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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Eniment Domain fallout continues

Here's an interesting article from today's New London Day.
For opponents of the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding this city's seizure of houses for economic development, the silver lining might be even bigger than the cloud.

The response to the court's decision, which reinforced the right of cities to turn over private homes to a private developer to generate more taxes, has been bursts of outrage from people –– conservative and liberal –– across the country, and efforts by some of their elected representatives to curtail the government's ability to take land.

“This is disappointing,” said Nancie G. Marzulla, president of the Washington-based lobbying organization Defenders of Property Rights. “But we have been thrilled to see people in Congress who were never talking about property rights all of a sudden saying, ‘We've got to do something.' We've just got to make sure they do the right thing.”

The House of Representatives voted Thursday to prevent the use of certain federal funds in any projects that use eminent domain to give property to private developers solely for the purposes of economic development –– not for less controversial public uses, like the building of schools and roads or clearing of blighted areas.

Marzulla said her organization supports altering the law to require “no net loss” of property in takings, meaning the government would have to give up land in order to take more.

The group believes it is a policy that could help prevent lengthy disputes like that between the New London Development Corp. and the Fort Trumbull homeowners led by Susette Kelo, by making eminent domain a less feasible and attractive option for planners.
Although it's great that Congress is taking up this issue, you have to wonder where were the policy makers when this case was tied up in court for the last seven years. They could of propose a bill which restricting eniment domain laws a long time ago but as with everything, people in Congress only move when a topic becomes newsworthy and picks up the public's attention.

Meanwhile, as lawmakers from across the country and the political spectrum railed against injustice and vowed to outlaw the actions in the Fort Trumbull case, David Goebel, the chief operating officer of the New London Development Corp., let out an exasperated sigh.

“You know, you can't worry about what you can't control,” he said when a reporter called to ask about the House and Senate bills, and what effect they might have on the corporation's ability to finish its project at last.

Congressional leaders are “running on emotion,” Goebel said, and “not checking the facts” as they rush to condemn the NLDC's work.

“Not a one of them has come down to New London and seen the way it is,” he said. “Not a one. It ain't fair, but there's nothing we can do about it.”

But despite the entreaties of municipal officials, many of whom strongly support the use of eminent domain as a rare but necessary development tool for cities and towns, politicians are hearing the voices of voters, said Howard Reiter, the head of the political science department at the University of Connecticut.

There is “a strange alliance of liberals and conservatives in Congress now,” Reiter said. “On the one hand conservatives are very concerned about property rights, and on the other, liberals are concerned that poor people are being uprooted.”

The usual characters seemed to be borrowing each other's scripts, Reiter said, including the dissenting Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who called the logical end of the majority's opinion “perverse.”

O'Connor “used populist rhetoric,” Reiter said. “I didn't hear a lot of conservatives yelling class warfare, the way they do whenever Democrats talk about this.”

Republicans want to pass a law in which no federal funds can be used to lack a person's land for economic development while Democrats want to take a more cautious approach and pass a law that will respect the rights of homeowners and the respect the need for economic development. Although you have to be very careful when you propose bills based in the emotions of the people (remember when emotions ran high by the religious right in Congress in the Terri Schiavo case), I think at this point, the homeowners in New London would be happy with any law that would save their homes.