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Politicos, Bureaucrats and Planners Voice Support for Legal Property Theft

Leonard Gilroy
January 24, 2005, 12:53pm

Lest you think that it is universally self-evident that eminent domain is a fundamental violation of property rights and human decency, the usual suspects are lining up in support of New London's position in the upcoming Kelo vs. New London Supreme Court case (for more on this case, see here, here, here and here): Grab your Pepto folks, because this will make your stomach turn: In other words, "please allow us to continue stomping on one of our country's founding principles, not to mention human dignity, because we are absolutely devoid of any other creative ideas on how to compete in a free-market economy. If we're unable to steal Citizen X's house, then we won't be able to build a parking garage for our great new [insert big-ticket dream project here...stadium, convention center and hotel complex, big box retail giant, etc...]." And coming from a planning background, I am truly saddened and ashamed by the APA's stance on this (perhaps I'll put the checkbook away and continue to wait to renew my membership): So let me get this argument straight...on the one hand, eminent domain is a pretty extreme tool, and we'd really rather avoid using it. But on the other hand, the very process of "sound planning" itself (whatever that is) would somehow be jeopardized by limiting the use of this extreme tool to extreme cases? I thought the purpose of urban planning was to analyze cities holisitically and develop plans and strategies to address urban needs while being sensitive to (1) the varied needs of different members of the community, and (2) the principles that undergird our free-market economy. I guess that I missed the memo from APA HQ that planners need to elevate to higher priority the picking of winners and losers in a community's efforts to compete with others for jobs, residents, revenue, etc. I understand that reasonable minds can, in good faith, disagree on whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Placing concrete boundaries around the hazy notion of "public use" is certainly a tricky undertaking. But there at least need to be some defined ground rules in the game, a firm line at which fundamental moral principles of fairness, respect, and justice kick in. Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek put it vastly more eloquently (man, I wish I'd written this): To be fair, the APA doesn't represent the diversity of thought within the planning community, particularly many advocacy planners, who I'd bet are a little frightened by the idea of taking homes from poor families that can't defend themselves and giving the land to a business interest promising big tax revenue. Expect a swift response to these briefs from the other side. No one is sitting idly on the sidelines in this game. And look here for Reason's original amicus brief and here for Pacific Legal Foundation's brief. And as always, visit Reason's Eminent Domain Resource Center for more on this issue. (Hat tip: Eminent Domain Watch)

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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