Eminent Domain? Total Domain!

bla-bulldozer.jpgA disturbing ruling came down from the Supreme Court this morning. In a 5-4 ruling the court has sided with developers and cities interested in seizing property from private citizens wherever they please.

What reason do they need to use to take someone’s property and sell it to a private developer? That it’s in the communities best interest. For tax reasons, because they’d like more strip malls instead of pretty houses, pretty much anything that can be packaged under the guise of “public benefit.”

Why have I posted this at blogging.la? If you don’t own property you might not be effected. Unless some developer decides that your apartment building would be better as a strip mall. I’ve posted this here because the only way to prevent seizure of your home is to be involved and aware of your city council. So next time a local election rolls around and you think it doesn’t matter … it does.

The community that started this escapade is New London, CT. The AP article said, “The neighborhood that will be swept away includes Victorian-era houses and small businesses that in some instances have been owned by several generations of families. Among the New London residents in the case is a couple in their 80s who have lived in the same home for more than 50 years.” We’re not talking blighted communities, we’re talking vibrant, occupied and involved neighborhoods.

(photo by Cathy Cole via flickr)

9 Replies to “Eminent Domain? Total Domain!”

  1. I grew up near New London, and I must say I’m a bit surprised considering how much old money is in that county, and how hard it is to get anything to change. Anytime a town wants to open up a McDonalds or other chain store it is usually denied by local councils out of fear that it will bring in too much traffic… if you live on a main street you need city council approval if you want to paint your house a new color…
    Alas, typical only of Connecticut, it was local Democrats pushing for this measure.

  2. Eminent domain is how we lost the Hollywood Star Lanes on Santa Monica. I know, it’s being replaced by a school, so we can’t be too bitter, but that was a great bowling alley. And is sorely missed.

  3. You can thank the liberal bloc of the Court: David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, as well as Reagan appointee Justice Anthony Kennedy. States are free to pass additional protections if they see fit, so local LA ordinances won’t matter.

    The four-member liberal bloc typically has favored greater deference to cities, which historically have used the takings power for urban renewal projects.

  4. When officials force the sale of land owned by individuals living “outside” of a jurisdiction, there are generally fewer political reprocussions. So absentee landlords top the list when it comes to the exercise of imminent domain.

    I would speculate that county officals do not typically move on land owned and resided upon by their citizens unless there is a very strong reason for doing so. Too much political fallout otherwise. And, I would also say that you will likely find most communities supporting leaders who have exercised imminent domain for the benefit of the county.

    It’s unfortunate for some individual property owners, yes; but, it is also effectively a long-term call for greater community responsibility and awareness by their peers. You can probably do much to prevent the exercise of imminent domain if you are taking steps to make the most productive use of your commercial property; if your property is residential, undeveloped in nature, or you live out of state then, it definitely pays to stay directly, financially involved in local politics :)

    Sure, you may want to live out of state and let your undeveloped property go to pasture because it’s yours to do with as you wish. But, it just ends up putting you at the top of the imminent domain “guest list” when “the needs of the many outweight the needs of the few or one.”

  5. Isn’t that how we got Dodger Stadium? I wonder if local law enforcement will drag out old women kicking and screaming from their homes like they did with Chavez Ravine.

  6. Chris, I think what surprised folks about the decision today regarding the folks in New London is that they were living in their houses and that the neighborhood was not blighted. What happened was the city wanted to seize desireable private property for private development. The issue that Mike refered to where LA took over the bowling alley to make a school was a rather different case (though sad) because the city really wanted to make their neighborhood schools thing work and there were only a limited number of properties that would have qualified.

    New London made the argument that it’s the government’s responsibility to keep the economy healthy so in essence the government’s job is to protect their tax base for the sake of their tax base. Taking private property for private developers is not public use, no matter what the taxes collected would supply.

    What if a business is doing well, but not profitable enough, doesn’t pay lot of taxes, doesn’t employ enough people or just not the image the city wants to project? I don’t necessarily worry about Los Angeles, but smaller communities where officials could be bribed by larger outside interests to use this ruling in their favor.

  7. Yeah, I see what you are saying, Cybele. It’s almost government as sports coach. If the “coach” thinks he or she can get better tax performance with a different “player,” then he or she makes the change.

    This kind of thing, though, makes great news, like as a public interest story. I am pretty sure that a big company could get away with muscling into small towns through eminent domain once or twice before -60 minutes-, bloggers et al would be all over it.

    And, I dunno, officials who accept bribes generally seem to get caught (nice Jag XJR councilman!) unless the bribery is practically institutionalized as with 70’s era NYPD. Large companies would probably instead try to whip together a mass of campaign contributions for an official, in an effort to achieve influence. I still say it would work once or twice before the world put the brakes on it.

  8. This ruling is a complete travisty of justice! This is just another loop hole to screw people out of what they’ve worked for…”legally”

    Washington is headed for huge problems, people are becoming more and more aware of issues that effect them today. There will be the preverbial “straw that broke the camels back” and at that point we are all in for a ruff ride.

    People are too into their “comfort zone” to get off the couch and do anything that requires effort or risk, such as protest an issue. We all need to find common ground again and maybe the only way to do that is take the comforts away and look at whats outside your door.

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