Eminent Domain: Home for the holidays

"Once man has comprehended himself and has established his own domain in real democracy, without depersonalization and alienation, something arises in the world which all men have glimpsed in childhood: a place and a state in which no one has yet been. And the name of this something is home...." Ernst Bloch in The Principle of Hope
"Home! And this is my room - and you are all here! And I'm not going to leave here ever again, because I love you all! And -- Oh, Auntie Em --there's no place like home!" - Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz
Your home is your sanctuary. It's the place where you can retreat from the world and the troubles of the day and feel safe in familiar surroundings. All of this is about to change in Long Branch, New Jersey, through eminent domain proceedings filed this week against the remaining homeowners in Beachfront North Phase 2. And as reported in the Atlanticville by staff writer Christine Varno, the Long Branch City Council voted unanimously to approve the use of eminent domain for the acquisition of 30 properties in Beachfront South at a special meeting held four days before the Chrismas/Hannukah holiday recess. The obscene land grab by Long Branch for the benefit of its developers, K. Hovnanian and Applied Management, continues.

The city continues to ignore the conflict with borough attorneys Greenbaum, Rowe and Smith and K. Hovnanian. When asked by resident Harold Bobrow if there was a conflict, the mayor and council told him that that the issue is in litigation and that nothing improper was done. This is a startling revelation by the city given the undisputed facts which have been widely reported in the Atlanticville and previously referenced in our last post on this blog.

The public will get to hear all the facts when Judge Lawson conducts hearings on Long Branch's right to take the properties recently condemned for Beachfront North Phase 2. There are 36 homeowners left in Beachfront North. If the city is allowed to proceed with eminent domain, we will be reading a list of senior-citizen homeowners who have lost their property, not unlike the daily litany of young soldiers who gave their lives defending our freedom on foreign shores. How have we come to this: that government is permitted to take property from one private land owner for the benefit of another private landowner? This is not the "public purpose" that our Founding Fathers envisioned when they permitted in the Constitution private property to be taken for public use. The concept of public use has been distorted and bastardized through the expanded definition of blight to which our courts have acquiesced.

We have written that the Kelo case has created a backlash among the public who vigorously oppose this use of eminent domain. In California, that backlash has grown so intense, Christopher Swope posts on his blog 13th Floor, that one redevelopment official says, "We would have been better off if we had lost."

The public has been given a great deal of lip-service from state and federal politicians who are simpatico to the plight of the homeowner and small business owner being taken for redevelopment projects in the aftermath of Kelo. The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE) chief economist Raymond J. Keating noted that, "Homes and small businesses -- indeed, the 'American Dream' - stand vulnerable to being bulldozed by politicians and government bureaucrats coupled with powerful special interests."

These empty political promises and suggested legislation have not resulted, at least in New Jersey or on the Federal level, in any meaningful law which will help the property owner. Daniel Weintraub, state political columnist for the Sacramento Bee, writes in Tracy Press:

Texas and Alabama were among the first to pass laws limiting the power of local government to take homes and businesses for private profit. Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Senate, in a unanimous vote, passed the Property Rights Protection Act, which would prohibit the use of eminent domain for commercial development and tighten the definition of blight. Then, both houses of the Michigan Legislature passed a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the taking of private property for transfer to another private entity "for the purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenues."

New Jersey Governor-elect Corzine needs to IMMEDIATELY halt acquisitions for redevelopment projects until he and the legislature can appoint a blue-ribbon panel to review both the Eminent Domain Act of 1971 and the Local Redevelopment Housing Law of 1992. If this is not done, it will be business as usual in New Jersey. Our senior citizens and home owners will be left like Susette Kelo, wondering if this is their last Christmas in the homes that they have built and loved.

"For public use--for a bridge or a road or a school or a hospital--that's bad enough," Susette Kelo told Wall Street Journal associate editor Melanie Kirkpatrick over tea at the kitchen table of her little house on East Street. "But you add insult to injury if somebody else can live here. That's exactly what they plan on doing here. Making it so somebody else can live here." But "I live on East Street. I live on East Street. Why can't I live here?" Later, as Kelo and Kirkpatrick drove along Pequot Avenue with its beautiful old homes, they saw what Kelo used to see from her front porch before the Pfizer project went up and blocked her view of the waterfront. One house was so immense; it contained two Christmas trees with lights twinkling in the windows. "I love my house," Susette Kelo said with a fierce shake of her head. "I love it. I love it. I love it...."

Susette Kelo has become the icon for eminent domain abuse. Like a grown-up Dorothy in New London, she represents all of us who want to click our heels three times to realize what was promised in the American dream: America as home.

In his book Fairy Tale as Myth; Myth as Fairy Tale,
Jack Zipes wrote:

There was no more space to conquer in America, and whatever manifest destiny may have been...Oz was what Kansas was not....It was the ungray place where a young girl could come into contact with the qualities she would need (courage, brains, and heart) and realize her potential through nonviolent means in opposition to conmen and wicked witches. Only after a visit to Oz could Dorothy take on Kansas. Not accept Kansas, but take on Kansas to change it.

Susette Kelo visited the Supreme Court and on paper she lost 5-4; but the reality is that decision has galvanized the opposition in a way that is far stronger that any victory the Court could give her. We all need to be like her, and continue the fight for justice and property rights on every front with courage, brains, and heart.

"...And here's a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie's a hand o' thine
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
For Auld Lang Syne�"


Ed note: The City of Long Branch v. Anzalone was settled on September 15, 2009, after negotiations. The Anzalones claimed that the trial court erred by not allowing discovery on how the various conflicts of interest of city officials and the City's law firms might have influenced the decision to include their property in the redevelopment. In the Appellate Division opinion of August 7, 2008, the court wrote, "We find no reversible error in the trial court's findings regarding conflicts of interest, bona fide negotiations, or delegation of eminent domain authority." (Slip opinion, 6.)

Written By:daniel goldstein On January 2, 2006 11:28 AM

does anyone know when the Long Branch hearings will take place?

Written By:William J. Ward, Esq. On January 15, 2006 11:25 AM

The hearings will take place on February 24, 2006 at 1:30 p.m. before the Honorable Lawrence Lawson, A.J.S.C., at the Monmouth County Courthouse in Freehold, New Jersey.