Eminent Domain, Blight, and Domination

"We don't like anybody messing with our dogs, our guns, our hunting rights or trying to take property from us." -- Bob Riley (R), Governor of Alabama

Let's just say everybody's busy legislating from California to the Gulf Stream waters. At least two states, Alabama and Delaware, have signed bills that limit the right of local governments to seize property. Even U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, (D)California, signed two bills sponsored by Republicans. This rare alliance between conservatives and liberals shows that the eminent domain issue resonates with all politicians. According to The Black Voice News, Waters' district includes some of California's poorest and blighted communities.

Speaking of blight, the Claremont Institute recently posted on its blog the unique concept that everything is blighted, counting the ways that California law gives localities broad powers of eminent domain. Here are some guidelines:

- Incompatible adjacent or nearby uses of land parcels that hinder economic activity.
- Adverse physical factors, such as susceptibility to flooding and earthquakes, that demand significant improvements to buildings in order that they be safe for occupancy. (This would seem to justify a finding of blight for the entire state.)
- Small and irregularly shaped lots under multiple ownership that are vacant or under-utilized.
- Outdated and inefficient building configuration and design that does not meet current business needs.
- Unsafe access into buildings or parking lots.
- Inadequate and obsolete infrastructure, (i.e. utilities, storm drainage, sewers, street lighting, and confusing and inefficient street systems).
- Depreciated or stagnant property values and other evidence of disinvestment.

Might makes blight! Last week the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that National City officials will video record all properties included in a redevelopment plan to illustrate what they consider blighted. This is almost becoming as subjective as the definition of pornography: "I know it when I see it."

Miles Filson, one National City business owner who questions the city's definition of blight, said, "My grandfather was a very resourceful builder. There's nothing wrong with an old building."

Or an old house. Long Branch, New Jersey property owners opposing eminent domain have written to the developers of the project urging them to omit their properties from acquisition. As reported in the Atlanticville, they said:

"Our neighborhood is not blighted. We are not crime ridden, we have no boarded up houses and our homes are being utilized as intended. It is a viable neighborhood...where children play, adults congregate, meaningful and significant relationships are created and preserved through social settings that the ownership of our properties has produced."

Not everyone loves the aesthetics of cookie-cutter condominiums proposed by developers. These projects lack the soul of the old neighborhood with its character, long standing friendships, and generations of families. In his animation, Eminent Domination, Mark Fiore brings us the sterile communities of the future created by "more deserving corporations." Download the animation.