June 27, 2005: Bless my soul if on June 23rd the U. S. Supreme Court didn't rule
(narrowly) that it's AOK for local governments to use the power
of eminent domain to seize private property and give it to
private developers who claim they can use it more profitably.
Dean-o might say "ain't that a kick in the head" but hey-- the
Court hasn't been a reliable champion of constitutional rights
for some time. While a ruling on the right side would have made
things easier, the battle isn't over. Quite the contrary. Eminent
domain will now be fought state by state, city by city, street by
street and blog by blog. And the battle will be a big red one.
Eminent Domain (ED) isn't popular. On many occasions when local
politicians have either employed ED, or proposed its use, voters
have responded by ousting them. The dislike of ED stretches
across the political spectrum; alliances have already formed
between left and right in the fight against ED in particular
instances-- and in general. The politically canny will see ED
as a powerful unifying issue. One among many that now jump cut
traditional political boundaries. Other examples include illegal
immigration, outsourcing, public corruption and increasingly,
the war in Iraq.
Who does dig ED? Developers, politicians and urban planners. Plus
some of those who think of themselves as "new urbanists". Though
support from that quarter isn't unanimous. Folks who are liberal
yet go for ED are in the most awkward position: when developers
and pols from Crony Island slaver over the chance to snap up
somebody else's property cheap (usually with taxpayer assistance)
no big surprise. But when people who care about people pretend
ED isn't about the power of large over small it raises eyebrows.
The cover is the claim ED will revitalize cities and promote the
Return of The Magnificent Middleclass. Leaving aside the issue of
whether we've sunk to such a social low that destruction is the
only way by which poor and low income neighborhoods can be
improved, will ED really make for a middle class return?
The Kelo family in New London, Connecticut (the case on which the
Supremes hung their decision) are just the sort of people urban
pols & planners claim to treasure. Eight years ago the Kelos
bought a run down cottage in a waterfront neighborhood in need of
some uplift. They restored that cottage to Victorian charm. But
oops-- not enough overall neighborhood uplift took place and the
Pfizer drug company made the municipal government a better offer.
But only if. Goodbye Kelos. Hello ED. And goodby to 8 years
The court's go ahead for ED in the name of revitalization sends
a warning to anyone other than a developer looking to buy
property in borderline urban neighborhoods. Stay away Joe! Or
else head for Utah-- where the state government recently banned
the use of eminent domain by redevelopment agencies. Sure you
might hear jokes about Mormons from the folks back home but at
least you'd really own your loft in Salt Lake City, or your lake
front cottage: they wouldn't just be on loan till someone bigger
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
What follows is a link from Tom Carroll at Homespun Bloggers to
his own site, MuD & PHuD, where a post re eminent domain leads to all sorts of relevant places:
MuD & PHuD: More On New London
For frequent updates from the front check out Eminent Domain Watch.
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