Cities in a Mad Rush to Use Eminent Domain

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London, 31 states passed bills reforming their eminent domain laws in order to better protect home and small business owners from the government’s wrecking ball.  But these same reforms have sent tax-hungry cities and land-hungry developers into a mad rush to squeeze in more projects before new laws take effect.

It’s unfortunate these covetous cities are acting so quickly to threaten or condemn, especially in those situations where the legislature recognized the serious problem of eminent domain abuse and worked to fix it.

Take a look at just a few examples:

  • Council Bluffs, Iowa: The City Council passed a resolution making a number of additional properties eligible for condemnation just days before the eminent domain reform bill—for which the Legislature returned in special session to override the Governor’s veto—was to take effect.[1]
  • Steelton, Penn.: The City filed eminent domain actions against several small businesses just one day before Pennsylvania’s comprehensive eminent domain reform law became official.  Unfortunately, the project can proceed despite the new rules.[2]
  • Hercules, Calif.: Worried about Prop. 90, a citizen-driven ballot measure that would change California’s eminent domain laws, the City Council made “technical adjustments” to their eminent domain authority within months of Election Day. [3]
  • Boynton Beach, Fla.: On May 10, 2006, exactly one night before the Governor was to sign new legislation banning the use of condemnation for private development, City officials passed a resolution that would allow them to bypass the new law.[4]  This gave the City Council free reign to condemn an entire neighborhood to make way for upscale redevelopment.
  • Riviera Beach, Fla.: Just like Boynton Beach, the City Council passed a resolution the night before the Governor was to sign H.B. 1567 into law. The City Council, doubling as the Community Redevelopment Agency, signed an agreement with the developer to go ahead with a project including condemnation of several hundred homes to make way for luxury development.[5]  The meeting was called at the last minute, not giving sufficient public notice for the residents to respond.

These are just a few examples of cities around the nation that have acted quickly to bypass new laws.  While citizens and legislators have worked hard to curb eminent domain abuse, cities are working equally hard to gobble up as many properties as they can.  Let’s hope the rule changes eventually mark a change in attitude as well.  The Castle Coalition will continue to keep that message alive.

[1] Elizabeth Ahlin, “Bluffs resolution extends use of eminent domain laws,” Omaha World-Herald, September 26, 2006.

[2] “Steelton to use eminent domain to further redevelopment,” Centre Daily Times, October 2, 2006.

[3] David Goll, “Prop. 90 would demolish economic development plans,” East Bay Business Times, September 25, 2006. 

[4] Erika Slife, “Boynton Beach Oks eminent domain use in face of state action,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 6, 2006, at 1B.

[5] Alan Gomez, “Bush alleges Riviera violated law,” Palm Beach Post, June 1, 2006.