August 15, 2005

There’s a Backlash Against the Kelo Backlash

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:51 am

August 20 Wizbang Trackback Carnival participant.
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Michael Kennedy of The New London Day (yes, THAT New London) pushes back (link may requires subscription, though it is currently available; bolds are mine) against the Kelo-driven initiatives in various states designed to minimize the impact of the Supreme Court’s eminent domain ruling:

For two decades, leading conservatives have sought to use innovative ideas to benefit America’s declining, older cities. Noting that urban renewal nearly always fails when it is solely a government effort, they said the cities must attract private enterprise. They call this concept “Enterprise Zones” — a vision of detailed plans, partnerships, democratic review and oversight, low taxes, and environmental responsibility. Many cities have tried it and realized spectacular results.

But the reaction to the Kelo v. New London Development Corp. decision endangers these initiatives. By and large, concerned citizens have heard only one side of the story — the outlandish “rights” claims of the seven holdouts and their activist, libertarian backers.

…. Now people are split. Believing rapacious rich people are marking off choice properties on maps for seizure, some are in emotional stampede, convinced “home safety” lies in new laws that will block revitalization, if even one affected property owner objects. But other homeowners know the decline of places like New London badly harms the interests of all property owners through killer tax hikes, crime, and depressed housing values.

Unwise legislation prohibiting any use of eminent domain involving private business will pretty much kill large Enterprise Zone revitalization projects authorized by voters and city officials, intended to serve the public benefit. Investors will avoid dealing with laws that cause extensive delays, extortion by holdouts, and need to obtain unanimous consent from existing property investors. Its simply an unacceptable risk.

Fortunately for them, our big country gives them broad options. It’s easy to build projects that generate jobs and tax base elsewhere. Unfortunately for older cities like New London, options are few. It’s simply get new investment and growth, or decline further.

This isn’t about people fighting to prevent Paradise Lost and preserve the idyllic Fort Trumbull neighborhood, given its local reputation as the most malodorous chunk of real estate between New Haven and Providence. We are talking only seven holdouts out of more than 85 property owners. And about aged houses clustered next to giant sewage tanks in the midst of a wasteland. Most experts consulted by the state and the courts considered it a blighted area. And houses badly out of place in an area zoned not for residential housing, but commercial/industrial use since 1929.

This is a controversy about multiple rights and essential societal goals. It requires a balance between protecting a few property owners from personal inconvenience, preserving the power of the vote of other property owners and residents to seek lower taxes and decent living conditions from revitalization, environmental cleanup, and city leader’s duty to try and prevent blight and crime through economic development and job creation. It is also about our moral obligation, whatever our political persuasion, to seek to better the lives of minorities and working poor in the cities by creating economic opportunities and better conditions. Something conservatives, pre-Kelo, said they were striving towards.

I think part of Mr. Kennedy’s argument is faulty, in that Enterprise Zones, as I understand them, have never involved eminent domain, but have only involved reducing or eliminating taxes and regulatory hurdles for businesses that locate or increase employment in them. I believe Mr. Kennedy is confusing Enterprise Zones with “urban renewal” projects, which often, and perhaps usually, do involve eminent domain. But I may be mistaken.

Regardless, here’s one guy who thinks Kelo was a good ruling. I don’t agree. If the Kelo Seven are being selfish, shortsighted, obtuse, etc., it’s their right. They earned that right when they took ownership of their property. So-called larger societal goals beyond those that truly benefit the common good (roads, bridges, etc.) don’t enter into the equation. Sorry, Mr. Kennedy.
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ADD-ON: Apparently, some on the Democrat-liberal side of the aisle are wary of the Kelo pushback too, as Matt Welch notes with sarcasm in the LA Times (requires registration):

So where is that Democratic Party concern for the “little guy” we’ve heard so much about? Subsumed by paranoia about the right. “The Kelo backlash is tempting, but it’s wrong,” warned Alyssa Katz in American Prospect Online (link added by Editor). “In seeking to limit public power over urban planning, well-meaning community activists are lending strength to [the] conservative movement.”

And we mustn’t have that, even if it means razing an entire black neighborhood for a shopping mall that never gets built. That’s exactly what happened in Indio in 1993, when more than 90 apartments and homes were bulldozed for an extension of the Indio Fashion Mall that never happened. Obscenely, the new owner of the property is pressuring the city to once again clear out two nearby churches to restart the project.

Welch did hit on a relevant point that is getting overlooked, namely is that so-called urban improvement projects don’t always improve things (or as he noted, they sometimes don’t even get done). I would add that the chances of failure or incompletion increase when the government has to get involved through eminent domain in the first place to make a project work.
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Flashback: What’s Happening to the Real People Involved in the Kelo Eminent Domain Case
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UPDATE, August 16: Jeff Michael at Credit/Debt Recovery has choice words for those pushing back.

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1 Comment

  1. [...] hat New London considers city property. Read it all if your blood pressure can take it. A quote from someone attempting to defend the outrage is in order “This is a controversy about multiple right [...]

    Pingback by SpeckBlog » Blog Archive » More Outrage From New London, CT — November 13, 2005 @ 3:32 pm

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