Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
“I am charged with doing what’s best for the 26,000 people that live in New London. That to me was enacting the eminent domain process designed to revitalize a city … with nowhere to go.”
Connecticut state Rep. Ernest Hewett, supporter of the use of Eminent Domain to seize private property for private use.
“L’Etat, c’est moi”
17th century French monarch, Louis X1V (1638-1715), in opposition to those who wanted to maintain a separation of powers with its guarantees for the respect of representative national institutions
“It’s a little shocking to believe you can lose your home in this country,” “I won’t be going anywhere. Not my house. This is definitely not the last word.”
New London resident Bill Von Winkle, who said he would keep fighting the bulldozers in his working-class neighborhood.
From Eminent Domain: Being Abused?, on CBS, 2004.
..to legally invoke eminent domain, the city had to certify that this scenic park area is, really, “blighted.”
“We’re not blighted. This is an area that we absolutely love. This is a close-knit, beautiful neighborhood. It’s what America’s all about,” says Jim Saleet…
“The term ‘blighted’ is a statutory word,” says Mayor Cain. “It is, it really doesn’t have a lot to do with whether or not your home is painted. …A statutory term is used to describe an area. The question is whether or not that area can be used for a higher and better use.”
But what’s higher and better than a home? “The term ‘blight’ is used to describe whether or not the structures generally in an area meet today’s standards,” says Cain.
And it’s the city that sets those standards, so Lakewood set a standard for blight that would include most of the homes in the neighborhood. A home could be considered blighted, says Jim Saleet, if it doesn’t have the following: three bedrooms, two baths, an attached two-car garage and central air…
..The Saleets may live in a cute little neighborhood, but without those new condos, the area won’t produce enough property taxes to satisfy the mayor and city council.
“That’s no excuse for taking my home. My home is not for sale. And if my home isn’t safe, nobody’s home is safe, in the whole country,” says Jim Saleet. “Not only Ohio. But this is rampant all over the country. It’s like a plague.”
Dana Berliner and Scott Bullock are attorneys at a libertarian non-profit group called The Institute for Justice, which has filed suit on behalf of the Saleets against the City of Lakewood. They claim that taking private property this way is unconstitutional.
Not any more. Fox News said this about the recent Kelo et al v. City of New London decision by the Supreme Court:
Cities may bulldoze people’s homes to make way for shopping malls or other private development, a divided Supreme Court (search) ruled Thursday, giving local governments broad power to seize private property to generate tax revenue.
In a scathing dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said the decision bowed to the rich and powerful at the expense of middle-class Americans.
MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson debated this issue with Wesley Horton, the lawyer who won the Supreme Court Case in favor of eviction.
HORTON: ..The question is whether there is a difference between a road and other things that are just as much in a public interest. If a city is dying, as the state of Connecticut has said that New London is an economically-depressed city, it seems to me that it’s certainly in the public interest to do something about an economically-depressed city to bring it back and put it on the map.
CARLSON: And that may be right. I guess, Mr. Horton, what I’m looking for is an acknowledgement that real people, individuals, are being hurt in this.
Today, the Star Ledger described the plight of some of the real people who were being hurt in this * – people like Josephine and Carmen Vendetti, whose neat & modest ranch home was bulit in 1960 with bricks Carmine carried from their winter home in Newark. Or Frances DeLuca’s pink bungalow, which has been in his family since 1918. Or Lee and Denise Hoagland, who, like their neighbors, say that the issue isn’t money, but an “irreplacable way of life”.
According to the city, that way of life is called “low end ratables”, and it needs to be leveled to make way for townhouses.
Personally, I’m in favor of progress and development, and nothing bugs me more than NIMBY types who claim to support better housing, green energy sources, etc., who then turn around and oppose those things in their own communities.
But progress and development is good when individuals support it. When the state decides that it has the right to make the decisions for, and oppose the will, of the people, the state is acting in direct opposition to the constitution.
The framers of the constitution made it clear that the purpose of the government is to follow the will of the people. That’s their job, it’s why we pay their salaries. Government employees are, essentially, middlemen. Who do these middlemen think they are, kicking retirees out of their homes for the good of a “state” that consists of individuals who strongly object to this process?
Obviously, there’s a glitch in the checks-and-balances system that needs to be fixed. But until it’s fixed, what can people in NJ do to stop this? According to the New Jersey Eminent Domain Law Blog:**
In far too many instances, such as Long Branch and Asbury Park, the blight declarations go back ten years or more. This is an unconscionable burden to the property owners within the affected area. They cannot sell, except at a discount; they are reluctant to invest in their properties because of the fear of Eminent Domain; and many municipalities neglect to enforce their building codes once the areas have been determined to be blighted. This only exacerbates the impacts on the property owners.
We’ve had many inquiries today concerning what the property owner can do. The only answer is for the property owner to be vigilant regarding proposed municipal action and to participate in and contest the blight studies when they are presented to the municipal Planning Board. If the property owner sits on their rights and does not do this, they will have a very difficult time filing a Prerogative Writ suit contesting the municipal action.
The law requires an appeal of the municipal action within 45 days of the adoption of the ordinance authorizing blight or “an area in need of redevelopment.” This is the first step toward condemning the properties. Many owners come to us well after the municipal action was undertaken. Often, they were not even aware of the municipal action and received no notice of the proposed ordinance.
Absent a viable Prerogative Writ suit on the blight declaration, property owners will be left with what they have in every condemnation case: A contest over what amount of money constitutes just compensation, and payment of relocation assistance to owner/occupants dislocated by the public project.
In her dissent, Justice O’Connor said:
“Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded, i.e. given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public – in the process.”
Flashback to February and the oral argument, when Justice O’Connor asked: “Motel 6 and the city thinks, well, if we had a Ritz-Carlton, we would have higher taxes. Now is that okay?”
The simple answer, according to five Supreme Court justices, is yes.
But, we’ll leave the light on for ya.
* link coming later – the Star Ledger Article isn’t online yet
** Link thanks to Fausta’s Bad Hair Blog