Eminent domain ruling protects property owners: (Walker MN) Pilot-Independent, 8/17/05

Letters to the Editor
By Jim Miller, League of Minnesota Cities

State Auditor Pat Anderson's recent commentary piece "Minnesota Needs to Restore Fairness to Eminent Domain Power" (Aug. 10, The Pilot-Independent) presents an alarming, but distorted interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent Kelo vs. New London ruling. It is also inaccurate in two very important respects.

Anderson and others assert that the world changed with that ruling; that local governments now have expansive ability to take private property for almost any purpose, with little regard to the owner's rights. In reality, the Court merely reaffirmed long-standing authority to take private property for public purpose, in some instances, by ruling that economic development qualifies as a "public use" under the takings clause of the Constitution. In fact, the ruling is consistent with a number of U.S. Supreme Court and Minnesota Supreme Court decisions rendered over the past several decades. Furthermore, the Court recognized that cities must always have a well-conceived development plan as a basis for exercising eminent domain. In other words, cities cannot decide on a whim to condemn someone's property.

The auditor also claims that local governments determine the compensation property owners receive when their property is taken through the eminent domain process. This implies that property owners can be unfairly compensated for their loss. The exercise of eminent domain demands a highly transparent and judicious process involving open meetings, opportunities for public input and — if necessary — an appeals option. When eminent domain is exercised, just-compensation is rewarded to property owners. What constitutes just-compensation is determined by impartial commissioners or by a jury; not by the city, as Anderson implies.

Historically in our state, eminent domain has been used sparingly as an important economic development and job creation tool that allows cities to respond to community needs, and not as a preferred recourse for "revenue-hungry governments."

In Minnesota, city governments are run by hard-working officials elected by — and accountable to — residents of their local communities. The vast majority of these officials are part-time or full-time businessmen and women, retirees, homemakers, educators and professionals from all walks of life. They are our friends, neighbors and colleagues. They are also homeowners who share with all Americans the value of homeownership.

Rather than aiming to infringe on individual property rights, they work together with constituents to enhance the quality of life in local neighborhoods and communities.

The League of Minnesota Cities believes that this important tool of community development must be preserved. We also recognize that this issue strikes an important chord and deserves more public debate. That debate, however, should be based on the facts, not hyperbole. Over the course of the next legislative session, the League will continue to work with state lawmakers to advance legislation improving the acquisition and eminent domain process in a way that satisfies the needs of local communities and of individual property owners.

Pilot-Independent: www.walkermn.com

League of Minnesota Cities: www.lmnc.org

Washington voters to act on open space, eminent domain issues: New Milford (CT) Spectrum, 8/19/05

By Lynda Wellman

Residents of Washington [CT] will vote at a town meeting next Thursday on a proposed ordinance regarding the taking of private property by eminent domain.

Governments use the power of eminent domain to acquire property needed for public projects but are required to pay fair compensation.

Interest in tightening up eminent domain laws has been sparked of late by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo vs. New London. Many say the court decision is a threat to citizens who own real estate.

In that decision, the Supreme Court sided with the city of New London against homeowners who protested the city’s seizure by eminent domain of property for a private hotel and convention center, office space and condominiums.

New London argued the tax revenue and jobs would benefit the public and, in a 5-4 decision, the high court agreed.

Washington residents will also be asked to vote on a proposed amendment to the town’s Open Space Land Acquisition Fund Ordinance to establish an open space and land acquisition fund.

Thursday’s town meeting will begin at 5 p.m., immediately following the regularly scheduled Board of Selectmen meeting at Bryan Memorial Town Hall.

Eminent domain
Washington officials say the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing a town to take land by eminent domain for private development puts at risk traditional property rights.

The Zoning Commission and Board of Selectmen are asking the public to support the proposed ordinance, which requires that property to be taken by eminent domain meet one of the following criteria:
  • The property is to be owned by the town or an agency of the town, and is to be used or set aside for one or more public facilities, such as, but not limited to, streets, bridges, parkways, sidewalks, rights of way, or other public ways, parks, playgrounds, schools, or public sewer, water or waste disposal or transfer facilities.
  • The property is to be owned by the town and set aside for permanent open space or drainage or erosion control facilities.
  • The property poses a danger to public health or safety as a result of physical deterioration, pollution or contamination, and is to be taken by the town for the purpose of remediating such conditions or minimizing danger to the public.

The proposed ordinance is posted on the town website www.washingtonct.org and is available at the town clerk’s office in Bryan Memorial Town Hall.

New Milford Spectrum: www.spectrum.newmilford.com

Homeowners take eminent domain fight to Capitol: St Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, 8/18/05

By Matt Franck

After months of fighting a $165 million retail development, angry residents of Sunset Hills finally found a government body on Thursday that is sympathetic to their complaints.

But a special panel appointed by Gov. Matt Blunt to study eminent domain laws probably cannot stop the bulldozers. The Sunset Hills project calls for demolishing 254 homes in the Sunset Manor subdivision near Lindbergh Boulevard and Watson Road.

Homeowners from the neighborhood traveled by bus to testify at the Capitol. They complained that city leaders have ignored their objections without putting the issue to voters. They accused developers of pressuring them to sell their homes. Some even wept during the showing of a short film about their neighborhood.

"Our city is ignoring its people and is out of control, and that's why we're here to ask for your help," said Will Aschinger, a spokesman for the group Stop the Sunset Hills Land Grab.

The governor created the Eminent Domain Task Force after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that government can use eminent domain for economic development. Blunt described the decision at the time as a "terrible ruling."

The panel's charge is to recommend legislation to the governor within a few months. But some of the Sunset Hills residents wanted more immediate action. Many called on Blunt to immediately halt all eminent domain in the state.

Jessica Robinson, a spokeswoman for the governor, said that's simply not possible because Blunt "does not have the authority to place a moratorium on eminent domain." Nor, she said, has Blunt voiced a position on the Sunset Hills project.

Robinson said the governor will await the panel's recommendations before saying what legislation he might support.

Among the options that appeared popular among panel members Thursday is limiting the circumstances under which a city or county can deem an area "blighted".

Sen. Chuck Gross, a panel member, said he believes the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision makes it essential for lawmakers to beef up property rights in Missouri statutes. Gross, R-St. Charles, said he may also favor changes to the state constitution.

Other lawmakers said they would introduce bills next year limiting eminent domain authority regardless of what the panel recommends.

The public hearing drew testimony from property owners across the state opposed to development projects.

The hearing kicked off with a presentation in favor of eminent domain by Barbara Geisman, St. Louis deputy mayor for redevelopment. Geisman showed a slide presentation of dilapidated neighborhoods that have been revived thanks to the city's ability to acquire blighted property.

"We can't let one owner stop a project that is wanted and needed by everyone in the city," she said.

Post-Dispatch: www.stltoday.com


Pallone plans legislation to curb eminent domain: Asbury Park Press, 8/17/05

By Keith Brown

U.S. Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr. announced today that he would introduce federal legislation designed to stop the use of eminent domain to seize homes for private development.

Talking over the whir of construction noise from a luxury condominium being built behind him, Pallone announced his intention to draft legislation when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day while standing on the lawn of Carmen and Josephine Vendetti, whose home is one of dozens targeted for seizure under the city's redevelopment plans.

"We cannot allow eminent domain to be used to take private homes to turn them over for private purposes without a legitimate public use,'' Pallone said. "It's a pretty common sense standard and it's incumbent upon us to limit eminent domain to its traditional standards.''

Pallone was surrounded by about 25 neighbors and supporters of the Marine Terrace Ocean Terrace Seaview Avenue Alliance, a group of residents fighting the city's plans to seize property in the three-street neighborhood to further its oceanfront redevelopment plans.

Applauding MTOTSAA's efforts to halt the city's plans, Pallone said the bill he plans to introduce would, essentially, follow Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's dissenting opinion in the Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., case.

The court in June supported the city's right to take private homes in order to push ahead with a private redevelopment plan.

Long Branch has maintained that the Supreme Court decision has no effect on the city's redevelopment plans.

Long Branch did not use economic development provisions as motivation for its oceanfront redevelopment, City Attorney James G. Aaron has said.

Mayor Adam Schneider has said the difference between the Kelo case and Long Branch was significant because in Kelo, officials were not required to prove the area was blighted.

"In New Jersey, we have a higher standard, which we've clearly met,'' Schneider has said of the decision to declare the oceanfront and portions of Broadway "an area in need of redevelopment.'' In those cases, the city had to demonstrate the condition of the buildings were poor, the buildings were functionally obsolete, that there was a significant amount of abandoned or vacant property and that the diversity of ownership would make it difficult for owners to get together to redevelop the community.

Asbury Park Press: www.app.com

Samsung's Domain: Austin (TX) Chronicle, 8/19/05

The city eagerly raises the corporate incentive flag, and we're all expected to salute

By Michael King

By now most Chronicle readers have certainly had a chance to read and review the proposed "Economic Development Agreement" between the city of Austin and Samsung Austin Semiconductor, L.L.C. (most recent available draft dated Aug. 10), to meet with their neighbors and neighborhood associations and discuss the proposal, and to attend the public hearings around town scheduled to address the pros and cons of the deal. No doubt you're all ready to skip work and attend the City Council meeting this morning (Thursday) in order to hear your elected representatives finally discuss the potential merits of committing $58.5 million in a 20-year incentive package to the Korea-based corporation in return for its agreement to invest $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion in a (300-millimeter, OK!) chip-manufacturing plant over the next 10 to 20 years. After that, we can all consult with the Travis Co. Commissioners Court, the governor's office, area school districts, and a whole stream of other public officials just waiting for our democratic input before they determine how deeply they should bow while throwing money (perhaps $200 million in all) at the corporate decision-makers in Seoul.

What? You say you've missed all those public notices and meetings? And you don't remember being asked for your citizen's two cents before the city signs on the dotted line? Maybe that's because, in fact, nobody has asked you – there haven't been any public meetings and discussions of this unprecedented financial commitment, and negotiations between city staff and the company have proceeded in secret for several months prior to the abrupt recent announcement that the package is ready for delivery, as an unassuming "consent" item (No. 8) on this morning's agenda.

Presumably, the council will at least acknowledge that a public giveaway of this size requires a bit of rhetorical lip service before official genuflection. But to judge from the deferential public statements leading up to the ceremony, it's unlikely the members will do more than compete to sing Imperial Samsung's praises and to second the motion that city staff begin drafting the tax rebate checks, posthaste.

Cui Bono?
It's of course arguable that the potential financial return to the city merits the long-term commitment of city resources – 10 years of 100% real and personal property tax rebate, potentially 10 more years of 75% rebate, more than $10 million in infrastructure fee waivers, etc. – that promises 500 new high tech positions, 200 contract employees (i.e., tech migrants), and possibly many more lower-level indirect jobs, albeit in a manufacturing facility that even its rabid supporters acknowledge is likely to have only about 10 years of useful life. But wouldn't it be nice actually to be allowed the debate over this unprecedented public investment, only the most recent and largest in a long string of "economic development" projects still most visibly symbolized by the hulking Intel skeleton looming over Fifth Street, not to mention the underused CSC complex literally surrounding City Hall?

And where is it written that the future economic vitality of Central Texas should be determined by a private tyranny headquartered 5,000 miles away, holding a competition in which the rules are fixed and the victory goes to the community most willing to mortgage its financial future, its democratic principles, and its workers to the whims of unknown and unaccountable corporate bosses?

Samsung's corporate Seoul men have not actually committed to building the plant in Austin – and in fact announced this week that they plan to make China their new "global research and development center," so we shouldn't be counting any Korean chickens – but Austin officials have been told by local management that they insist on having "agreements in place" before they choose between Austin, China, Germany, and perhaps the dark side of the moon. In this global race to the bottom constructed by international capital, that puts the cart firmly in front of the horse – people and communities are in abject service to the corporate economy and the financial priorities of its unelected masters, and never the other way around.

And in other news this week, according to the Korean Times, the Samsung Group of companies is under investigation for alleged bribery of government officials and ostensibly competing presidential candidates.

Everybody Sing!
Also this week, the state Legislature failed to devise an adequate, constitutionally required public school finance plan – largely because the legislators' corporate sponsors refuse to pay their fair share of the expense. They did, however, amid much grandiose rhetoric, manage to enact a bill barring the government from using its eminent domain powers for purposes of economic development – stopping long enough to carve out a crucial exception for Jerry Jones' Dallas Cowboys, who are in the process of planning a state-sponsored football palace in Arlington, where corporate box-owners can continue to enjoy their largely tax-exempted entertainment at public expense. No doubt somebody reminded them that the Texas Rangers had received a similar beneficence in Arlington some time ago, riding roughshod over local property owners, and thereby underwriting the personal fortune of our current, independently "entrepreneurial" president.

It's all very heartwarming.

So by all means, give away the public store to Samsung, don't examine the numbers too rigorously, don't inquire too closely into the company's international political intrigue, and certainly don't subject these Global Titans of Industry to any of the messier details of representative government and participatory democracy. Since we're competing with China, for god's sake, maybe we can outlaw unions and political dissent and the minimum wage while we're at it – they'll really like us then.

But if and when the deal is done, and the handshakes-and-Champagne ceremonies commence, kindly spare us the Oppel-ian editorializing and speechifying about "free trade" and "the free market" and "entrepreneurial independence" and all the other sanctimonious bilge about protecting the little guys from the overbearing hand of Big Government. It's all a pack of condescending lies, and we're tired of being expected to sing in the chorus.

Welcome to Samsung's Eminent Domain. You too can be a happy sharecropper on the corporate plantation.

Austin Chronicle: www.austinchronicle.com

Supervisors back eminent domain ordinance: Mt Shasta (CA) News, 8/17/05

By John Diehm

The Siskiyou County Supervisors overwhelmingly adopted the Greenhorn Grange proposed "Homeowners and Property Protection Ordinance" Tuesday of last week with a 5-0 voice vote, bringing it back for a first reading in September as is and providing letters of support for state amendments to protect property owners.

Approval was given following a session of public comment that included a visit from Assembly member Doug LaMalfa and Senator Sam Aanestad's aid, Nadine Bailey, who both spoke in support of the ordinance.

LaMalfa also had a breakfast meeting in Yreka with supporters of the protective ordinance prior to the supervisors' 10 a.m. public meeting. LaMalfa is the author of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 22, an amendment to the state constitution to limit eminent domain takings in the state.

The proposed county ordinance is in response to the United States Supreme Court Kelo v. City of New London decision that allowed the eminent domain seizure of private property for private profit.

Called "The Homeowners and Property Protection Ordinance," the proposed county ordinance is intended to restrict the eminent domain seizure of private property to public use only, require judicial review, provide just compensation for such seizure, and give the property owners or heirs the right to reclaim the property if it ever ceases as public use.

Greenhorn Grange 384 Master Leo Bergeron reviewed the proposed ordinance, saying the "public benefit" interpretation is too broad and violates the intent of the U.S. Constitution.

"This ordinance is a duplication of the state constitutional amendment," Bergeron said. "We need a county ordinance because amending the state constitution is a lengthy process and this will avoid abuse while the state constitutional amendment is in process."

Siskiyou County counsel Frank DeMarco said the New London case gave the decision to the local government of the city and tried to maintain public scrutiny. He said the intent of the decision was to say that local government has the right to set its own limits on eminent domain.

"The city had a redevelopment plan that went through the public process and the federal judges said it was valid," DeMarco said. "This ordinance is not most appropriate in Siskiyou County, but it is a step you have the right to take."

LaMalfa said the Supreme Court decision caused outrage across the country, expanding the scope of eminent domain from what the original founders of the U.S. Constitution intended.

"Thank you that Siskiyou County is taking a lead role in the state with this amendment," LaMalfa said. "We have received the endorsement of Orange County, showing the diversity of thought behind this effort."

Talking about the mechanics of getting ACA 22 passed, LaMalfa said it requires a two-thirds vote of both houses to place an initiative on the ballot for a voter simple majority approval.

"We hope for the November special election ballot but it is a long shot," LaMalfa said. "We have a four day window from August 14 to 19 to get that approval. It is more likely we will see it on the June 2006 ballot."

LaMalfa said the amendment is needed because the state has already seen some abuses in eminent domain seizures.

"We are seeing many examples of abuse of this where developers are using the public benefit excuse to seize property," LaMalfa said. "In the city of Cypress a church was under the gun so a large box retailer could come in and generate more sales tax dollars. The lesson is, we need to have a willing seller in the process."

Nadine Bailey, on behalf of Senator Aanestad, thanked the county for supporting private property rights. "If we allow this to stand unchecked, every property owner is at risk of government's power," she said.

The proposed county ordinance received bipartisan support with numerous speakers, including Eric Ziller, president of the Democratic Central committee.

Voicing Democratic support for the ordinance, Ziller said eminent domain abuse actually started in 1964 with the giving of permission for its use to eliminate "blight" in cities.

"This shift will always benefit the wealthy," Ziller said. "But the court is unwilling to violate local control so it is important to exercise it."

Jim McDaniel of Mount Shasta, a deputy for the California State Grange, said he never saw an issue that united everyone like this one.

"We are urging all local granges to have an ordinance such as this one," McDaniel said. "This goes way beyond politics; this unites us all."

Supervisor Bill Overman said he once lived in New London and feels this is an abuse of power.

"I see a steady erosion of private property rights," Overman said. "It is time we say this is enough folks. Although it is not what we ordinarily do, these are unusual circumstances. Today we are all on the same page and I endorse it."

Supervisor Marcia Armstrong said government is a delegation of authority from the people, and she strongly favors putting this into law.

Supervisor Bill Hoy said the issue is old news to him.

"In 1972 a government agency person sat in my parents' living room saying we are crazy to think we own the ranch, that the government actually owns it and we pay rent in property tax," Hoy said. "I agree that eminent domain is out of line in some cases, but we must not lose sight of the fact that when used properly with consideration it can benefit the landowner and general public."

Supervisor Jim Cook said he worked at a development group that once considered eminent domain.

Mt Shasta News: www.mtshastanews.com

Kolkhorst praises eminent domain bill passage: Brenham (TX) Banner-Press, 8/18/05

Rep. Lois W. Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) praised a measure to restrict government's power of eminent domain, which won legislative approval and is now headed to the desk of Gov. Rick Perry.

The House version of the Senate bill, joint authored by Kolkhorst with Rep. Beverly Wooley (R-Houston) and Rep. Frank Corte (R-San Antonio), included an amendment by Kolkhorst which added additional limits to state government's power of eminent domain, including tighter restrictions over state transportation projects in relation to ancillary facilities.

The legislation was passed in order to bar government from seizing land strictly for commercial purposes. Perry, who added the eminent domain issue to the agenda of the special session on school finance, has the power to sign or veto legislation, or to allow it to become law without his signature.

"The passage of the eminent domain bill is victory for all property owners and Texans who believe in private property rights," said Kolkhorst. "As disappointed as I am about the stalemate over school finance and the lowering of property taxes, this bill carries equal weight to Texans who are concerned about the sanctity of the landowner.

"I've fought to lower property taxes for the same reason I've fought protect Texans from eminent domain abuses. All of our freedoms flow from our ability to own property."

In June, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Kelo v. The City of New London,allowing the city to condemn a neighborhood of private homes in order to make way for a planned research facility and upscale residences and retail stores.

The decision affirms that local governments can force property owners to sell to make way for private economic development when government officials decide it would benefit the public, even if the property is not blighted, and the new project's success is not guaranteed.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court left the issue up to individual states to address the issue, which has prompted an abundance of negative reactions and concerns.

Texas lawmakers worked quickly last week to advance a bill to restrict local governments from seizing private land for the promotion of economic development.

The original Senate bill banned governmental entities from using eminent domain to enable a private party to profit. Last week, the House passed an amended version of the bill on a 140-1 vote.

The House measure still allows eminent domain for more conventional uses, such as acquiring land for flood control, railroads, ports, airports and public roads.

The House version of the bill does not specifically address the Trans-Texas Corridor, but an amendment added by Kolkhorst prohibits the Texas Department of Transportation from using eminent domain to acquire land for highway "ancillary facilities," such as restaurants, hotels or similar commercial facilities, which have been discussed as part of the planned Trans-Texas Corridor.

"The goal of the amendment was to say you can't use the power of eminent domain to take land out of the hands of the private land owner in order to profit the government or a third party using the government's power," Kolkhorst said.

"The highway department can still negotiate with landowners to buy land for an ancillary facility if they choose, but this bill prohibits the use of eminent domain to simply grab it."

Ancillary facilities is a function that has traditionally been left to free enterprise, she said, like the private development of businesses lining today's current Texas interstates.

The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor includes controversial plans to build restaurants, hotels and convenience stores along statewide toll roads linking Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

David Stall, founder of a citizen's group known as CorridorWatch.org, which opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor, praised the bill and Kolkhorst's amendment.

"Sen. Kyle Janek filed SB7 and a handful of representatives did their best to make the good bill even better, especially Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, who added an amendment restricting the Transportation Commission from using eminent domain to acquire property for revenue generating ancillary facilities," Stall wrote in a prepared statement to its members.

Brenham Banner-Press: www.brenhambanner.com

California Eminent Domain Alert: The Sham of SCA 12: Positive Liberty, 8/18/05

By Timothy Sandefur

California State Senator Tom McClintock introduced an amendment to the state constitution (SCA 15) to forbid government from using eminent domain to take property from people and give it to other private owners.

Senator Tom Torlakson has introduced a measure (SCA 12) designed to stop McClintock’s bill, by proving an illusion of protection. It’s a fraud.

SCA 12 adds only the following sentence to the state Constitution: “Public use does not include the taking of owner-occupied residential property for private use.”

Now, first of all, Torlakson’s bill would only protect residential property. It would do nothing to protect businesses, like Ahmad Mesdaq’s Gran Havana Cigar Factory in San Diego, a non-blighted, upscale cigar store and coffee shop, which was condemned earlier this year to make way for a hotel. That would still be permitted under Torlakson’s bill. His bill would do nothing to protect farms, or doctor’s offices, or tire shops in Oakland.

Also, Torlakson’s bill would only protect owner-occupied homes. So people in apartment buildings would not be protected — neither their renters nor their owners. Government could still condemn apartment buildings, or rented homes, and build Costcos and Ikeas and Home Depots there.

Finally, Torlakson’s bill doesn’t bother to define the terms “public use” or “private use.” The problem is that the current eminent domain law already says you can’t condemn property for private use. If you asked Justice Stevens, he would say that the Kelo case doesn’t allow takings for private use. The problem is that they have defined “public use” in such a way as to allow private takings.

Torlakson’s SCA 12 is a fraud, designed to fool people into thinking something has been done. It should be stopped.

Positive Liberty: http://positiveliberty.com


Commission resolution opposes eminent domain: Rapid City (SD) Journal, 8/17/05

By Scott Aust

The Pennington County Commission on Tuesday approved a resolution in support of protecting private property rights.

Based on a similar resolution approved by the Sully County Commission, the resolution states that the commission believes the original concept of the framers of the Constitution was to use the power of eminent domain "only as a last resort to acquire private property for a public project and that any such public project can be demonstrated to be necessary to accomplish the general welfare of the citizens."

The move is a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that local governments can seize people's homes and businesses and give the property to private developers for economic development projects.

The 5-4 decision expanded local governments' ability to take property for public purposes under eminent domain.

In late June, the county commission vowed never to take private property to benefit private developers but didn't take a vote.

The resolution approved Tuesday states that any departure from the original principle of eminent domain is an "assault on our basic foundations of liberty and a threat to the rights of private property ownership."

The resolution urges the state Legislature to use all means necessary to strengthen the original purpose of the rights of eminent domain within the state constitution.

"As you know, there's probably a move on by legislators to pass a law in the state that would restrict, once and for all, the eminent domain principles," Ron Buskerud, administrative assistant, said. "This would be affirmation by the commission that the Legislature should go ahead and do something like that."

Rapid City Journal: www.rapidcityjournal.com

N.H. eminent domain law under scrutiny: Foster's Online (Dover NH), 8/17/05

By Colin Manning

Does the state need to merely strengthen existing state law, or move forward with a constitutional amendment to further protect private property owners' rights in eminent domain proceedings?

This is the question lawmakers are wrestling with but one thing at this early stage is becoming clear: Something needs to be done.

"Doing nothing is not a good option," Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, said Tuesday.

Two panels — one in the House and one in the Senate — are grappling with the issue of eminent domain in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the taking of private land for private development.

Both panels met Tuesday to discuss whether legislation is needed to close any "loopholes" which allow the taking of private land for private developers' use, as was the case in New London, Conn., which led to the controversial Supreme Court ruling.

The Senate task force received advice from its legal counsel on Tuesday morning.

"Private property is put on the same level as the right to a trial by jury," said counsel Richard Lehmann. "The question you have to answer is to what extent do you want to limit public taking."

Lehmann drafted some language which would specifically define a "public use" in state statutes and limit taking by eminent domain to that specific language.

Panel member Sen. David Gottesman, D-Nashua, questioned how specific the language should be, citing economically depressed areas like Claremont which may want to develop private land in order to build economic development. Gottesman warned that the Legislature should not impede such development, which could be vital to a community's survival.

Gottesman added, "I don't think there's any one of us that wants to take private property."

Sen. Robert Clegg said he does not want to see municipalities begin to use eminent domain as a threat as land becomes less and less available to develop in the southern tier.

While earlier discussions of the task force focused on a constitutional amendment, Clegg said the group should focus on legislation which will bring about immediate change, seeing as an amendment needs the approval of two-thirds of the state's voters.

"I'd like to see what we can come up with in statute and then see how or if it fits with a constitutional amendment. I'd like to accomplish one first and see if it can lead to the other," Clegg said.

Article 12 of the state constitution states, "no part of a man's property shall be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of the representative body of the people."

Sen. Peter Burling, D-Cornish, said he is concerned that eminent domain is being used for political payback against two justices — both of whom own property in New Hampshire — who ruled in New London's favor.

The N.H. Libertarian Party is asking Plainfield to use eminent domain to take Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's vacation home for use as a park. Meanwhile, party activists have begun an effort to get the town of Weare to seize Justice David Souter's home.

Clegg said those who are making a move to seize the justices' homes know they will not succeed.

"I don't think those from the Libertarian Party or the conservative Republicans would vote to take that land. They know it's wrong and that's why they're upset in the first place," Clegg said.

In the afternoon, the House panel heard from several legal experts regarding the eminent domain issue.

Former N.H. Supreme Court Justice Chuck Douglas urged the House panel to find a way to prevent private land takings like the one in Connecticut, known as the Kelo case.

"Mrs. Kelo is going to lose her property so someone, probably from New York City, can come in and buy a half-million dollar condo. That is wrong," Douglas said.

Manchester lawyer Eugene Van Loan also urged lawmakers to clarify the law. However, Van Loan said lawmakers should not make the language so tight that it bars urban renewal projects.

But Douglas said making exceptions can lead to problems.

"When you start picking favorites, you're going to get into politics, money and influence," he said.

Foster's Online: www.citizen.com

Texas Limits the Use of Eminent Domain: Texas Association of Realtors, 8/17/05

Press release

Legislators Protect Texans' Private Property Rights

Tuesday Texas lawmakers guaranteed private property owners state-level protection from eminent domain for private profit. The Texas Senate officially accepted House amendments to SB7, which restricts local governments from using their eminent domain authority to take privately owned properties for the purpose of turning them over to retail, industrial or residential developers.

The Texas House of Representatives added amendments to SB7, clarifying intent and strengthening the bill, to help protect individuals from egregious abuses of eminent domain. The bill will now be sent to Gov. Perry, which he is expected to sign.

June's decision by the Supreme Court in Kelo vs. City of New London expanded the powers of local governments granting them the right to seize homes, small businesses, churches and other property, and replace them with anything that brings in higher tax revenues. Widespread and nearly unanimous public outrage sparked a grass-roots uprising across Texas. Private property advocate groups, including the Texas Association of Realtors(R), asked Gov. Perry to add the issue to the current legislative agenda.

"Texans across the state mobilized, and Gov. Perry responded swiftly," said Lance Lacy, chairman of the 70,000-member Texas Association of Realtors(R). "The right to own and use real property is a bedrock principle for Texans and the Texas Association of Realtors(R). We are pleased that our political leaders defended our private property rights."

Texas is the third state in two months to pass a law prohibiting local governments from using the power of eminent domain to increase tax revenues. Lawmakers in at least 31 states have introduced or plan to introduce eminent domain legislation in future sessions.

Federal lawmakers have also moved to restrict the use of eminent domain. Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Wisconsin Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., introduced legislation in Congress that would prohibit federal funding for projects involving aggressive seizures of private property for economic purposes. Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla is also pressing for withholding federal assistance for development from local municipalities that abuse eminent domain.

Texas Association of Realtors: www.TexasRealEstate.com

Hoosier lawmakers consider eminent domain restrictions: Decatur (IN) Daily Democrat, 8/17/05


By Andrea Neal

Long before the Supreme Court's explosive ruling to expand the reach of eminent domain, Rep. David A. Wolkins had crafted a bill to limit Indiana government's ability to take private property.

In its earliest form, HB 1063 would have barred local and state entities from condemning private property and then turning it over to private developers for commercial use.

The measure went through several rewritings before lawmakers voted to send the issue to a study committee. Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, will serve as chairman of the Interim Committee on Eminent Domain, which met for the first time at 1 p.m. Aug. 10 in the Indiana Government Center South.

"I've always been a private property rights person, ever since I've been in the legislature," says Wolkins, whose interest in the topic was piqued after "60 Minutes" aired a show in 2004 on the use — or misuse — of eminent domain around the country.

What would have been a typical ho-hum summer committee now promises fireworks, thanks to the Supreme Court's June 23 opinion in Kelo v. City of New London.

The 5-4 ruling let officials in New London, Conn. take older homes along the city's waterfront for a private developer who plans to build offices, a hotel and convention center. In the court's view, the land grab qualified as a permissible "public use."

The decision lit a fire under what had been a slowly-boiling public. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Americans said they were now more concerned about private property rights than right-to-die and abortion issues. Lawmakers in 21 states have announced plans or introduced bills to curb eminent domain abuse at the state level. In Washington, both House and Senate are considering bills to prevent the federal government from using eminent domain for private development.

Eminent domain is government's right to take someone's property for important public purposes, such as roads, prisons and utility rights-of-way. It's a long-standing tool used by government, but it is limited by the Fifth Amendment which says private property can be taken only for "public use" and only if the owners are justly compensated.

In recent years, the meaning of public use has expanded to include revitalization initiatives and to allow for construction of quasi-public facilities like football and baseball stadiums. Critics say the New London ruling has opened the floodgates for virtually any economic development project, even those whose only purpose is to maximize land use to increase tax revenues.

In fact, that's been happening for years. Among the stories on the "60 Minutes" show that incensed Wolkins: Lakewood, Ohio, was forcing a retired couple to sell a beautiful home looking over the Rocky River — one of 55 such houses targeted — to make way for a high-end condo development and shopping mall.

In April 2003, the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm, issued a report on the use of eminent domain in the 50 states from Jan. 1, 1998 through Dec. 31, 2002. The report concluded that eminent domain had become a tool of choice for projects that could only loosely be described as "public use," such as corporate relocation incentive packages.

"Indiana is growing more aggressive in its use of eminent domain to benefit private parties," the report noted. Examples included the condemnation of an unoccupied home — after the owner refused to sell — to make way for housing redevelopment project in the Fall Creek neighborhood in Indianapolis and the acquisition of a private parking garage in downtown Indianapolis to accommodate another private developer.

Wolkins said it's unlikely his committee would choose to impose an outright ban on commercial use of eminent domain, which some states are contemplating, but will undoubtedly want to tighten up Indiana law. As it now stands, government can take property for private development here if it meets the definition of blighted, a slightly different scenario than the New London and Lakewood cases whose main purpose was generating more tax dollars. Among other objectives, Wolkins would like to guarantee property owners receive a premium price when forced to sell for economic development.

Not everyone thinks change is necessary. Local officials cite eminent domain as their best tool for cleaning up run-down areas that property owners have refused to maintain.

The discussion before the committee will boil down to this: When does public interest trump property rights? Wolkins intends to have an answer in time for the 2006 session.

Daily Democrat: www.decaturdailydemocrat.com

Andrea Neal, former editorial page editor of the Indianapolis Star, is adjunct scholar and columnist with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation: aneal@inpolicy.org

Filibuster fails to stop eminent domain limit: Houston (TX) Chronicle, 8/17/05

Lawmaker's UH arguments leave some baffled

By Polly Ross Hughes

Sen. Mario Gallegos so strongly opposes a bill limiting government powers of eminent domain that he tried to kill it with a 2 1/2 -hour filibuster Tuesday.

His attempt failed, but it left fellow senators and even Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst scratching their heads.

"I don't know. I don't know," Dewhurst said about what motivated Gallegos.

Gallegos, a Houston Democrat, complained during floor debate that wording added by the Texas House to save a hamburger restaurant "affects my district!"

The amendment by Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, prohibits universities from using eminent domain powers to take land for a "lodging facility" or a parking garage to accommodate it.

It originally only applied to the University of Texas, which wanted to seize the land of Player's restaurant, owned by Oliveira's cousin, to build a parking garage for a proposed conference center and hotel.

Oliveira later expanded the amendment to include all universities, arguing that state-supported schools should not be in the business of competing with privately owned hotels operating in the free market.

Gallegos said he thinks the restriction is unfair to the University of Houston-Downtown, just in case the Hilton Hotel decides three years from now that it wants to run a hotel-restaurant management project downtown as it does on the university's main campus. "I do not like the amendment. Rene Oliveira's amendment denies them that right," he said.

Dewhurst said Gallegos first told him it was the city of Houston that opposed the eminent domain bill, but bill sponsor Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, told Dewhurst that Houston Mayor Bill White does not oppose it.

"Then it was the University of Houston was opposing the bill," he said of his conversation with Gallegos. "So I said, 'Fine, let's get the president of the University of Houston on the phone.'

"Then he said, 'No, it was the developers.' "

UH spokesman Eric Gerber said the school was not concerned about the bill's eminent domain limits on its future downtown development.

"Officially, no, University of Houston doesn't have a horse in that race," Gerber said.

Senate Bill 7, with the amendment, was approved and sent to the governor Tuesday afternoon.

Houston Chronicle: www.chron.com

Eminent domain decision irks farmers: Hollister (CA) Free Lance, 8/16/05

By Brett Rowland

Some San Benito County farmers and ranchers are concerned about the implications of a recent Supreme Court ruling in a major eminent domain case and are hoping they won’t be directly affected.

In Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court ruled June 23 that the city of New London followed Connecticut law when it took private property using eminent domain procedures and handed it over to New London Development Corporation, a private entity controlled by the city government. The court ruled public use could encompass economic development, even private development, so long as it avails a public purpose.

Previously, the use of eminent domain had been restricted to the taking of private property for public use, like building a road.

One California Legislator has decided to do something to protect farmers from abuse of the new ruling.

State Senator Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta) announced August 3 that he had amended a routine transportation bill he had previously introduced, Senate Bill 1099. The new language would preclude local government in California from exercising the power of eminent domain for the purpose of transferring ownership of private farms, which he considers vital to the state’s economy, to non-public entities or for non-public use.

“There is too much at stake to leave our valuable farmlands vulnerable to government entities that are always looking for more taxes to fuel more spending,” Hollingsworth said in a press release last week. “It’s important that we do what we can to protect the most vulnerable properties, family farms.”

The bill is in the hands of the Senate Rules Committee waiting for a committee assignment, which would most likely be to the Senate Agriculture Committee. A vote on the bill may could come next January. Hollingsworth has also co-authored a state constitutional amendment that would protect all private property from the impact of the Kelo decision.

Assemblyman Simon Salinas (D-Salinas) said he had not yet had time to look at the recently amended bill proposed by Hollingsworth. Salinas didn’t know if the same situation that occurred in Connecticut could ever happen in California, because the states have different laws.

“We need to look at it and see if it makes any sense and applies to California,” Salinas said. “We need to see if there is a need for such legislation.”

Local farmer Joe Tonascia said the Supreme Court decision was “absolutely wrong.” Tonascia understands when eminent domain procedures are used to acquire private property for public use. However, he believes it is quite different when private property is taken from one person and given to another.

“It’s scary how far (the decision) can reach,” Tonascia said. “It’s going to affect a lot of people.” He had not heard of Hollingsworth’s bill, but said he would support any bill that protects private property.

County Supervisor Anthony Botelho, an apple grower and large land-owner, said he could never imagine participating in eminent domain procedures that would take land from a private owner in order to hand it over to another private owner. He believes such action can be entirely avoided by scrupulous planning.

“That was a very unfortunate decision,” Botelho said. “And I hope that it hasn’t put San Benito County farmers at risk.”

California Farm Bureau Federation media spokesperson Dave Kranz said the organization was upset by the Kelo v. New London decision and has concerned expanded eminent domain powers would put local farmers at risk.

“We were very disappointed by that ruling,” he said. Kranz had not yet looked at Hollingsworth’s bill.

Following the Supreme Court decision, several federal and state legislators have taken action which they hope will benumb the impact of the high court’s decision on local farmers. In June U.S. Senator John Cornyn, (R-TX), introduced legislation aimed at limiting the use of eminent domain for economic development.

Hollister Free Lance: http://hollisterfreelance.com

Eminent domain — unpopular, profitable: Witchita (KS) Eagle, 8/15/05

State lawmakers to take up the issue this fall

By Steve Painter

Farm groups and other property rights advocates are pushing lawmakers to protect residents from local governments that want to seize land in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this summer.

The court's 5-4 ruling upheld a move by the city of New London, Conn., to buy several properties from unwilling sellers to enable the construction of a large redevelopment project that would include a pharmaceutical research facility, a hotel, upscale housing, shops and restaurants.

More than two dozen states are considering laws to protect residents from local governments that want to force them to sell land to developers.

Kansas lawmakers plan to study the issue during interim committee meetings this fall.

The Supreme Court ruling worries those who think their property may be in the path of economic development.

"I don't think it's right for one individual to walk up to you and say, 'I want your land because I can do something bigger and better,' " said Kelly Williamson.

Her family's ranch in eastern Cowley County would be flooded if a lake that has been proposed were built.

It worries her that the idea is being kept alive in the Visioneering Wichita process.

"It concerns me greatly, and it makes me angry," she said.

Kansas law allows local governments to take land to create jobs, clean up blighted areas and expand the tax base. That seizure power, called eminent domain, is most often used for public works projects such as roads.

In recent years, the city of Wichita has rarely used eminent domain for economic development.

"We avoid it like the plague," said Allen Bell, the city's economic development director.

But the tool remains important for urban redevelopment, he said, and could become a factor in developing retail, restaurant and hotel space near the downtown arena.

Other cities across the state have used eminent domain more extensively. The Washington-based Institute for Justice counts Kansas among the three states in which governments are most likely to forcibly buy property from one private owner to transfer it to another.

Missouri and New York are the other two, said Bert Gall, a lawyer with the institute, which assisted the New London landowners in their appeal.

"In those three states, pretty much anything goes," he said.

Among the incidents the group cites is the city of Merriam's decision in 1998 to condemn a used-car lot so that a BMW dealer could expand.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, would like to see restrictions on eminent domain, although he contends that is unlikely to pass.

"Realistically, I think our goal is to set the bar very, very high," he said. Schmidt may co-sponsor a bill with Sen. Greta Goodwin, D-Winfield, who represents property owners in the area of the proposed lake.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is not convinced the law needs to be changed.

"Quite honestly, I don't think there's anything wrong with Kansas law," he said. "I think there's something wrong with the way some governmental entities use the law."

An economic boon
Wyandotte County used eminent domain to obtain some of the more than 120 houses and properties occupied by what is now the Kansas Speedway and the adjoining Village West shopping, dining and lodging development.

Few would question the results from an economic development standpoint.

The 1,400-acre district attracts 12 million visitors a year.

More than 3,000 people have jobs in Village West, and another 75 work full time at the race track.

Property that formerly generated $230,000 a year in taxes now generates $6.3 million, even with a 20 percent drop in the mill levy since 1997.

The surrounding area is experiencing a 40-year high in residential construction.

"We were a dying community," said Don Denney, spokesman for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan. "This has exceeded everybody's expectations."

But it came at the price of uprooting several hundred people. Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, considers that move one of the state's darkest hours.

Although the city came to terms with about three-fourths of the property owners, the rest were forced into selling. Many could not find housing they could afford in the area, Haley said, even though a law passed for the project required that residents be paid 25 percent above appraised value.

"The rich got richer, and the original landowners got thrown off their land," he said. "It's unconscionable."

A legal challenge ended with the Kansas Supreme Court upholding the property acquisitions.

States rush to clarify
Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision was issued June 23, the Alabama Legislature has met in special session to prohibit using eminent domain to acquire property for developers.

More than two dozen states are considering similar measures.

"To take property away for economic development flies in the face of our democratic form of government," said Steve Baccus, president of Kansas Farm Bureau. He said the group will pressure lawmakers this fall for action to block forced property sales.

Donna Martin, whose Cowley County property lies at the upper end of the proposed lake, said even the prospect of losing property caused an economic slump in her area.

"Nobody wanted to build fences. Nobody wanted to buy new equipment," she said.

But after a state agency declined to fund a feasibility study for the lake last year, she said, residents took renewed interest in reviving their economy.

Three buildings are being remodeled to be bed-and-breakfasts. The Williamsons are preparing to open a weekend chuckwagon dinner business.

The message they hope to send, Martin said, is that the region is economically viable just as it is.

Schmidt, the Senate majority leader, agrees with the principle.

"Individuals have a right to say no to powerful entities, whether it's government or whether it's business," he said.

Wichita Eagle: www.kansas.com

Legislators address eminent domain concerns: (Waco TX) Tribune-Herald, 8/15/05

By Matt Joyce

Texas lawmakers worked quickly last week under the banner of private property rights to advance a bill to restrict local governments from seizing private land for the promotion of economic development.

Gov. Rick Perry added the eminent domain issue Wednesday to the agenda for the Texas Legislature's second special session, which ends Friday.

“The Supreme Court in its ruling opened a new door that the governor believes should be closed,” Perry spokesman Robert Black said. “The good news is that within its ruling, the Supreme Court allows state legislators to act to close that door.”

In the case of Kelo v. the city of New London, Conn. – the case that prompted the proposed law – the Supreme Court ruled that a city was justified in seizing property from homeowners and transferring the land to developers if it would result in higher tax revenues for the government.

On Wednesday night, the state Senate voted 25-4 on a bill written by Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, that would ban governmental entities from using eminent domain to enable a private party to profit.

On Thursday, the House passed a similar amended version of the bill on a 140-1 vote.

The measure still allows eminent domain for more conventional uses, such as acquiring land for flood control, railroads, ports, airports and public roads. It also allows the use of eminent domain for sports and community venue projects approved by voters at an election held before Dec. 1 this year, thereby protecting the city of Arlington's condemnation of homes for a new Dallas Cowboys stadium.

The House version of the bill does not specifically address the Trans-Texas Corridor, but an amendment added by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, prohibits the Texas Department of Transportation from using eminent domain to acquire land for highway “ancillary facilities,” such as gas stations or convenience stores.

“The goal of the amendment was to say you can't use eminent domain,” Kolkhorst said Friday. “(The highway department) can still negotiate with landowners (to buy land for ancillary facilities) if they still choose.”

But that is a function that has traditionally been left to free enterprise, she said, like the private development of businesses lining Texas interstates.

The amended bill now heads back to the state Senate, which is scheduled to take up the issue today. State senators have the option of approving the House measure wholesale, but if they choose to modify the House version in any way, the bill would move into a conference committee made up of senators and representatives to hash out the differences.

“From a practical standpoint, it's late enough in the session that it's highly likely we will be concurring, because there's not enough time for a conference committee,” said Casey Haney, a legislative aide to Janek.

McLennan County legislators Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, and Reps. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, and Doc Anderson, R-Waco, each voted for the bills.

Pointing to the example of Arlington's pursuit of private property to make way for a football stadium, Dunnam said he thinks the eminent domain law is necessary.

“I think we had to do something to address the situation that happened in New England, and I think that we had been and would be headed down the path they were – taking people's property to build a Wal-Mart,” Dunnam said.

Pending Senate approval, the bill then would head to Perry's desk for his approval or veto. Black said it was premature to say whether Perry would approve the bill.

“I think we need to see what the Senate is going to do,” Black said.

Tribune-Herald: www.wacotrib.com

Eminent domain delay makes sense: (Willoughby OH) News-Herald, 8/15/05


With taxpayer dollars spent daily to investigate the financial fiasco at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation and an ethics investigation swirling around Gov. Bob Taft, it's difficult to imagine more important state business.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, created an issue with its recent eminent domain decision. It has the undivided attention of several state lawmakers - and many Ohioans.

Eminent domain gives government the right to seize private property for a public purpose, like the construction of roads, while providing "just compensation."
The justices ruled in June in the Kelo vs. New London, Conn, case that government can take private property for a private purpose. Years earlier, the court ruled government can seize private property to rid itself from "urban blight."

State Sen. Timothy J. Grendell wants the General Assembly to enact a statewide temporary moratorium on eminent domain. The bill he authored, Senate Bill 167, also establishes a legislative task force to make recommendations to lawmakers on this issue.

The Republican from Chester Township and other lawmakers believe Ohio must reaffirm what is perceived as endangered private property rights stemming from the court decision.

"We have to move quickly to protect the private property rights of Ohioans," Grendell said.

He is correct. The moratorium will allow state legislators to take their time to carefully weigh all facets of this difficult issue.

Lawmakers must examine all aspects of eminent domain since its potential for abuse is questioned by many Ohioans in light of the high court decision.

The idea that government can seize private property for another private purpose has stirred the emotions of many Americans. For example, the selectmen of Weare, N.H., which is where U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter lives, rejected the request by a California entrepreneur to seize Souter's farm to build the "Lost Liberty Hotel," according to several reports.

That fever-pitch response hasn't struck Ohio.

Lawmakers must perform their due diligence with thoughtful deliberation and develop a measured response - if they do anything at all.

The moratorium will give them the time they need.

The News-Herald: www.zwire.com

Bills aim to limit the practice in NY: Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, 8/15/05

By Amanda Erickson

At this time last year, Martin Goldman wondered if he would still be in the department store he owned at Christmas.

Threatened that the Yonkers city government might use eminent domain to buy his land for a minor league baseball stadium, Goldman worried that he would be forced to abandon his store, C.H. Martin.

He fought back. He hired a lawyer, went to court and secured promises from the Yonkers City Council that his property will not be condemned.

In short, his business has become a property owner success story. But had he begun his case today, he might not have been so lucky.

The debate over eminent domain, or government's right to take property, has intensified since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that broadened that power. The court ruled that the city of New London, Conn., could use eminent domain to acquire 90 acres of private waterfront property for commercial and residential development.

The apparent expansion of governmental power came in the court's rationale. New London wasn't taking the property for a public project, the traditional reason for employing eminent domain. Instead, the property will be used for private development — development that will generate more tax revenue for the city than the current use generates.

The ruling came as a wake-up call to New York legislators, who have since introduced several bills to limit government's ability to take property.

Debra Cohen, the lawyer who represented Goldman in his case against Yonkers, said New York's record on private property rights has never been encouraging from the property owner's point of view.

"New York has been such an eminent-domain-friendly state over the past several years that the (Supreme Court ruling) has only reaffirmed the status quo," she said.

From 1998 to 2002, 146 requests for private property condemnation were filed or threatened in New York state, according to a study done by the Castle Coalition, a property rights advocacy group.

"New York is one of the worst states in the country in terms of legislation that protects against eminent domain," said Bert Gall, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm based in Washington, D.C., that works on property rights.

Legislators are hoping to address the situation next year.

Senate Minority Leader David Paterson, D-Manhattan, has called on Gov. George Pataki to impose a moratorium on eminent domain until January. A Pataki spokesman said he would consider it.

"We want to put this in place as soon as possible to prevent (the court decision) from having any effect on people until the Legislature comes back," said Paterson spokesman Fernando Aqino.

Other legislators are looking to change the laws on eminent domain permanently. One measure, introduced by Sen. Carl Marcellino, R-Nassau County, would require a government to prove that an area is blighted, or physically deteriorating, before condemning it.

Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, has proposed similar legislation, which would limit eminent domain for public purposes only.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, Westchester County, has taken a different tack. He has proposed increasing the time that citizens have to appeal a condemnation from 30 to 90 days and creating a state commission to examine the issue.

Pataki spokesman Saleem Cheeks said that while the governor had no comment on the bills, he strongly supports property owners' rights.

But some aren't sure strict limits to eminent domain are the best way to go.

Land "should not necessarily be automatically precluded from being developed because of eminent domain restrictions," said Brian McMahon of the New York State Economic Development Council. "There are legitimate instances when the economic or cultural needs of a community need to be addressed."

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: www.democratandchronicle.com


City to agency — OK to condemn: Henry (County GA) Herald, 8/14/05

By Michael Davis

If they won't sell, condemn. That's the message the city of Stockbridge sent to its appointed Urban Redevelopment Agency this week.

The agency has been struggling over the last several weeks to negotiate with several property owners within the so-called urban redevelopment district over the sale of their property to the city. City leaders want to buy up about 22 acres declared in need of redevelopment along East Atlanta Road near North Henry Boulevard for a new city hall, parking deck and a municipal lawn. They say the city's investment in the area will spur other development and revitalize the ailing retail district.

But while some property owners in the area were relieved by a city decision Monday to allow the redevelopment agency to exercise purchase options, those without options were threatened with condemnation.

Portions of the property bought up by the city would be turned over to private developers the city would require to build two- and three-story mixed use buildings along East Atlanta Road and elsewhere. The entire tract would be developed according to an as-yet unwritten master development plan. Some of the proposed buildings would include retail establishments on the ground floor, offices on the second and residences on the third.

City officials liken it to projects in Smyrna and Duluth, efforts to redefine the each city's downtown areas.

Stockbridge leaders are now promising that portions condemned through the power of eminent domain would be used for the city hall project, not sold to developers, even if it means redesigning the plan.

"What we were asking for ... was to exercise condemnation for the municipal building, not for private enterprise," said Jim Butcher, a real estate broker and chairman of the city's Urban Redevelopment Agency.

The agency has been in negotiations with several property owners, including florists Mark and Regina Meeks who run a flower shop on North Henry Boulevard that the city is seeking to acquire, for about two years. The city has already condemned at least one property on Burke Street, paying $63,000 of a $280,000 asking price, it said last month.

Butcher said a city-hired liaison, whose charge was to secure purchase options on the roughly 20 tracts in the redevelopment area, worked on commission and sometimes inflated prices above what the city was really willing to pay. "A person that was doing that was commission-driven and she gave out some really high figures for the property and the appraisals didn't justify it," Butcher said.

The agency was also given the go-ahead this week to examine the acquisition of property on the west side of the railroad tracks bordering the existing urban redevelopment area, an area along Burke Street. "We're going to look at the redevelopment plans, and some other areas in Stockbridge," Butcher said.

Henry Herald: www.henryherald.com


Eminent domain threatens Virginia, too: The (Fredricksburg VA) Free Lance-Star, 8/14/05

Eminent-domain case looms large over Virginians — and all Americans

By Geoffrey F Segal

Time and time again, opinion pages in the commonwealth [of Virginia] have made repeated calls for serious spending reform. Each of these aimed to slow the rate of growth of government, to prevent the need for future tax increases — a serious and important goal indeed.

However, if ever the need for serious spending reform (at every level of government) was needed, it is now. There's a new beast on the horizon. While curbing future tax increases remains a laudable goal, a critical Supreme Court ruling has elevated the need for reform. Simply, we must limit the growth of government to protect our property.

The seriousness of the issue cannot be denied. Your home is your castle, right? It was until June 23. That's the day the Supreme Court ruled that your home is merely on loan from your friendly local government by granting broad powers for eminent domain for "economic development."

New London, Conn., officials had condemned homes and businesses to make way for an office building, swanky retail shops, and luxury condos and apartments. Their argument was simple — this development would generate more tax revenue than the existing buildings. The new buildings would generate a larger tax base, and thus more tax revenue which, the Supreme Court ruled, constituted a "public use."

So next time your local government is strapped for cash, rather than fight a nasty tax battle they have another option. Take your home or your business for "economic development." Thanks to the Supreme Court this now means simply "raising additional tax revenues."

Soon, anyone's house could be in jeopardy to pay for new and expanding services.

What is particularly disturbing is that the Virginia Supreme Court has the same issue before it now, and may, out of necessity, bow to the Supreme Court decision — leaving us all in serious jeopardy.

A great Virginian warned us: "Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have. The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases." It's time we heed Thomas Jefferson's words and take immediate action.

We need to rethink just how our various levels of government interact with citizens, taxpayers, and property owners. Government has "sprawled" into new areas — creating agencies and new services at every turn. Over the years a number of "vital" programs have been expanded or added to the list of "core" services provided by government.

I don't want to sound cold-blooded, but if it's between my house and a new government program I'm going to pick my house every day of the week.

Just look at the state's budget. It has mushroomed in the last 10 years. Now that the state is flush with money after a largely unneeded tax increase, our policymakers need to show restraint and not spend that money, or the bulldozer could come to your community soon in order to "improve" the neighborhood's tax base so that government can get more money to pay for its increasing programs and services.

While every local government may not be in the same position as the commonwealth, the General Assembly needs to act immediately and set the ground rules for appropriate eminent-domain use to prevent abuse. Strict standards need to be erected with appropriate safeguards for property owners.

One possible disincentive for abuse would require compensation to be based on the appraised value of the land after rezoning, i.e., commercial real estate is almost always more valuable then residential. Another option would require localities to pay a premium if eminent domain is used — say 150 percent of assessed value.

Simultaneously, every local government should re-evaluate its structure and the services it currently provides. Every program and activity should be scrutinized for effectiveness, efficiency, and relevancy: i.e., is it a proper role for government to do this program? If we don't demand this, and significantly slow and limit the rate of growth of our governments, eminent domain will inevitably play a larger and larger role in future economic development plans.

In her stinging dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor validated the danger when she wrote: "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carleton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."

Action is needed, now. Our homes and businesses depend on it. In this election year, our voters should demand that those they vote for support legislation to strictly limit the use of eminent domain here in the birthplace of individual freedom.

The Free Lance-Star: http://fredericksburg.com

Geoffrey F Segal is senior fellow for government reform for the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy (www.thomasjeffersoninst.org). He is also director of privatization and government reform policy at the Reason Foundation (www.reason.org) in Los Angeles.

Middlesex condemns use of eminent domain: Bridgewater (NJ) Courier-News, 10/14/05

By Reka Bala

The Middlesex [NJ] Borough Council has passed a resolution ruling out the use of its power of eminent domain to condemn property as part of any redevelopment.

"You can put at ease the concerns of a lot of residents and a lot of business owners that the town is not going to ... acquire property," said Council President Jerry D'Angelo. "I think it's comforting for individuals to know they're not going to be forced out."

D'Angelo also said a simple label change on the project from redevelopment to either revitalization or rehabilitation may be necessary. By identifying it as anything other than redevelopment, it would ensure that the council could never press for eminent domain.

While the resolution is good for only one year — it would have to be reapproved at the January 2006 reorganization meeting — Mayor Ron Dobies said he would "absolutely" continue to support it and encourage its adoption each year.

Councilman Michael Hompesch said the change would not affect the project's goal of creating a "nicer-looking area" along Mountain Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard.

Bridgewater Courier-News: www.c-n.com

Maine lawmakers must clarify eminent domain law: Kennebeck Journal (Augusta ME), 8/14/05

No one in Maine, not even the attorney general, can say what would happen if the state or a community tried to seize your home to make room for a private development, such as a strip mall or an apartment complex.

State lawmakers need to correct this as soon as possible.

The issue became red-hot in June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a Connecticut city could force the owners of older houses in a stable, waterfront neighborhood to sell out so a private developer could demolish the homes and build upscale offices, a hotel and a convention center that would boost the local tax base.

The high court's decision shocked many people. Fortunately, the justices provided an escape by ruling that states could impose tighter rules to prevent this liberal interpretation of eminent domain powers.

Maine, therefore, should deal with this confusion by clarifying its imprecise law that "might" ban the taking of private property for the benefit of businesses. Even legal experts and lawmakers cannot say for sure.

Attorney General G. Steven Rowe said the Maine Constitution has language dealing with eminent domain that differs from the federal constitutional provision and from the Supreme Court's recent decision.

Rowe also said that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has made few rulings interpreting the language.

Maine's eminent domain law, therefore, should be reworked in the Legislature so it is no longer left open to interpretation.

Lawmakers should rewrite the law so it clearly bans the taking of private property for private development under almost all circumstances.

Eminent domain should remain the absolute last option to promote economic development. If it is never used for such purposes, that would be fine.

The legal concept of eminent domain was originally intended as a way to prevent projects of public need and importance — such as roads, highways, sewers and schools — from being held up by property owners who refused to sell.

It allows governments to take private property for a fair-market price.

Increasingly, state or municipal officials in other states have been expanding the circumstances under which they will attempt to take private land by eminent domain.

In this regard, government officials should be extremely cautious.

Several Maine lawmakers have said they oppose the use of eminent domain as a means to provide land for private businesses or developers.

"Of course we should ban this," Rep. Henry L. Joy, R-Crystal, told a reporter. "I have had people come up to me and ask, 'What is this country coming to?'

"People are really upset about this ruling. I think the court made a mistake."

Joy has pledged to press legislative leaders to allow consideration of a bill to prohibit state and local governments from seizing property for commercial uses, including residential, retail or industrial development.

With the increasing emphasis on expanding property tax bases and on economic development, Maine needs an eminent domain law that is clear in its protection of those who live here.

The law should be crafted carefully to provide for that extremely rare case when the public good truly exceeds people's rights to keep their property and block construction of private developments.

Kennebec Journal: kennebecjournal.mainetoday.com