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The Ground Round
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 of restoration.

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 came along.

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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Copyright (c) 2005 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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