Voters urged to support limits on eminent domain: Edison-Metuchen NJ Sentinel, 8/16/06

By Jay Bodas

Eminent domain will be a prominent issue [for Edison voters] in November's general election.

On Nov. 7, voters will have the chance to vote on an ordinance that would limit the government's power to take land away from private property owners.

"We want to take a stand against the use of eminent domain for the sole purpose of the government taking someone's land and in turn giving that land to a private entity without the consent of the property owner," Mayor Jun Choi said at a press conference last week to announce the ballot question.

However, the township reserves the right to take land away from a private owner for public uses.

"[The ordinance] applies to private economic development purposes," Choi said. "We still reserve the right for public uses, such as a small piece of land where we would put up a traffic light in a dangerous area.

"There are legitimate purposes that support the broader purpose. We want to limit the use of this power for private purposes."

A resolution to put the question to voters in November was adopted unanimously by the Township Council last month. It was passed in response to a June 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Kelo v. City of New London.

In that decision, a split 5-4 court ruled that private land may be transferred from one private owner to another because the community's economic growth, such as in the form of new jobs and increased tax revenue, qualified as a permissible public use under the Fifth Amendment.

In their dissent, Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said that "the beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

"That critical decision has already had ramifications across the country," Choi said last week. "Unwilling working-class people who built homes, businesses and memories have been forced to fork over their properties for the sake of private developers' plans.

"This Supreme Court decision made it clear that middle-class homes could be replaced with malls, offices, luxury homes - anything that might increase tax revenue."

Council members Robert Diehl and Charles Tomaro encouraged residents to vote in favor of passing the ordinance in November.

"If anyone has read the newspapers in the last few months, eminent domain has made headlines in just about every paper," Diehl said. "People have been concerned about it. I applaud the council for moving forward with this, and I encourage voters to vote for it also."

"It is time that we citizens come out to support this," Tomaro said, "so that in the future, eminent domain is not used for private gain. Please come out on Nov. 7 and vote yes, and we will limit the council from condemning someone's property. We need that vote in order to succeed."

Edison-Metuchen NJ Sentinel: http://ems.gmnews.com