Friday, January 27, 2006

Suburban Blight. Who knew?

It would be hilarious if it weren't so maddening.

Local officials who have a penchant for spending money but no idea how to pay for their excesses always talk about "creative" financing. They must have had deprived youths, not enough art projects in school or something. They need new scope for their brilliance.

And in California, that most "creative" of places, they have cast their eye on the El Dorado, the Shangri La, of Eminent Domain. The Supreme Court's Kelo decision is leading local officials to abandon all restraint. From an excellent essay in City Journal: The one glimmer of hope is that "in his opinion for the Court, Justice John Paul Stevens noted that if states wanted to ban the practice, they could pass laws against it."

In California, where some 380 municipalities have created redevelopment agencies with eminent-domain powers, enabling them, among other things, to take private land and give it to another private owner, the influential California Redevelopment Association and the state’s league of municipalities worked successfully this summer to block a law that would have limited the use of eminent domain to such traditional public projects as highways. The legislation never escaped committee. Nor is what happened in California unusual. In Kelo’s wake, dozens of state lawmakers across the country promised to introduce bills restricting eminent domain. But most of the proposed legislation has wound up stuck in committee, stalled in hearings, or tabled while officials “study” the issue.
Sound familiar?
Though California’s current eminent-domain law, like those of many states, limits takings to “blighted” areas, its language is so vague on what constitutes blight that creative redevelopment authorities have designated more than 1 million Golden State acres as eligible for seizure—including land in some flourishing communities. Most recently, for instance, the San Diego Model School Development Agency pushed to grab 188 homes in the thriving City Heights neighborhood, because the agency wanted to build 509 town houses, condos, and apartments on the land.
Government ostensibly takes the private property to boost economic development and buoy tax rolls. But a 1998 study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that communities in the state that have engaged in extensive government-sponsored redevelopment have reaped no real economic benefits compared with municipalities that haven’t done so. Government officials, it turns out, often misread the marketplace and promoted projects that failed to deliver the promised payback. “The widespread abuse of eminent domain has left shattered neighborhoods, half-empty malls.
What a surprise. Village governments that can't even balance their own budgets think they can pick winners and losers in the marketplace. We'd be better off turning over running our villages to Walmart.

If we weren't blighted to start with we may end up that way: Local government--a blight on the community!

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