LA Congresswoman Maxine Waters comments on property rights


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United against Eminent Domain! – Chris Norby, Maxine Waters, Tom McClintock.

This is one of my favorite photos. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you represent eminent domain and redevelopment agency abuses must be eradicated. I took this photo at a MORR/CURE conference held in Burbank.

As we approach “high noon” at the California state capital I thought I would do a post covering the input on property rights from LA Representative Maxine Waters that were shared with us at a National Conference on Eminent Domain at the Castle Coalition meeting outside Washington, DC. Castle Coalition is the activists outreach arm of the Institute for Justice that in 2011 celebrates its 20th year of litigation to protect and restore our constitutional rights and “our most basic freedoms and to advance a rule of law conducive to a society of free and responsible individuals.”

Following is part of Ms. Waters commentary.

“I know that you are all familiar with the fact that the issue that has brought you together today is one that has been around since the beginning of our Republic and the crafting of our federal Constitution–in fact, it was part of the reason why it was crafted.

“We the people,” as stated in the preamble of the United States Constitution, makes it clear that this great document seeks to protect the individual rights of the people.

James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers of this nation and an original Framer of our Constitution wrote in the Federalist Papers that,

[G]overnment is instituted no less for the protection of the property than of the persons of individuals.

In 1795, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the decision of Vanhorne’s Lessee vs. Dorrance, recognized property rights as fundamental to our constitutional rights. If it is indeed fundamental, why is it now so vulnerable to the whims of wealthy developers?

On June 23, 2005, a majority of the Supreme Court chose to close its eyes to the Constitution and our nation’s rich history of protecting private property rights. The Kelo vs. City of New London decision interpreted government taking for “public use” to mean no more than “public purpose.”

Put simply, this decision meant  that government would have an almost unlimited ability to seize private property –homes, churches, synagogues, and thriving businesses–and hand it over to private companies so long as they convince the local land authority that the project will yield economic benefit for a community that has been arbitrarily deemed “distressed.”

Private companies and developers all over the country would be able to make huge amounts of money so long as they produced a public benefit–this was a ridiculous overexpansion of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In my state of Californian, the law limits the use of eminent domain for economic development of “blighted areas–purportedly meeting a “public use” requirement. All over the country, unfortunately, the word “blight” has been a term of art by local government to make almost any economic development project worthy of exercising eminent domain.

California’s Health and Safety Code defines “blight” with such overbroad terms that the government can almost justify the exercise of eminent domain in any set of circumstances! If you check the books, jurisdictions all around the United States define the term “blight” in a multitude of ways. This clearly non-uniform use of a term to, in large part, justify the taking of private property all over the country illustrates the federal injustice that has taken place.

The bottom line is that local and federal governments must take every landowner as a special case because the people  play just as big a role as the projected revenues that the local jurisdiction hopes to bring in with a new development. Just because you are poor does not mean that your rights to private property is worth less than that of any wealthy developer.

Ladies and gentlemen, I commend you in your continual fight for the small underrepresented Americans. Thank you.

In Oct 2005 members of our state legislature, Senate and Assembly Local Government Committees, Transportation and Housing and Housing and Community Development, met in San Diego to address the topic of “redevelopment and blight.” In my presentation I proposed the inclusion of “metrics” to create a uniform set of terms to better define “blight”‘  Lobbying in support of Senate Committee Chair SD Senator Christine Kehoe’s SB 1206 the following year we sadly ran into road blocks on both sides of the aisle. They were forced to abandon the metrics approach in the final draft which was signed by governor Schwarzenegger in Oct/Nov 2006.

Question. If government redevelopment is such an effective tool for our cities and counties perhaps someone can explain why some redevelopment agencies have been in existence for up to 40 years? Does it take that long to eradicate blight?

Alhambra’s redevelopment agency has been active since its inception in 1969. That’s 42 years to clean up some alleged blight in two project areas? No, redevelopment is nothing more than a money machine that government bodies use to steal from other public sector needs.


About Larry Gilbert