Yesterday, the Sacramento City Council voted unanimously to steal the property of local businessman and philanthropist Mo Mohanna through eminent domain and give it to developer Joe Zeiden. The Sacramento Bee (which supports this move) has the details here.
Sacramento property owner Moe Mohanna has a website here about the pending condemnation of his property on K Street in downtown Sacramento. It includes a video. Mohanna is asking people to show up today at 2p.m. at the City Council meeting to speak out against the abuse of eminent domain.
Thursday's Wall Street Journal carried this story on some of PLF's property rights cases, and particularly on our lawsuit against Surfide Beach, Texas, which is trying to take away the property of 14 homeowners. In an earlier article, the Journal covered PLF's "exactions" cases.
two and one half years after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city and some seven years after the condemnation proceedings were first initiated, little or no economic development has occurred on the condemned land. As the New London Day documents in this recent article and this editorial, the New London Development Corporation (the city agency responsible for the condemnations) and its designated private developer Corcoran Jennison have missed repeated deadlines to begin construction of the new housing that they were supposed to build in the area. Indeed, as The Day points out, no construction at all has taken place on the site since the Supreme Court's decision was issued in June 2005.
Lawyers and economists can examine Kelo from many sophisticated angles, disputing the framers’ original intent or the economic efficiency of redevelopment. But the sharp edge of this debate cuts to the heart of American communities, and it is there that Carla Main has chosen to focus. Her book describes the awful consequences of redevelopment in Freeport, Texas, where the city fathers decided to build a tourist marina on property owned by Western Seafood, a business run for three generations by the family of Wright Gore Sr. (I filed a friend of the court brief supporting the Gores in the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.) The ambitions of the city council, backed by government’s ability to string out legal proceedings for years at taxpayers’ expense, gradually turned this blue-collar community into a battleground of bitterness and reprisal—the predictable consequence of coveting your neighbor’s land. As Main puts it, “small-town grudges and loyalties…take on new dimensions when people who have known one another for a lifetime hold the power to take each other’s property away and give it to someone else.”
The basic purpose of property rights is well expressed in the old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.” When the “good fences” are torn down—when ownership is rendered a matter of political favor—when the autonomy which property protects and which grounds any healthy society is replaced with government chicanery—then the true essence of community is destroyed, and the future of one’s livelihood turns not on merit, but on the decisions of bureaucrats. Their decisions are made, naturally, on political, instead of moral or economic considerations, and the consequences are not only nasty, petty, and hostile, but incalculably wasteful as well. In addition to the damage it inflicted on the community, the politicians of working-class Freeport pledged their constituents to ruinous debt to persuade a millionaire developer to remake the city.
The Inverse Condemnation Blog has an in-depth look at the Wheat Ridge case that I mentioned here. "Whoa, eminent domain is a tool to 'redistribute' private property 'in any manner that future circumstances and the public welfare demand?' I thought eminent domain was supposed to be used to take property when it is needed 'for public use.' Silly me." Well, at least the justices get credit for their candor.