PLF client Homer Tourkakis has this article in St. Louis Today this morning, explaining why the only hope for protecting property rights in Missouri is to amend the state Constitution. Excerpt:
My wife, Julie, and I opened our dental practice in 1985. We raised two beautiful daughters and sent them to Missouri colleges. We've tried to be good citizens, providing good health insurance to our employees and treating patients who couldn't always afford to pay.
But our contributions to the community didn't count for much when the city of Arnold decided to redevelop the area called the Arnold Triangle where our business is situated. Eminent domain once was limited to public uses such as roads, courthouses and schools, but a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling confirmed the right of local governments to use it to evict property owners like me to make room for other businesses that generate more economic activity and more tax revenue.
The city likes to emphasize that eminent domain law requires compensation. What it doesn't say is that the compensation I would receive doesn't come close to covering the costs of moving. Setting up our dental practice required extensive modifications to our office and the purchase of expensive and fragile equipment. Moving our equipment and setting up a new office would impose tens of thousands of dollars in costs, maybe more, that wouldn't be covered by the city.
But ultimately, this fight is not about money. If a big developer wants land, it should get it the same way I did: by buying it from a willing seller. If I'm not interested in selling — which I'm not — no private business should have the right to force me off my land.
In this case, Arnold v. Tourkakis, the judges one-upped the infamous Kelo decision, ignored the state constitution, and overruled the lower court's good sense.
All to give Arnold the power to abuse eminent domain. This may not sound like much, but Arnold is not a chartered city, and the state's constitution granted eminent domain powers only to chartered cities, leaving it up to the legislature to grant such powers to other entities, like Arnold. The legislature never did that.
Missouri's top judges, however, ruled that by passing legislation on the general subject of eminent domain the legislature mysteriously meant to grant non-chartered cities the power to do anything that chartered cities can.
The court ruled that governments have an "unlimited and practically absolute sovereign power of eminent domain" to take our property at their whim.
Here's an unusually good story on the Missouri Supreme Court's Tourkakis decision. Excerpt:
With the ruling, Tourkakis said his belief in an individual's right to own property might be a myth. And, while he admits the whole experience has been unpleasant and exhausting, he has no misgivings about what he and his family tried to accomplish.
In fact, the battle with the city of Arnold has taught Tourkakis just how close his family is.
"With a great family unit you can overcome quite a bit, even when things don't turn out how you want," Tourkakis said.
Ron Calzone, chairman for Missouri Citizens for Property Rights, said he was not only disappointed by the court's ruling but also frustrated with the legal rationale behind the decision and that only one judge dissented.
He was quick to add that Tourkakis and his family were not being selfish in the case.
"They were trying to do this for all Missourians," Calzone said. "They're heroes in my book."
Now Tourkakis and his family are looking forward, deciding the best direction for their future.
"It's changed my whole financial picture," Tourkakis said about the case's impact on his life.
He added that when people are forced to leave their homes, spec houses are sometimes built as temporary residences.
"No one is building spec dentist offices," he said.
The Missouri Supreme Court yesterday issued a short opinion allowing the third class city of Arnold, Missouri to use eminent domain to condemn land owned by PLF client Homer Tourkakis and transfer it to a private developer to construct a multimillion dollar shopping center. As you can see by comparing the opinion with the brief that PLF filed on Dr. Tourkakis' behalf, the Court paid little attention to our lengthy analysis of the TIF Act, the state law which the city claimed gave it the power to condemn the property. In that brief, we explained that there was no indication that the Act gave third class cities this power, and in fact the Act lacked any mechanism for condemnation. The Court responded to this with a single sentence: "The City is authorized under several statutes, including the TIF Act, to exercise eminent domain."
The decision is very unfortunate, in that the Court has expanded the eminent domain power to allow all Missouri cities, no matter how small, to condemn private property for transfer to politically influential developers. Every citizen of Missouri is now at risk for having his or her home, business, farm, church, or other property taken away and made into a shopping center, or a theater, or a hotel, or whatever else officials think worthwhile.
I am in Kansas today, and will have more to say about the case when I return to PLF's Sacramento headquarters tomorrow.
I will be speaking at the MORR conference on Redevelopment Abuse in Anaheim on Saturday. That's the Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform. Also on the bill are Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, Orange County Register columnist Steven Greenhut, and Dr. Mindy Fullilov, author of Root Shock: How Tearing Up Neighborhoods Hurts America. More info here.
While it's true that this is something that we would like to do more of, PLF's funding depends almost entirely on donations by our supporters. (A little comes from attorney’s fees in cases we win.) So we have to set priorities, and usually winning one big case is more helpful on our limited budget than enforcing those cases later on.
However, PLF does have one project devoted almost entirely to follow-up litigation: our Proposition 209 project seeks to enforce California's constitutional amendment prohibiting racial preferences by the government. Since Prop. 209 was passed by California voters, the state's attorney general (both Bill Lockyer and Jerry Brown) have refused to enforce the initiative.
PLF is the only organization that regularly pursues Prop. 209 cases against cities, school districts, and other government entities that try to evade or violate this law, and we have been extremely successful.
Also, PLF filed the first case under Arizona's new property rights initiative, Proposition 207. This case, against the city of Flagstaff, is currently in the trial court, and we are hoping to litigate many more enforcement actions under this important initiative.
Pacific Legal Foundation is, so far as I know, the only conservative/libertarian public interest group that does expressly pursue enforcement litigation. You can learn more about how to support our efforts here.
• California has 395 active redevelopment agencies • about 80 percent of municipalities have a redevelopment agency • 759 blight zones • $12.9 billion worth of property owned by redevelopment agencies in fiscal year 2005-2006 (a $1.5 billion dollar increase over the previous year) • $8.7 billion in redevelopment agency revenues in fiscal year 2005-2006 (up $1.5 billion from the previous year) • $537 billion in assessed property value in California blight zones for 2005-2006 • 12 percent of all property taxes in California go to redevelopment agencies