In what can only be described as an ominous sign of things to come, the city of Hercules, California has decided to seize private property to prevent it from being developed by Wal-Mart. The city has, in effect, decided to move beyond regulating land use to dictating specific land use and, for that matter, choose who owns and operates it. Under a Kelo type standard, this is a perfectly acceptable use of eminent domain.
The Hercules City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to take the unprecedented step of using eminent domain to prevent Wal-Mart from building a big-box store on a 17-acre lot near the city’s waterfront. The vote caused most of the 300 people who had packed Hercules City Hall for the meeting to break out in cheers and applause. “The city of Hercules is very unique. People from the outside have to understand that,” said Hercules Vice Mayor Ed Balico just before the vote. During a 90-minute public comment period that preceded the vote, nearly everyone who spoke urged the council to fight Wal-Mart. “Throw the bums out,” Hercules resident Steve Kirby said at the podium of Wal-Mart. “Wal-Mart will never understand what we want.” Another resident, Anita Roger-Fields, expressed concern for small businesses in the city, saying they could be driven out of business by the discount store. “(Wal-Mart is) the worst thing that could happen to our community. They want to crush the competition.”