Wall Street Journal: Partially-built mega-projects are overhyped.

The Wall Street Journal looks into “partially-built mega-projects [that] dot U.S. cities.” Spoiler alert: they’re overhyped and deliver little—if any—economic development.

One of the largest is Atlantic Yards, a $4.9 billion real estate development, including a billion-dollar arena for one of the worst teams in the NBA. But the development firm hasn’t broken ground on any of the apartment towers and hasn’t even chosen an auditor yet. The Institute for Justice worked with property owners to try to stop government official s from abusing eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards project, but in 2009, New York’s highest state court upheld bulldozing Brooklynites’ homes and businesses and handing them all over to mega-developer Bruce Ratner.

Some of the other lowlights from the Journal article include:

  • In New Jersey, a $1.9 billion mega-mall decadently named Xanadu has been stalled for the past three years.
  • What was supposed to be a $3 billion set of skyscrapers in Los Angeles is still a swath of vacant lots.
  • “In New London, Conn., a piece of land once eyed for a sprawling waterfront development with a hotel, office space and residential, is still fallow seven years after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of eminent domain to take homes on the site. The new mayor, Daryl Finizio, says now the city is hoping to start on a residential development on a portion of the 90-acre site by mid-2013, but for now the site is without the new neighborhood and the envisioned tax revenues.”

You can read the rest here.

Specter of Eminent Domain Haunts Atlantic City Property Owners

By Andrew Koehlinger

Rumblings of eminent domain abuse roll through Atlantic City, where the city and its partner in crime–the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) — are once again up to no good. The CRDA is moving forward with plans to use eminent domain to seize at least 62 homes in the South Inlet, holding three informational meetings in July for affected citizens.[1]

News reports indicate the CRDA wants to transfer that property to a private developer who will “redevelop” the area by building luxury condominiums, restaurants, specialty stores and boutiques to compliment the city’s newest casino, Revel.[2] The project is part of a larger redevelopment scheme outlined in the City Tourism District’s Master Plan, which means even more private property could be threatened in the future.

Charlie Birnbaum is one of the property owners in the targeted area. His three-story home, which has been in the family for 43 years, sits in a prime location just a block from the ocean. From its rooftop, he can see “his lighthouse” (otherwise known as the Absecon Lighthouse). Over the years, the home itself has become its own light on a hill in the midst of life’s tumultuous storms.

A piano prodigy, Charlie’s parents dedicated their lives to his success. They moved the family from San Francisco to Philadelphia so Charlie could attend the Curtis Institute of Music. Charlie’s talent grew; he auditioned for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leonard Bernstein and performed at Robin Hood Dell and the Academy of Music. But after failing to win the Leventritt, a premier international piano competition, Charlie discovered a new way to continue being his parent’s hope for success.

The birth of his first child Rachel catalyzed his decision to forgo the brutal practice regime required to prepare for performances, for the more flexible lifestyle of a piano tuner for Atlantic City’s casinos. He has had the honor of tuning for artists like Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi, and most recently Beyoncé. The job allowed him to stay near his parent’s home, raise a family, and tend to his aging parents.

Sadly tragedy struck several years after his father’s death when a crack addict broke into his parent’s house and murdered his 86-year-old mother. But that same home proved to be a refuge. Charlie grieved the loss of his mother by transforming the troubled parlor into a quite sanctuary complete with two rebuilt grand pianos. Charlie goes there daily to “touch the face of God” by playing the gift of music his parents gave him. But now the CRDA wants to take away this daily reprieve.[3]

Charlie is not the only property owner in Atlantic City who has found himself battling the unholy alliance between tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers. In 1997, the CRDA attempted to take the property of elderly widow Vera Coking and transfer it to another private individual: Donald Trump. Trump convinced the CRDA to use its eminent domain power to take Vera’s home so he could construct a limousine parking lot for the customers of his Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel. IJ successfully challenged the taking of Vera Coking’s property in New Jersey Superior Court, and she enjoyed her home of more than three decades for another ten years.

Then in 2007, Atlantic City officials tried to designate the business of Quang Ha and those of other small property owners in a 24-acre area around the former Sands casino as “in need of redevelopment,” in order to seize the property through eminent domain and transfer it to Pinnacle Entertainment for its new casino. Quang had opened his jewelry store after fleeing from communist Vietnam where his business was seized for being profitable. After 32 days at sea and five months in a refugee camp, Quang reached the “land of the free” only to have what he worked so hard to build threatened again by the government. Ultimately, Quang Ha, IJ and New Jersey eminent domain attorney Bill Potter successfully convinced city officials to rescind their redevelopment designation and Pinnacle Entertainment abandoned its casino project.

In all three cases the CRDA acted as the agent for powerful special interests. Each time they have sought to tear down what property owners had worked so hard to build-up and rehabilitate, while still claiming they were “taking care” of residents.

The Institute for Justice worked alongside Vera Coking and Quang Ha, and will now again join forces with  Charlie and other small business and homeowners in Atlantic City to defend their right to keep what they’ve worked so hard to own against the powerful interests of politically-connected developers. Atlantic City should remember the consequences of their past sins and think twice before abusing its power of eminent domain again.

Richmond Heights Homeowners Remain Steadfast

Richmond Heights continues to fail to learn from its mistakes in Hadley Township. Last month, the city began its third attempt in ten years to raze this predominantly black community. Each time the city and private developers (most recently Pace Properties) use the threat of eminent domain to bully property owners into selling their homes that are rightfully theirs. The past two redevelopment attempts failed, leaving people like Alice McGee and her neighbors hanging in limbo.

Alice is 92 years old and has lived in her house in Hadely Township for almost five decades. It was a dream home for her and her husband (now deceased), and it is filled with memories from the hand-made curtains to the spacious and well-kept lawn (which she mowed herself up until two years ago) to the photographs of six generations of her family. Her message to the city and its private developer is clear: I won’t sell, saying, “I keep praying to God for you to leave us alone. I want to live there until God takes me.”

Read more here.

Mini-Documentary on Redevelopment in California

California Redevelopment Agencies Abused Their Powers & Should Never Return



The California legislature recently dissolved the state’s redevelopment agencies, notoriously the nation’s worst abusers of eminent domain—when the government condemns perfectly fine properties not for public use, but for private development. California should stand firm in its decision to eliminate these rogue agencies, which have siphoned billions in taxpayer dollars away from schools and local infrastructure, and destroyed lives for ill-conceived projects, that often never meet expectations or even come to fruition. Watch this video to learn more about redevelopment in the Golden State.

Join the Castle Coalition to help make sure eminent domain abuse is never resurrected in California!

Castle Coalition celebrates its 10th anniversary

The Castle Coalition celebrates its 10th anniversary this year!  Together we have worked with you to save over 16,000 properties, and successfully spearheaded efforts in 44 states to reform laws to better protect private property owners. We have even had the privilege of visiting over a hundred of your communities!

This week we also celebrate the end of redevelopment in California, and pledge to fend off efforts to revive these abusive agencies. Watch a mini-documentary on redevelopment in California here.

The Castle Coalition will continue to push other states to reform their laws, and continue to fight off greedy bureaucrats and their bulldozers.

Help the Castle Coalition continue to grow!  Recruit your friends and family.  They can become activists here.

Thank you for standing on the frontlines with us.

Virginia one step closer to amending state constitution

Virginia is one step closer to amending the state constitution to protect home and businesses owners from eminent domain abuse. Both the House and Senate passed resolutions overwhelmingly in support of the amendment—the House by a vote of 80-18, and the Senate by a vote of 23-17. The amendment will now head to voters for final approval in November 2012.

Back in 2006, the legislature acted swiftly to reform the state’s eminent domain laws in the wake of the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, but the reforms have not yet be solidified in the state constitution. Amendments are required to pass the legislature twice, with an intervening election between the two votes, before it can appear on the ballot. This week’s vote is the second time it has passed the legislature. If voters approve the amendment in the fall, the amendment will officially become part of the Virginia’s state constitution.

Click here for more about the state’s laws, and here for more information about the amendment.

California’s Redevelopment Nightmare Coming To An End

California Supreme Court Upholds Law Abolishing Redevelopment Agencies


Arlington, Va.—In a landmark victory for private property owners in the Golden State, the California Supreme Court today upheld a statute abolishing the nearly 400 redevelopment agencies across the state. The court also struck down a law that would have allowed these agencies to buy their way back into existence. The final outcome of the case is that, in 2012, California’s decades-long redevelopment nightmare will finally come to an end.

California redevelopment agencies have been some of the worst abusers of eminent domain for decades, violating the private property rights of tens of thousands of home, business, church and farm owners. The Institute for Justice has catalogued more than 200 abuses of eminent domain across California during the past ten years alone. In California Scheming: What Every Californian Should Know About Eminent Domain Abuse, the Institute for Justice exposed the enormous amounts of taxpayer money used to fund these illegitimate land grabs. In fiscal year 2005-2006 alone, redevelopment agencies’ revenues were an astonishing $8.7 billion. In other words, 12 percent of all property taxes in California that year were sent to these bureaucrats.

As part of the state’s response to its fiscal emergency and to stop this drain on the state’s resources, the legislature passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed, two laws: Assembly Bill 1X 26, which dissolves redevelopment agencies, and Assembly Bill 1X 27, which exempted agencies that agreed to make payments into funds benefiting the state’s schools and special districts. The California Redevelopment Association and the League of California Cities, among others, challenged both laws, arguing that they violated the California Constitution.

The court held that AB 1X 26, the law barring the agencies from engaging in new business and providing for their windup and dissolution, was “a proper exercise of the legislative power vested in the Legislature by the state Constitution.” The court concluded that the Legislature has both the power to create such agencies “and the corollary power to dissolve those same entities when the Legislature deems it necessary and proper.” In contrast, the court concluded that AB 1X 27, which allowed the agencies to continue to exist if they made certain payments, violated a provision of the California Constitution that prohibits the Legislature from requiring payments from redevelopment agencies to the state.

“This decision represents the worst of all worlds for California redevelopment agencies—and the best of all worlds for California property owners and renters,” said Dana Berliner, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice. “The agencies managed to achieve a decision that upholds their dissolution while striking down a law that gave these agencies a way to stay in existence. The agencies’ arrogance, so often employed against property owners, finally proved their undoing.” The Institute for Justice is a public interest law firm that is the nation’s leading defender of victims of eminent domain abuse—when the government seizes perfectly fine property not for public use, but for private development—across the country, including in California.

While the decision focused on specific provisions of the California Constitution, its practical effect represents a significant victory for California property owners. “Redevelopment in California has been a billion-dollar, state-subsidized boondoggle that has completely eroded private property rights through the abuse of eminent domain for private gain,” said Christina Walsh, the Institute’s director of activism and coalitions.  “With the court’s decision, redevelopment has finally met its long-overdue end, and property owners who have been living in terror across the state can finally rest safe in what they’ve worked so hard to own.”

IJ attorney Bill Maurer said, “Today’s decision reaffirms the common-sense conclusion that state agencies do not have a constitutional right to perpetual existence. More importantly, it means that California is no longer lagging behind the rest of the country in respecting private property. Rather than interfering with California’s recovery, this decision should encourage it, as people considering moving to or staying in California now know that their property cannot be seized and transferred to a private entity by out-of-control, unaccountable redevelopment agencies.”

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens Defends Kelo Decision

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens recently defended the infamous majority opinion in Kelo v. City of New London, while acknowledging that it was the most unpopular decision he has written.

The full article from the Wall Street Journal is available here.

3rd Circuit Backs Mount Holly Gardens Residents

From the Philadephia Inquirer:

A federal appeals court ruled that the mostly low-income residents who live in Mount Holly Gardens have a right to argue at trial that Mount Holly Township’s decision to use eminent domain to evict them will have a discriminatory effect and upset the racial balance of the neighborhood.

After about 10 years of litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia reversed a federal judge who had dismissed the case, which was filed by South Jersey Legal Services on behalf of about 20 families who remain in the neighborhood.

More here.  This is a huge victory for the Mount Holly homeowners.  The fight continues!

Brooke Shields to Star as Susette Kelo

901 N. GLEBE ROAD SUITE 900    ARLINGTON, VA 22203     (703) 682-9320     FAX (703) 682-9321

September 13, 2011

Eminent Domain:  The Movie

Brooke Shields to Star as Susette Kelo
In Lifetime Television Movie About
U.S. Supreme Court Eminent Domain Case

Movie Based on Critically Acclaimed Book “Little Pink House”

Arlington, Va.—Anti-eminent domain heroine Susette Kelo will soon join the likes of Erin Brockovich and Norma Rae in seeing her real-world drama turned into a mainstream movie.

Kelo lost her little pink house in a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in which the Court ruled that eminent domain could be used to take homes for private development projects—a decision that outraged the nation.

Lifetime Television is adapting the critically acclaimed Little Pink House:  A True Story of Defiance and Courage by Jeff Benedict into a movie that is expected to move into production this fall and is slated for release sometime next year on the cable movie station.  Brooke Shields will serve as both executive producer and star.  Joining Shields as executive producer are Michael R. Goldstein and Michael G. Larkin of Larkin-Goldstein Productions.

“The Institute for Justice has worked tirelessly before and after the Kelo ruling to reform eminent domain laws nationwide to better protect homeowners,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, which represented Kelo and her neighbors in their landmark U.S. Supreme Court case.  This month, the Institute for Justice marks its twentieth anniversary of litigating for liberty.  Mellor said, “We hope this movie will inspire further reforms to end eminent domain for private gain once and for all.”

The saga of Susette Kelo’s little pink house started shortly after Pfizer—the pharmaceutical giant—announced it would move its research and development headquarters into New London, Conn.  A local development agency sweetened Pfizer’s deal by abusing its power of eminent domain; the agency sought to take a nearby neighborhood, where Kelo and her neighbors lived, to create a private development complex that would complement Pfizer’s new center.  Not so much as one building of the promised development has ever been constructed and in November 2009, Pfizer announced it would close its New London headquarters.  More than six years after the redevelopment scheme passed constitutional muster before the U.S. Supreme Court—allowing government to take land from one private owner only to hand that land over to another private party who happens to have more political influence—the plant has closed and the very land where Susette Kelo’s home once stood remains barren to all but feral cats, seagulls and weeds.

Little Pink House was published by Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group.  Copies of the book may be ordered at:  http://www.amazon.com.  For an inspiring video taking you through Susette Kelo’s historic fight to save her home, visit The Story of Susette Kelo.

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