A Hollywood Blockbuster

The innocent often find themselves defenseless against the big and powerful forces that have been aligned against them—except in Hollywood blockbusters. But a recent victory over eminent domain abuse in Hollywood, Fla., is a testament to the fact that good can prevail over darker forces, even off the screen.

In the 1970s, George Mach immigrated to Florida from Hungary in pursuit of the American Dream. His property had been illegitimately seized twice before, first by the Nazis, and then one year later, by the Hungarian communist regime. America, he believed, would finally protect his liberty and fundamental right to private property. So he and his wife Katalin purchased a 2,900-square-foot building in Hollywood for a beauty salon. The small business prospered, and the Machs ultimately decided to lease the property to many other small business owners for more than 30 years. George Mach was living the Dream he came to America to pursue.

That is, until Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti and developer Charles “Chip” Abele, showing blatant disrespect for individual rights, unveiled their plans to forcibly take the Machs’ family property and replace it with a private development. In 2004, before the U.S. Supreme Court’s outrageous decision in Kelo v. City of New London and the subsequent meaningful, comprehensive eminent domain reform enacted by Florida this year, the Hollywood city commission signed a contract with Abele agreeing to condemn property on his behalf if the developer could not convince George Mach to sell. In essence, the City rented away its power of eminent domain to a private developer—giving him the power to acquire somebody else’s land for his own gain.

Mach fought tooth and nail, sadly passing away during negotiations. His son, David, resumed George’s fight, steadfastly refusing to desecrate his father’s memory manifested by the castle his father owned and cherished. As David so bluntly said, “Not everyone can be bought.”[1]

The City, however, ignored David’s pleas, arguing that it had an obligation—and a desire—to honor the contract it signed with Abele in 2004. In June 2005, the City began eminent domain proceedings to convert the property into a 19-story condo and retail tower. So David, who attended the Castle Coalition’s national conference last year, took his fight to the courts of law and public opinion.

In June 2006, the Mach family prevailed. The judge ruled that the City could simply build around the Mach property, and that it was therefore unnecessary to condemn it.

In the wake of the ruling, Abele says he hopes to resume negotiations—and to do what he should have done all along: attempt to acquire the property through private negotiation, not government force. But David Mach, having successfully triumphed over a tax-hungry city bureaucracy and a wealthy, land-hungry developer, has had enough. His victory over eminent domain abuse is a victory for property owners across the nation—people who want nothing more than the fundamental right to keep what they already rightfully own. As David said, “You can’t try to bully people and then when it doesn’t go your way just try to throw a pile of money at them.”[2]

But in this true Hollywood story, the villain just does not seem to get it. Mayor Giulianti said, “I just don’t want to see Chip up his offer to the Machs, because it sends a message to property owners that they can demand whatever they want from developers.”[3] The Mach family, and the owner of every home, small business, farm and place of worship across the country, has every right to sell or choose not to sell their property as they wish. The mayor’s unbridled arrogance underscores just how important the Mach family’s victory over eminent domain abuse is. It is a reminder to government officials that the threat of eminent domain is itself a violation of property rights; after all, if the City could simply condemn Mach’s property once so-called negotiations failed, the negotiations themselves become obsolete.

“This just shows that a lot of people unified can stand up to a bully, to a government that they don’t think is doing the right thing,” said David Mach.

In this Hollywood blockbuster, the right certainly prevailed over the wrong.

[1] Shannon O’Boye, “Hollywood moves to seize woman’s storefronts so developer can build condos,” The Sun-Sentinel, June 22, 2005.

[2] Michael Mayo, “Hollywood’s loss a towering win for common sense,” The Sun-Sentinel, June 25, 2006.

[3] John Holland, “Hollywood loses eminent domain fight,” The Sun-Sentinel, June 23, 2006.