Democrats seek eminent domain moratorium: Asbury Park (NJ) Press, 9/9/05

By Carol Corga Williams

The two Democrats candidates for state Assembly in the 11th District are calling upon acting Gov. Codey to enact a statewide moratorium on eminent domain.

Set against the backdrop of a proposed redevelopment in Neptune, candidates Matthew J. Doherty and Jim Reilly spoke out about the potential for abuse in the government's right to use eminent domain, which is the taking of private property after paying just compensation.

They were joined by Lester Goldberg, who owns the Scrubber Doctor, a janitorial equipment and supply company which is being threatened by eminent domain, and Sen. Ellen Karcher, D-Monmouth, who said there should be a return to more traditional uses for eminent domain, such as building a road, school or hospital.

The platform endorses proposed Assembly bill A-4392, which would prevent municipalities from condemning owner-occupied private homes in good repair for private development.

Doherty said redevelopment was a legitimate public use, only in certain circumstances.

"Vacant lots, areas that are crime-infested, that people don't care about, sure that's a legitimate use," he said. "But not someone's castle."

Doherty and Reilly are running against Republican Assemblymen Sean T. Kean and Steven J. Corodemus in the 11th District, which encompasses several Monmouth County municipalities.

Kean said later that eminent domain should not be abused, but he sees legitimate uses for the process. He supports the redevelopment in Asbury Park and in Long Branch, except for the latest phase, in which homes on Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace and Seaview Avenue are to be taken. He said those are "very nice homes. . . .The system is working a tragedy upon the homeowner so it is not a good thing at all."

He also said Asbury Park should work hard to preserve what is good about its past, using apartment houses such as The New Jerseyean and The Virginian as examples.

"I don't believe in every case eminent domain in a residential situation should be banned," Kean said. "In those areas that are blighted, I think that it is a positive thing."

The Democrats' anti-eminent domain platform calls for owners of owner-occupied businesses seized through eminent domain to have the first opportunity to purchase redeveloped lots, at greatly reduced costs, and says business owners losing property to eminent domain should be able to negotiate for the real value of the property as well as recoup a portion of the redeveloper's resale profits.

Also, business owners affected by eminent domain should receive free legal advice from a real estate attorney chosen by Legal Services of New Jersey, and paid for by the developer, according to the platform.

Asbury Park Press: www.app.com

Eminent domain abuse: Newark (NJ) Star Ledger, 9/8/05

It didn't take long. The ink was hardly dry on the U.S. Supreme Court decision okaying the use of eminent domain to seize property for private development before a New Jersey municipality woefully abused that power.

It should be no surprise that the town is Linden, a Union County city long known for mindboggling political shenanigans.

Mayor John Gregorio, convicted of conspiracy but pardoned by former Gov. Tom Kean, and a majority of the city council voted to seize 143 acres of prime real estate owned by ISP Environmental Services.

The land will not be used to build a highway or school or for some other great public purpose. No. If the city has its way, it will condemn the property, whose owners don't want to sell, and turn it over to Joseph Morris, a politically connected developer who gave more than $120,000 to Democrats from 2001 to 2004. To ensure that things moved along smoothly, Morris secured the legal services of powerful Democratic state Sen. Raymond Lesniak.

When the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Kelo vs. New London, it noted that there was a danger that eminent domain could be misused. The power should not be used solely to benefit a favored developer, it said. Yet, remarkably, that's what is happening in Linden.

ISP is using the property for the precise use called for in the city's redevelopment plan — a warehouse distribution center. Taking the property simply because city officials prefer Morris is a gross misuse of government power.

For nearly 100 years, ISP has owned the land. A major chemical facility, which at its height employed 3,000 workers, was once on the site. After the plant closed in 1991, ISP got necessary approvals from the state Department of Environmental Protection to build a hazardous waste incinerator. When city officials cried "not in my backyard," ISP put the incinerator on hold and agreed to work with the city to come up with a more desirable use for the property. They agreed on warehouse distribution facilities to serve the expanding Port of Newark-Elizabeth.

Encouraged by the city, ISP paid for a redevelopment plan and spent more than $37 million to do an environmental cleanup of the site. Additional money was devoted to persuading the New Jersey Turnpike to build a road from Interchange 12 for easy highway access.

After ISP did all the heavy lifting, city officials, in an absolutely stunning move, voted to condemn the ISP property, along with 98 acres owned by DuPont, and turn over both parcels to Morris.

For anyone looking for a textbook example of the misapplication of eminent domain, this case offers the frightening primer

Newark Star Ledger: www.starledger.com


Eminent domain law reform gets tabled — for now : (Torrence CA) Daily Breeze, 9/8/05

A ruling seems to make government seizure of property easier. Legislators tried to create protections.

By Michael Gardner

Staring at certain defeat, reform-minded Democrats on Wednesday abruptly shelved legislation that would have temporarily blocked government officials from seizing homes using eminent domain.

"We just did not have a critical mass on either side. We bowed to reality," said Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, who was carrying one of the measures.

Mullin and Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, said they will convene hearings this fall to work on a compromise before submitting revisions in January.

"The issue is not going to go away," Kehoe said. "We will not abandon our efforts to protect the interests of our homeowners."

But the setback does signal a failure of lawmakers to forcefully respond to a growing public outcry over homes and businesses being taken to clear the way for high-rise development, malls and hotels.

Stories of mom and pop stores and longtime homeowners being chased out have clashed with urgent pleas to retain condemnation as a tool to drive out crack houses and revitalize downtowns.

The Legislature's response may be developed under pressure from an initiative campaign threatened by conservatives who want to restrict eminent domain to only public uses, such as schools or freeways.

Sticking points include whether to protect commercial as well as private property, how to impose a moratorium without delaying ongoing projects, assessing a fair purchase price and whether to make it harder to declare land blighted — a requirement before condemnation.

Democrats earlier killed constitutional amendments carried by Republicans that would have imposed stiff limits on the authority of local governments to take private property.

Kehoe blamed Republicans for holding up progress, noting how they voted against the bills in committee.

"It's clear Republicans want to scare homeowners," she said. "That's bad policy, bad politics and bad behavior. We wanted a time out on eminent domain and they blocked it for political purposes.

However, Democrats hold majorities in both houses and could have easily passed either measure — or both — on to the governor if the issue had been a top priority, say some of those who had worked on the legislation.

Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Northridge, said he could have voted for a narrow moratorium, but only because it would have given homeowners a two-year reprieve.

The problem, he said, is that homeowners would still see their property values plummet because of the looming threat of condemnation two years down the road.

Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-La Mesa, who is carrying a narrow bill to protect farm land, said he could have supported a moratorium to protect homeowners.

"Obviously I am not opposed to incrementally fixing the problem," he said.

The measures were introduced in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld a Connecticut town's right to seize homes for a large-scale development.

Daily Breeze: www.dailybreeze.com

SAC to pols — Stop eminent domain abuse: Main Line (Lower Merion PA) Times, 9/8/05

By Cheryl Allison

Lower Merion Township's plan to redevelop downtown Ardmore took a pounding last week in a hearing on state legislation aimed at curbing eminent domain abuse.

An "extreme example." "Un-American." Those were some of the things members of the House State Government Committee and other legislators had to say about the township's process of declaring the area blighted and targeting properties for demolition, after hearing testimony from Ardmore citizens. The hearing, the second of two pre-session forums, was held Aug. 31 at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

At issue were two bills, HB 1835 and 1836, introduced by Johnstown Rep. Thomas Yewcic (D-72nd) in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London. It upheld a Connecticut Supreme Court finding in favor of the city, saying that the use of eminent domain to turn properties over to a private developer was not unconstitutional, because it served a "public purpose" of economic development.

Under Lower Merion's redevelopment plan, a private developer would be recruited to build a parking garage, new retail stores and upscale apartments in connection with a new Ardmore Transit Center.

Nationally, the Kelo decision set off a flurry of more restrictive state legislation. Yewcic said his bills, introduced "quickly, before the end of the session," were intended to start the debate in Pennsylvania. Other House and Senate bills are expected.

Yewcic's bills attack the issue specifically by amending state law to prohibit a municipality from taking property to turn it over to a "nonpublic interest," or solely to "add to or increase the tax base."

A third provision would add a "reverter" clause to a declaration of taking, stating that, in the event the property is used for any nonpublic purpose, it would revert to its original owner or heirs.

Testifying in support were Save Ardmore Coalition President Sharon Eckstein, Suburban Office Equipment owner Scott Mahan, and Eni and Betty Foo, owners of HuNan Restaurant. All four described a process in which local government leaders acted, in the face of overwhelming opposition by citizens, to designate downtown Ardmore as blighted (a prerequisite for creating a redevelopment plan).

The township then adopted a plan, counter to the findings of such experts as the Urban Land Institute, calling for the potential demolition of historic buildings, they said. "Where else can occupied and successful business properties valued in excess of $1 million each be considered blighted?" Eckstein asked.

Eni and Betty Foo described receiving a letter from the township in early 2004, prior to any public meetings, stating that it intended to designate a revitalization area and acquire the building in which they have operated their restaurant for 30 years.

Betty Foo recalled that she was teaching one of her classes in Chinese language and culture for local students. "I told them they were so lucky they lived in a beautiful country, where they had the freedom everyone else was dying to have." Suddenly, "I have to tell the children I may not be [here] because someone else with more money, someone more powerful might take my place."

She remembered the response of relatives in China: "How could this happen in America? America is not like this!" The testimony clearly moved the committee. Chairman Paul Clymer (R-145th) called it "heartsearching." "What we see in Kelo and Lower Merion Township are the extreme examples," commented Montgomery County Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-153rd). Shapiro asked, in particular, for the committee to receive copies of the findings by which Lower Merion declared a portion of Ardmore blighted.

Other speakers at the hearing, including representatives of redevelopment authorities and the Pennsylvania Planning Association, said eminent domain is a tool for revitalization that must not be carelessly discarded.

If there is common ground, it is that Pennsylvania needs a clearer, more stringent definition of blight, said Ardmore Rep. Daylin Leach (D-149th). "I'm not sure it's the safety [net] you're saying it is," he told one planner.

Specifically, he said, it "doesn't seem to fit" Ardmore. Rep. Louise Williams Bishop (D-192nd), who represents a portion of Philadelphia across City Avenue from Lower Merion, agreed the Ardmore situation is puzzling, but said the power to take properties that have been abandoned or neglected is essential. Agreeing with others who said the needs in Pennsylvania are diverse, "That is the issue we're wrestling with on this committee," she said. "When is it blight, and what are the obligations of [property] owners? If we could come up with the answer to those questions, we would not be so different throughout the commonwealth."

Main Line Times: www.zwire.com


Rep Sherman Circulates Eminent Domain Bill: Democratic Party of Wisconsin, 9/6/05

News Release

Private parties barred from utilizing condemnation for commercial development

Rep. Gary E. Sherman (D-Port Wing) today circulated a bill that would ensure that eminent domain (condemnation) could not be used in Wisconsin to transfer non-blighted property to a private developer for commercial purposes, as occurred in the recent US Supreme Court case of Kelo vs City of New London.

"I know that many people have been upset by the Supreme Court decision," Sherman noted. "While that decision did not deal with a situation that has existed in Wisconsin, examination of the eminent domain chapter shows that the possibility is not entirely unforeseeable, so I decided to settle the issue once and for all."

Since the use of eminent domain for private economic development of non-blighted property has never been authorized in Wisconsin in the past, this bill preserves all existing uses of eminent domain, while closing the door to its expansion into this new area. Consequently, it does not address any other issues or controversies involving eminent domain.

"What my bill does is to simply restrict eminent domain to purposes expressly authorized by statute," Sherman said. "Current law does not expressly authorize the use of eminent domain in the abusive manner described in the recent case, but it does contain the words 'for any lawful purpose.' While this has never been interpreted as such broad authority in the past, the fact that it could be in the future has made people uneasy. This bill removes the 'any lawful purpose' language, which should resolve any lingering doubt."

Sherman's bill will be introduced once circulation for co-sponsors has been completed.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin: www.wisdems.org

Representative Gary Sherman
74th Assembly District

Shop owner worried that Hallandale will invoke eminent domain on his building: (South FL) Sun-Sentinel, 9/7/05

By Edgar Sandoval

Ameen Abdel-Kader says he does not understand the political jargon of "eminent domain," but he may get a lesson in how it's used now [Hallendale Beach] officials threatened to employ that power to acquire the property he is renting.

"Right now I'm confused and scared that this may mean I may lose my way of life," said Abdel-Kader, who runs a convenience store on property city officials want to expand a public park.

For years city officials have been planning a revitalization of Foster Road, in the city's northwest section. The city, through Broward County, purchased several lots next to Foster Park between Sixth and Seventh avenues.

But the city has yet to purchase the building at 636 Foster Road, where Abdel-Kader has operated his store for more than eight years. Officials said they began negotiations with the original owner of the property, Harry Glover Sr., about three years ago. Glover died during negotiations, and the property went to his three children, two of whom live in Hollywood.

But the younger Glovers say they know nothing of such negotiations and don't know whether they want to sell the land.

"There have been city people who have stopped by the store on weekends and holidays, but there have not been negotiations with us that we know of," said Celestine Glover, one of the owners. "I'm not sure I want to sell to the city."

But she may have to, thanks to eminent domain. That is, if city officials decide to take that route. The U.S. Constitution gives local governments the authority through eminent domain to seize private property if it benefits the community as a whole.

Hallandale Beach city commissioners say they will try to negotiate with the property owners first and will use eminent domain as a last resort, they agreed Tuesday. Celestine and Mattie Glover attended a Tuesday morning commission meeting to express their confusion over the process.

City Manager Mike Good explained the city's vision for an area where many have complained of being forgotten. The city included the Glovers' property in their plans at a time when the original owner had agreed to sell it to the city, according to a city memo from Good to Mayor Joy Cooper dated Aug. 30.

Part of the park expansion includes adding a Police Athletic League, which will provide extracurricular activities for children. City officials say the larger park will also allow them to bring programs for seniors here. The property is appraised at $172,800. Broward County has agreed to pay 10 percent more than the appraised value, Good said.

"Residents in that vicinity are frustrated," Cooper said. "It is regretful that it has come to this. But this is for a community benefit."

"This park will brighten up that whole section of the city," Commissioner Dorothy Ross echoed.

But for now, the Glovers and Abdel-Kader remain confused. The Glovers say they are willing to negotiate, but they think the city is bullying them by using the dreaded term they say no property owner wants to hear.

"The land has been in the family since the 1970s. We may want to keep it that way," Mattie said.

Sun-Sentinel: www.sun-sentinel.com

Use of eminent domain opposed: (Syracuse NY) Post-Standard, 9/7/05

County legislators: Don't use it for projects like Destiny park. Vote is nonbinding.
By Rick Moriarty

Onondaga County lawmakers came out strongly Tuesday against the use of eminent domain for private development projects such as the proposed Destiny USA Research & Development Park in Salina.

They voted 19-0 to ask the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency to suspend its use of eminent domain in behalf of private developers until the state Legislature weighs in on the topic next year.

The resolution approved by the lawmakers was nonbinding, so the agency does not have to obey it.

Opponents of the use of eminent domain for private developments cheered the action.

"It's a symbol, but symbols are important," said Phil Jakes-Johnson, owner of Solvents & Petroleum Service in Salina and a spokesman for Salina 29, a group of businesses opposing the use of eminent domain against their properties for the Destiny research park.

He added that he would like to have seen the county Legislature go a step further and ask the state Legislature to outlaw the use of eminent domain to benefit private developers.

Legislator James DiBlasi, R-Syracuse, who introduced the resolution, said it shows the Legislature's "respect for private property rights" and gives state lawmakers time to clarify their position on the use of eminent domain.

In June, the county Industrial Development Agency declined to vote on Destiny USA developer Robert Congel's request that it use its eminent domain powers to acquire private land he said he needed for his proposed research and development park at interstates 81 and 90. Some directors said they opposed the use of eminent domain for private development; others said they were worried that businesses forced to relocate would be driven out of business.

Afterward, Congel put the research park on hold.

Several county legislators said their vote Tuesday should not be taken as a sign that they oppose development or the research park in particular; they said they just oppose government taking private property for a private development even one that would benefit the community by creating jobs and generating sales tax revenue.

"If you want to build something, you generally go out and buy the property," said T. Brendan Whelan, R-Clay.

Destiny USA officials declined to comment on the Legislature's vote.

The Industrial Development Agency's board of directors meets Thursday. Donald Western, the county's economic development director and executive director of the agency, said the Legislature's resolution will be added to the agenda as a discussion item.

Post-Standard: www.syracuse.com

Eminent domain examined: Columbia (MO) Missourian, 9/6/05

By Kathryn Buschman

Sunset Hills resident Bernice Cenatiempo wants to keep her house.

She’s lived in the St. Louis suburb for 36 years, and the thought of selling and moving on doesn’t settle well.

“I am happy living in my home,” Cenatiempo said. “(The) developer did not offer enough money so that I could afford the high cost of a retirement community. Most of them do not allow pets — having to get rid of my dog and home would kill me.”

Cenatiempo’s home is one of more than 250 scheduled to be demolished to build the Sunset Hills project, a $165 million retail development.

The Sunset Hills debate is one being looked at by the Missouri Task Force on Eminent Domain, established this summer by Gov. Matt Blunt. The task force is studying the use of eminent domain, the law allowing the seizure of private property without the consent of the owner as long as the property will be used for a public purpose and the owner is justly compensated. Nine task force members are using eminent domain examples throughout the state and country to provide recommendations for future legislation when the task force reports its findings in December.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the use of eminent domain in Kelo v. New London, when it ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Connecticut city could acquire private property for private developments as long as it promoted economic development.

“What we are going to look at doing is work on the procedures,” said Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, member of the task force. “We are also going to look at who has that power. There is a wide list of folks who have that power and to me, eminent domain is a power that should be very tightly held.”

The largest issue the task force faces is creating a clear definition of the word “blight.” Hobbs said it is loosely defined and the interpretation of what is blighted has expanded over the years. He also wants the task force to look at the definition of “public use” and whether a redevelopment project, like that in Sunset Hills, where a developer promises to increase sales tax revenue and add jobs, is considered public use or if it is a way for municipalities and developers to make money.

According to current wording, Hobbs said farmland in Missouri can be deemed blighted when it does not contain an infrastructure, meaning water or sewer. The reason why it doesn’t have an infrastructure on it is because the farmer is growing corn on it, but that term is loosely defined, he said.

Relocation and replacement costs are other problem areas the task force plans to address.

Although a section of the Missouri Constitution reads, “private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation,” Sunset Hills residents affected by the development are arguing adequate compensation is not being offered.

“Homeowners are being offered $113,000 to $160,000 for their property,” Rep. Jim Lemke, R-St. Louis, said. “They couldn’t replace it in Sunset Hills for that amount of money.”

Columbia Missourian: www.columbiamissourian.com

Eminent domain measure stalls in Senate: Oroville (CA) Mercury-Register, 9/6/05

The [California] Assembly Rules Committee has declined to act on legislation proposed by Assemblyman Doug La LaMalfa (R-Butte County) that would eliminate the use of eminent domain for private uses.

The Rules Committee decided not to assign Assembly Constitutional Amendment 22 to a committee, thus not allowing a hearing, vote or further amendments to the bill introduced in response to a recent Supreme court ruling expanding the acceptable use of eminent domain.

"It's very disheartening to see this type of effort being waged against private property rights," LaMalfa said. "Californians have indicated they are very supportive of seeing eminent domain restricted to its previously understood uses-legitimate public uses such as roads and schools.

The identical measure in the State Senate, SCA 15 by Senator Tom McClintock, was killed on Tuesday on a party-line vote 2-3 with two members abstaining.

Mercury-Register: www.orovillemr.com


Missouri Condemnation No Longer So Imminent: Washington (DC) Post, 9/5/05

By T R Reid

When David Wright retired from his factory job in 1997, he poured just about all his savings into a handsome brick house in the Sunset Manor subdivision [of Sunset Hills MO]. "This was our dream," said David's wife, Lorraine. "We were set here for the rest of our lives."

But the dream turned sour when the city council of this St. Louis suburb decided last year to bulldoze all 254 homes in Sunset Manor and turn the land over to a shopping-mall developer. "We cried and we prayed," Lorraine Wright recalled. "And we put a lot of hope into the Supreme Court, because they were supposed to decide whether this kind of thing is legal."

So the Wrights were crushed — at first — when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 23 that the Constitution does not stop cities from seizing homes to make way for commercial development projects. "What we didn't realize right away," David Wright said, "was that the decision would be a positive development for those of us who don't want to see people's houses taken away."

Here in Missouri and all over the country, the court's decision in Kelo v. City of New London has sparked a furious reaction, with politicians of both parties proposing new legislation that would sharply limit the kind of seizure the court's decision validated.

As a result, a decision first seen as a key legal victory for cities that want to use eminent domain for private projects has turned into a major setback on the political front for pro-development interests.

The popular backlash has slowed or blocked many pending projects, as developers, their bankers and local governments suddenly face public furor.

In Sunset Hills, the bank that planned to finance the proposed new mall abruptly withdrew its funding amid a noisy political argument after the Kelo decision. That means the Wrights' home is safe, for the time being — but hundreds of their neighbors who had agreed to move out are left in limbo.

Three states have already passed new laws in response to the Kelo decision.

The statutes in Alabama and Texas sharply curtail eminent-domain condemnations for private development. "We don't like anybody messing with our dogs, our guns, our hunting rights or trying to take property from us," said state Sen. Jack Biddle, a sponsor of the Alabama law. Delaware's new statute permits condemnation but sets new procedural requirements for local governments.

Larry Morandi, an analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, predicts a rush of new laws next winter, when 44 state legislatures will be back in session.

"Most if not all state legislatures will be dealing with eminent-domain laws next year," Morandi said. "The outcry has been so sharp that many states already have task forces or study committees at work on this issue this summer. Most of the proposed legislation is designed to restrict the kind of governmental action that the court upheld in Kelo ."

The Institute for Justice, a Washington-based libertarian think tank, said that hundreds of local governments around the country are also debating new ordinances to restrict the use of eminent domain. Many have passed laws this summer barring any seizure of private property for commercial development. Other cities are tightening the conditions that could authorize such seizure.

Several members of Congress have introduced legislation that would bar federal financing for any local government project that condemns property for a commercial development. But Congress did authorize governments to condemn property for the benefit of energy companies in the new energy bill that President Bush signed last month.

The right of government to seize private property for public projects is specifically authorized in the Constitution as long as owners receive "just compensation." A farmer whose cornfield lies in the path of a proposed expressway can be forced to sell the land even if he wants to keep farming there.

Traditionally, this power of eminent domain was used for government functions such as parks and highways. But more and more local governments have begun seizing property from unwilling owners for the creation of industrial parks, hotels and shopping centers.

This trend was not widely recognized until the Supreme Court decision in June that validated the practice. An issue that had been primarily of interest to local governments and land-use planners quickly hit every editorial page in the country, with widespread condemnation of the court's 5 to 4 ruling.

Some interest groups, including the National League of Cities, endorsed the ruling. But the overall political reaction was intensely hostile, sparking a rush of proposed legislation.

Supreme Court justices may not be unhappy about this reaction. Justice John Paul Stevens, author of the majority opinion in the Kelo case, said in a speech this summer that he did not agree with the property seizure in that case but felt that the law required him to uphold it nonetheless.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who dissented in Kelo, warned that permitting seizure of private property for private development would have a reverse Robin Hood effect, giving governments "license to transfer property from those with few resources to those with more."

That pattern is clear here in Sunset Hills. This affluent town is dotted with large $600,000 homes on green hills surrounding a country club. But the Sunset Manor subdivision, the most ethnically mixed neighborhood in town, is made up mainly of small homes on small lots, with prices around $100,000.

The city council here, known as the Board of Aldermen, decided last year to level the 65-acre subdivision so that Novus Cos., a local developer, could build an upscale shopping mall to be called Main Street at Sunset. Of the 254 homeowners, 229 have agreed to sell their property to Novus. The owner of a shopping mall two miles away has financed the efforts of the holdout owners to block condemnation of their properties.

In July, the alderman authorized condemnation proceedings against the remaining owners — including David and Lorraine Wright, a black couple who had planned to spend the rest of their lives in Sunset Manor and thus declined to sell their home.

"We thought at first, you know, we didn't have a prayer," David Wright said. "How can you fight City Hall? And then the Supreme Court ruled against people like us.

"But the reaction to that decision has been so strong. The project is kind of stopped. So now we are thinking maybe we can stay here."

Novus, the developer, said it is searching for new financing. Meanwhile, the project is on hold — a painful development for the 229 homeowners who had agreed to sell their houses and move.

"The collapse of the financing for the [shopping mall] project has left a couple of hundred families in a terrible place," said Pete Snyder, a spokesman for the developer. "A lot of them are already paying the mortgage on their new home, but now they don't have a buyer for the old one. This has to be resolved, and condemning those 25 houses is the way it has to go forward," he said of the holdouts.

But Will Aschinger, a leader of the anti-condemnation group, thinks the political reaction to the Supreme Court decision has effectively saved the Sunset Manor subdivision. "The backlash against that decision is the best thing that ever happened to us," he said with a smile. "No matter what the court says, I don't think cities can get away with this kind of stuff anymore."

The Washington Post: www.washingtonpost.com


The misuse of eminent domain in York: York (PA) Daily Record, 9/4/05

By Vickie Washington

There are at least four situations that come to mind when I think about eminent domain in York: The Broad Street grocery vs. the school district, York College dorm expansion on Springettsbury, baseball and the northwest triangle vs. Arch St. and North Beaver Street — and the one you may not know about is the 400 block of Hope Alley vs. public safety.

Recently, I was given a tour of the 400 block of Hope Avenue. The Redevelopment Authority owns three of these six buildings. There I saw houses that have been abandoned for at least 20 years. One had no back, many had broken, dangling window shards and slate that could become a hazard in the presence of a strong wind. I saw weeds and high growth all around these properties, rodents and other wild animals amid dumped garbage, and little children playing there. When I approached the Redevelopment Authority about this street, with pictures in hand, I was told that taking these homes under eminent domain was a long process. This deeply concerns me.

In regard to baseball, we have already declared Arch Street blighted, and this took only a few months. Now their properties can be acquired via eminent domain. Some people have lived in these homes for more than 50 years. The longtime chairman of the Planning Commission resigned. There is also the acquisition of two homes on Springettsbury Avenue by the RDA to expand dorm housing for York College. These homes, while unoccupied and in need of repair, were featured on the Rusk Report some years back as an excellent example of the fine architecture of our city dwellings. Yet they can be declared blighted and taken by eminent domain for destruction and land use by a private entity in less than three months.

Where is the concept of historic preservation? The historic preservation board has not even made a squeak on this. Some people in the neighborhood were not even aware that this was happening, even though they are already demanding parking passes due to student congestion. What will this expansion do to the arteries of this neighborhood?

This brings me to my fourth and last comparison. Members of city council are not only quick to use eminent domain to take your property for baseball, but they are also angry at the school district for not giving away elementary school property.

How can their decisions be so viciously criticized and derided by those city officials who, as Councilman Smallwoood has said, “would give the farm away for baseball.”

Frankly, I see more due diligence being carried out by our school board than by city council. School board members ask for and follow the advice of their solicitor, and ask to see business plans and contracts. On the other hand, badly conceived legislation, written by council, has cost the city money in defending litigation. We have seen regressive fees on fire hydrants and lights that Council President Texter tried to push through. Early on our solicitor said he did not think it was legal. If I, or some other council member, had not pushed for a written opinion, we would probably be spending money defending ourselves against that illegal legislation. And let’s not forget the cell phone ban, the goat legislation, the sign ordinance, the loitering law — all deemed illegal. In 2004, the city spent $750,000 in legal fees, and the dollars are adding up rapidly this year.

To me it seems like maybe there are city officials who would like to run the school district. That would be interesting. The same government that didn’t bother to fund the police and fire pension for years, the same government that brought you an ice skating rink that’s costing you $450,000 a year, and the same government that wants to bring you baseball by any means necessary. Is that what we have elected city officials to do?

And what about the city garage? Can we legally sell the maintenance garage without offering it for public bidding? Shouldn’t we know what environmental problems might exist and what it might cost to remedy same? Remember the courthouse and the “$750,000 surprise” of gasoline contamination that had to be addressed at additional cost to the project? If we put a baseball stadium on Arch Street and a shopping mall on Broad Street, will those residents who are so excited about having a grocery store in their neighborhood even be there to enjoy it, or are their houses next to be taken under eminent domain? Where do your council members stand on these matters of eminent domain?

The bottom line is this: We can fast track eminent domain for baseball and to take architecturally significant homes to sell to York College, but we cannot use it to ensure public safety on Hope Avenue. What about those children playing on Hope Avenue? Isn’t public safety one of the most important responsibilities of city government?

After all, we have HUD dollars specifically for this. More than two million of it has yet to be spent from past years. Maybe they’re saving this for baseball as well?

York Daily Record: http://ydr.com

Vickie Washington is vice president of the York City Council

Cities watch state eminent domain laws' impact on Gold Line projects: San Gabriel Valley (West Covina CA) Tribine, 9/4/05

By Gary Scott

As California lawmakers look to rein in the use of eminent domain by local governments, city officials are concerned the legislation now being considered could sidetrack pending redevelopment projects, including several planned around the Gold Line light rail extension.

The city of Monrovia has sounded the loudest alarm in recent days, saying its 40-acre Station Square development could be stalled indefinitely if the legislation passes.

"It would put cold water over the top of it," said Mayor Rob Hammond. "It could kill the project."

Hammond accused state lawmakers of grandstanding at the expense of local governments. "This is folks in Sacramento looking out for their political futures," he said.

San Dimas City Manager Blaine Michaelis, in a letter to Sen. Bob Margett, R-Diamond Bar, criticized lawmakers for playing a game of partisan one-upmanship. The legislation, he told Margett, is an overreaction to a "contrived" controversy.

"Why support measures that remove reasonable tools that may be needed to turn around struggling areas in California communities?" Michaelis asked. "What is the justification for these measures? Solutions without problems create problems."

The various legislative proposals are a response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London, a Connecticut property-rights case that critics say vastly broadened the scope of eminent domain in the country.

"It is simply unconscionable for a government to take private property in order to give it to another private property owner," said the American Homeowners Resource Center. "That is the hallmark of dictatorship, not a democratic government."

The most aggressive response came from state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, who offered a constitutional amendment that would prohibit seizures except for clearly defined public projects, such as roads, parks or schools.

Senate Democrats killed the McClintock amendment Thursday, but have offered several less stringent measures in its place.

The first, by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, would place a two-year moratorium on the use of eminent domain on owner-occupied homes for private projects.

Peter Detweiler, staff director for the Senate Local Government Committee, which Kehoe heads, called the bill a "prudent response" to the concerns voiced about eminent domain powers.

Additionally, state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, sponsored a narrower version of the McClintock amendment that focuses solely on protecting homeowners.

The state Legislature has until next week to pass legislation.

Representatives from Monrovia, San Dimas and Arcadia met with Margett recently to air their concerns about the bills. The senator said he understands the need for redevelopment but supports eminent domain reform.

"I just want to make sure that property rights are protected as we go through this process," Margett said.

City officials here say the claims of eminent domain abuse are overblown. San Dimas Mayor Curtis Morris said his city has used the power only once in the last 33 years, to condemn a dilapidated cement plant.

"The issue was not whether (the owner) was willing to sell," Morris said, "but a matter of price."

There are more than two dozen homes in the Station Square area, Hammond said. Without the recourse of eminent domain, the entire project could fall apart if only one of them demands an outlandish selling price from the city, he said.

Cities were given redevelopment powers to revitalize areas that are run-down, crime-ridden or contaminated. Once an area is declared blighted and a project is defined, the city can begin negotiating to buy up properties. The agency may ask the court to intervene and force a sale only if negotiations stall.

"The state law is so protective that you end up paying 110 to 115 percent of appraised value, and then you pay for relocation," Morris said. "California already has plenty of safeguards; it is not Connecticut."

Detweiler said the Kehoe legislation is aimed at agencies that use condemnation to drive out residents in order to enrich big-box developers.

"You can't take grandma's house to put in a Costco," Detweiler said.

But the broad language of the legislation undermines other important public goals, Morris said.

"The state is really supporting the idea of transit villages. If you want to accomplish what transit villages accomplish, you have to have the ability of eminent domain," he said.

Amendments now being offered as part of the legislation could alleviate restrictions on local agencies working on redevelopment projects.

For instance, the McClintock bill had the potential to block San Dimas from acquiring land for a Gold Line station. The more narrowly tailored Torlakson language should allow the city to move forward.

The cities of Azusa and Arcadia also are looking at how the legislation might affect their long-term plans. Neither city is as far along in planning as Monrovia, though both said they will consider redevelopment around the Gold Line stations.

Azusa wants to build a parking lot at the Azusa Boulevard station, and may look at further development in the area. "Eminent domain may very well play a factor there," said Councilman Keith Hanks.

Don Penman, assistant city manager for Arcadia, said city officials may start looking at a transit-oriented development around the Santa Anita station early next year.

The city of Claremont has already acquired all of the land needed for its Village West project.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune: www2.sgvtribune.com

Conaway feud prompts bills on eminent domain: Davis (CA) Enterprise, 9/2/05

By Sharon Stello

Legislators and a group of local farmers and taxpayers are trying to reform eminent domain laws in response to Yolo County's attempts to acquire the Conaway Ranch from unwilling sellers.

State Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, and Assemblyman Doug La Malfa, R-Biggs, have co-authored legislation that would amend the state Constitution to further restrict the government taking of private land.

If the legislation fails - it's already hitting roadblocks in committee - they plan to send the matter to the voters as an initiative on the June 2006 ballot.

They are supported by the California Alliance to Protect Property Rights, a new group formed by Yolo County taxpayers and farmers opposed to the county's decision to use eminent domain to take the 17,300-acre Conaway Ranch between Davis and Woodland. County officials have argued that they must acquire the property to maintain farming operations and protect the vast water resources there.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon on the ranch, McClintock said the fundamental right for residents to be secure in their homes and businesses has been placed in "imminent peril."

"If they can seize this property, they can seize yours or mine as well. This is between right and wrong. It is between this corrupt alliance and all of California," McClintock said, referring to Yolo County's partnership with the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, which owns the Cache Creek Casino Resort. The tribe has offered financial support - as much as $50 million to $60 million - to help buy the land.

La Malfa, a fourth-generation rice farmer who represents the northern half of Yolo County, said private land ownership is a "paramount right" and that eminent domain is an "elitist and dangerous enterprise" that "allows the government all too frequently to take private property with little or no legitimate 'public use' justification."

"We must not allow this abuse to happen here," La Malfa said, adding that the ranch's current owners, the Conaway Preservation Group, have shown "excellent stewardship" in managing the land and there's no reason for the county to take over.

The county Board of Supervisors voted to invoke eminent domain a year ago and had been prepared to go to court this month with the ranch owners in a bitter dispute over private property rights and water rights. Last month, the property owners and Yolo County announced that they have entered into discussions to determine if the matter can be resolved out of court.

Dudley Holman, president of the Yolo County Taxpayers Association, former Woodland mayor and a founding director of the California Alliance to Protect Property Rights, expressed his concerns about the matter.

Holman said he's troubled by the county's failure to explain how it will manage and pay to maintain Conaway Ranch. He also questioned whether it is appropriate for the county to accept financial support from the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, especially so soon after the county approved the tribe's plans to build a golf course on land that was under ag protection.

Marc Breckenridge, a Yolo County farmer and another founding director of the alliance, said "usually government only uses eminent domain as a last resort" and then only to build roads, airports or other public infrastructure.

"Times have changed," he said.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 15, authored by McClintock, and Assembly Constitutional Amendment 22, authored by La Malfa, would require that private property be taken or damaged only for a stated public use and that the property be owned and occupied by the taker and used only for the stated public use.

If the property ceases to be needed for that use, these measures would give the former owner, heir or beneficiary designated by the owner the right to reacquire the property for its fair market value before the property may be otherwise sold or transferred.

However, SCA 15 was defeated along party lines in the Judiciary Committee this week and the similar ACA 22 has not yet be granted a committee hearing.

Davis Enterprise: www.davisenterprise.com/

A moratorium on eminent domain is needed, not an overhaul: Hollister (CA) Free Lance, 9/3/05

By Simon Salinas

It is a compelling image: bulldozers smashing the white picket fence surrounding grandma’s cottage, leveling her home for a new auto mall. All for the sake of the almighty buck, a city’s redevelopment agency destroys the sanctity of your home. Compelling, but an overstatement of what happens in California.

But what about graffiti-covered buildings, boarded-up windows and crack houses owned by absentee slumlords?

Those conditions are a blight both to the physical and economic health of a community. This is the real story of redevelopment in most California communities.

Redevelopment is a positive tool in those cases, not only improving neighborhoods, but also building clean, safe and affordable homes and apartments for local residents.

Much has been made of the recent United States Supreme Court decision that let a Connecticut town take peoples’ homes (after paying them full market value and moving expenses) in the name of economic development. In essence, the decision confirmed earlier rulings that defer to the states on the issue of the police power of local governments.

The California Legislature must be very cautious about changing our private property rights. Legislators should also not act rashly to cut local governments’ power to fix problems with run-down properties that create nuisances and serious public safety hazards.

This issue is not as simple as it seems. If we alter the State Constitution, as some suggest, there will be serious unintended consequences.

One recently-introduced proposal would stop state and local government from using their constitutional powers to correct problems on properties that become public nuisances. We urge caution before reducing the power of government to act in the public interest.

To this end, and recognizing Californian’s concern about the Connecticut decision, Senator Christine Kehoe, Assembly Member Gene Mullin, and I will be introducing legislation that puts a two-year moratorium on any eminent domain actions for private use against owner-occupied homes in California.

This “cooling-off” period allows state legislators to study existing state law and make appropriate adjustments.

American courts have long held that state governments can write their own rules and limitations on eminent domain through the political process. California’s state laws require that there be both physical and economic blight before the use of eminent domain can even be considered for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of rundown areas. A long process that protects homeowners’ rights must be initiated before any condemnation begins.

For more than 50 years, California cities and residents have benefited from revitalization efforts financed by redevelopment.

Let us not lose sight of all the positive accomplishments that have been achieved under that authority.

Thousands of new and affordable residences in California have been created through the mechanism of redevelopment.

Let us work rationally to see where abuses may be occurring and seek to address real and specific problems.

Let us not “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Hollister Free Lance: www.freelancenews.com

Assemblyman Simon Salinas, D-Salinas, represents California’s 28th Assembly District, which includes San Benito county