June 5, 2006

Kelo-New London Council Meeting Watch (Result: 5-2 Vote to Evict Kelo and Cristofaro)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:04 pm

June 6, 3:15 p.m.: Welcome to Michelle Malkin readers, and thanks to Michelle for the link. Go here for the complete collection of Kelo-New London posts, and here for today’s latest (don’t forget the money the town wants from the holdouts).
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11:55 — Signing off; the evictions story is going out all over the country. One thing is certain: This sad, sorry saga is not over. Come back in the morning, as I’m sure there will be lots more reaction.

11:25Immediate reax is strong, from this updated AP report at The Day (check out the naming of the hyperlink :–>):

….. Scott Bullock, a lawyer for the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice who represents the residents, said the homeowners can still fight the city. He said they’ll be considering appeals to state government to ask that state funding for the development be pulled. He said they also may engage in civil disobedience.

“This is a civil rights struggle to save poor and working class people from eminent domain abuse,” he said.

City Councilor Robert Perro supported the effort to remove the families. He said the issue has been through state agencies and three courts.

“This was a plan that was well thought out,” he said. “The development of this peninsula needs to move forward.”

But Charles Frink, one of the two councilors who opposed seizing the properties, criticized supporters, saying they should admit they made a mistake.

“I can’t accept a possible reduction in taxes by having neighbors thrown out of their property,” he said. “This is morally abhorrent to me. I refuse to profit from my neighbor’s pain.”

11:05 p.m.It’s official. It doesn’t surprise, but it does disappointCouncil voted 5-2 tonight to evict:

NEW LONDON, Conn. – City officials voted Monday night to evict residents who refused to leave their riverfront homes, signaling that the end is near in an eminent domain dispute that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The City Council approved the action 5-2. The city attorney will now go to court to seek removal of the remaining two families and obtain the properties in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, a process that could take three months.

So here’s where things stand after all of the events of today (The Google map isn’t current, as most properties in the area have been razed, but the status of the identified properties is accurate):

Kelo0605vote

Excuse the simplistic phrasing, but all Council had to do is:

  • Follow through on the existing understanding to move the red square (Kelo) and the orange square (Cristofaro) to some undetermined location in Parcel 4A (probably in the northern or northwest section) at state expense.
  • Agree to give Kelo and Cristofaro the immediate-family-transfer titles the Governor recommended.
  • Let the high-powered and politically-connected red square outlined in black, The Italian Dramatic Club, stay right where it is, since they’re apparently (excuse the allusion) untouchable.

This could have been over and done with tonight. But nooooooooooo. Mr. Frink above is right when he calls this “morally abhorrent.” The IDC stays, and if Council has its way, Kelo and Cristofaro will be dragged out of their homes kicking and screaming. Way to go, people — You continue to be Exhibit A as to why the Kelo Supreme Court ruling was so wrong, and in so many ways.

10:55 p.m. — Google News is up to 53 outlets for tonight’s story, coast to coast.

10:40 p.m. — Just came across this at The Day — Go to the end of this post to see the most of the letter Scott Bullock sent to Connecticut Governor Rell earlier today. In it, he mentions the special treatment given to high-powered and politically-connected Italian Dramatic Club, whose building isn’t being taken, or even moved. (see this post for background)

10:25 p.m.And then there were twoThis updated AP report is saying that “One of them (the homeowners) agreed to a settlement just minutes before Monday’s meeting began, The Day of New London reported.” Here it is (missed it at The Day’s site for 90 minutes, because it wasn’t where I expected, darn it) — As I would have expected, it’s Mr. Von Winkle:

Minutes before Monday night’s City Council meeting, a fourth plaintiff in the six-year legal battle over the use of eminent domain in Fort Trumbull reached a settlement with the city and its development agency.

William Von Winkle, the owner of an apartment building and a house on Smith Street, agreed to sell his properties to the New London Development Corp. for an undisclosed sum.

The map will get updated tonight, but essentially that leaves the holdout-occupied properties of Susette Kelo and Cristofaro. Scott Bullock told me earlier today that they had not been in contact with Mr. Von Winkle since Mr. Von Winkle’s son was tragically shot to death a week ago. Unexcerpted portions of Bullock’s letter at the end of this post refer to Mr. Von Winkle’s situation as a landlord and not a resident. Both those facts lead me to believe that Mr. Von Winkle’s settlement was a surprise to the remaining holdouts.

One might think that this would make it easier for the Council to give the titles to Kelo and Cristofaro, but if past form holds, Council might feel emboldened to dig in its heels even deeper.

10:10 p.m. — Tonight’s story from New London is getting picked up all over the country, and I expect the number of outlets to snowball. Papers in DC, FL, LA, MN, and MI have the story, as does the Forbes web site. No fresh news is in the latest story. The claim that the eviction process would take 1-3 months is contrary to the three-month minimum Scott Bullock at The Institute for Justice has claimed the process would take in the past. By the way, did you notice the irony in Mayor Sabilia’s reference to “the home stretch”?

10:00 p.m.This unattributed report at WFSB in Hartford explains why so much of the country doesn’t understand the ugliness of what is happening in New London:

It’s a development plan a decade in the making. New London’s city council wants to revamp the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. The city hopes to put a hotel, convention center, and condos in the area, but to do that it will have to evict three homeowners, who are refusing to leave.

People, that is horsecrap. Everybody agrees that if the houses get moved to Parcel 4A, they won’t be in the way of anything. Got that?

9:10 p.m.AP has a story saying that a vote hasn’t been taken yet:

New London preparing for evictions in eminent domain dispute
June 5, 2006, 8:40 PM EDT

NEW LONDON, Conn. — City officials were preparing Monday to begin eviction proceedings against residents who refuse to leave their coastal Connecticut homes, a move that could signal the end is near in an eminent domain dispute that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I anticipate we are headed into the home stretch,” New London Mayor Elizabeth Sabilia said Monday morning, hours before the City Council was due to vote on whether to evict the three families remaining in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood.

The meeting was under way Monday night. No vote had been taken as of 8:30 p.m. About 100 people filled the meeting room, a hallway and an adjacent room.

Michael Cristofaro, one of the Fort Trumbull holdouts, spoke out against the property seizures.

“Just give us back our deeds,” Cristofaro said. “You are not being straight with us or the public. You are not listening to the general public.”

Cristofaro singled out five of the seven council members who favor taking the property.

“You are a disgrace to the city, the state and the nation,” he said.

….. One local resident who spoke Monday night, Donald Harrington, was against Rell’s plan.

“What right has she got to tell the city of New London what to do?” he asked.

An eviction process, which includes another court fight, would take a month to three months.

….. (The Institute for Justice’s Scott) Bullock said he doesn’t think the city wants the publicity that will come with razing the homes.

“It would be a disaster, evicting Susette Kelo from that pink house that nearly everybody in the nation recognizes by now, when you’ve got a proposal from the governor on the table,” he said.

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EARLIER TODAY, Scott Bullock sent a letter to Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell. Here’s most of it, which in essence says that the legalistic concerns Mayor Sabilia and The Day’s editorial raised in the past couple of days are weak to nonsensical:

Dear Governor Rell:

On behalf of the remaining Fort Trumbull residents, I write to thank you for your statement on Friday supporting returning deeds to familial residences in the area. All Susette Kelo and her neighbors wish is to own their homes, to be good neighbors to the new occupants and businesses in this neighborhood, and, if they choose, to pass these homes down to other family members.

Your proposal now makes this a very realistic possibility. The remaining residents of Fort Trumbull and a vast majority of the public support your leadership in finding a way out of this ongoing crisis. It is our hope that the City Council approves your proposal this evening so that years of litigation, controversy, and national scorn for the City of New London can finally come to an end.

It was distressing to see New London Mayor Elizabeth Sabilia’s June 2, 2006 return letter to you, where she claims that returning the deeds to the Fort Trumbull folks beyond a “lifetime occupancy” would violate the Municipal Development Plan (MDP), New London’s zoning regulations, and the State of Connecticut’s “financial endorsements” of the plan. This is simply not the case. As the trial in the Kelo case demonstrated, there is very broad discretion in determining what is a “substantial” or “minor” change to the MDP. Indeed, the New London Development Corporation (NDLC) decides whether something is a substantial change, subject to agreement by the DECD. Obviously, it is within the power of the City and NLDC to simply classify the decision to retain some of the homes as a minor change. In fact, counsel for the NLDC testified at trial that only impossible changes would violate the MDP. ….. Clearly, saving a few homes in this area, when the plan in fact calls for new residences, would not violate the MDP.

Furthermore with regard to the MDP, perhaps the best evidence as to why your proposal would not violate the MDP is the fact that the City and the NLDC approved retaining the Italian Dramatic Club (IDC) in the municipal development plan area, with the IDC maintaining full title to the property (even without the right of first refusal proposed by you for the remaining occupants of Fort Trumbull).

This decision was not considered a violation of the MDP nor any other applicable law. Surely, if the IDC, which was slated for acquisition and demolition under the MDP, can be maintained, so can a few homes in the neighborhood.

The City also wrongly claims that giving the deeds back to the property owners would violate New London’s zoning ordinances. Most importantly, a decision to keep plaintiffs’ homes would not even require a, change in the zoning code. All the existing properties are “grandfathered” into whatever land use changes were made for the area. ….. Even leaving aside the fact that the existing homes are grandfathered, a similar modification of the zoning regulations could be made in this instance, just like it was for the IDC.

With regard to the City’s third concern, I simply do not understand how your proposal would violate any financial “endorsement” of the plan by the State. If there were any problems, it seems like those could easily be addressed. Like her other arguments, it seems like Mayor Sabilia in her letter is grasping at technicalities that have no basis in the law.

….. Again, thank you very much for your efforts on behalf of the Fort Trumbull residents.

We would be happy to answer any questions you or any of your staff may have on this issue. I hope the City Council will vote in favor of your recommendations so that this controversy and ongoing dispute can finally end.

Scott G. Bullock
Senior Attorney

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