Calls Needed Now: Federal Eminent Domain Reform Needs Your Help

Property Owners Nationwide Would Benefit From Increased Protections


February 29, 2012

H.R. 1433 passed the House of Representatives last night! An overwhelming majority of congressmen were in support of the resolution, so only a voice vote was required for passage.

The resolution now moves on to the Senate, where it will face an uphill battle. This will be the fourth time federal eminent domain reform has headed to the Senate—hopefully this time our elected officials will finally stand up for the property rights of their constituents.

The Castle Coalition will keep you updated on the fight ahead.


February 28, 2012

H.R. 1433, the Private Property Rights Protection Act, will likely be considered by the House of Representatives this week.  It was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month.  It is critical that you contact your representatives TODAY and tell them to vote for H.R. 1433. You may remember that this bill passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly in 2005 by a vote of 376 – 38, but has been stonewalled in the Senate since.

You can find your representative’s contact information here.

This reform is long overdue.  H.R. 1433 will strip any municipality that abuses eminent domain of federal economic development funds for two years.  You can read the text of the bill here.  It’s time that Congress stop being complicit in the abuse of eminent domain.

Read IJ’s op-ed in the Washington Times on federal eminent domain reform efforts here and below.

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.

New London mayor apologizes, but is that enough?

City of New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio may have acknowledged that the city government wrongfully bulldozed Susette Kelo and her neighbors’ homes. But as IJ’s Scott Bullock points out, more is needed to protect against future abuses.

Below is Scott’s response to this article from The Day.

It was good to see that Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio apologized on behalf of the city and the New London Development Corp. for abusing the power of eminent domain in the disastrous Fort Trumbull project (“NLDC Gets a New Identity,” Feb. 1). But if the city wants to ensure that no other New Londoner goes through what the residents in Fort Trumbull did, then it should take the lead of other Connecticut cities, such as Fairfield and Milford, which have passed ordinances prohibiting the use of eminent domain for private development. That way, future mayors will not have to apologize yet again to homeowners and small businesses when their property is taken to give to private developers.

Editor’s Note: Scott Bullock is an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represented Susette Kelo.

Deadline to abolish redevelopment agencies looming

In the aftermath of the California Supreme Court ’s recent ruling that upheld the legislature’s elimination of redevelopment agencies, eminent domain abusers are reticent to relinquish their power.

The court’s decision directed the nearly 400 redevelopment agencies to close up shop by February 1, 2012.  It should come as no surprise that local bureaucrats across the state are fighting to extend the deadline.  The California Redevelopment Association is lobbying legislators to pass Senate Bill 659, which would extend the deadline to April 15, 2012.

The fight to protect property owners in California from abusive government power is not over yet!  This next chapter will surely test the resolve of state legislators to abolish these out-of-control agencies.

Property owners across California are invited to attend a rally at the California Capitol on March 7 at 12:00pm.  More details forthcoming—check the Castle Coalition site for updates.

For a detailed look at eminent domain abuse in California, check out California Scheming: What Every Californian Should Know About Eminent Domain Abuse.  To learn how to encourage development without the use of eminent domain, read Simplify, Don’t Subsidize: The Right Way to Support Private Development.

Know a student who wants to change the world?

The Institute for Justice is looking for Maffucci Fellow applicants!

Maffucci Fellows work with IJ’s activism and coalitions team as we fight for economic liberty, private property rights, school choice, and free speech at the grassroots. Fellows assist with exciting research projects, cutting-edge legislative initiatives, grassroots activism, and coalition building.

Thanks to the generosity of the Maffucci family, undergraduate students are given the opportunity to gain inimitable experience on the front lines of the fight for liberty while earning a monthly stipend of up to $2,000!

“An invaluable experience—IJ leads the nation in libertarian litigation, activism and coalition-building, and Maffucci Fellows are in the thick of it on Day 1.” –Fall 2009 Maffucci Fellow and 1L at Harvard Law

Click here for more information about the fellowship and how to apply!

Fellows needed to begin immediately. Also accepting applications for summer fellowships.

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.”

Mayor Bloomberg Begins "Redevelopment" at Willets Point

By Fernando Ferreira

Willets Point, also known as the Iron Triangle, has been abandoned by New York City for decades. The area has no sewers; the streets are crumbling; there are no fire hydrants; no trash removal and no city plows when it snows.[1] Ironically, city officials are now using their own negligence to justify using eminent domain on the businesses and land owners that thrived in the area.[2]

The area that Mayor Bloomberg called “another euphemism for blight”[3] is actually a successful business district with over 225 businesses. Some, like Bono Sawdust Company have been around for over half a century. The company was started in 1933 by Jake Bono’s grandfather, who emigrated from Sicily. “My grandfather helped to build this economy, and he helped build America,” said Jake Bono, now president of Bono Sawdust.

Today, the Iron Triangle still plays a vital role in lifting the lives of those who have recently reached the Land of the Free. Over 1,000 local workers are employed in Willets Point, many of whom are hard working Hispanic immigrants.[4] Willets Point has become a place where newcomers to America can get steady employment and settle into their new lives with the support of the community.

For decades the city neglected the flourishing tax-paying businesses at the Iron Triangle. They refused to invest in infrastructure despite many petitions and complaints. However, now that every single business is on the chopping block, the city has given the go-ahead on a $50 million project to bring working sewers to the neighborhood. According to city officials, it is the first step toward the $3 billion redevelopment project.[5]

With the sewer project in place, and more flexible zoning for the area, the city has already laid the groundwork for development. There is no need to use eminent domain to force businesses out. Once the infrastructure investment is in place and new uses for the land are legally allowed, property prices are sure to go up. However, bureaucrats need not worry: Once landowners are allowed to keep their properties and benefit from its increased value, they have the incentive to either develop the property themselves, or sell it to someone who will.

The city of New York should take the easy, and right, way out: Give up on eminent domain. Scarce taxpayer money is better spent elsewhere, not fighting property owners in court just to benefit a handful of deep-pocketed private developers.

[1] Fernanda Santos, “A Confrontation Over the Future of Willets Point,” August 13, 2008.

[2] David Lombino, “Mayor To Redevelop Iron Triangle in Bid To Transform Flushing,” New York Sun, January 25, 2006.

[3] Karla Schuster, “Whole new ballgame; Urban renewal plan to remake Mets’ home and nearby industrial area is unveiled; local businesses protest,” Newsday, May 2, 2007.

[4] Tom Angotti, “Willets Point: A Defense,” Gotham Gazette, April 2006.

[5] Joe Anuta, “Willets Pt. sewer project begins amid opposition,” Times Ledger, December 8, 2011.

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.