A Blight on Eminent Domain: Newspaper Tree, El Paso TX, 9/13/06

The next step for the [El Paso TX] Downtown redevelopment plan, for which a land use map was approved Oct. 31, is creation of a Tax Increment Redevelopment Zone, or TIRZ. Under a TIRZ, the increment collected on increased property values is spent within the zone, for projects such as landscaping, street repairs, parks or other improvements. The taxes collected on the value of property at the time the TIRZ was created continue to go into the city general fund.

In order to create a TIRZ, there must be a general finding of blight that applies to the area within the TIRZ boundaries. This leads to the question of eminent domain, which has been one of the major points of contention for opponents of the Downtown Plan.

Eminent domain is the taking of property by government. Traditionally, this has been done for public projects such as schools, roads and other public infrastructure. However, it also has been used for redevelopment purposes, and a Supreme Court ruling in 2005 held that redevelopment was an allowable purpose for the use of eminent domain. The court left it up to states to set limits on the use of eminent domain for redevelopment.

In Texas, the Legislature limited the use of eminent domain - other than obviously public purposes such as those described above - to eliminating blight. If economic development is a secondary outcome of eliminating blight, however, government is allowed to use eminent domain.

Downtown Plan opponents have said they would not object to the plan if it does not use eminent domain. If the TIRZ includes a finding of blight, however, any property within that area could then be subject to eminent domain proceedings. The opponents have said that using eminent domain on a broad area, without regard to whether a specific property is blighted or not, is an abrogation of private property rights. The city is attempting to create the TIRZ before the year ends, so it can capture a larger increment by using the property values from this year to set the baseline.

They have said they will fight in the Legislature - where bills for the next session can be introduced as early as Monday (Nov. 13) - and they are attempting to secure a promise from the city that it will not use eminent domain on property that is not blighted.

Mayor John Cook has made statements supportive of such a concept, and the Land Grab Opponents, a group organized by the Rosenbaum family, which owns El Paso-Los Angeles Limousine and has emerged as a lead force in fighting the Downtown Plan, is attempting to work with the mayor’s office to craft an eminent domain ordinance that would force a property-by-property finding of blight before eminent domain could be used.

Newspaper Tree requested a copy of the proposal, and is making it available as a matter of public record at:

Newspaper Tree, El Paso TX: www.newspapertree.com