Napolitano rejects eminent domain reform: East Valley Tribune (Mesa AZ), 6/7/06

By Dennis Welch

[Arizona] Gov. Janet Napolitano has rejected a measure she says would keep cities from rejuvenating older, more rundown areas of town.

Napolitano vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have kept local governments from condemning property to make room for other types of development. The bill made it harder to declare eminent domain, unless there was a clear public need for things such as roads or parks.

It also would have forced cities to give a slum or blight designation to individual properties, instead of large swaths of land. And property owners would have had a chance to make improvements before the government forced a land sale.

But the governor said the bill went too far by severely limiting the ability of cities to deal with urban blight. She argued that local governments need to balance the rights of private property owners with the need to redevelop rundown areas.

“Without such a balance, slum areas can go unabated and become epicenters of criminal and gang activity,” Napolitano said.

The bill’s supporters say it would have given property owners further protections against local governments looking to take their property and turn it over to private developers to raise sales tax dollars.

Sponsor Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, likened the use of eminent domain to “tyranny.”

Gray introduced several eminent domain reform bills this session and has vowed to take the issue to the voters on the Nov. 7 ballot.

But lawmakers killed a similar measure earlier this year that would have let voters decide the fate of eminent domain.

Jennifer Perkins, an attorney with the Arizona chapter of the Institute for Justice, said local governments have far too much discretion when deciding to use eminent domain.

The institute successfully defended Mesa brake-shop owner Randy Bailey against the city’s effort to condemn his downtown property in order to build a hardware store. Appearing on television’s “60 Minutes” in 2003, Bailey’s story put the East Valley in the center of a national controversy over appropriate use of eminent domain.

Intensity on the issue increased last year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a small town in Massachusetts could take private homes for economic development.

Between 1998 and 2002, there were more than 10,000 reported cases of cities and towns attempting to use eminent domain, according to the institute.

“This bill was an opportunity to break up the unholy alliance between tax-hungry cities and money-hungry developers,” Perkins said.

East Valley Tribune: http://www.eastvalleytribune.com