No Eminent Domain for Private Gain: The Epoch Times, 3/3/06

By Merian Kiernan

On Saturday, Feb. 25, people across California launched a massive grassroots campaign to gather 800,000 signatures by early May to qualify "Limit Eminent Domain: The People's Initiative" for the November 2006 ballot.

According to information from www.LimitEminentDomain.org, "School teacher Suzette Kelo had turned a rundown Victorian into her dream home only to have the City of New London, Connecticut try to seize it by eminent domain for the benefit of a large private corporation. Most people think that eminent domain can only be used for a legitimate public use like a school or fire station. The Kelo decision confirmed a practice of abuse that has been happening all over California and the nation. Many homes, businesses, and places of worship have been seized and many more are threatened. If owners resist, their property can be forcibly taken by the government and given to another private owner just because the new use might generate more revenue."

This past November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed on to the Senate, by a wide bipartisan majority, The Private Property Rights Protection Act (H.R. 4128). It was a funding bill only that put a 2-year moratorium on eminent domain legislation, giving all states a chance to enact or change their own policies.

Last summer, a U.S. Supreme Court decision that sanctioned the use of eminent domain to take one person's home or business in order to give it to another for private profit was enacted. "No eminent domain for private gain" is the motto being used to formulate change to California's Constitution via The People's Initiative.

KGO, KSFO and KICU 36 media coverage of this initiative has seen overwhelming response and interest from the public. With California's current housing market being what it is, most homeowners rely upon the value of their property to be their biggest financial asset. Home ownership provides a secure and comfortable place to live, and can be a blanket of security for future investment and retirement. Even though the Anderson forecast predicted a few months ago that home sales would plummet to a five-year low, the median home price in California last month rose to $425,000.

Judith Christensen, Redevelopment Director and City Council member for Daly City, says, "A lot of city officials don't like to use eminent domain, but they see it as a necessary tool." But what she points out is that this people's initiative is not about eminent domain of public property that government agencies, school districts, water departments, etc. use. This initiative is only concerning private property such as in the Kelo case. "Individual rights are what this country is about," says the schoolteacher who got mad with government, got together with her neighbors and ran and won her City Council seat in 2004. Judith is also a committee member of the initiative.

Annette Hipona, of Daly City, Initiative Proponent and Initiative Coordinating Committee organizer, staged an information site on Mission Street, at the "Top of the Hill" area of Daly City. This very site, nicknamed, "The Landmark Site," is one location where Daly City used eminent domain ruling to take a privately held small business property of 40-50 years, enabling it to be sold against the owner's will. Two small auto body shops were given up for a private developer to build 70 luxury condos at this site. City officials say the pros of this deal are more tax money, but opponents say that most of the new tax monies generated go back to the redevelopment itself, not into the public's general fund. This is the fund that pays for community police, firefighters, libraries, etc.

Judith Christensen pointed out that "small businesses are the #1 properties that are taken by eminent domain, and with 80 percent of the public jobs created by small business this is not a good situation for a city. Most new jobs created now are part-time, not paying a living wage."

Annette Hipona tells of her gradual involvement of becoming a grassroots member of her community with a story that happened six-and-a-half years ago. A very large planned development slipped by the eyes of her neighbors when a legal notice was posted for the required two weeks in a small local paper. Working together with a neighbor, she printed flyers and went door to door, getting a lot of response, encouraging her involvement in city held meetings and networking with other concerned individuals. At first she was nervous about her involvement and tried to keep anonymous, but gave into the realization that the grassroots networks are all interconnected with many different organizations helping one another. She learned from books on how to write legal referendums, and finally decided to help get a concerned individual elected to a City Council position.

It has been strictly a grassroots, volunteer only, non-partisan initiative—with strictly no pay to volunteers. There will be volunteers presenting petitions for signatures in all areas of California. As Hipona explains, "We all are doing things strictly out of love" for the issues we stand for. And her reason for a person to get involved and sign the initiative in order for it to be on the voter's ballot in November is this: "A one year hearing can put any property under eminent domain and because redevelopment affects all people who pay taxes, whether one lives across or right next to a redevelopment, he should be concerned."

With this initiative, California will be given an opportunity to put a safety net on eminent domain ruling to further the protection of property ownership. Hipona explained, "The Democratic party has shown support and will most likely back the initiative as a proposition. And there is a similar resolution passed by the Republicans backing the concept. So what needs to be done now is to get enough signatures to place it on the November ballot for a vote."

The Epoch Times: www.theepochtimes.com