Out of Control Policy Blog

New London: Poster child of citizen abuse?

Tonight (Monday), the New London City Council will decide whether homeowners remaining the Fort Trumbull neighborhood will get their deeds. Eminent domain advocates must be shaking in their boots. If there ever was a case of eminent domain abuse, its New London and its city council.

Of course, we all know (at least those reading this blog do) that New London's use of eminent domain for economic development purposes was central qustion in Kelo v. New London. Economic development, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, was a "public use". The U.S. Supreme Court effectively let stand state statute that gives sweeping powers for local governments to seize private property for whatever the legislative majority wants. The courts would not review these decisions on the "substance" of whether the activity was a public use, just procedural due process. Afterall, New London had a "plan". Or did it? Or does it?

As one of the homeowners told the Institute for Justice in a press release sent out today:

"There is simply no need to take our home," said Mike Cristofaro, whose family has owned a home in New London for more than 30 years. "There are no plans for the area where we have agreed to move our homes and the City has plenty of land in this area to do development. We have made compromises, and so should the City."

That's right: There is no plan. At least nothing specific. New London is taking the property and razing homes and businesses because it wants to put something different on that land, not because there are active proposals or demonstrated market need or desire to rebuild on that property.

Moreover, the city of New London is just mean spirited about the entire process because the property owners had the gall to challenge them in court and take it to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the city council decides not to let the homeowners have the deeds to their property back, they will force them to pay back rent and taxes on the property. That's right. State law says that as soon as the land is condemned, it belongs to the government, regardless of whether the action is disputed in court.

So, as soon as their property was condemned, the owners became tenants and owed the local government rent and taxes even as they were challenging the legitimacy of the condemnation in court. From the local government's perspective, the citizens shouldn't even have dared challenge them. So, they'll punish them even further by forcing them to pay back rent.

New London's actions demonstrate clearly that the "trust us, we'll use eminent domain sparingly and respectfully" mantra of the pro-eminent domain side simply doesn't hold water in the real world.

For more on eminent domain abuse, see the Castle Coalition's web site.

Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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