Eminent Domain soars since U. S. Supreme Court Ruling: Bayshore Courier (Middletown NJ), 7/13/06

The Real Deal

By Joseph Azzolina

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to allow cities and states to seize property for “private” development opened the floodgates to eminent domain actions nationwide.

In the year since the Kelo, Connecticut decision, nearly 6,000 properties nationwide have been threatened or taken under that precedent, more than the number that had been seized over a previous five-year period, according to a report by the Institute for Justice.

Long Branch [NJ] residents have been hit hard by the Supreme Court ruling, which allows municipalities to take private property for the purpose of putting up more expensive homes and businesses to rake in more tax revenues for local governments.

If this is not unconstitutional, I don’t know what is. The Kelo decision is a disgrace for what America stands for – freedom, liberty and the right for everyone to own a home and live the American Dream.

“There has been a huge rise in the number of threats to use eminent domain since Kelo. Cities are wielding eminent domain as a club,” said Dana Berliner, a senior counsel with the Institute for Justice and the author of the 100-page Institute report.

People threatened with eminent domain are vulnerable, Berliner said, because they feel compelled to sell or have their home or business seized for a fire-sale price.

At the same time, she said, residents have become more active in trying to thwart land grabs and promoting changes to state law to bar the use of eminent domain, according to a report in The Washington Times by staff writer Joyce Howard Price.

Since the high court’s 5-4 decision in Kelo V. City of New London, Conn., a year ago, 5,783 properties nationwide have been either seized or threatened with seizure under eminent domain.

That number compares with 10,281 examples over the five-year period from 1998 to 2002, The Institute found. The Institute is the public interest law firm that argued the Kelo case before the Supreme Court.

During that period, threats were made to seize 6,560 properties, and 3,721 condemnation filings or authorizations were recorded.

Constitutionally, municipalities are allowed to confiscate private properties for “pubic” uses, such as roads, bridges, dams, forest fire protection and other public interest uses.

But the Supreme Court decided to take “private” property to help older communities to generate more tax revenues. This, to me, is not the American way.

In the past year, 5,429 property seizures have been threatened for economic redevelopment projects, plus 354 condemnation filings or authorizations. In the Kelo case, the Institute represented nine Connecticut homeowners who tried unsuccessfully to halt New London’s takeover of their properties for economic development. The court held that private development has a “public purpose” if it will increase jobs and tax receipts.

Give me a break!

“The court ruled that the U.S. Constitution allows government to use eminent domain to take and bulldoze existing homes and businesses for new private commercial development, holding that the mere possibility that a different private use could produce more taxes or jobs is enough reason for condemnation,” the report said.

“Opening the Floodgates” documents 117 projects in the District of Columbia (DC), including Maryland, that have involved the use of threatened use of eminent domain for private development in the past year.

“The vast majority involved the removal of lower-income residents and smaller businesses to attract wealthier people or more prominent businesses, Berliner reported.

“Of the 117 projects, nearly half involved taking low-income houses, apartments and mobile home parts to construct upscale condominiums or other upscale residents and new retail development. Cities across America are working hard to drive out the working poor,” she said.

Baltimore is “on an eminent domain spree” because it intends to seize 75 properties for private development in this year alone.” Berliner said.

Bayshore Courier: http://www.bayshorenews.com