Eminent domain is a tool best left unused: Roslindale * West Roxbury (MA) Transcript, 7/14/05


The Supreme Court's recent ruling on eminent domain brought dismay not just to anti-government conservatives, but to lots of others inclined to stick up for the little guy.

On a 5-4 vote, the court upheld the eminent domain taking of several small homes by a New London, Conn., development agency to make way for an upscale hotel/retail/residential complex. The majority ruled that government can seize private property and turn it over to a private developer even if the only public purpose served is economic development and the broader tax base it brings. Conservatives dissented strongly, declaring that the ruling substantially erased the distinction between "public use," which the Constitution allows in eminent domain proceedings, and private profit.

It should be noted, given the current debate over judicial philosophies that the conservative dissenters were the "activist" judges in this case. They were calling for precedents that had allowed similar takings in the past to be overturned. They were seeking to nullify the decisions of at least two legislative bodies in Connecticut.

To use President Bush's formulation, the conservative dissenters - Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas and O'Connor - were seeking to "legislate from the bench."

But while a stricter interpretation of the Constitution's takings clause has long been a conservative goal, abuse of eminent domain powers has long been a bipartisan practice.

The real divide is between powerful business interests allied with powerful politicians and the property owners standing in the way of their grand plans.

Before entering politics, George W. Bush was involved in a similar enterprise, getting local officials to seize property by eminent domain so his Texas Rangers could play baseball in a new stadium.

Eminent domain is nothing new in Boston. Within days of the Supreme Court ruling, we got a taste of how it might play out in the city.

Mayor Tom Menino, who considers the rebirth of the South Boston waterfront his personal legacy, is dissatisfied with the pace of the development company that owns the 21-acre Fan Pier property. Emboldened by the Supreme Court ruling, City Council President Michael Flaherty called on the city to seize the property under eminent domain and sell it to a developer who is more of a team player.

Menino has other tools to use against the developer, notably the threat to withdraw permits if progress continues to lag, and has resisted Flaherty's call. But you can see the problems with putting a tool as powerful as eminent domain in the hands of the politically powerful.

It's bad enough when a politically-connected developer can get government to seize a home in the way of its bulldozers. The idea that politicians can take private property away from an unfavored developer - who has already sunk millions into the project - and give it to a more favored developer is chilling.

One of the New London homeowners said recently that if someone from the city had come to him with an offer to purchase his property, he'd have listened. But all he got from the city was a notice his property was being seized. Why negotiate when you have the power to take the land now and determine the price later?

Could such a thing happen in West Roxbury and Roslindale? Sure it could, under the right economic situation.

It's that kind of arrogance that makes people of all political stripes regret the court's eminent domain ruling. It's worth noting, however, that the ruling doesn't force any governmental body to abuse eminent domain for private profit. Even New London can still change its mind.

That which is legal is not always wise. Government officials should recognize that eminent domain is one redevelopment tool best left on the shelf.

Roslindale * West Roxbury Transcript: www2.townonline.com/roslindale

Latest property snatch: Missouri: WorldNet Daily, 7/14/05

Local business owners blast City Hall for eminent-domain moves.
Business owners in Maplewood, Mo., fear loss of property.

The latest region worrying about property seizures by the government under eminent domain is the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood, Mo., where city officials are looking at the possibility of improving an area mostly filled with private businesses.

But the idea is drawing plenty of heat from local residents and business owners, who sounded off this week at a packed public meeting.

"I would encourage this council to adopt a resolution declaring Maplewood an eminent domain-free zone," resident Ed Gottlieb said to a wave of applause, according to KSDK-TV.

Locals have begun a campaign called "Save Our Block," putting signs up on buildings to help bolster support against any transfer of property.

While there is currently no concrete new development, the city did issue a request for proposals to develop a section of Maplewood, with the use of eminent domain a possibility. Maplewood is taking bids from developers through July 29.

"They make it sound like Godzilla is coming into Maplewood and tearing out this whole area," Mayor Mark Langston told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Godzilla is not coming into Maplewood."

"I would urge the developers to address relocation, moving expenses, finding someone a new place to move to, lost business, what their property is worth," he added. "Those are all issues that need to be included in the proposals, and I'll be looking for those issues in those proposals. If this is what we do, I want to be fair."

The concern among residents comes in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision allowing seizure of property from one private group to another.

The case of Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., allows the New London municipal government to seize the homes and businesses of residents to facilitate the building of an office complex that would provide economic benefits to the area and more tax revenue to the city. Though the practice of eminent domain is provided for in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, this case is significant because the seizure is for private development and not for "public use," such as a highway or bridge. The decision has been roundly criticized by property-rights activists and limited-government commentators.

WorldNet Daily: http://worldnetdaily.com

County backs limits on use of eminent domain: Atlanta (GA) Journal-Constitution, 7/14/05

By Christopher Quinn

Cherokee County has joined others in Georgia in pushing the General Assembly to pass a law to limit government's power to seize land.

The county commissioners unanimously passed a resolution July 5 calling on the state to restrict the use of eminent domain — when a government forces a landowner to sell to it — if the land is going to be given to a company or another individual for economic development.

The resolution follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that New London, Conn., could seize land not only for traditional government projects like roads and schools, but also to turn the property over to private developers when officials decide it benefits the public.

"We felt that the Supreme Court got this one wrong," said commission Chairman Mike Byrd, who introduced the resolution.

"To take someone's home that they have worked for their whole life and give it to someone else for economic development is totally inappropriate."

Commissioner Derek Good said, "Eminent domain should be restricted, in my opinion, to true public purposes like building a road or county facility."

The commission wanted to send a message to its state delegates to take some action, Byrd said.

A growing chorus of state legislators and county governments are pushing for such restrictions.

Though the high court ruled in favor of the city, one of the justices noted that it did not prevent states from writing laws to restrict the legal use of eminent domain.

Cobb leaders have talked of taking action if the state doesn't.

Cobb Chairman Sam Olens said he believes the county could pass local ordinances restricting the use of eminent domain, but it would be better if the state did it so that the law would be uniform from county to county. He will wait to see what the General Assembly does before making any moves, he said.

Vernon Jones, the chief executive officer of DeKalb County, filed a resolution condemning the use of eminent domain for economic development. Jones' resolution will not carry the force of law.

"But we are taking a stand to say we are not going to seize private property for economic development purposes," he said.

He has already talked to state legislators about the issue, he said.

Pressure on General Assembly members to address eminent domain issues has been mounting in recent years. Efforts to limit the use of eminent domain by power companies when siting power lines failed in 2004.

Another bill introduced this year created a unexpected backlash against eminent domain.

Republicans introduced the bill, whose intent was to allow local governments to partner with private businesses to build public facilities. Part of the law would have allowed the businesses to select sites for proposed projects in a process with little public input and ask governments to condemn the property.

It became a shouting point for radio talk jockeys, who predicted the end of private property rights. Newspaper editorials condemned the idea and the secretiveness of the process. A cascade of phone calls and e-mails from constituents hit legislators.

The bill was quickly shipped off to a study committee, and Republican leaders have said it will not be resurrected.

During the session, another bill was introduced in the state Senate that would have prevented governments from using eminent domain for reasons of economic development. It passed the Senate but did not make it out of the House before the session closed.

Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson appointed the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick), to head up a committee to prepare the law for another run when the General Assembly opens in January 2006.

Chapman plans to hold one or more hearings on eminent domain in late summer.

Olens said with all the political heat generated in the last year, he expects the law to be passed.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: www.ajc.com

The newest oxymoron: private property rights: [Texas] Corridor Watch, 6/28/05

Last week Texas Representative Frank Corte of San Antonio issued a release saying, "The right to own and use property is inherent to a free society. When a government decides they know how to use private property better than the individual, private property rights cease to exist." CorridorWatch.org couldn't agree more.

Yesterday Representative Corte filed House Joint Resolution (HJR19). Today Senator Bob Deuell filed a companion bill, Senate Joint Resolution (SJR10). If passed these identical Resolutions would put the issue amending the State Constitution on the ballot in November with the following language proposed for addition: "Sec. 17A. A political subdivision of this state may not take private property through the use of the power of eminent domain if a primary purpose of the taking is for economic development."

The Constitutional amendment proposed by HJR19 and SJR10 offer to protect your property rights, but only from political subdivisions of the state such as cities, counties, and special districts. Maybe it's an oversight, but why NOT the state itself. Why would it be okay for the state to take our land for economic development? Why exempt TxDOT and other state agencies from a Constitutional limitation on eminent domain abuse?

If it's wrong for a city; if it's wrong for a county; it is equally wrong for the state; AND, THAT'S WHAT THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT SHOULD SAY.

Lets amend our Texas Constitution to add this language, "Private property shall not be taken through the use of the power of eminent domain if a primary purpose of the taking is for economic development."


Yesterday our very own US Senator John Cornyn introduced the Protection of Homes, Small Businesses, and Private Property Act of 2005. If this bill becomes law it will prohibit the use of eminent domain power for economic development by the Federal Government and any State or local government using Federal funds. [The text of the bill is online at:]
Protection of Homes, Small Businesses, and Private Property Act of 2005

Corridor Watch: www.corridorwatch.org/ttc

Woman settles with Hesperia, gives up land: (Victorville CA) Daily Press, 7/13/05

By Kathleen Stinson

The case between the school teacher who owned land in Hesperia [CA] and the city that tried to foreclose on her was settled Monday.

Ellen Zunino owned a 10-acre parcel of land in what is referred to as the "Golden Triangle" area of Hesperia that increased dramatically in assessed valuation, but she said she was unable to pay the assessment.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Zunino gave the land to the city without a foreclosure — something she did not want against her name, she said.

She was also paid a financial consideration of less than the real market value of the property, she said.

Before the city established an improvement district in the area — west of Interstate 15 and south of Avenal Street — Zunino's land had an assessed value of $9,800. After the city made some improvements, the city assessed the value of her land at $4.3 million and Zunino was required to pay a $1.2 million assessment on the property.

The city borrowed more than $21 million using the Golden Triangle properties as collateral on borrowed money and spread the burden over the parcels, based on improvements.

Zunino said she tried at one point to sell her land to pay for the assessments but found out it wasn't worth enough.

Facing foreclosure by the city for her inability to pay the steep assessment, Zunino hired attorney Marjorie Mikels, who filed a countersuit against the city of Hesperia for fraud and violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Fifth Amendment stipulates that a government cannot take private property without just compension. Zunino's suit maintained that the city's large assessments constitute away of taking her property without just compensation.

"The city placed huge assessment liens on the property (that) no reasonable person could afford to pay," Mikels said.

Mikels found a number of property owners in the area who were also being foreclosed on under similar circumstances, she said.

"It's outrageous," Mikels said. "I think we're the only ones who came back with (a countersuit) for fraud charges and the Fifth Amendment."

The fraud claim against the city refers to the alleged unusually high valuation of the property by the city and to the percentage of property owners who protested the district, she said.

The city was supposed to give the property owners 30 days to protest establishment of the proposed improvement district, Zunino said.

Mikels said the 30 days did not apply if 50 percent of the property owners filed protests, unless the matter was overridden by a four-fifth's vote of the City Council. Mikels said the council vote was only three-fifths and that initially there was a 70 percent protest by property owners to establishment of the district.

Mark Devey represented the city of Hesperia in the case. Devey said he had no comments.

Zunino said other cities are trying to do similar things to others, and she refused to sign a confidentiality agreement to not discuss the case with anyone.

"There is not a better time to make people aware of what cities are doing to them," she said, adding that she plans to write articles and essays about eminent domain.

Daily Press: www.vvdailypress.com


Milford votes limit on eminent domain: The Connecticut Post, 7/12/05

By Frank Juliano

[Milford CT] City officials politely but firmly rejected state suggestions Monday that placing local limits on eminent domain power would be premature.

The Board of Aldermen, sounding at times like the Sons of Liberty in 1775, unanimously approved an ordinance that prevents the city from using its eminent domain power to take owner-occupied housing for private economic development projects.

House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford, had asked Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr. to pull the ordinance off the agenda for the aldermen's City Hall meeting, promising that the issue would be dealt with by state legislation.

"All of the aldermen I spoke to wanted to go forward," Richetelli said before the vote. "But we added a line that 'this ordinance shall not conflict with any subsequent state law.'"

The ordinance submitted by Alderman Thomas Beirne, R-5, was drafted in response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London upholding the southeastern Connecticut city's right to seize private homes to make way for a luxury office park.

Amann said that more than 75 state laws mention eminent domain or affect its use in some way, and that a comprehensive, consistent approach is needed to clarify how that power should be used.

"Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, it makes sense to take a full look at where we want to go with this as a state," Amann said. "One thing is certain: Connecticut's eminent domain laws will be changing and our municipalities should put any property takeover plans on hold immediately."

But Alderwoman Judith Toohey, R-2, wasn't about to wait for the Legislature. "Where has Hartford been through all of this?" she asked. "It never should have gotten to this point."

Alderman Vincent Ditchkus Jr., R-3, said Milford homeowners were victimized by the eminent domain process in the 1960s, when property was taken in the Silver Sands and Walnut Beach neighborhoods for urban renewal. "It took years for anything to happen, and a lot of people lost their homes for private developments," he said. "We want to make sure it doesn't happen again."

But it was Beirne, invoking the spirit of the Revolutionary War patriots, who got the last word. "In Lexington, Mass., in 1775 we had British soldiers in red coats claiming land for the king," the alderman said. "Now we have judges in black robes doing it, but it's still a fight over property rights."

The Connecticut Post: www.connpost.com

Reforms considered for state's eminent domain regulations: Connecticut Post, 7/12/05

Land grabs by state up for review Municipalities urged to delay plans using eminent domain
By Peter Urban

Connecticut House Speaker James A. Amann on Monday urged municipalities to freeze land takeover plans until the General Assembly reforms the state's eminent domain laws.

"One thing is certain: Connecticut's eminent domain laws will be changing and our municipalities should put any property takeover plans on hold immediately," said Amann, D-Milford.

Democratic leaders of the General Assembly held a press conference at the state Capitol Monday to announce that they intend to hold hearings on eminent domain — the doctrine allowing towns and cities to seize private land for public benefit.

The issue has drawn a feverish response across the country since the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last month that the city of New London could invoke eminent domain to take property not just for public projects such as roads and schools, but also for private developments that would generate tax revenues.

"We need to let the public know we will address the Supreme Court ruling in a way that will produce legislation that ensures fairness and balance. In the meantime, municipalities should know that this effort is under way so there is no confusion as we go forward," said Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn.

The General Assembly will hold an informational forum on eminent domain later this month. Leaders of the Judiciary Committee and Planning and Development Committee will organize it.

Rep. Ernest Hewitt, D-New London, said Monday that he opposes changing the eminent domain law to block cities from using it to boost their economy.

"You would stifle towns like New London that have nowhere to go," he said.

Hewitt, a freshman, was on the New London City Council when it voted to take several homes for redevelopment as offices and a hotel.

The city, which occupies 6.5 square miles, has little open space and is home to the U.S. Coast Guard, Connecticut College and Mitchell College — all of which pay no property taxes.

Faced with the need to raise revenues, the city decided to back an economic development plan that required taking several homes. The city offered the property owners the fair market value for their homes, as the law requires, Hewitt said.
"I didn't want to do it. It was the hardest thing to do in my life," he said.

Since the Supreme Court found in favor of New London, Hewitt said he has received a barrage of e-mails from across the country denouncing the decision. None, however, came from the people of New London.

"It tells me the people in this town are for what we did," he said.

Amann said that the legislature may return in a special session to deal with the issue but that has yet to be determined.

Although he plans to wait to hear from the public and experts, Amann said that the state's eminent domain laws should probably be tightened in favor of property owners.

"We need to make it as narrow as possible so that it is used in very rare circumstances," Amann said.

The General Assembly rejected a Republican proposal to change the state's eminent domain statute during a recent special session. Democrats argued that the proposal did not deal with eminent domain comprehensively.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell issued a press statement Monday supporting the hearing and stating that she believes the rights of property owners should come first.

"When government intrudes on our homes, it must have a defensible reason. In the New London case, the reason was not defensible," she said.

Rell also backed House Minority Leader Robert Ward's call for a special session to make changes to the eminent domain laws.

"We should do this right — but we should not let the matter drag on for months," Rell said.

Connecticut Post: www.connpost.com

Rally planned against eminent-domain ruling: Portsmouth (NH) Herald, 7/12/05

Citizens all across the country will rally today against a June Supreme Court decision that gives municipalities wider latitude in determining what property can be taken by eminent domain.

The rally in Portsmouth will take place a 7 p.m. in front of the North Church in Market Square.

"Citizens concerned about the recent Kelo v. New London Supreme Court decision that radically increased the government’s ability to take private property will meet with others all over the New England region to defend private property rights," said regional organizer Jim Perry.

The case involved New London, Conn. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, agreed the city was within its rights to take by eminent domain homes that were standing in the way of a development officials believed would be beneficial to the economic development of the city.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, said New London could pursue private development under the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property if the land is for public use, since the project the city has in mind promises to bring more jobs and revenue.

"Promoting economic development is a traditional and long-accepted function of government," Stevens wrote, adding that local officials are better positioned than federal judges to decide what’s best for a community.

He was joined in his opinion by other members of the court’s liberal wing, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, as well as Reagan appointee Justice Anthony Kennedy, in noting that states are free to pass additional protections if they see fit.

In a scathing dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said the decision bowed to the rich and powerful at the expense of middle-class Americans.

In dissent, O’Connor criticized the majority for abandoning the conservative principle of individual property rights and handing "disproportionate influence and power" to the well-heeled.

"The specter of condemnation hangs over all property," O’Connor wrote. "Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."

Portsmouth Herald: www.seacoastonline.com

Eminent domain decision prompts action by local legislators: The Clarion (County PA) News, 7/12/05

By Tom DiStefano

In the wake of A U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing eminent domain to be used to foster economic development, the Pennsylvania legislature has introduced bills to limit the practice.

Eminent domain allows government to take land for public use if the landowner is given fair compensation. The power is usually used to acquire land for roads, schools, government buildings, utilities and other public purposes.

In Kelo vs. New London , the Supreme Court ruled that municipalities may take private land by eminent domain and give it to a private entity, with the justification the new owner will pay more taxes, create jobs or otherwise improve the local economy.

But the court noted in its ruling that state legislatures have the power to limit eminent domain for economic development.

Two bills were introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to do just that.

House Bill 1835, introduced by Rep. Thomas F. Yewcic (D-Cambria/Somerset), amends the rules for municipalities, stating that while municipal governments may take land by eminent domain, they may not turn that land over to “a nonpublic interest,” or use eminent domain to increase the tax base.

The bill would also require the taking to include a reverter clause so title would return to the original owner should the land ever be used for a private purpose.

The bill, with 101 co-sponsors, was referred to the Committee on State Government that same day it was introduced.

Local legislators co-sponsoring the bill include Rep. Fred McIlhattan (R-63), Rep. Scott Hutchinson (R-64) and Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-62).

A similar bill, House Bill 1836 was also introduced by Yewcic. This contains the same provisions as HB 1835, but amends the state’s Eminent Domain Code.

HB 1836 has 100 co-sponsors, including McIlhattan, Hutchinson and Rapp, and is also now in the House Committee on State Government.

A bill which would fund local government to buy blighted land and essentially give it to private owners has been amended to rule out the use of eminent domain.

House Bill 1358 would have the state issue $200 million in bonds and use the money in a grant program. Local governments awarded the grants can purchase blighted property outright or at a tax sale and sell it to private developers for $1 per property.

Municipalities would not be allowed to use eminent domain to purchase blighted properties.

The amendment was added July 1 and the house voted 170 to 27 for final approval.

The bill moved on to the Senate, where it was referred July 2 to the Urban Affairs and Housing Committee.

House Bill 1358 was introduced by Rep. Michael Diven (R-Allegheny) and has 24 co-sponsors, including McIlhattan.

The U.S. Congress has responded to the Kelo decision as well. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill banning the use of federal funds for any state or municipal project using eminent domain for economic development purposes.

A similar bill, barring the use of federal transportation funds, passed the U.S. House.

Liberals and conservatives in Congress are joining forces to enact federal bans on eminent domain for economic development.

Conservative Republicans point to the preservation of property rights and dislike what they see as government interference. Liberal Democrats dislike government taking of property for private interests as unfair to the average citizen and a form of corporate welfare.

Information on legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly can be found on the Internet at www.legis.state.pa.us.n

Clarion News: www2.theclarionnews.com

Eminent domain foes vow to fight: Haddon (Haddon Twp NJ) Herald, 7/12/05

By Dan Keashen

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the use of eminent domain, citizens from all over Southern New Jersey have vowed to take action.

Representatives from across the state gathered last week to put their plans in action to protect home owners. "This is the first real step for us to take back our properties from the abuse of local governments in New Jersey," said South Jersey Our Homes Coordinator Pat Seidman.

Last Thursday night strategies were discussed and residents made commitments to promote equitable property rights at the second meeting of the South Jersey Our Homes Coalition. The Haddon Township meeting brought out a cross-section of advocates from Ventnor to Cramer Hill. Over 40 representatives showed up to discuss the best form of protest and lobbying that can be done so legislatures recognize their plight.

Eminent domain is a clause used during redevelopment to take private property from residents and small business owners. Traditionally the use of eminent domain has been confined to large projects that benefited the entire community like highways, schools, and utility installation. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 23, municipalities have been given a free pass to use eminent domain for projects that produce higher tax rateables like the construction of luxury condominiums and high end retail.

Cramer Hill, a neighborhood inside Camden City, is under the threat of being razed for a golf course, condominiums, and high end retail. In all, 1,300 homes and 65 small businesses are now under threat by Cherokee Redevelopment Corporation and the City of Camden. Cramer Hill representative, Jose J. Santiago, said the local politicians are trying to get rid of everyone in the neighborhood.

"These are our homes and this is our barrio," said Santiago. "There is no blight here. Nobody has any blight in the neighborhood. A house might need some paint, but that does not give someone the right to take it and tear it down for a golf course." Santiago is trying to unite residents to join the new coalition to push the issue in Trenton. A Pennsauken representative had the same feelings.

Colin O'Brien is a manager at the Stardust in the Pennsauken Mart. "We've been fighting eminent domain for five years, said O'Brien. "When I brought this up years ago people thought I was a conspiracy theorist, but now that it's happening everywhere in the county people understand what we've been dealing with." O'Brien said the group is great way to let local legislatures that people are voting on this subject.

The Pennsauken Mart and several other buildings have been under the threat of eminent domain for years by the Camden County Improvement Authority. County officials wanted to replace the Mart with a plan called the Crossroads, a project that had at its core a 6,500-seat minor-league hockey arena and conference center and would have included a hotel and stores.

Haddon Township Commissioner Kathy Hogan created a document that local officials can sign to show their support. "I want elected officials to vow not to abuse eminent domain," said Hogan. "This is one of our basic rights as an American and [that] abusive, corrupt local officials would dare to take some ones home is disgraceful." She said it's important to know where local officials stand on the subject and to build an alliance with legislatures that are promoting property rights.

Ventnor property rights activist, Richard Gober, said Ventnor Mayor Tim Kreischer, is involved in property owner ethnic cleansing. "They're taking viable expensive properties from people that work in the casinos," said Gober. "These elected officials want to get rid of 250 homes in a predominately Latino area and replace them with 350 luxury condos." He said of the homes in the area are blighted and the redevelopment project in Ventnor is a "total land grab."

Camden Regional Legal Services Attorney Olga Pomar said the group has great promise to make difference in curbing eminent domain abuse, but remained reserved about the prospect to stop it. "It's still too early to say what can and will be done," said Pomar. "I hope that this group can make people understand the subject better and to disseminate information about how eminent domain abuse happens." She said the lobbying effort by the group will be determined by the political climate of the gubernatorial race in November.

Seidman said the second meeting was a success and groups have been coordinated to start the legal and organizing efforts among the communities. "We've been able to get our efforts focused and now we're looking forward to building a bullhorn that will be heard by our local legislatures," said Seidman. "Our elected officials need to know that residents are not going to take this abuse anymore."

The next meeting for the South Jersey Our Homes organization will be on July 21, at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Inn on the Avenue.

Haddon Herald: www.zwire.com