Monday, February 20, 2006

Working for the People (for Once) 

I won't link the article, since it's behind the registration wall at the New York Times, although if you want to go to the URL direct and use BugMeNot, it's here: http://tinyurl.com/mrrlv.

And, it's finally a hint at government pulling its head out of its PACs and trying to help We, The People. You remember us, don't you? The ones who are really supposed to be running this country. Anyway, brief snippet gives the whole idea:
In a rare display of unanimity that cuts across partisan and geographic lines, lawmakers in virtually every statehouse across the country are advancing bills and constitutional amendments to limit use of the government's power of eminent domain to seize private property for economic development purposes.

The measures are in direct response to the United States Supreme Court's 5-to-4 decision last June in a landmark property rights case from Connecticut, upholding the authority of the City of New London to condemn homes in an aging neighborhood to make way for a private development of offices, condominiums and a hotel. It was a decision that one justice, who had written for the majority, later all but apologized for.
Once upon a time, there was a place for eminent domain -- and there still is, under strict guidelines. The idea behind eminent domain was that government could obtain land at market value for development into projects benefiting the public good. Once upon a time, "benefiting the public good" meant a school, library, park, fire or police station.

But, thanks to those who govern being whores, over the years "benefitting the public good" came to mean building a minimall, a big box store, a condo complex... er, well, in short, "anything my rich buddy developer wants to put up, but without winding up having his plans pump up property values and make it too expensive for his wealthy ass."

The inverse of this is that ubiquitous American story -- the homeowner who refuses to sell, and so winds up being the 1/4 acre lot dent in the facade of an 80 story skyscraper. Yeah, it's apocryphal, I think (saw it in a Bugs Bunny cartoon from the 40s), but that is the American dream there. Or it was, until the Supreme Court decided that, well, there really wasn't anything the Federal Goverment could do to stop these eminent domain deals.

Anyway, there shouldn't be a total ban on E.D., but laws must be very specific, and if I were writing them, they'd go like this:
  1. The land must be undeveloped and/or unoccupied for residential purposes.
  2. The land and/or property thereon may not be condemned for purposes of rendering it unoccupied.
  3. The owner of the land will be reimbursed the full market value of the land plus ten percent, with full market value equal to the greater of a) the highest assessed value during the previous seven years, inclusive; or b) the average comp for the immediate area; decided at the sole discretion of the owner.
  4. The land may only be used for the purpose of constructing one of the following:
    • A public school
    • A public library
    • A public park
    • A fire station
    • A police station
    • A public medical facility -- that is, one providing low-cost medical care to the community.
    • A local government office at the city, county or state level (i.e., courthouse, DMV, franchise tax board, etc.), provided such office is open to the public weekly until at least nine p.m. on one weekday evening, and a full eight hours one Saturday per month.
  5. Retail, commercial and industrial property are excluded from the terms above for a period of twenty years from enactment of this law. (This is called the E.D.F.U. revenge clause.)
I'd also toss in a bit where occupied or developed residential land can only be ED'd at three times the market value, as calculated above. That's called the "You gotta really want this" clause -- and it would include relocation money on top of the sale for all tenants/residents involved.

Of course, I'm not holding my breath until I actually see some of these laws pass, and pass with teeth. Our elected officials are so far into the back pockets of developers that they can smell what said developer had for lunch. So I'm fully expecting bills with lots of exceptions that are easy for rich people with lawyers to exploit, but impossible for Joe Schmoe to understand.

We shall see. But do pester your local elected official about this. It's an important issue; one that could end the legalized theft of private land for corporate profit.

Hm. A clause I'd really like to see that'll never happen: any private citizen can take possession of the private property of a developer through Eminent Domain for the price of exactly one dollar. I'll bet that would make those bastards scream...

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