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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Eminent Domain

I didn't think I'd ever do a political entry, but when I pulled the Atlanta Journal-Constitution out of its little plastic bag and opened it up this morning, there was a front page article that caught my eye.

Justices to rule on land seizure
The issue: Can governments use eminent domain to aid development?

To be honest, it did more than catch my eye. It got my non-political dander up. So I read the article. And got really ticked off. Like I said, this wasn't about a political issue for me, but a sense of fairness. Right and wrong.

The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide when local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will to make way for projects like shopping malls and hotel complexes that produce more tax revenue.

Am I the only person who has a problem with this?

OK. That was meant to be rhetorical, because fact is, I know I'm not. I can't be. I've heard my husband rave about this. But more than that, I know I'm not because of what it says later in this very same article. See, apparently, this came about because of a group of residents of New London, Connecticut who filed a lawsuit after city officials announced plans to bulldoze their homes to clear the way for a riverfront hotel, health club, and offices. The residents refused to budge, arguing it was an unjustified taking of their property.

. . ."I'm not willing to give up what I have just because someone else can generate more taxes here," said homeowner Matthew Dery, whose family has lived in the New London neighborhood known as Fort Trumbull for more than 100 years.

New London contends development plans serving as public purpose -- such as boosting economic growth -- are valid "public use" projects that outweigh homeowners' property rights.

Outweigh homeowners' property rights? Are they serious? So what the officials of New London are saying is when we mortgage 30 years of our life away for home ownership, we're not actually buying a home. We're merely renting it until a better taker comes along, at which point officials can take the land back, give us "just compensation" and that's it.

First of all, who determines what "just compensaton" is? Or how about "public use"? A highway or other roadway, a national park -- okay, I can see that. But when they're taking land from homeowners and selling it to developers in order to broaden their tax base, I have a problem with that. When it's something that a large corporation profits from, I have a problem with it being called "public use". Because it isn't really "public use," is it? A highway, that's public use. A city park -- public use. But when Joe CEO says, "Sure, you can use it at the low low price of $300 per night," that doesn't represent public use to me.

And I guess that's what this case is all about. It seems public outcry is growing louder and louder about local governments abusing their powers of "eminent domain".

Well, duh.

Did anybody truly believe that when they gave this seemingly open-ended power that somebody wouldn't find a way to abuse it in the name of the almighty dollar?

"Sorry, Harry Homeowner, but Giant Corporation wants your land to build a huge resort. And since they're going to give us lots of money and bring in more tax dollars, we're taking your land back. Here's your measly 'just compensation.' Now get the hell off our land."

Does anybody else think this sounds like a juvenille schoolyard tactic? I'm not your friend anymore because Sam has better toys than you.

I could ramble even longer about the unjustness of "eminent domain," but I won't. I'll just sit here and stew.

Italicized exerpts taken from the Associated Press article by Gina Holland.


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Location: Atlanta-ish, Georgia, United States

I'm a wife, a mom, an operating room nurse, a writer, a hobby photographer, and a music lover who knits and crochets. And I'm fairly certain I've lost my mind.

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