Oakland City Council Authorizes Eminent Domain Power

Kroger wants to buy Sang Hahn’s shopping center in Oakland, California, to make way for a big-box grocery store, but Mr. Hahn has told Kroger he does not want to sell.  

But not to worry, city officials are to the rescue! The Oakland City Council voted this week to authorize their power of eminent domain over Sang Hahn’s shopping center. If Kroger cannot pressure Mr. Hahn to accept their lowball offer, Kroger will just ask the politicians to forcefully acquire Mr. Hahn’s property for them.

Read the full story here.

Report Exposes 120 Failed Redevelopment Projects in California

The Los Angeles Times reported this weekend that over a hundred “affordable housing” projects promised by California politicians have failed to come to fruition.  On the heels of Bruce Ratner’s announcement last week that he is reneging on his promise to build affordable housing in Atlantic Yards, this report should come as no surprise to Castle Coalition members.  

Visit here for the Time’s full, in-depth story of redevelopment wrecks across California.  Also, don’t forget to check out the Castle Coalition’s own documentation of twenty failed redevelopment projects across the country, available here.

Not-so-shocking: Ratner admits he has no plans for affordable housing in Atlantic Yards

Billionaire mega-developer Bruce Ratner has admitted he has no plans to build an affordable housing tower in Atlantic Yards. In fact, Ratner admitted today in a press conference that he has no plans to build 15 of the 16 residential and office towers he promised New York politicians.

Shocked? Neither are we. And neither is Daniel Goldstein, who was forced out of his home for Ratner’s arena for the worst team in the NBA.  Read the full story here, at Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.

Nick Sprayregen Asks Supreme Court to Save His Business

Nick Sprayregen, owner of Tuck-It-Away Storage in Manhattanville, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the New York Court of Appeals’ ruling that gave New York’s Empire State Development Corporation permission to seize his business by eminent domain and hand it over to Columbia University, an elite private institution.

Columbia University plans to expand their campus onto land owned by a group of small family businesses that have been there for years.

For more background on Nick’s courageous battle to save his business and livelihood and secure property rights for all New Yorkers, please see his petition to the Supreme Court and our previous news story, New York Slams Door on Property Owners in the Empire State.

National Constitution Center Honors Susette Kelo on Constitution Day

Susette Kelo, the woman known for her courageous stand against eminent domain abuse in the Supreme Court case, Kelo v. City of New London, will have her name added to the American National Tree, a popular exhibit inside The Story of We the People at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Penn.  The ceremony will take place on Friday, September 17, 2010, at 10:00 a.m.  The exhibit tells the stories of more than 100 Americans whose actions have helped write the story of the Constitution.  

“The stand taken by Susette Kelo and her neighbors truly transformed this nation for the better,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, who argued Kelo’s case before the Supreme Court and who will appear with Kelo at the ceremony.  “It is only appropriate that the Constitution Center recognize the historic role played by the homeowners in New London who stood up for their rights and, in so doing, fought for the property rights of all Americans.”

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision against Kelo sparked a nation-wide backlash against eminent domain abuse, leading eight state supreme courts and 43 state legislatures to strengthen protections for property rights.  Moreover, in the five years since the Kelo decision, citizen activists have defeated 44 projects that sought to abuse eminent domain for private development.     

The event will be held on Constitution Day (September 17), marking the 223rd anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.  The Center selected high school student Nick Liu of North Carolina as the winner of the 2010 M.R. Robinson National Constitution Center American National Tree Award.  Liu will write the biography of Kelo that will be featured in the exhibit.

Following the 10:00 a.m. ceremony, visitors are invited to the Grand Hall Overlook at 10:30 a.m. for a special reading by Liu of his winning essay on Kelo, as well as a question-and-answer session with Susette Kelo and Scott Bullock.

FREE Training Workshop in Montgomery This Saturday

Montgomery is the cradle of
the modern civil rights movement.

Yet today, rights are being routinely violated as homes are being condemned and demolished against the will of the owners.  It’s eminent domain through the back door – and it must stop.

Join your community, the Institute for Justice and Whom It Concerns on the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech for a FREE training workshop on how to protect what you’ve worked so hard to own.

THIS SATURDAY
August 28, 11am – 2pm
St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church
3224 Woodley Road | Montgomery, AL 36116

Free lunch and materials will be provided, but PLEASE REGISTER by calling Lancee Kurcab at (703) 682-9320 or e-mailing her at LKurcab@ij.org.

Download a copy of the flyer here.

Another Victory in Wisconsin

Business owners in Greenville, Wis., celebrated their hard-won victory Thursday night when the city council voted unanimously to prohibit the use of eminent domain for private development.[1] 

The city had targeted successful businesses around Loomis Road and I-894 earlier this summer for seizure by eminent domain because they wanted to “redevelop” the area “someday.”  Property owners were expected to pack their bags and get out even though city officials had no concrete plan for the area and no developer lined up to execute it.  

The Castle Coalition and IJ attorney Jason Adkins reached out to the businesses owners and provided them with valuable strategies and tactics to use in their fight. Following recommendations from Adkins and the Castle Coalition’s Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide, business owners rallied together to demand elected officials respect their property rights.

The group staged rallies and spoke out at important council meetings to show their opposition to eminent domain abuse. They also reached out to the media, gaining valuable exposure that left city officials panicked.

Officials like Alderwoman Linda Lubotsky definitely got the message: “I’ve been getting e-mails, and phones calls, and just listening to what the people want, and to take your business to put a bigger business in just isn’t fair.”[2]  Thanks to the property owners’ relentless advocacy, Lubotsky and the rest of the Council voted to end the use of eminent domain for private gain.

Now Bill Maynard, who owns an auto-repair once targeted for acquisition, can get back to earning a living for his family.  Maynard and other Greenville property owners can feel secure in their businesses, safe from the leering eyes of brazen urban planners.

 

 

[1] Charles Benson, “Greenfields Votes Down Development,” Today’s TMJ4 CBS, August 20, 2010.

[2] Mike Lowe, “Greenfield Common Council puts end to city’s eminent domain tactics,” Fox 6 Now, August 19, 2010.

Oklahoma Community Celebrates Lifting of Blight Designation

Homeowners in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, are enjoying a satisfying victory after they joined forces to overturn the city’s bogus blight designation that had hung over their thriving community.

The specter of eminent domain began to haunt the Camino Villa mobile home community in January 2008 when the city declared the entire neighborhood of 400 people “blighted” and began talks with private developers regarding commercial redevelopment of the area.[1] Residents knew this put their homes on the chopping block.

‘“We could have sat on our laurels and let the powers that be run us over like a Mack truck,”’[2] property owner Grace Weber recalls.

But that is exactly what they did not do. To prove their beloved community was not “blighted,” home owners painted their fences, cleaned their yards, and made general improvements to their properties, even helping elderly neighbors and those without the financial means to make their own improvements. In addition, residents spoke publicly against eminent domain abuse at council meetings and hired an attorney to represent them.

Their tremendous efforts met some success in 2009 when the development authority banned eminent domain to acquire any of the mobile homes in Camino Villa. But again, residents did not “sit on their laurels.”[3]

Instead, this dynamic community protested the blight designation, knowing this label depressed their property values and discouraged private investment in Camino Villa. The City Council acknowledged their concerns by unanimously voting to remove the blight designation on August 3, 2010.[4] Relieved, property owners rejoiced that the homes they had worked so hard to own were no longer under the cloud of condemnation.

Oklahoma is one of only seven states that have yet to reform their eminent domain laws in the wake of Kelo. This community is just another example of how badly reform is needed to ensure every home and business is safe.

 

[1]Susan Hylton, “Broken Arrow mobile home park residents want blight status removed,” Tulsa World, August 1, 2010.

[2]Susan Hylton, “Mobile home park residents win fight over ‘blight,’” Tulsa World, August 4, 2010.

[3]Susan Hylton, “Broken Arrow mobile home park residents want blight status removed,” Tulsa World, August 1, 2010.

[4]Susan Hylton, “Mobile home park residents win fight over ‘blight,’” Tulsa World, August 4, 2010.

Successful Businesses Labeled “Blighted” in Wisconsin

It’s becoming clearer that legislators in the State of Wisconsin need to reform the State’s eminent domain laws with regard to the taking of “blighted” properties and areas.  

Just ask Bill Maynard, owner of a 12-bay auto repair center in Greenfield, Wisconsin that is so clean you could practically eat off the floor.  In fact, the landscaping around the business even won an award from the Greenfield Beautification Committee.

But now, Greenfield city leaders have determined that Maynard’s business, along with a number of others along a coveted strip of property on Loomis Avenue, is “blighted” and should be taken so the city can turn the land over to a private company to redevelop the area.  

There’s just one catch:  the city does not have a developer lined up.  Nor will it be developing the area for at least three years.  In fact, the city has claimed that the coming years will allow it to “more thoroughly plan” what the redevelopment will look like.

So, let’s summarize.  The City of Greenfield wants to take successful businesses for a redevelopment plan in which it has no developer and it itself hasn’t even totally planned.  

Adding to the irony, the redevelopment project is supposed to be linked to an adjacent transit center (that is, park & ride).  Now, what could be a better fit for a project centered around a park & ride than an auto repair shop?  

That makes too much sense.  Instead, the city is opting for the typical “mixed-use” development prized by city planners from Albuquerque to Atlanta.  More condos!

But, you’re asking, “How could the Maynard’s property be considered blighted?”  Good question.  Let’s have a quick look at Wisconsin’s definition of “blighted area,” found in section 66.1333 of the Wisconsin Statutes:

66.1333(2m)(b)
(b) “Blighted area” means any of the following:

66.1333(2m)(b)1.
1. An area, including a slum area, in which there is a predominance of buildings or improvements, whether residential or nonresidential, which by reason of dilapidation, deterioration, age or obsolescence, inadequate provision for ventilation, light, air, sanitation, or open spaces, high density of population and overcrowding, or the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or any combination of such factors is conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, juvenile delinquency, or crime, and is detrimental to the public health, safety, morals or welfare.

66.1333(2m)(b)2.
2. An area which by reason of the presence of a substantial number of substandard, slum, deteriorated or deteriorating structures, predominance of defective or inadequate street layout, faulty lot layout in relation to size, adequacy, accessibility or usefulness, unsanitary or unsafe conditions, deterioration of site or other improvements, diversity of ownership, tax or special assessment delinquency exceeding the fair value of the land, defective or unusual conditions of title, or the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or any combination of such factors, substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of a city, retards the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability and is a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare in its present condition and use.

66.1333(2m)(b)3.
3. An area which is predominantly open and which because of obsolete platting, diversity of ownership, deterioration of structures or of site improvements, or otherwise, substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the community.

***

Now under that definition of blighted area, whole neighborhoods, perfectly sound in their outward appearance, could be considered blighted.  In Greenfield, the city appears to have seized on the fact that some of the businesses occupy decent-sized plots of land and, as a result, the land is “predominantly open.”  Nope, we’re not making this up.

Unfortunately, the Maynards and others in the area did not understand the significance of the local community development agency’s determination that the area was blighted, and as a result, the city has now put itself in position to take the land at any moment and give the owners 90 days to vacate the land.  

Greenfield has not yet pulled the trigger on these takings but will be holding hearings next week to determine its course of action.  On August 16, the city’s community development agency will meet to consider various options for moving ahead with the redevelopment plan, including the use of eminent domain.  On August 17, the Greenfield Common Council (city council) will meet to discuss the CDA’s recommendations and consider the city’s options with regard to the plan.

So far, a bank has been spared from the chopping block.  Hopefully, the city will at least consider building around those owners who are committed to staying in their homes and businesses on Loomis Avenue.  

Castle Coalition members should let the City of Greenfield know that eminent domain abuse is wrong!

Stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, check out this local news video.