Eminent domain abuse: Jonah gets it


Over on National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg has caught on to eminent domain abuse and puts it all in a nutshell:

OUT-FRICK'N-RAGEOUS [Jonah Goldberg]

I blame myself for not being up-to-speed on this issue already, but man oh man, if you saw "60 Minutes" last night and aren't outraged by the use of eminent domain to kick people out of their homes, you should re-read the constitution. Cities and states across the country are simply seizing peoples homes and businesses -- with some shut-up money, to be sure -- and then handing the property to deep-pocketed developers so the government can collect higher taxes. They profiled one city in Ohio where a lovely neighborhood has been designated a "blighted area" so the government can give the land to condo-builders. In order to make that plausible, they had to redefine "blight" to include any homes without attached garages or central air conditioning. In other words a home is blight if it is inconvenient to the state. Thank goodness the Institute for Justice is on the case.

"A home is a blight if it is inconvenient to the state." That's certainly the case in Oklahoma. Here are the state's "declarations and findings" regarding blight, and the state's legal definition of "blight":

1. "Blighted conditions" means conditions which, because of the presence of a majority of the following factors, substantially impair or arrest the sound development and growth of the municipality or constitute an economic or social liability or are a menace to the public health, safety, morals or welfare in its present condition and use:

a. a substantial number of deteriorated or deteriorating structures,

b. predominance of defective or inadequate street layout,

c. unsanitary or unsafe conditions,

d. deterioration of site improvements,

e. absentee ownership,

f. tax or special assessment delinquency exceeding the fair value of the land,

g. defective or unusual conditions of title,

h. improper subdivision or obsolete platting or land uses,

i. the existence of other conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or

j. conditions which create economic obsolescence, or areas containing obsolete, nonfunctioning or inappropriately developed structures;

Definition "j" could be called the elastic clause -- blight is truly in the eye of the beholder.

The Local Development Act has an even broader definition of what can be condemned for the sake of "economic development":

"Reinvestment area" means any area located within the limits of a city, town or county requiring public improvements, including but not limited to transportation-related projects identified by any transportation authority pursuant to Section 1370.7 of Title 68 of the Oklahoma Statutes, to reverse economic stagnation or decline, to serve as a catalyst for retaining or expanding employment, to attract major investment in the area or to preserve or enhance the tax base or in which fifty percent (50%) or more of the structures in the area have an age of thirty-five (35) years or more. Such an area is detrimental to the public health, safety, morals or welfare. Such an area may become a blighted area because of any one or more of the following factors: dilapidation; obsolescence; deterioration; illegal use of individual structures; presence of structures below minimum code standards; abandonment; excessive vacancies; overcrowding of structures and community facilities; lack of ventilation, light or sanitary facilities; inadequate utilities; excessive land coverage; deleterious land use or layout; depreciation of physical maintenance; and lack of community planning. Such an area includes a blighted area as defined in Section 38-101 of Title 11 of the Oklahoma Statutes at the time of approval of the project plan;

The bottom line is, if government thinks it can get more tax dollars out of your land with you out of the way, prepare to move. More later about some egregious local abuses and attempted abuses.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 30, 2003 12:11 AM.

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