[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 
is worth.

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 
state's rate.

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 
fire units.

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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