Sunday, November 22, 2009

Second sight, one

Quickly revisiting an old item that has relevant recent news.

In October 2004 and June 2005 I commented on the case before the Supreme Court regarding a move by the city of New London, Connecticut to seize private homes under the rubric of eminent domain, not for some public purpose but to turn the property over to a developer. The city claimed that the "public benefit" of the supposedly greater property taxes the new upscale development would bring in justified the forcible sale.

At the time, I described such a claim as
a perversion of the Constitution. The "takings" clause of the Fifth Amendment, as it is known, was designed to protect people from arbitrary government authority, not to enable that government to take land away from one private party only to give it to another.
It was, I said, part of a disturbing pattern of
cities ripping up established, stable neighborhoods in order to mortgage their economic futures to greed-driven corporations, selling their birthright, as it were, for a mess of pottage ... in pursuit of what too often turns out to be a mirage rather than a miracle.
Unhappily, the Court ruled 5-4 in support of the city, meaning that in essence there was no constitutional limit on the power of cities to impose eminent domain so long as they could claim some "benefit," however indirect.

The development in question in the case was supposed to involve hotels, condos, and a Pfizer research center and after the ruling the city spent $80 million preparing the land - but the project never got off the ground. And earlier this month,
Pfizer dealt a final blow to the project and the struggling seaport city by announcing that 1,400 jobs would leave the area as the pharmaceutical giant scales back amid tepid sales and a lack of new drugs in its pipeline. The move will vacate a 750,000 square foot complex built in 2001 and nothing is planned in its place.
The jobs will be gone in two years as Pfizer leaves behind
the city’s biggest office complex and an adjacent swath of barren land that was cleared of dozens of homes to make room for a hotel, stores and condominiums that were never built.
The project proved to be, that is, "a mirage rather than a miracle."

The upside of the story is that as a result of the outcry over the Supreme Court decision, 43 states have adopted laws putting some restraints on this sort of overbroad use of eminent domain.

But Robert M. Pero, a New London city councilman who is about to become mayor, still defends the original city action.
“I’m sure that there are people that are waiting out there to say, ‘I told you so,’ ” Mr. Pero said. “I don’t know that even today you can say, ‘I told you so.’ ”
Actually, the homeowners whose property was, in the words of one, "stolen" for economic development can say that. And they do.

So, for that matter, can I. And so do I.

No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');