Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eminent Domain and America

Eminent Domain and America

By Kevin Anthony Stoda

I have just heard of Pfizer Pharmaceutical’s decision to leave New London, Connecticut. The state of Connecticut has done nothing to protect the citizens of New London abused by local usage of eminent domain for decades. Many other states have been concerned of the run amok real estate and city planning practices in Connecticut, New York and other places in America. Americans are growing wary, but more must be done.

I would suggest all reader write the following emails: “Dear, Connecticut Government Leaders, Why not use Eminent Domain and take over Pfizer and all those big bad insurance companies that misuse America’s total landscape?”


According to DEMOCRACY NOW, “Homeowners in New London, Connecticut [had taken] . . . on the city’s leaders after they announced plans to condemn all of the homes in one neighborhood to make way for a private development project for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. The city said it would bring in thousands of jobs. After a 2005 Supreme Court ruling against the homeowners, the entire neighborhood was bulldozed. This week Pfizer announced it is shutting down its research center.”


Dana Berliner is senior attorney at the Institute of Justice, and she had “represented the homeowners in Kelo v. New London, in which the US Supreme Court ruled that cities could condemn property because other uses may produce an increase in tax dollars and jobs.”


Berliner noted that the Supreme Court, in its outrageous 2005 decision, refused to look at the facts on the ground that the ill-thought-out development-scheme involving Pfizer’s expected commitment to the city of New London was absolutely not going to work.


The Supreme Court decision was so outrageous that over 20 US states immediately rewrote their own eminent domain laws to try to stop the horribly bad decision-making seen in New London “would and could not happen here”.

DN’s Juan Gonzalez explained, “The proposed $75 million [New London] project was part of the city’s efforts to spruce up the area for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which had agreed to construct a $300 million research facility adjacent to Fort Trumbull. The city claimed the project would create 3,000 jobs. Several homeowners refused to give up their homes, and their case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. In June, 2005, the court ruled by a 5-4 majority that New London’s seizure of the homes for private development was a permissible ‘public purpose.’ The decision, Kelo v. New London, infuriated millions of property rights advocates across the country. After the decision, the neighborhood was bulldozed.”

From ZIMBABWE to Small Town America--STERLING, KANSAS
Whenever I hear the words “eminent domain”, I almost always recall talks I have had with many white (and black) citizens from Zimbabwe who have had their properties seized over the past two or three decades under the Mugabe regime. For example, a judge in Zimbabwe had his farm taken personally by Robert Mugabe’s wife early in 2009.
After these Zimbabweans have talked about their history with property seizures in their homelands, I have shared with these Zimbabweans that in America for decades real estate, business shylocks, and city developers have been abusing American property owners for years, i.e. using eminent domain and laws of condemnation to take property again and again.
In my family’s case, in the mid-1990s, the small town of Sterling, Kansas (approx. 2000 residents) simply took over my mother’s house and property—without even contacting her. You see, my mom had been divorced over 15 years earlier—a process through which the full property eventually became hers. In the early 1980s, there had been recession in property and job market throughout all rural areas in America, so the property often went unsold for years.
In short, my family had gone to neighbors all around the location of the house in Sterling over several years trying to sell the house to no avail. No one took the offer.
Meanwhile, my mom had been working for the United Methodists of Oklahoma continuously from 1980 through the end of the 1990s. (She had even become a minister first in the 1970s in Sterling, Kansas through the UM church there. Until late 1979, mom had been a minister in Kansas for the UM church, too.) In short, mom was a public individual in the Midwest and a simple background check through local, state or federal police would and could have provided the City of Sterling, Kansas with the phone number and address of my mother quite easily. They could have contacted her at the time the city took over the property, but they did not claiming that the owner could not be found.
Claiming to have been unable to find out where my mother lived,, Sterling city administrators took away my parent’s old house for a pittance. So, the house and property were confiscated. The house was then torn down and the land was put up for auction. Only then, after the auction, was a 4 or 5 thousand dollar check sent to my mother in Oklahoma.
In conclusion, at auction my mom’s property was sold to a neighbor--who had strong connections for years with the local city police.

New London’s Michael Cristofaro tearfully reported on Democracy Now, “Well, I mean, that [the intention of Pfizer to leave now] hurts even more, because, you know, the state and the city—you know, Pfizer came in. They [the real estate leaders, Pfizer, and city fathers] said what they would like to see happen, you know, to the neighborhood. And they had executives who basically said they didn’t want to look out their tenements down at—I mean, look out their windows down at these tenements and, you know, ‘We would like to have a biotech buildings and office park there.’ And so, that’s what the city did. They accommodated them. And they gave them all these tax breaks.”
Cristofaro concluded, “And the hopes and dreams were that this Pfizer Global Research Center was going to draw all these major corporations into New London, and it was going to save them, you know, by increasing the tax rolls. And here it is, ten years later, they actually extended tax abatements an additional three years to entice Pfizer to come here. And here it is, the tenth year, and the tax abatements are finally up, and they turn around and drop this bombshell, saying, ‘We are leaving.’”
In short, there never has been any justice and never will be any justice until more rigorous eminent domain laws are implemented in America. Moreover, the Supreme Court must support individuals over-run-amok city leaders and development mongers as it failed to do in the landmark 2005 case.
Worse still, in the case of the recent seizing of mosques from Muslim community groups this past week, America can only make more enemies world wide until common sense and legal protection are finally applied prior to seizures of property.
“The Council on American-Islamic Relations warns that the seizure of places of worship may have First Amendment implications for the American Muslim community,” according to Democracy Now.
Wake up, America, fight for change and justice!!!!!



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