The human toll. Huell Howser should meet producer Philip Klein

In almost every redevelopment project there is a human toll that is ignored by the Redevelopment Agencies. My personal experience in this regard can be stated in two names. “Ronzel Cato,” whom I met when he testified at a Housing Hearing in Sacramento for Tom McClintock, and “Susette Kelo,” whom I met at an Institute for Justice conference in Arlington, VA.

Two years ago Huell Howser, producer of the popular PBS Series “California Gold,” was retained by the California Redevelopment Association, CRA, to produce a 14 segment series promoting the “positive elements of redevelopment efforts” in California called “California’s Communities.”
In learning of this future TV series I called Huell and asked him to include a statement that all redevelopment projects are not successful. Huell declined. His response was:

a) “I have no political agenda” and

b) “They were underwriting the series..they were paying me.”
In promoting the series to cities around the state CRA said that “the stars of the shows are going to be the projects.”  What about the victims?
While I have taken some heat for challenging Mr. Howser, a CA icon, there are two sides to these projects that need to be equally viewed.

While we have all heard of the US Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision, are you aware of the fact that five years later Pfizer is pulling out?

From the Internet:

“The case emerged from the desire of New London, CT, to tear down an existing residential neighborhood in order to create a mixed use commercial/residential “urban village” anchored by Pfizer, a big pharma corporation. Last week, Pfizer announced that it was leaving New London. What is the legacy of the Kelo takings?

Pfizer said it would pull 1,400 jobs out of New London within two years and move most of them a few miles away to a campus it owns in Groton, Conn., as a cost-cutting measure. It would leave behind the city’s biggest office complex and an adjacent swath of barren land that was cleared of dozens of homes to make room for a hotel, stores and condominiums that were never built.”
Let me fast forward to our May 1st MORR redevelopment abuse Conference in Ontario. Arriving early I had the opportunity to compare national RDA projects with “Begging for Billionaires” executive producer Philip Klein, one of the featured conference speakers.

Phil devoted four years in producing his documentary observing the human toll as American storm troopers took homes and businesses when they were not for sale.

Perhaps you heard Phil on Saturday night where he was interviewed by Martha Montelongo on her Digital Talk Radio program.

Having watched the 87 minute documentary, “Begging for Billionaires, The Attack on Property Rights in America” let me provide a brief account of the victims.

As I am in regular contact with Phil I am going to suggest his sending a “free” copy of this real life story to Huell so that he can see for himself the pain and suffering caused by urban renewal projects.

The opening commentary is as follows:

“The eminent domain controversy in America today is a conflict between two important and cherished sets of rights. On one hand we have the rights of the individuals, particularly when it comes to owning property and on the other hand we have the rights of majority rule. Both of these rights are important and cherished in a Democracy. And the challenge facing the American people today is to sort out the new application of this eminent domain issue to where we are taking rights away from one party and giving them to another.”

Note: Phil granted permission for me to include the above text and film review.

This is a compelling documentary of real people and their experiences in dealing with local city councils as their homes and businesses became victims of eminent domain takings.  I wonder how Realtors and property owners will react when they hear and see Real Estate broker Whitney Kerr, Sr. tell us that “real estate is a wasting asset.” Mr. Kerr was hired to “assemble properties” that would be replaced by some dreamers concept of “highest and best use” when promoting a new project development.

You will hear the story of Homer Tourkalis, DDS from Arnold, MO. Homer owned his building for 25 years. You will need to watch the video to learn the outcome of his fight.
In the documentary is Joe Ann Bailey, an African-American from Richmond Heights, MO. Joe Ann has owned her home since 1965. She shares the history of this area of homes originally constructed for local brick yard workers, was the only area set aside for people of color.
Another figure in the film is Jim Roos of St. Louis, MO. Jim’s non-profit Sanctuary in the Ordinary Ministry was attacked by the local redevelopment agency.  Forty of his non-profit owned properties were taken for high end housing.

Fifth and sixth generation members of the Marth family share their eminent domain experience where they can talk about their case with restrictions.

One of the most knowledgeable people interviewed by Mr. Klein is Richard Tolbert of Kansas City. In the film we learn that Mr. Tolbert was an alternate delegate at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Richard says that these agencies have “gotten fast and loose with the definition of blight.” I guess California is not alone with that assessment.

You need to learn of American Formal Wear whose property owners, Audrey and Daryl Pennar, were told that “the store is no longer wanted in the area.”

I would be remise not to include Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes who was thrilled when Tim Leiweke, CEO and President of AEG, attended a council meeting discussing their indoor “Sprint Arena” sports arena, opened in October of 2007, built at a cost of $276 million.
Isn’t it convenient to sanitize cost information on our major sports complex’s when you always overlook the property rights victims who stood in the way. That part of cost is buried just as Chavez Ravine in LA.

Enough said. Get the video. In fact I would send copies to every city council member where eminent domain is in their tool box. Force them to see victims’ faces rather than simply reading their names on a court document.

Note: I spoke to Philip this afternoon.  He agreed with my suggestion of sending a copy of his film to Mr. Howser.

About Larry Gilbert