5/06/2007

Residents a cash register for eminent domain: Cherry Hill NJ Courier-Post, 4/15/07

Opinion

By Kathy Hogan

It is a slick public relations ploy for redevelopers and local elected officials to say they will only use eminent domain "as a last resort." What that says is "we will only use force if we have to." And what that really says is "we will absolutely use eminent domain to forcibly take private property away from its owners for the benefit of private redevelopment unless we can employ nastier ways to crush their spirit into giving up and selling to us "voluntarily.' "

Citations issued
Suddenly, the local government starts issuing citations for never-used code violations, suddenly there are health inspections, checks on business licenses, and property owners are forced to spend thousands in legal fees to fight for the right to keep their own properties.

Ask the friends of Pat Fritzsche, who is laying in an early grave at the age of 54 because his local government targeted him with pressure to sell his corner pub to redevelopers after he worked there for 36 years. Suddenly, Fritzsche was being hit with citations and code violations. Fritzsche angrily protested the bullying harassments at a public meeting on Jan. 4, 2006, where the pro-redevelopment mayor made fun of him and mocked him. Fritzsche died four days later.

Ask Dr. Matthew Olivo, whose nerves were worn to a frazzle by the legal bills and long fight for his right to keep his second-generation dermatology center built by his father. At least he had the money to fight with, others have not. I could easily list a hundred similar examples, there are thousands where the human toll of eminent domain abuse, state sanctioned theft, has ground property owners into devastation fueled by the power-tripping greedy aggressions of local officials acting as pimps for redevelopers.

Lou Bezich, the author of the April 1 Perspectives piece, is a public relations man for redevelopers. He has suggested what he calls an "extreme management firestorm" to address public opposition to eminent domain abuse. While the military imagery may be fitting in these aggressions, what he suggests does not address what the problem is. You can't put lipstick on a pig and say it's pretty. You can't "extreme manage" property owners into not noticing what you are doing is taking their private property away from them by force for the benefit of larger and better funded private profiteers.

Extreme management
The concept of "extreme management" would imply there is any basic level of management in the first place. Basic bare minimum management would be a better place to start. The redeveloper here (and the same one letter writer Bezich wrote about) assumed responsibility to maintain one property in a safe condition and still hasn't done so.

I've asked the redeveloper about 12 times since September to paint over the graffiti at the site. It's now April and nothing has been done, except now there is more graffiti. That's a pretty basic "management" task to tend to, wouldn't you say?

These out-of-town redevelopers, whose jumbo-sized mother ship has landed on top of us, have no interest or consideration for our people. We are a cash register to them and they have been less than candid with us on a number of occasions.

What redevelopers mean by "management" is crowd control. What kind of dog and pony show do we have to stage to keep the public at bay and minimize the damage of people picketing and protesting against us? Bezich announces his radical new ideas like having processes that are "transparent" and the need for "civic engagement." In the words of any 8-year-old, duh. Does the idea that government redevelopers should have transparent processes and civic engagement come as news to the redevelopers Bezich works for?

Shameless attitude
To the hundreds of hard-working Americans fighting to keep their properties, Bezich writes, "they can ratchet up the underdog to cult status." There may or may not be a way to ever rescue redevelopment from the disaster it has become for our nation, but this attitude toward its victims does not do much to light the way. And Bezich's defense of the redevelopers who pay him, let's just say it's "transparent."


Cherry Hill NJ Courier-Post: http://www.courierpostonline.com

Kathy Hogan is a commissioner in Haddon Township