The Supreme Court’s ruling last July in Kelo vs. City of New London, allowing local governments to use their eminent domain powers to seize people’s homes, businesses, and even churches and turn the land over to private developers, caused a nearly universal uproar.
Also a rush to pass state laws that would limit eminent domain to such traditional uses as highways and schools. But just try to get any of that legislation passed, thanks to the political clout of the municipal “redevelopment agencies” that use taxpayer-subsidized land grabs to finance fancy “revitalization projects” that often turn out to be busts. In the current issue of City Journal, Steven Malanga outlines what happened when Californians tried to pass an anti-Kelo law: some 380 redevelopment agencies around the state banded together to make sure the bill never got out of committee (hat tip: Backyard Conservative, another terrific new winger-gal blogger).
Fortunately, Malanga reports, a group calling itself Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform is gathering petitions for a ballot initiative in November that would limit Kelo’s effect and break the redevlopment agencies’ power. Malanga writes:
“Led by Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, MORR notes that the redevelopment agencies consume 10 percent of all state tax dollars, have racked up some $56 billion in debt, and have used eminent domain to gobble up privately owned land for hotels, vast car dealerships, and big-box retailers, including a Costco warehouse store built on a site taken from a church in Cypress. Norby’s group dubs the redevelopment agencies California’s “unknown government.” Not only can the state create them without direct voter approval; the agencies in turn can incur debt without a thumbs-up from voters.
“Though California’s current eminent-domain law, like those of many states, limits takings to ‘blighted’ areas, its language is so vague on what constitutes blight that creative redevelopment authorities have designated more than 1 million Golden State acres as eligible for seizure-including land in some flourishing communities. Most recently, for instance, the San Diego Model School Development Agency pushed to grab 188 homes in the thriving City Heights neighborhood, because the agency wanted to build 509 town houses, condos, and apartments on the land.
“Government ostensibly takes the private property to boost economic development and buoy tax rolls. But a 1998 study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that communities in the state that have engaged in extensive government-sponsored redevelopment have reaped no real economic benefits compared with municipalities that haven’t done so. Government officials, it turns out, often misread the marketplace and promoted projects that failed to deliver the promised payback. ‘The widespread abuse of eminent domain has left shattered neighborhoods, half-empty malls,’ and empty car-sales lots, Norby says.
“Polls show that 90 percent of Californians favor curtailing eminent-domain powers. Still, many municipal officials in the state oppose the constitutional amendment, as does the Democrat-controlled legislature.”
We wish Norby’s group all success. It sure beats putting rat poison in the creme brulee of Justice John Paul Stevens, author of the 5-4 majority opinion in the Kelo case.