Monday, September 26, 2005

Lawmaker Cautions Against Eminent Domain in Rebuilding

Lawmaker Cautions Against Eminent Domain in Rebuilding
WASHINGTON - Rep. Maxine Waters, a Los Angeles Democrat, warned Tuesday against using government's power of eminent domain to redevelop New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina concentrated its devastation on largely poor African American neighborhoods.

"We have to watch the redevelopment in New Orleans for a lot of reasons, and one of them is to make sure that the shadow government of the rich and the powerful does not end up abusing eminent domain to take property that belongs to poor people in order to get them out of the city," Waters said.

Waters' comments came after the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on legislation to cut off federal funding for cities that use eminent domain to condemn private property for economic redevelopment, including such private uses as shopping malls, hotels and condominiums.

Congress is searching for ways to blunt the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in June in Kelo vs. New London, Conn., which held that governments can condemn private property if the project serves a "public purpose."

The decision created a public uproar and a rare alliance of conservative and liberal lawmakers, many of them minorities, concerned about government incursions on private property.

They want to roll back what they consider a misreading of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of "private property for public use without just compensation."

Traditionally, public use has meant condemning land for public schools or highways, but in recent decades has expanded to include clearing "blighted" neighborhoods or redeveloping commercial areas.

Two downtown Oakland property owners, John Revelli, who owned a tire shop that had been in business since his father opened it in 1949, and his neighbor Tony Fung, owner of Autohouse, were forced by the city of Oakland to vacate their properties July 1, days after the June 23 Kelo decision, to make way for a city-subsidized apartment complex.

"We had one week to move all our equipment and vacate our property," which is prime commercial real estate a block from the 19th Street BART Station, Revelli said. "I wouldn't want anyone else to go through this."

Since the 1950s, African American communities have been targeted for "urban renewal" projects so many times that the redevelopment efforts came to be known as "black removal," said Hilary O. Shelton, director of the Washington office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Minority and poor communities are affected more often by eminent domain and have less ability to fight back politically or legally, Shelton said.

The recent Supreme Court decision "to allow the government or its designee to take property simply by asserting that it can put the property to a higher use will systematically sanction transfers from those with less resources to those with more," Shelton said.

Jose Mendoza, owner of San Jose Men's Wear in the Tropicana Shopping Center in East San Jose that is made up of Latino and Asian businesses, said he won an eminent domain case in 2003 against the city's redevelopment agency, which wanted to build a new shopping center on the site. 

Mendoza said he had already lost two properties, one in Salinas and one in downtown San Jose, through condemnation.  And we fought until we beat them."

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


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