[FoRK] Eminent domain vs. poor people.
Adam L Beberg
beberg at mithral.com
Mon Feb 21 13:01:14 PST 2005
Something to keep an eye on.
We've all seen this personally I'm sure. Find the poor neighborhood,
take their land and give it to the rich alt.pave.the.earth guys to build
a strip mall. Pull up the town on your favorite map site, the town is
only 2km across, a suburb of nowhere, they are not short of land.
If this goes the right way (and I really dont see how the court could
not) this could finally stop Walmart. Rich folks aren't going to let a
Walmart be built near their homes and the businesses they work at, to
put them out of a job ;)
It will bring even more sprawl however as malls need to find more indian
burial grounds to open on top of, and many MANY more "mysterious deaths"
when people try to fight developers who offer them 1/4 what the property
Adam L. Beberg
Conn. residents fight for homes
By Joan Biskupic, USA TODAY
NEW LONDON, Conn. — Susette Kelo continues to touch up the paint on her
clapboard house that overlooks the Thames River. She still tends to her
garden. During a recent walk around the house, she noticed a few early
flowers poking through the dirt.
She knows, however, that the 1893 Victorian cottage she bought eight
years ago might not be standing much longer — and that its fate is in
the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, the court will hear an appeal from Kelo and about a dozen
other holdout owners of property near Fort Trumbull State Park. They are
trying to prevent the city of New London from seizing their land to
clear the way for a private development project that would include a
hotel, a conference center and offices. The city has argued that
redeveloping 90 acres along the river and near a new Pfizer research
plant would give a much-needed economic boost to the city of about
26,000 people, where the unemployment rate of 7.6% is about twice the
The dispute marks the first time the high court will rule on whether
local governments have the power to condemn land for private enterprises
aimed at boosting local tax revenue — rather than for traditional public
projects such as bridges, roads and parks.
The Constitution's Fifth Amendment allows governments to seize private
property in a process called eminent domain, as long as the owners
receive "just compensation" and the property is for "public use." Kelo
and the other property owners involved in the case say the city's plan
does not represent a "public use" for the land. The city disagrees and
says all the town's residents would benefit from the project.
Connecticut's Supreme Court ruled last year in favor of New London. It
noted that the city's plan "is projected to create in excess of 1,000
jobs, to increase tax and other revenues and to revitalize an
economically distressed city."
Mark Perry, a Washington lawyer and former clerk to Justice Sandra Day
O'Connor, says state courts have been inconsistent in their
interpretations of what constitutes a "public use."
A ruling in the New London case could have "ramifications for property
owners and governments across the country," says Perry, who submitted a
"friend of the court" brief for a California-based libertarian group,
the Reason Foundation, that sides with Kelo.
New ground for high court
Governments have used eminent domain for private developments in recent
years — in New York City's Times Square and at Baltimore's Inner Harbor,
for example. But never has the Supreme Court, faced with an appeal from
property owners, agreed to resolve the question of whether property can
be transferred to private developers to boost tax revenue.
Those backing Kelo include the NAACP and AARP, which say the social harm
can outweigh the public benefits when governments take property for
private economic development. The groups say government efforts to lure
business and spur greater revenue can disproportionately hurt the poor,
the elderly and racial minorities.
Those backing New London include the National League of Cities and the
National Conference of State Legislatures. They say cities should have
wide latitude to take land to boost their economies and that money
generated by redevelopment can help public agencies such as police and
In its ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court emphasized that judges
should give broad deference to local lawmakers. It noted that New
London's development plan initially was approved by New London's City
Council in 1998.
The state court cited two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, from 1954 and
1984. In the 1954 ruling, U.S. justices upheld the power of eminent
domain for urban renewal in parts of Washington, D.C. Thirty years
later, the high court allowed Hawaii's Legislature to condemn large
tracts concentrated among a few owners — a vestige of the feudal system
of the state's original Polynesian settlers — for distribution to many
No amount of cash will do
In their appeal, attorneys for Kelo and the other New London property
owners say the state Supreme Court "incorrectly equated 'public use'
with the ordinary 'public' benefits — taxes and jobs — that typically
flow from private businesses' enterprises."
Scott Bullock, an attorney for the property owners, wrote that they "do
not want money or damages. They only seek to hold on to their most
sacred and important of possessions: their homes."
Most owners of the 115 tracts that would be affected by the New London
project took the money offered for their homes and moved.
Attorneys for the city and New London Development, a private, non-profit
group established in 1978 to assist the city, said New London is
"desperate for economic rejuvenation."
Wesley Horton, who will argue the case for New London, painted a bleak
economic picture in his filing to the justices. He noted that the city's
population has declined almost a third from about 34,000 in 1960. He
also cited the city's high unemployment rate and said the area lost
about 1,500 jobs when the federal government closed the U.S. Naval
Undersea Warfare Center here in 1996.
In an interview, Edward O'Connell, an attorney for New London
Development, said Kelo was offered $123,000 from the city, roughly fair
market value for her property.
Kelo, 48, said she simply does not want to move. The nurse and mother of
five grown boys said that when developers first approached her, "I had
just bought the place. I never even wanted to negotiate."
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