Monday, July 21, 2008

This Land Ain't Your Land-Anymore!

In Sunday's NY Post, the paper reviews "Government Pirates" by Don Corace, an attack on the government's use of eminent domain to erode property rights: "June 23, 2005 was a very dark day in our nation's history," Don Corace writes at the beginning of his new jeremiad defending property rights against rapacious government buttinskis. That was the day the Supreme Court handed down its shocking 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, affirming local governments' rights to seize your home and flip it to another private owner if the new guy promises to bring in more tax revenue."

The book takes a hard look at the way in which courts and local governments have acted-unfairly in his view-to take people's property in the name of development. Corace examines the efforts to reform eminent domain laws around the country as well as the often incomprehensible and contradictory judicial rulings on the subject: "The public rightly shuddered with revulsion at the specter of their bedrock rights being subject to the whims of "redevelopment"-addicted local pols. Alarmed statehouses prepared scores of eminent domain-limiting bills, while city halls from coast to coast dug in their heels. The tension between those three - and the scattershot, logic-defying umpiring offered by the judiciary - forms the basic narrative conflict in Corace's "Government Pirates."

What is, of course, disturbing in all of this is the way in which local governments use the ED weapon, along with other land use sleights-of-hand to railroad local folks-usual those without resources: "For Corace, eminent domain is just the gateway into a world where local governments respect no man's castle. "Kelo has sparked a healthy dialogue, but eminent domain abuse is only the 'tip of the iceberg,' " he writes. "Through local zoning and the regulation of wetlands and endangered species, governments take property without compensating owners and also extort land and money in return for approvals."

This phenomenon is in need of some pretty fundamental reform; and as is the whole ULURP process in NYC which is too often the handmaiden of these tactics-a fact exposed by the ESDC/Columbia University collusion we wrote about last week. More transparency, and greater protections for small businesses, property owners and tenants, is badly needed.

The ED weapon is wielded as a bludgeon: "But Corace ably points out what many New Yorkers and other urbanites - particularly the poor - have long known: Eminent domain is like the Ring of Power in redevelopment schemes. Local officials insist they're reluctant to use such terrible power, but sometimes you just gotta break an egg or three to make an omelet."

What the Corace book apparently points out, is just how often locals get shafted by their own elected officials, something that Bronxites and the folks in West Harlem are familiar with: "Corace's on firmer ground detailing the collective incoherence of various court rulings, and the limitless reservoir of bad faith and money that local governments will tap into when they have a better idea for your property than you do."

It's time for NY State to address the inequities in its anachronistic eminent domain laws. As bad as the court rulings have been, and we're coming from a place that sees ED as a sometimes necessary tool-the real solution lies with the legislature; and pressuring those electeds who too often feed at the development trough.