Eminent Domain and the Laws of Motion

"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." - Sir Isaac Newton, The Third Law of Motion

The "Kelo effect" continues. Eminent domain abuse is still front page news and it's not going away. The reaction has fostered legislative changes to eminent domain laws throughout the country as quoted in editorial in the DC Examiner (Oct 25, 2005):

Less than a month after the Kelo decision, Patrick County in far southern Virginia adopted a tough local resolution that should be the standard elsewhere in the commonwealth. It states that eminent domain can be invoked for public use only when it "is absolutely necessary ... and the need overrides the importance of established private use." Generating jobs or increasing the tax base isn't enough. Patrick County not only forbids using eminent domain for any private development, it requires it be used only as a "last resort" for public projects - and only after producing written offers of up to 150 percent of market value. The property owner retains complete possession until compensation has been paid, and is entitled to an additional 10 percent in relocation expenses....

While Kelo may have given developers and their political allies a legal green light to seize private property, fierce grassroots opposition may ironically make it harder for them to do. "I don't think the [New London] homeowners are ever going to have to move," Berliner said, predicting that a flurry of legislation will be passed within the next six months. "Most states are going to pass something. They have to." Or face some pretty angry constituents.

Recent polls taken in Hudson County New Jersey and Monmouth County New Jersey confirm what we have already identified as the "Kelo Effect." There is an overwhelming grass-roots reaction to government condemnation where the takings are benefiting a redeveloper and threaten the homes and businesses of long-time residents.

As reported in yesterday's Jersey Journal:

When asked whether the government should be able to take private property as spelled out in the recent high court ruling, nearly 50 percent of the county's residents said no way, according to the poll.

Meanwhile, nearly 20 percent said yes, and another 14 percent said they didn't know. Opposition against the ruling comes from every demographic group, but the strongest opposition comes from those making more than $75,000 a year - "perhaps because under eminent domain they would not earn what they believed was a fair market price for their property," according to the poll's supervisors and authors, Bruce Chadwick of the English department and Fran Moran of the political science department.

Although residents are against the taking of property in the name of corporations and developers, they aren't against eminent domain when it comes to its traditional usage to benefit the public good.
A plurality of respondents - 38 percent - said eminent domain should be used to favor schools. Roads followed at nearly 25 percent, then open space (17 percent). Just 8.9 percent of respondents said eminent domain should be used for more stores.
"This is certainly an interesting choice since new schools usually mean higher property taxes to pay for them. It may reflect increasing unhappiness with county schools, especially in the inner city," the poll's supervisors said."

As quoted in CPN:

In a poll by Monmouth University and the Gannett New Jersey newspapers on the subject of eminent domain, a majority said it is being abused. The power, they said, benefits only private developers. 86percent said it is wrong to bulldoze a low-value home in order to replace it with a higher-value unit, 88 percent said yes to taking vacant and run-down buildings to build a school, while 65 percent voted in favor of taking land from a developer to preserve open space.
"This was the first poll taken on this subject," Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute told CPN. "Using eminent domain for development such as being proposed in Long Branch is at the bottom of the list of priorities."

A major battle is shaping up between the remaining 36 home owners in Beachfront North Phase II and the City of Long Branch. As Maura Jane Farrelly reported today on the Voice of America, Rose LaRosa of Long Branch, New Jersey, is fighting to preserve the house her father bought in 1944, after her brother, who wanted the home, was killed in World War II. "Every letter he wrote, 'Pop, buy that property. When the war's over, we'll have a lot of fun,'" she recalls with sadness. "And now they want to take it."

The city is attempting to seize these homes to make way for the construction of more high rise condominiums by its designated redeveloper Applied Management and their partner, Matzell & Mumford, a division of K. Hovnanian. (See August 23 post.)
Legislative changes proposed in New Jersey and other states may save Rose LaRosa and other property owners from eminent domain abuse.