Is Meg Whitman a hypocrite in regard to eminent domain takings?

Neal Blue Chairman-CEO General Atomics

While most media outlets and blogs will probably focus on the May revised CA budget today, I thought it was time to share an issue that all readers know is one of my passions. Protection of private property rights regardless of your circumstances.

In addition to my role as OC Co-director of CURE, Californians United for Redevelopment Education, I am also an elected Board Member of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights. CAPPPR was very active in protecting the 17,000 acre Conaway Ranch in Yolo County.

And lastly, as a four year Member of the Institute for Justice’s Castle Coalition, my efforts in this cause has resulted in being contacted by victims around the nation.

In all of the eminent domain cases I have researched I never expected to find two Californians with the same last name, from both ends of the income spectrum, with one thing in common. They were each confronted with an “eminent domain” taking.

Previously I covered Bob Blue and his family’s Bernard Luggage business in Hollywood. This report will focus on Neal Blue from San Diego County. Neal Blue is the Chairman/CEO of General Atomics. General Atomics makes the Predator drone aircraft.

To support my headline it is important to begin this report with Jon Fleischman’s Oct 7th interview of Meg Whitman in Menlo Park where they discussed the topic of eminent domain. Here is part of that interview:

Flash: What is your thought about when eminent domain is appropriate? What are appropriate uses for government’s ability to take property forcibly versus what would be abusive?

MW. ‘My view is that it should be very hard for the government or a city, or a county to take people’s property rights. Property rights is a core part of, I think, why people live in America. Think about the history of owning property in the United States. It’s the American dream. There may be a small number of occasions where it makes sense for the government–whether it’s public safety, whether it’s hospitals, whether there’s something that the country or the city absolutely needs where there is no alternative but I think it should be an alternative of last resort.”

Gilbert comment. “The American dream?” Than why did Meg Whitman take an active role in the “eminent domain” taking of 570 acres of Neal Blue’s land near her Colorado properties outside Telluride, CO.

Google is a wonderful search engine. More to follow below.

Note: Do you recall Woodie Guthrie’s lyrics? “This land is your land, this land is my land, from CA to the New York Island, from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me.”   

In responding to Jon’s question related to the expansion of Disneyland Meg responded:

MW “In general, I think people’s property rights absolutely need to be respected, and we should be careful to go down the slope where it’s okay for a road, it’s okay for a school, and therefore you could have sort of creeping authority. Again, I’d like to sort of look at it on a case by case basis, but I think I’m generally speaking in the same place as you are.”

Flash: Okay, because this kind of abuse happens all the time. You’ll even have people who have land that has nothing on it at all and then, of course, government comes along and says, “We want to make your land into open space. So now when we pay you for your land, we’re going to value it as what it would be worth if you know you can’t build anything on your land.” And suddenly somebody’s land that may be worth $5 million dollars is now worth $30,000 and that’s what they’re willing to pay you, and that becomes a taking.

MW “And in most cases that I am familiar with, actually, the value of the land is accorded the value of developed land.”

Flash. Well, it’s happening more and more where they’re now not really that.

MW” The cases that I’m familiar with tend to be more where the price that is paid to that owner is actually fully developed land which usually is full value there.”

Flash. I don’t know that makes it any more morally correct.

MW” No. It doesn’t, but at least it isn’t undervaluing the property by saying “You can put a Pete’s or a Starbuck’s on your land and we’re going to pretend you can’t.”

At this point I will shift gears and focus on gubernatorial candidate Whitman.

Larry, where is Telluride, CO? This former gold and silver mining camp, whose 2000 population was reported at 2221 residents, has become one of Colorado’s best kept secrets for snow skiing for the rich and famous. This Rocky Mountain resort area, below the San Juan Mountains, is located 330 miles southwest of Denver.

To understand why I consider this an example of hypocrisy by the candidate we need to peel the onion back to 1983 when Neal Blue, Chairman/CEO of San Diego military contractor General Atomics, purchased 570 acres in the “valley floor.”

His initial plan called for development including “houses, condos, hotels, golf courses and lakes.” Source. USA Today.

Based on my research I cannot find any evidence to support a desire by Mr. Blue to purchase that large parcel simply to preserve it as open space. After being stonewalled for two decades Mr. Blue offered a compromise that the local rejected.

His proposal called for approval to build 22 houses on 64 acres of his land. In exchange he would provide a site for a new hospital and school and put 91% of the land under a conservation easement to protect it forever. The town council and San Miguel County Commission both endorsed it” but they were trumped. Source. USA Today.

And here is the link to Meg Whitman. As part of the eventual “taking” a court ruled that the acquisition cost of that condemnation was $50 million dollars.
In addition to “her charitable foundation contributing $1.15 million (dollars) to Telluride Valley Floor Preservation Partners” she was actively engaged in the three month effort raising funds to meet the deadline.
 Source. Telluride Watch article by Karen James.

In his Telluride Watch account of Valley Floor Day reporter Douglas McDaniel mentions the celebration which followed. For those out of the area there was a teleconference set up. Let me now quote from Doug’s report.

“Said Whitman over the amplified teleconferencing line: “This is one of those occasions where a small number of people come together  at all odds,” I just did what John (Pryor) told me and worked with some other people along the way.”

The report also quotes a participant named Hilary White.

“This last week has just been get the money in the bank,” White said. “From the beginning people told us that the traditional rate of bad debt for people who promise money for something like this is 15 percent, but we didn’t have that. In this case, everyone came through.”
That includes Meg Whitman, CEO of pioneering online auctioneer eBay and owner of the old Skyline Guest ranch property, another donor who approached family members and wealthy contacts to help bring the money in.

What did Meg say in her interview with Jon Fleischman. “Property is the cornerstone of America.” Perhaps she can justify her role in taking someone’s land when he had no desire to sell. Without her active participation, my sense is that the town would not have been able to raise enough funds to meet that court deadline.

This is not an issue relating to “just compensation.” Bob Blue told the CRA-LA that price was not an issue. He did not wish to sell. The same is surely true for Neal Blue who is not hurting for cash.

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