Senate Puts Eminent Domain on Hold: WXIA-TV (Atlanta GA), 1/19/06

By Denis O'Hayer

Responding to outraged property owners, a state senate committee has just approved a 120-day halt on eminent domain, the power local governments have to seize private land.

At issue is whether the government can take private land for other private development.

Mark Meeks swapped his florist's apron for a business suit to watch the vote. He's in a legal fight with the city of Stockbridge, which wants to force him to sell his shop to make way for a new city hall plus private stores and residences.

Lawmakers have felt the public fury over eminent domain for private projects. Local governments have, too.

But John Hiscox of Macon's housing authority warned there are times when eminent domain serves the public good – even when a private project is involved.

Hiscox says without eminent domain, Macon could never have transformed blighted blocks into vibrant neighborhoods.

“We’re respecting private property. We are creating new homeowners by the dozens,” Hiscox said.

Meeks pointed to existing laws.

“There are laws on the books now. If they want to use those, they can enforce those, and there’s no need to use eminent domain,” Meeks said.

Both sides said a 120-day moratorium would give lawmakers time to sort out an issue that's both controversial and complicated.

There’s also a move now to write limits on eminent domain directly into the state constitution. That would likely intensify the debate even more.

WXIA-TV: www.11alive.com

Neville proposes bill that would limit eminent domain: (Farmington NM) Daily Times, 1/20/06

By Rhys Saunders and Walter Rubel

Republican senators Steve Neville, Farmington, and Lee Rawson, Las Cruces, have introduced legislation that would prohibit cities and other local government agencies from using their powers of eminent domain to condemn private property for commercial development.

Neville's bill would add a new section to the state's Eminent Domain Code prohibiting the practice. Rawson's bill goes one step further, seeking a constitutional amendment in which voters would be asked to limit the powers of eminent domain in the state Constitution.

Eminent domain gives governments the authority to seize private property, paying the owners fair market value. It has typically been used for public needs such as roads and utilities. But a Supreme Court decision handed down last year allows municipalities to use eminent domain to clear the way for private development.

"The Supreme Court case caused an uproar all over the country," Neville said.

He noted that the city of Farmington is in the process of reviving its downtown area, and has agreed not to use eminent domain laws in that process, but there is nothing now in New Mexico law that would stop them.

"The Constitution says if it's allowed in statute you can do it," Neville said.

Three different state codes would appear to allow for property to be seized, he noted. Neville said his bill would not prevent the traditional uses of eminent domain to meet community needs.

Rawson said even if Neville's bill is passed, he will still seek a change in the Constitution. Putting it into the Constitution will remove politics from the issue and ensure that private property rights are maintained in future years when other lawmakers are in office, he said.

"We both have the same goal," Rawson said.

Local officials in San Juan County applauded the proposed legislation.

"I support that bill," said Farmington Mayor Bill Standley.

Standley said the Farmington City Council is in the process of drafting a resolution that would limit the city's use of eminent domain, restricting the ability to seize both private and commercial property for the purposes of metropolitan redevelopment.

"It's sensible for us to back it up," Standley said of state legislation. "The sooner we do it (pass a local resolution), the better it is to show support of the bill."

Standley said he expects the draft to be brought before the council within "the next couple of weeks," and believes the City Council will vote in favor of the resolution.

Councilor Mary Fischer said she believes a resolution would not have been necessary if the council had not passed boundaries for the metropolitan redevelopment area (MRA).

"It (eminent domain) is what drives the MRA train," Fischer said. "Without condemnation, the whole concept does not work. I think (Standley) may be understanding that support of the MRA is an error and I think he's trying to backstep a little bit."

Fischer said she is not in favor of eminent domain for economic purposes and even termed the idea a "scam" used to "help your buddy at the expense of your neighbor."

She said she believes San Juan County citizens would vote in favor of a bill limiting the powers of eminent domain.

There are certain instances in which eminent domain would still apply under the city's proposed resolution, Standley said.

"Some residents could be deemed not fit (to live at a location) if it's being used as a crack house or for illegal and illicit activities," Standley said. "In that case, the property would be used for city purposes, not for economic purposes. If it's a viable property, I'm not going to exercise eminent domain."

Standley noted that the City Council will be "very diligent" if it ever decides to exercise the practice.

During a Nov. 14 Bloomfield City Council meeting, the council approved a resolution stating that the city opposes eminent domain actions "that would result in the taking of an occupied residence for economic development or redevelopment purposes."

"We couldn't set the law for ourselves or for future councils, but we wanted to say that this is the way the current council feels about (eminent domain)," said Bloomfield Mayor Keith Johnson, who is also a County Commissioner.

Johnson said that if the state legislation is brought before the public, he believes local residents will vote in favor of the bill.

"I think it would have overwhelming support to limit where eminent domain could be used," Johnson said. "For the purposes of roads and utilities, I think it's a necessary tool, but we've never had to use it in Bloomfield."

The Daily Times: www.daily-times.com

Preserving Eminent Domain: The Black Voice News (Riverside CA), 1/21/06

By Chris Levister

Welcome to western San Bernardino where property owner’s cries of “leave my ‘house’ alone” are as constant as the big rumbling dirt haulers clearing blighted private land for public projects.

Inland government officials say attacks o­n eminent domain could doom these and dozens of other redevelopment projects slated for local low-income neighborhoods.

Officials have launched a renewed campaign lobbying state and federal legislators to preserve the decades-old practice of taking private land for public projects.

Last year the practice came under attack when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld local governments’ rights in the case of Kelo v. City of New London to seize private property and give it to another private party.

Critics charge that the ruling violated the U.S. Constitution and stripped property owners of the right to defend their property against government takeover. In the wake of the ruling state and federal governments rushed to consider placing widespread restrictions o­n eminent domain.

In California, state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, has re-introduced legislation aimed at reforming the state’s law o­n eminent domain. The proposed legislation seeks to bar governments from using eminent domain to take property and hand it over to another private party. His 2005 proposal was defeated along party lines.

“This isn’t a question of partisanship or ideology. This is a about protecting the rights of property owners, many of whom are elderly and poor,” McClintock said.

Three other organizations, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, are also moving to launch ballot initiatives curbing eminent domain.

The impending legislation has officials in Riverside, San Bernardino, Fontana, Yucapia and other rapidly developing Inland cities looking to Sacramento and Washington D.C. for help in navigating a growing firestorm swarming with angry property owners and vociferous property-rights advocates.

Fontana City Manager Ken Hunt and other government officials claim the attacks hamper efforts to revitalize crumbling communities. “The firestorm over eminent domain ties our hands. The issue is largely misunderstood.”

Hunt and other Inland officials claim skyrocketing construction costs, make public-private partnerships not o­nly attractive but necessary.

“It’s a fact of life. Taxpayers are often reluctant to fund costly redevelopment projects in low-income areas,” says Seattle-based developer James Avery Talis. Talis says efforts to build low-income housing, libraries, parks and make road improvements under a public-private partnership will suffer from the eminent domain backlash.

“Uttering the word is like hollering fire in a theater.” Talis is currently mired in legal proceedings over attempts to seize several structures in western Riverside. He cited an example where his firm revitalized an aging waterfront community after the city of Seattle seized 16 rundown bungalows with the help of eminent domain.

“Those waterfront homes were o­nce valuable assets. But when they fell into disarray they became health and safety hazards. They essentially became liabilities to the homeowners, their neighborhood and the city.”

Talis admits seizing a homeowner’s property is almost never a pleasant experience. Governments and developers take a lot of heat. “But in reality our goal is to improve living conditions. We create long-term assets.”

Norma Halstead has mixed feelings about eminent domain. Three years ago she lost her 3rd generation Fontana home to a low-income housing complex. “They came, they saw, they took.”

Halstead fought the city and lost. She now owns a new home in Moreno Valley.

“Eminent domain is like good and evil. o­n o­ne hand the practice robs people of their shelter, o­n the other hand the practice is sometimes necessary to get rid of blight and provide safe clean low-income housing.”

For 34 years Halstead and her family suffered the ill-effects of unpaved streets, blowing dust, flooding, rodent infestation, public dumping, abandoned vehicles, rampant crime and other unsafe living conditions.

“City officials turned their heads the other way while we wallowed in squalor. We were poor and stuck until the developers came. There’s good and bad in the practice,” said Halstead. She says the low-income housing built o­n the seized land improved the quality of life for her family and many of the same residents forced to sell their homes.

Sen. McClintock is unfazed by critics of his legislative proposal. He says his efforts are not aimed at barring governments from using eminent domain for strictly government projects. “Public support for protecting property owners is overwhelming. We’re looking for a happy medium.”

The Black Voice News: www.blackvoicenews.com

Lawmakers Debate Eminent Domain, 'Super Slab': CBS-4 (Denver CO), 1/20/06

By Colleen Slevin, Associated Press

A year after plans to build the "Super Slab" private toll road on the Eastern Plains were put on hold, eminent domain – the government's right to seize private property for other uses – has returned to center stage at the state Capitol.

Lawmakers are reviewing bills aimed at regulating private highways and will be asked to vote on whether to ban governments from condemning land for economic development projects.

"The citizens want to know where our legislators sit on this issue. If they don't represent the people on this, they'll be fired in November," said Marsha Looper, a Super Slab opponent who's now running for a seat in the House.

Looper is seeking the seat now held by term-limited Richard Decker, R-Fountain. Retired lobbyist John Shipper is also challenging Republican Debbie Stafford, R-Aurora, largely because of the toll road issue.

On Thursday, Super Slab critics scored a victory when the Senate Transportation Committee gave initial backing to a measure that would only allow private companies to condemn private property if they partnered with the state to build the road. Backers of the Front Range Toll Road oppose Sen. Tom Wiens' bill because they say they would have to give up ownership of the road to the state and no investors would be interested.

Another proposal would require private roads to be subject to the same regulations as public roads, including doing environmental impact studies.

Gov. Bill Owens vetoed a similar bill from Wiens last year and has warned lawmakers that the state may need private toll roads in the future.

However, eminent domain critics are also thinking beyond Super Slab following last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Kelo case that found that New London, Conn. had the right to take homes for a private development project. The court also said that states could set limits on the practice.

Looper is part of a coalition collecting signatures on a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban eminent domain for economic development. They need to gather 68,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot and so far have about 9,000.

To make sure it gets on the ballot, state Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, also plans to introduce a resolution with the same language at the Capitol. However, it would have to get two-thirds support in the House and Senate because it changes the constitution.

"Owning property in this country is a fundamental right people have come to expect. I think it (eminent domain) has been abused by local, county and state governments for the purpose of putting tax dollars in the till," said White, pointing to Lakewood's decision to declare a portion of West Colfax Avenue as blighted.

White said the proposal would bar private toll roads from being built. Looper said they could still be allowed as long as the project was just a road and didn't include development of things like shops and hotels along the corridor.

White said he's proposing a constitutional amendment to make sure that home-rule cities like Denver would have to abide by the change.

The Colorado Municipal League opposes the measure and says that the state's 40 urban renewal authorities – which include cities as varied as Denver and Delta – have used it sparingly for economic redevelopment. Only six of them have used it for such projects over the last five years and none were to pave the way for a "big box" retail store, said CML executive director Sam Mamet.

"Don't take a rifle and fire shots all over the place to solve a problem that does not exist. This is an emotional response to a problem that just does not exist in Colorado," Mamet said.

He said a law passed by Colorado lawmakers a year before the Kelo decision gives added protections to property owners in party by making city councils meet certain requirements before being able to condemn property for economic development.

CBS-4 Denver: http://cbs4denver.com

Lawmakers seek tighter rules on eminent domain: The (Hampton Roads VA) Virginian-Pilot , 1/19/06

By Harry Minium

Officials in Virginia worried when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that it was OK for New London, Conn., to seize 15 middle-income homes in order to build upscale housing, offices and a marina.

Shortly after the ruling, the Virginia Housing Commission, a group composed of many stakeholders in the housing industry, including consumers, held a series of hearings on the issue.

The consensus was that Virginia’s laws would not permit such condemnation and only need to be updated, not overhauled.

As of Wednesday morning, 35 bills dealing with condemnation had been introduced into the General Assembly. Delegates and senators have until Friday to introduce more.

Del. Terrie L. Suit, R-Virginia Beach, who chaired the housing commission, has introduced two bills, HB94 and HB241, to tweak Virginia’s condemnation laws.

“Since we’ve not had drastic abuse in Virginia, we wanted to make sure and not knee-jerk on this,” she said.

In Virginia, property cannot be taken under eminent domain laws unless it serves a “public purpose,” such as a new school, highway or police station. One major exception is when an area is declared to be blighted.

Suit’s bills will tighten the definitions of public purpose and blight.

“We wanted to make sure we had the right restraint on government, but at the same time did not restrain the government’s ability to clean up blight and drug-infested areas,” she said.

Most members of the commission agreed, Suit said.

Joseph T. Waldo, a Norfolk lawyer whose specialty is defending homeowners and businesspeople whose property has been condemned by governmental agencies, was an exception.

“Terrie is concerned with property rights, and I know her heart is in the right place,” Waldo said. “But her bills are terrible.”

He said there have been, and continue to be, abuses in Virginia.

“I’m representing a major retailer in the Coliseum Mall area in Hampton,” he said. “We’re talking about a mall, and the Hampton Redevelopment Authority is considering condemning” the store as blighted.

On Wednesday, Waldo had a final hearing on an eminent domain case in Roanoke in which he represented Dr. Walter Claytor, whose family sued the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority for declaring his property to be blighted, then doing nothing for more than 20 years.

“They were going to condemn it, but they never did,” Waldo said. A judge ruled that by not taking any action, and by tearing down adjacent buildings, the Roanoke authority reduced Claytor’s property value and rental income.

On Wednesday, the judge ordered the authority to pay $281,590 for taking the property, $117,000 in attorneys’ fees, $70,000 in interest and $33,000 in other costs.

Claytor was financially able to hire an attorney. “The problem,” Waldo said, “is that, so often, it is the poor who end up on the wrong end of an eminent domain case.”

Suit defended Virginia’s eminent domain record.

“Our case law, where courts have ruled on public use, has been extremely conservative,” she said. “We’ve not run into a situation like they did in Connecticut, where government has taken nice houses to build nicer houses.”

Suit acknowledged that “not everyone” is happy with her bill. Inner-city areas don’t like seeing the definition of blight narrowed.

Norfolk won’t endorse Suit’s bill, said Ron Williams Jr., Norfolk’s director of intergovernmental relations.

“But we won’t oppose it, either,” he said.

Del. Johnny S. Joannou, D-Portsmouth, has introduced a bill that would essentially bar cities and counties from condemning property because of blight.

“It’s the obligation of a locality not to allow those areas to become blighted,” he said, adding, “I’m pretty firm on the principle that if a government takes your property, it should be for public use only.”

Suit said she understands his view, but added: “Our urban municipalities, like Norfolk and Portsmouth, have areas that are old and blighted and crime-infested.

“If we don’t give them the power to go in and clean those areas up, how can they make their cities safe for the residents who do maintain their properties?”

Suit expects that all of the eminent domain bills eventually will be rolled into one.

“Something will pass,” she said. “I don’t know if it will be exactly in the form that I have proposed.

“But when you’ve looked at an issue over a long period of time, and built a consensus as we did, it’s a whole lot easier to pass a bill.”

The Virginian-Pilot: http://home.hamptonroads.com


TTA exercises eminent domain for a Durham car repair shop: Carolina News-14 (Raleigh-Durham NC), 1/19/06

By Ann Forte

The Triangle Transit Authority [TTA] said it did nothing wrong when it exercised eminent domain for a Durham car repair shop.

Last year, the TTA seized Bob's Service Garage on Alston Avenue.

But, the shop's owner, Bob Morrison, hasn't moved out yet. His lawyers maintain it's because he can't afford to leave.

A TTA lawyer said the transit authority is giving him about $216,000 for the property.

His lawyers said it was appraised for more than $350,000.

"He's been asked to accept $165,000 less than the appraisal,” Stephanie Autry, Morrison’s lawyer, said. “He's been told he's got to move out by January 1st, which he's not done, which he couldn't do because he didn't have anywhere to go."

The TTA is charging Morrison about $2,000 a month in rent to stay on the property.

His lawyers say hasn't paid it yet because he can't afford it.

Carolina News 14: http://rdu.news14.com

'Eminent domain' bills could affect San Ramon, Livermore plans: (San Jose CA) Mercury News, 1/18/06

By Scott Marshall and Bonita Brewer

In what is shaping up as an eminent domain debate in San Ramon, the city will hold a workshop tonight to answer questions about whether this "tool of last resort" should be reestablished as an element in a stalled but voter-approved specific plan redevelopment area.

The city wants to re-establish eminent domain — the power to take private property for public use with just compensation — in the 128-acre Crow Canyon Specific Plan on the city's north side. A city-commissioned study defines this area as "economically blighted."

The proposal comes at a time when the debate over eminent domain is shaping up statewide and nationally.

Restrictions on the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes have been proposed at both the state and federal levels, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer. The high court upheld a city's power to use eminent domain to buy unblighted houses for economic gain — a redevelopment project. The Crow Canyon Specific Plan area contains no houses, but a number of businesses.

"I think it's too early to say" if the initiatives would have any effect on San Ramon's redevelopment plans, said Marc Fontes, the city's economic development director.

Three proposed state-level voter initiatives essentially would eliminate the use of eminent domain for any property that would not be owned and used by a public entity, according to the League of California Cities.

That, in turn, would handcuff efforts by cities and redevelopment agencies to revitalized blighted areas. The measures could make infill projects much more difficult to build, and thus could force new housing growth into surrounding open space and farmland, according to the league.

Cities are waiting to see the precise language of the initiatives. But some officials already are wary because housing is in such critical need in California.
Livermore's City Council was warned at a recent meeting of the potential impact on downtown redevelopment efforts. "Either one could have an adverse effect on us," Assistant City Manager Jim Piper told council members.

"There are some cases where (abuse) has happened, but California already has a number of safeguards in place," he said. "There are already limitations.

"We only use (eminent domain) as a last report and historically, there are not many instances where we've used it."

The San Ramon Planning Commission has deadlocked over where to designate housing and what to do with some industrial businesses within the Crow Canyon Specific Plan area.
Only 15 percent of the parcels and 24 percent of the acreage in the area has been redeveloped in the past 18 years. Average property values per square foot of building in the specific plan area are 45 percent lower for office use, 50 percent less for industrial use and 43 percent lower for retail use compared with the citywide median.

Under the proposed redevelopment amendment, eminent domain could not be used to acquire property outside that area that is occupied as a residence. The amendment also would increase tax increment revenues and the Redevelopment Agency's bonding authority.

Though San Ramon regards eminent domain as a tool of last resort, according to Fontes, business owners — many of whom rent their spaces — aren't convinced.

The city "said individual property owners would sell to developers" after the location of residential and business areas is settled, said Ted Mendelson, who for 25 years has run one of several auto body businesses on Beta Court. They fear property owners would force them out in favor of more lucrative housing.

"All of a sudden, they want to stick eminent domain in there," he said. "Why would you need eminent domain if this is going to be done by private developers?"

The city adopted a redevelopment plan 18 years ago, but little change has occurred since. The Crow Canyon Specific Plan area was included in the voter-approved General Plan 2020. The plan would establish a revitalized, pedestrian-friendly mixed-use area of businesses and homes, including affordable units.

Mercury News: www.mercurynews.com

Proposal to restrict eminent domain powers moves forward: Macon (GA) Telegraph, 1/19/06

Greg Bluestein, Associated Press

A moratorium on [Georgia] government's power to seize private land cleared another hurdle on Thursday, passing a key Senate committee by unanimous vote.

The proposal would block local governments for 120 days from using eminent domain powers to seize land for any purpose aside from building public roads and government buildings. A similar proposal breezed through a House committee last week.

Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the moratorium would give lawmakers a chance to impose other restrictions on eminent domain powers.

One idea that emerged this week from House leaders: Set up an independent committee with power to rule when a local government tries to use eminent domain powers to take land.

Keith Hatcher, a lobbyist for the Georgia Association of Realtors, said condemning property for libraries, schools and City Halls - not urban redevelopment - is proper a use of eminent domain. He and other supporters say local governments already have enough tools at their disposal to fight blight.

When governments use condemnation to revive blighted areas, Hatcher said, "The end doesn't justify the means. It doesn't override the fact that some citizen had their rights to own private property taken."

John Hiscox, director of Macon's Housing Authority, said lawmakers should not punish the agencies acting responsibly. He said his group's guidelines limit eminent domain powers as a "last resort."

In the last five years, he said his agency has condemned 127 homes, most of them "friendly" moves. The powers have helped the city rehabilitate dozens of homes and revitalize blighted, crime-ridden neighborhoods, Hiscox said.

"It doesn't sound like we're in a stampede to seize private property by the ton," Hiscox said.

State lawmakers homed in on eminent domain in June when the U.S. Supreme Court permitted New London, Conn., officials to condemn a group of older homes along the city's waterfront for a private developer.

Since that decision, a Stockbridge floral shop has become a statewide focal point for the fight. City officials condemned the shop and plan to replace it with a retail complex anchored by a new City Hall.

The session opened with about a dozen bills seeking to limit eminent domain. One of the strongest, proposed by Chapman, calls for a constitutional amendment restricting the government's ability to take land for economic redevelopment.
State Sen. David Adelman, D-Decatur, cautioned lawmakers against having a knee-jerk reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling.

"We seem very quick to pass laws and excitedly put things on the ballot," said Adelman. "The ballots are getting pretty crowded these days."

Yet state Rep. Steve Davis, a McDonough Republican, urged strong, immediate action.
"We need to put a stop to this," said Davis. "If we're going to make mistakes, then we need to err on the side of the property owners."

Macon Telegraph: www.macon.com
High court ruling spurs bills curtailing eminent domain: Tucson Citizen, 1/17/06

By David Pittman

In one of the most controversial court decisions of our time, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that cities and towns can take people's property and give it to private developers.

In response to that 5-4 decision in the case of Kelo v. New London, Conn., a spate of bills have surfaced at statehouses throughout the country, including in Arizona, to make it more difficult for local governments to seize private property.

One of those proposals is expected to be introduced at the Legislature this week by Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa. The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm that represented homeowners in the Kelo case, helped Gray write those reforms. If passed by lawmakers, those eminent domain changes would be referred to Arizona voters for their approval.

Tim Keller, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the Institute, said the measure would make it harder for local governments to take property for slum clearance and redevelopment efforts.

"In Arizona, the definitions of 'slum' and 'blight' are so broad that virtually any neighborhood could qualify," he said. "All it takes for an area to be considered blighted is for it to have a 'diversity of ownership.' We want to ensure cities can condemn only properties that threaten human health or safety."

Keller said "other nebulous terms" would be clarified under the legislation. For instance, he said local governments can take property under eminent domain law because of "inadequate lot layout."

"What does that mean?" he asked. "That is very subjective."

In addition, the proposed legislation would ban the taking of property by government for private commercial development. It would also require governments to prove that seizing of property was done for a purely public use, rather than placing the burden of proof on private property owners.

However, a lobbyist for Arizona cities said state eminent domain reforms are unneeded.

"The Kelo case could not have happened here," Kevin Adam of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns told The Arizona Republic. "The Arizona Constitution is far more restrictive than the U.S. Constitution - and also more restrictive than what is allowed in Connecticut.

In Kelo, the Supreme Court ruled a local government could bulldoze homes and turn the land over to private developers to build a hotel, health club and offices.

Opponents of the decision contend it violates the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the taking of property except for "public use," such as the building of a highway, bridge, post office or school.

However, the majority opinion, written by Justice John Paul Stevens and backed by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, said a private development could be considered a "public use" if it created jobs and resulted in greater tax revenue.

In a strongly worded dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the ruling was tilted in favor of those with "disproportionate influence and power in the political process.

O'Connor - joined in her dissent by then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas - said there is nothing preventing governments "from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."

Keller predicted Arizona lawmakers would look favorably on eminent domain reforms.

"The Kelo decision is enormously unpopular," he said. "Some public opinion polls have shown 90 percent disapproval of the ruling. I would expect the bill we are backing will receive bipartisan support in the House and Senate."

Alabama, Delaware, Ohio and Texas have all recently passed new restrictions on public property seizures and the Institute for Justice claims as many as 40 state legislatures will consider such measures this year.

Tucson Citizen: www.tucsoncitizen.com

Suburban officials pan eminent domain bill: Chicago (IL) Tribune, 1/18/06

By William Presecky

Absent any direct proof that eminent domain power has been abused in Illinois, any anti-eminent domain legislation pending in Springfield is unneeded and will be opposed, a group of far west suburban officials told state legislators Tuesday.

In presenting their top state legislative priorities for 2006 at an annual breakfast in St. Charles, members of the DuKane Valley Council and the Metro West Council of Government called on lawmakers "to preserve the current standards for the use of eminent domain."

The councils' stance on eminent domain, which lawmakers acknowledged is a "hot button" legislative issue, comes partly in response to legislation proposed by state Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) that would give landowners in Illinois more standing in court to contest the basis for certain attempts at condemnation.

In offering the councils' stance on the issue, Elgin Mayor Ed Schock said bills like Garrett's are "unnecessary at this time because of the absence of direct evidence confirming that alleged abuses of eminent domain authority exist."

Illinois already has some of the most stringent regulations and a favorable court opinion that serve as a check against such abuse, Schock said.

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) said much of the public furor feeding anti-eminent domain sentiment in Illinois stems from a lack of understanding about the existing state law.

"Citizens are unaware of what [safeguards are] already in place," Chapa LaVia said, and an education effort is needed in Illinois "to explain the whole picture."

Chapa LaVia was the lone Democrat of the six state lawmakers to meet with the councils Tuesday.

Republican state Reps. Patricia Reid Lindner of Aurora; Ruth Munson of Elgin; and Sandra Pihos of Glen Ellyn; and state Sens. Chris Lauzen of Aurora and J. Bradley Burzynski of Clare said they have experienced a firestorm of public reaction since last summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision on the public taking of private property.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled on a 5-4 vote that a municipality's eminent domain powers permit it to seize privately owned real estate for transfer to private developers if the municipality discerns a "public" benefit.

"I have never seen such a constituent outcry," said Lindner. "They were really outraged.

"This is an issue that resonates with the legislature and resonates with our constituents," she warned the councils' members.

According to Lindner, Garrett is in negotiations with Illinois municipalities and the Illinois Municipal League over changes to her eminent domain bill.

Lauzen said he looks forward to supporting "reasonable powers of eminent domain," but opposing anti-eminent domain legislation, as the councils suggest, "is not something that flies with the people I [represent]."

"This all boils down to who is really in charge," said Lauzen, adding that he comes down on the side of "the people."

Burzynski said expansion in Illinois in the number of entities that have the power of eminent domain "raises a red flag for me."

"It's certainly a hot topic with my constituents," said Pihos.

Chicago Tribune: www.chicagotribune.com



Unholy Land Grab: The National Review, 1/17/06

In the spirit of Kelo

By Heather Wilhelm

For seven years, Reverend Roosevelt Gildon has preached the gospel at the Centennial Baptist Church in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. His congregation, around 50 strong, is like a small family. The elderly members, and those without cars, often walk to Sunday services.

“Rosey,” as his friends call him, figured he’d go on preaching in the tidy steel structure for years to come. That was, until the government told him they were taking his church away.

Since the Supreme Court's controversial Kelo decision last summer, eminent domain has entered a new frontier. It’s not just grandma’s house we have to worry about. Now it’s God’s house, too. “I guess saving souls isn’t as important,” says Reverend Gildon, his voice wry, “as raking in money for politicians to spend.”

The town of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, has plans to take Centennial Baptist — along with two other churches, several businesses, dozens of small homes, and a school — and replace them with a new “super center,” rumored to include a Home Depot. It’s the kind of stuff that makes tax collectors salivate. It’s also the kind of project that brakes for no one, especially post-Kelo. “I had no idea this could happen in America,” says Reverend Gildon, after spending Monday morning marching in the Sand Springs Martin Luther King Day parade.

This unholy takeover goes back to Sand Springs’s controversial “Vision 2025” project, which emerged in 2003. The plan includes, according to its website, the “largest set of public redevelopment projects in the history of Tulsa County.” The money earmarked for Sand Springs was supposedly meant to focus on redeveloping an abandoned industrial area for big box retailers and other stores. One problem: Centennial Baptist Church isn’t abandoned, and unlike some of the other buildings in its neighborhood, it is in pristine condition. More importantly, the church doesn’t want to sell — and they have good reasons. “After I heard the news, we started looking to see if we could move,” Gildon said. “I just don’t think we can afford it. It’s too expensive. And if we can’t move, and they take our building, what happens to the church? If we leave, who is going to minister to the black community in Sand Springs?”

Reverend Gildon is a practical man. He’s not a firebrand, and he’s not looking for a fight. He just loves God and loves his church, and wants to continue serving his community. Unfortunately, local officials would rather have an extra parking lot for a new Bed Bath & Beyond.

It makes sense on one level. Churches don’t generate any tax revenue for the government to spend. They don’t “stimulate” the economy. They often, much to their peril, occupy prime, envied real estate. With the supercharged powers granted by Kelo, be very, very afraid.

What’s most egregious about this application of eminent domain is that there’s already plenty of room for development, even if the pesky church sticks around. Many community residents were happy to sell their property. Two other churches in the area decided to move to Tulsa. Other structures in the area were dilapidated and ready for the deal. The way things are now, Centennial Baptist Church could easily live side-by-side with new stores, houses, or businesses. Yet Centennial remains in the crosshairs — even though two nearby national chains, a taxpaying McDonald’s and a taxpaying O’Reilly’s muffler shop, have been left alone.

In December, Reverend Gildon joined up with Americans for Limited Government and our partner group, Oklahomans in Action, to gather signatures for the "Protect Our Homes" initiative, which will go on the ballot in November 2006. Protect our Homes is a measure designed to stop eminent-domain abuse. Right now, Americans for Limited Government is working with citizens in Michigan, Montana, Missouri, and several other states to do the same.

“I hope that my story makes people more aware,” said Reverend Gildon, “and that maybe it stops other people’s homes and churches from being taken against their will.” Meanwhile, he awaits his next meeting with the planning board, where they will tell him how much his church is worth. If things don’t change, it promises to be an offer he can’t refuse.

The National Review: www.nationalreview.com

Heather Wilhelm (hwilhelm@getliberty.org) is a Phillips Foundation fellow and serves as the director of communications for Americans for Limited Government

Legislator removes eminent domain language from bill: Atlanta (GA) Business Chronicle, 1/18/06

By Justin Rubner

Following a barrage of public condemnation over the past week, state Sen. Cecil Staton announced today he was altering his controversial rural economic development bill introduced Jan. 12 that contained passages giving community improvement districts (CIDs) the power of eminent domain. In a press conference, Staton defended the bill (Senate Bill 414) and indicated the eminent domain references were a mistake.

"This is not an eminent domain bill," said Staton, a Republican from Macon. "It never was intended to be a bill about eminent domain... And we're going to make it very, very clear once and for all that is what we have said it is from the very beginning: a bill about economic development."

Staton gave his changes to the Senate Economic Development Committee following the conference for vote.

In the new and improved bill, he promised, such community improvement districts would not have the power to condemn private property.

The move comes at a time when Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate -- as well as Gov. Sonny Perdue -- are championing themselves as private property advocates. Several senators who cosponsored Staton's pro economic development bill also sponsored tough anti-eminent domain bills in recent months including: Republicans Chip Pearson of Dawsonville, Jim Whitehead of Evans and Jeff Chapman of Brunswick.

Making matters even more embarrassing for Republicans, a similar economic development bill in 2005 encountered heavy fire from the media and property rights activists. Sen. Dan Moody, a Republican businessman from Alpharetta, introduced a bill last year that in part would have allowed the government to use eminent domain to take private property for economic development purposes. Much of the Republican leadership signed on to it.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour had sponsored SB 5 but later called it an "anathema to the people of Georgia" after radio talk show host Neal Boortz lambasted it on his morning program. Balfour, who is in charge of deciding which bills are heard on the Senate floor, this year promises that non-governmental authorities will be severely limited in their eminent domain powers after the session. Groups with that power range from the Georgia Ports Authority to numerous city development authorities.

The anti-eminent domain fray follows the U.S. Supreme Court's hugely contentious 2005 ruling that said it was OK for local governments to condemn private property for economic development purposes.

Currently sitting in the state House and Senate are at least 12 anti-eminent domain bills.

Atlanta Business Chronicle: http://atlanta.bizjournals.com

Curbing Eminent Domain: City Journal, Winter/06

The Supremes said that states can still do it, but it’s easier said than done

By Steven Malanga

In last June’s Kelo “eminent-domain” decision, the Supreme Court deemed constitutional the government taking of private land for economic development. But in his opinion for the Court, Justice John Paul Stevens noted that if states wanted to ban the practice, they could pass laws against it.

Easier said than done. In California, where some 380 municipalities have created redevelopment agencies with eminent-domain powers, enabling them, among other things, to take private land and give it to another private owner, the influential California Redevelopment Association and the state’s league of municipalities worked successfully this summer to block a law that would have limited the use of eminent domain to such traditional public projects as highways. The legislation never escaped committee. Nor is what happened in California unusual. In Kelo’s wake, dozens of state lawmakers across the country promised to introduce bills restricting eminent domain. But most of the proposed legislation has wound up stuck in committee, stalled in hearings, or tabled while officials “study” the issue.

Hope is not lost in California, however. Eminent-domain foes, including Republican state senator Tom McClintock and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, are gathering signatures for a November 2006 ballot initiative that would amend California’s constitution to include the limits fruitlessly sought by this summer’s stalled legislation. Initiative backers include the Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform (MORR), a California organization of elected officials and private citizens seeking to reduce the massive power of state redevelopment agencies. Led by Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, MORR notes that the redevelopment agencies consume 10 percent of all state tax dollars, have racked up some $56 billion in debt, and have used eminent domain to gobble up privately owned land for hotels, vast car dealerships, and big-box retailers, including a Costco warehouse store built on a site taken from a church in Cypress. Norby’s group dubs the redevelopment agencies California’s “unknown government.” Not only can the state create them without direct voter approval; the agencies in turn can incur debt without a thumbs-up from voters.

Though California’s current eminent-domain law, like those of many states, limits takings to “blighted” areas, its language is so vague on what constitutes blight that creative redevelopment authorities have designated more than 1 million Golden State acres as eligible for seizure—including land in some flourishing communities. Most recently, for instance, the San Diego Model School Development Agency pushed to grab 188 homes in the thriving City Heights neighborhood, because the agency wanted to build 509 town houses, condos, and apartments on the land.

Government ostensibly takes the private property to boost economic development and buoy tax rolls. But a 1998 study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that communities in the state that have engaged in extensive government-sponsored redevelopment have reaped no real economic benefits compared with municipalities that haven’t done so. Government officials, it turns out, often misread the marketplace and promoted projects that failed to deliver the promised payback. “The widespread abuse of eminent domain has left shattered neighborhoods, half-empty malls,” and empty car-sales lots, Norby says.

Polls show that 90 percent of Californians favor curtailing eminent-domain powers. Still, many municipal officials in the state oppose the constitutional amendment, as does the Democrat-controlled legislature. Measure proponents anticipate that, to defeat the amendment, legislators and municipal officials will enlist the aid of well-funded real-estate and development groups, as well as businesses like big-box stores and hotels that frequently win prime sites from local governments through eminent domain.

Much is at stake. A successful ballot initiative in the nation’s largest state, where use and abuse of eminent domain for economic development have become so widespread, could jump-start similar legislation around the country.

City Journal: www.city-journal.org

Even in Clayton eminent domain debate rages: St Louis (MO) pPost-Dispatch, 1/14/06

By Clay Barbour

The city of Clayton has long been the envy of St. Louis County.

With its manicured lawns and thriving downtown, it has seemed - at least on the surface - above the economic struggles of the region.

Turn down Central Avenue on any given weekday and you'll see dozens of people racing back and forth between clean office buildings and one of the dozens of restaurants that have made the town a destination.

So it came as a surprise recently when city officials signed off on a $190 million development project that authorized use of eminent domain, a tool never before used in Clayton.

The Centene Corp., a giant in the health care industry, has struck a deal to build its new headquarters on Forsyth Boulevard. The project includes a 16-story headquarters building and a 15-story office building that will have significant retail space.

City officials say the project will be a boon for the local economy, creating hundreds of jobs and adding millions to tax revenues. However, that comes at the expense of several businesses, including Decker Tailoring and Edward L. Bakewell realty offices. Both have been in their current spots for more than 40 years. Both will have to move.

For some, the city's decision proved once and for all that the use of eminent domain was truly out of control. If it could happen in Clayton, it could happen anywhere.

But for others, it revealed the cutthroat nature of economic competition between neighboring communities.

"It's so competitive," said Clayton Mayor Ben Uchitelle. "And you can't just ignore the fact that (incentives) are being offered all around us."

No one is safe
In a controversial ruling last year, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed government's right to force the sale of personal property for economic development.

While the decision broke no new ground, the court's official approval sent shock waves across the country. Since June, legislators in 28 states, including Missouri and Illinois, have introduced bills to curtail eminent domain.

Locally, at least three cities - Maplewood, Ellisville and O'Fallon, Mo. - have already passed ordinances or resolutions limiting eminent domain's use for economic development. Several others are considering similar legislation.

Clayton never seemed to need incentives to attract business. But according to City Manager Mike Schoedel, changes in the local economy have hit the county seat hard. For the past three years, the city has had an operating deficit, forcing it to dip into its reserves.

And last year, for the first time in 10 years, the city raised property tax rates to meet higher expenses for services and salaries.

"We've taken some major hits recently," Schoedel said. "You can't just sit around and hope things improve. You have to do something."

The hits Scheodel refers to are the loss of two major corporations: Sara Lee and Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. Sara Lee is moving to Chicago.

Smurfit-Stone, in a move that stings the most, is moving right down the street to Creve Coeur. "We lost them to a tax abatement deal," said Mayor Uchitelle, pointedly.

This is why Les Sterman, executive director of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, has argued for limitations on such development tools.

Sterman said one of the problems with things such as eminent domain and tax increment financing is that they rarely attract development from elsewhere; they just take it away from neighboring communities.

"It just ends up pitting neighbor against neighbor," he said.

The Centene deal
The section of Clayton targeted for the Centene Plaza development has long been a tough sell for the city. Schoedel said much of the area has been on the market for five years, with no takers.

Centene provides managed health care for Medicaid recipients and for children whose family income is too high for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. At the end of last year, it served about 772,700 people in seven states including Missouri. The company also operates specialty programs such as behavioral health care.

Its total revenue last year was slightly more than $1 billion, compared with $221.35 million in 2000.

The project is expected to generate 800 new jobs for the area and roughly $20 million in tax revenues in the next 15 years. Schoedel said the overall economic impact is too hard to calculate now, but should be considerable when considering the number of new workers and the money they could spend in the area.

"This will be a big boost for the region as a whole," Uchitelle said. "This is the kind of development that we want to attract."

But that doesn't come without a cost. The Centene deal would force out five property owners and several companies leasing space from them.

Decker Tailoring is one of several businesses on Forsyth facing possible eviction. The shop has been at its current location for more than 40 years. In that time it has built a loyal following. Owner Aleksandr Grinberg is worried about the effects of such a move.

"To do this, to make us pick up and move, it is very hard," he said. "We are a small business and our customers like us here. I need to stay in Clayton, but who knows what will happen."

Laura Dierberg Ayers, an attorney for Debbie Pyzyk, one of the five owners being forced out, said the owners feel like they are being bullied.

"We don't want to go and we truly don't appreciate the city giving Centene a hammer to force us to sell," she said. "Once you put eminent domain on the table, honest negotiations are over."

On Monday, the Clayton city clerk rejected a petition seeking a public vote on the use of eminent domain for the project, saying a referendum is not allowable under the city charter.

Ayers said the owners have not finished fighting the project. The next step, she said, would be litigation.

"The bottom line is we want to stay," said Daniel F Sheehan Jr., president of Dolan Realtors, one of the property owners.

St Louis Post-Dispatch: www.stltoday.com

Norwood eminent domain case goes national: Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, 1/15/06


By Bill Frist, United States Senate

If the city of Norwood gets its way in a case currently before the Ohio Supreme Court, senior citizens Carl and Joy Gamble may lose their home so a private real estate developer can build a shopping mall, some offices, and a luxury apartment complex.

I have some pretty clear thoughts about the case: The Gambles should keep their home and the developer should either build around it or cancel the development plans altogether.

That won't happen easily. Under one recent Supreme Court decision, local governments can now seize private property and turn it over to private real estate developers. While communities need to balance development needs and citizens' constitutional private property rights, Norwood's decision to take homes this way may signify a troubling trend: governments routinely seizing private property for economic development purposes.

Of course, government does sometimes need to seize private property. For hundreds of years, indeed, it has done so through power called eminent domain. If a city or state needs a new road, school, park or even sewage plant, the local government should not face impossible obstacles in taking private land and paying the property's owners a fair market price. While it's always preferable for owners to make voluntary sales, government needs these powers to build public facilities, and both the Ohio Constitution and the U.S. Constitution grant them.

But the eminent domain powers traditionally exist to provide public benefits, not as a way of helping out developers. Supposedly, in fact, even economic development projects like Norwood's exist to clear away blight and prevent slums. But the Gambles' neighborhood, made up of well-kept homes, hardly qualified as a slum. A study that the developer paid for discovered problematic conditions where no reasonable person could ever have seen them. Norwood ultimately condemned the Gambles' house, and several others, on the basis that the neighborhood showed signs that it might one day become a slum.

Among other things, Norwood faulted dead-end streets, too-small front yards, and the fact that different families owned houses next to one another. By these standards, it appears likely that some of Cincinnati's most sought-after neighborhoods would qualify as slums or potential slums.

Several of my Senate colleagues have introduced bills to protect homeowners like Carl and Joy Gamble. My own constituents in Tennessee have written me to complain about eminent domain abuse, and I have heard disturbing stories of eminent domain abuse from places like New London, Conn., Freeport, Texas, and Longbranch, N.J. Congress will eventually need to take up legislation to address the issue.

A historically high percentage of American families - nearly 70 percent - own their homes, and most families count them as their most valuable possession and greatest repositories of wealth. Homeownership is the backbone of our nation's communities and the leading source of capital for business creation. Anything that jeopardizes homeownership also threatens the stability and future of America's neighborhoods. Quite simply, no family should ever risk losing its home because a government wants to help a private developer.

U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is Senate majority leader. He wrote this column exclusively for The Enquirer.

Cincinnati Enquirer: http://news.enquirer.com

Bill Frist (R-TN) is Senate majority leader

Critics protest L.A. eminent domain sale: Science Daily, 1/14/06

United Press International

Los Angeles officials want to sell land — originally seized from a furniture maker by eminent domain for use as an animal shelter — to a private developer.

That company is also a furniture maker.

After three years of wrangling, Vaughan Benz, a furniture manufacturer doing business in South Los Angeles, settled on a sales price with the city.

Voters approved a $5.8 million bond issue to fund construction of a sorely needed new animal rescue building in the area.

The Los Angeles Times reports some city officials now want to sell the land to a new business instead of building the animal rescue there. The shelter would be built down the block.

The furniture maker Cisco Bros., now vying for the land, has executives who have donated more than $17,000 in campaign funds to elected city officials, the newspaper said.

A local taxpayers advocacy group and the owners of Vaughan Benz called the move an "abuse" of property taking powers by the city. Vaughan Benz has since moved to the Chinatown area of Los Angeles.

With the delay in building a new shelter, the project's price tag could rise an additional $5 million.

Science Daily: www.sciencedaily.com


Homesteader packs up after eminent domain fight, clearing way for Everglades restoration: San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, 1/13/06

Associated Press

A homesteader leaving his [Florida] Everglades land after years of fighting the state's claim on it is moving to a bigger, nicer house, but he mourns what he's lost.

"I will never see the turkeys run up and down the road again," said Jesse Hardy, 70. "I will never see my deer feed in my yard again. ... I will never be able to freely do what I wanted to do."

Hardy's land was the last of 19,000 parcels purchased by the state over the past two decades to help return the Everglades to its natural state. Most owners happily sold, having bought in a 1960s land scam.

Hardy rejected repeated offers, however, saying he wanted to hang onto a dying rural lifestyle and pass it on to the 9-year-old boy he has raised on the land with the boy's mother.

A judge approved a settlement last year, and Hardy accepted a $4.95 million check in July. The deadline for him to leave the property was Thursday.

Hardy paid $60,000 in 1976 for the land about 40 miles east of Naples. He built a small, clapboard house on his 160 acres, dug a well and used propane instead of electricity.

With the settlement money, Hardy bought a new house and was moving his belongings into it this week, but he says it really isn't home for him. "It don't fit me, it don't fit me at all," he said.

Construction crews are scheduled to start filling in canals and tearing apart roads on Hardy's Everglades land later this year. Once restored, his parcel and the surrounding area will connect with a state forest and wildlife reserves.

The $8.4 billion Everglades project seeks to restore the slow-moving river that once stretched uninterrupted from a chain of lakes near Orlando south to Florida Bay.

San Diego Union-Tribune: www.signonsandiego.com

Realty Reality — Eminent Domain and Redevelopment Activity: Realty Times, 1/12/06

By Bob Hunt

With the possible exception of some of my Libertarian friends and Ayn Rand devotees, the idea that government may exercise its power of eminent domain in order to provide for some public use – such as a freeway on-ramp or a public utility right of way – is pretty well accepted. More controversy arises, however, when the taking of private property, even though compensated, is required in order to accomplish some public benefit such as increasing economic activity by means of redevelopment.

It was a "taking" for the purposes of redevelopment that caused such a stir when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld eminent domain procedures in the case of Kelo v. City of New London. In the Kelo situation, no claim or showing was made that the properties or the area in question were run down or a burden to the public. The point was simply that the area had been targeted for a redevelopment that, it was claimed, would be highly beneficial to the city as a whole.

But what happened in New London, Connecticut, we are told, couldn't happen in California. That is because, under California law (Health and Safety Code, beginning at Section 33000), an area designated by a government agency for redevelopment must be blighted. "Blight" consists of various adverse physical and/or economic conditions that are, albeit generally, defined in the code. Some examples of conditions that lead to or constitute blight are serious building code violations, dilapidation and deterioration, adjacent incompatible uses that prevent improvement of the overall area, lot sizes and shapes that prevent viable economic development, residential overcrowding, high business vacancies, an excess of bars and liquor stores, and high crime rates.

To be sure, a particular property located in an area targeted for redevelopment does not, itself, have to be blighted in order to be a candidate for government taking, but the overall area must have been shown to be blighted.

Redevelopment is very big business in the state of California. And if you don't believe me, check out the Community Redevelopment Association (RDA). According to a study from the Center for Economic Development at Cal State Chico, redevelopment contributed almost $32 billion to California's economy in 2003. It accounted for the creation of more than 310,000 jobs in Fiscal Year 2002 – 2003, and increased state and local tax revenues by $1.58 billion. Eighty percent of California cities have redevelopment agencies, 45 percent of the counties. They administer over 700 project areas.

Government-sponsored redevelopment is not only good for economic activity, it also plays an extremely important role in California's attempt to provide affordable housing for its low and moderate income earning citizens. At least 30 percent of any residential units built or rehabilitated by an agency must be available at affordable housing costs to persons of low or moderate income. Moreover, California redevelopment law requires that no less than 20 percent of tax increment revenue derived from a project must be used to increase, improve, and preserve the supply of housing available to low and moderate income households. (The "tax increment" is the difference between the old property taxes that were generated when the area was blighted and the new property taxes collected from the redeveloped properties. It can be huge.)

More than 63,000 affordable housing units have been built or rehabilitated by redevelopment agencies since 1994. It is expected that another 20,000 units will come on line through redevelopment activity in the next two years. Redevelopment agencies spent $818 million on housing funds last year, and deposited $1.1 billion to housing fund accounts.

We mention all this to note that when the legislature and the public begin to give serious consideration to the plethora of proposals that are and will be offered in reaction to the Kelo decision, it will be important to focus on more than one issue. That is because many of the suggestions being floated could result in a major diminishment of redevelopment activity. Preserving private property rights is an extremely important goal, and that will be central to the reactions and over-reactions to Kelo. But there are other important goals at stake as well. They will need to be kept in mind as well. Something about throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Realty Times: http://realtytimes.com

Bob Hunt is a director of the National Association of Realtors

Eminent domain laws should be revised in NH: Portsmouth (NH) Herald, 1/12/06


As a matter of philosophy, the editors of this newspaper have repeatedly dismissed the idea of amending the New Hampshire Constitution. The feeling has been that writing anything into this document would limit the options that future situations could present.

However, in view of what can only be called an activist U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow New London, Conn., to take private property via eminent domain in order to allow a private company to build for-profit enterprises, we are willing to support a carefully worded, well-crafted constitutional amendment that would prohibit state or municipal government engaging in such actions.

The Supreme Court ruling in the Kelo v. New London case centered on the city’s determination that building offices, a hotel and a conference center on a waterfront parcel where private homes were situated benefited the entire community and allowed the taking of those homes by eminent domain.

The decision so outraged the majority of New Hampshirites that a movement surfaced in Weare, N.H., the home of Supreme Court Justice David Souter, to seize property Souter owns in that community for an inn. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Weare town clerk had indeed received a petitioned warrant article to that effect that could be voted on at this year’s town meeting.

And state legislators, also appalled by the ruling and in an attempt to placate their constituents, have put forth one Senate bill, two House bills and three versions of a constitutional amendment this legislative session, aimed at preventing a repeat of the New London situation in New Hampshire.

All these proposals have in common an attempt to redefine "public use" so that issues such as job growth, higher tax revenues and economic development are not adequate criteria for the taking of private land.

We support these attempts to short-circuit what happened in New London. We believe this approach to economic development has been proved to be shortsighted, and we have proof of that right here in Portsmouth.

A vibrant neighborhood here in the city’s North End was leveled by what was once called "urban renewal," and while it certainly provided an expanded home for this newspaper, the destruction of private homes here has never proved to be of any value to the city or its residents.

We also believe the Supreme Court violated what had been - and remains in most places in this country - the unwritten law that private ownership of land is a sacred right and should only be undermined for public projects serving the public good. Even then, this option should be kept to an absolute minimum.

The idea that a municipal government could take privately held land for use and turn it over to for-profit development because that development could increase tax revenues is both obscene and contrary to what we believe the Founding Fathers intended.

Anything New Hampshire and Maine can do to prevent that from happening here should be done.

Portsmouth Herald: www.seacoastonline.com

League of Minnesota Cities counters spin of eminent domain reform: ECM Capital Roundup (Coon Rapids MN), 1/12/06

By T. W. Budig

The League of Minnesota Cities countered the spin of eminent domain reform activists at a House committee hearing in Blaine on Wednesday (Jan. 11).

City officials put a spin of their own the hot debate.

The House Civil Law and Elections Committee was at Blaine City Hall to ask for public comment on proposed eminent domain reform legislation carried by committee chairman Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, candidate for attorney general.

Johnson’s bill is backed by Minnesotans for Eminent Domain Reform (MNEDR), a diverse coalition whose press conference last week at the Capitol garnered extensive media coverage.

“This is not legislation by anecdote; this is legislation by principle,” Johnson said of his bill.

But League of Minnesota Cities officials and local mayors, though expressing a willingness to modify eminent domain law, defended its use.

Coon Rapids Mayor Tim Howe told the committee the use of eminent domain was critical in the redevelopment of a 40-acre parcel along Coon Rapids Boulevard — an area across from the old Coon Rapids City Hall.

“This could not have happened without eminent domain,” said Howe of the project, promising construction of at least 300 townhomes, according to the League of Minnesota Cities.

Majority of sites acquired through eminent domain
The majority of the 22 sites in the redevelopment area were acquired through the use eminent domain, explained Howe. Land has been sold to a private developer.

Howe echoed concerns of League of Minnesota Cities officials about the flaring eminent domain debate — that lawmakers shouldn’t let emotionality steer them.

“I hope you have the courage to rein in the bandwagon on the situation,” said Howe.

Speaking after the hearing, the mayor said the City of Coon Rapids uses eminent domain “very infrequently” — it’s the last approach, said Howe.

New Brighton Mayor Steve Larson and City of White Bear Lake City Manager Mark Sather also defended the use of eminent domain in their cities.

The City of Columbia Heights in a letter declared that recent accusations of eminent domain abuse leveled at it were “blatantly false.”

Indeed, City of Champlin Mayor Steven Boynton told that committee that in the 36-year history of the city eminent domain had never been used. Never once had there been the threat, he said.

Boynton’s comment concerned allegations by Champlin resident Jim Meide that he and his wife were in danger of losing their river front home of 30 years in Champlin to eminent domain action. Meide spoke last week at the MNEDR press conference, and also testified before the committee.

Rep. Peter Nelson, R-Lindstrom, said what people perceive as a threat of eminent domain varies.

Powerful tool of government
Attorney Lee McGrath, executive director for the Institute For Justice Minnesota Chapter and MNEDR frontman, argued that the threat of the use of eminent domain is a powerful tool of government. “Every number you see underestimates the use of eminent domain because it excludes the threat component,” he said.

The League of Minnesota Cities is working on possible changes to eminent domain law which includes creating a list of specific purposes for which a city or acquiring authorities could exercise eminent domain, among other proposals.

Some local lawmakers seem open to changing the law. “I think there should be a lot more consideration for those type of decisions,” said Rep. Andy Westerberg, R-Blaine, of the use of eminent domain. “I think pretty much everybody in the free world will agree the time is right for some reform and some change,” said Nelson.

“I think we want to make sure we move cautiously,” said Nelson, a former city official.

Johnson does not expect an agreement on eminent domain prior to the start of the legislative session in March.

ECM Capital Roundup: www.hometownsource.com/capitol

Ohio case renews focus on use of eminent domain: The Boston (MA) Globe, 1/12/06

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Associated Press

Joy and Carl Gamble say they just want to retire peacefully in the dream home where they had lived for more than 35 years, but the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood has other plans for their property.

Using its power of eminent domain, the city plans to take the neighborhood, which it considers to be deteriorating, and allow a $125 million development of offices and shops to rise in its place.

The two sides took their argument to the state supreme court yesterday in the first challenge of property rights laws to reach a state high court since the US Supreme Court last summer allowed municipalities to seize homes for use by a private developer.

"It is our home, what's ours is ours, and it should be that way," Joy Gamble told about 50 people who rallied before the hearing. "It was a home worth fighting for, and we do want it back."

The Gambles' attorney, Dana Berliner, argued in court that almost all neighborhoods in Ohio and across the country could meet a condition of deteriorating as Norwood was using it.

Tim Burke, representing the city, told the court that "deteriorating" is a common measure when applied to redevelopment projects in cities.

Legislatures are rushing to pass their own laws because Justice John Paul Stevens, author of the majority decision in the federal court's 5-4 ruling, also noted that states have the ability to pass laws with stronger protections if they wish.

So far Alabama, California, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin have proposed bills, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Ohio, a new law stops local governments from seizing unblighted private property for use by private developers while a committee studies the issue. The Gambles' lawsuit was filed before that law was passed and before the US Supreme Court ruled.

The city and a private developer contend that Norwood had the right to acquire the property. They also argue that eminent domain applied not because the area is "blighted," but because it is "deteriorating."

How the Ohio court deals with the issue of blight has important ramifications for municipalities around the country, said Steven Eagle, a George Mason University law professor who studies property rights.

"Every jurisdiction allows condemnation to relieve blight," Eagle said. "If blight is going to be vaguely defined, then it could be open season for condemnations for redevelopment."

The Gambles, in their 60s, hoped to live comfortably in the home they had bought in 1969. They sold their small Cincinnati grocery store, Tasty Bird Poultry, and retired five years ago.

The Boston Globe: www.boston.com

Natividad recall based in eminent domain vote: San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, 1/12/06

Natividad recall based in eminent domain vote

By Tanya Sierra

A local auto repair business owner and 10 of his customers launched a recall campaign against City Councilman Luis Natividad because of his role in an eminent domain procedure that will displace the business.

Humberto Rodriguez Sr., who lives in Spring Valley, said his customers, who are National City residents, and others involved in the campaign targeted Natividad because of the councilman's gruff behavior during meetings.

"Mr. Natividad is a person who gets out of hand," Rodriguez said. "It's more of a symbolic statement I'm making. It's nothing really personal against Natividad."

In February, the City Council, acting as the Community Development Commission, began the approval process for Park Village, a 24-story condo project at 11th Street and National City Boulevard that will feature retail shops on the ground floor.

Tuesday night, officials gave final approval for the development and voted to use eminent domain to acquire three properties, including Rodriguez's.

A fourth property, an after-school boxing program for at-risk youth, will be displaced as well, but the city is working to find a new location for it. Officials said they do not intend to seize that property because they believe they will agree on a replacement site.

The city voted to use eminent domain after the developer and the property owners could not agree on a sale price after more than two years of negotiating. Property must be considered blighted to be seized through eminent domain. The law defines blight as property that is not economically viable and is physically deteriorating.

Tuesday night Natividad called business owners "greedy" for holding out for more money.

The councilman, who has until today to submit a written response to the recall effort, said the move does not intimidate him.

"You want to take me out? Knock yourself out," Natividad said during Tuesday night's Community Development Commission meeting. "I wasn't born in this office and I'm not going to die in this office."

Natividad, 63, was elected in 2002. His term expires in November.

A special election would cost $70,000 to $80,000, City Clerk Michael Dala said. To place a recall initiative on a special election ballot, several steps need to occur.

First, the elected official must be served with a notice and a copy of that notice must be filed with the city clerk. The person, in this case Natividad, has seven days to respond. However, a response is not required.

Recall organizers then have 10 days to file two blank copies of the petition and proof that their notice of intent has been published in a newspaper. The city clerk reviews the petition and any accompanying documents for accuracy before the recallers are free to obtain signatures.

In this case, 20 percent of registered voters in National City must sign the petition within 120 days. That amounts to 3,110 signatures. The registrar of voters then has 30 days to confirm the signatures. After that the City Council sets a date for a special election to be held 88 to 125 days later.

Rodriguez said he is not sure whether he will complete all the necessary steps.

"We're kind of holding off for a little while," he said. "We don't want to make a lot of enemies. We don't live in National City, but we have to work in the National City area."

Five years ago, Rodriguez purchased Ray Brock Auto Service from Ray Brock, who opened the shop on West 11th Street 47 years ago. Rodriguez worked for Brock, who still owns the land, for 30 years.

"I spent almost 50 years here and I just don't think it's (eminent domain) the American way," Brock said. "You spend half your life building a business and hoping to retire off of it and now the city wants to take it away."

Natividad says he is only in favor of using eminent domain when he thinks it will help the city.

"We have to make difficult decisions to benefit the city," he said. "Every decision I have made has been with the city in mind."

Officials have used eminent domain in the past to clear out several bars – and the accompanying crime – on National City Boulevard. The city then built an education center in that area.

Whether the group moves forward with its recall intent or not, Natividad said it will not deter him.

"You can un-elect me and I'll get re-elected the next week," he said.

San Diego Union-Tribune: www.signonsandiego.com