Unintended Consequences: Eminent Domain - Izzit.org


Unintended Consequences: Eminent Domain - Izzit.org

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Unintended Consequences: Eminent Domain


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CUSTOMER: The citizens have a deep concern about ‘eminent domain’ being misused.

BRUCE BROADWATER: Well back up, we’ve never taken anybody’s home.

MANNY ROMERO: They were scared, they were afraid, you mean we’re going to lose our job?

STEVEN GREENHUT: Abuses such as these happen and it’s important to understand that.

SUSETTE KELO: When they go home that’s their place of refugee, that’s their sanctuary. That’s

sacred to them.

PRINCESS WELLS: It should be over, but it’s not.

CARRA: A man’s home is his castle. OK, I know it sounds kind of cliché, but for anyone who actually

owns a home, it really is true. Homeowners take great pride in the fact that they can do whatever they

want with their homes without interference from anyone else, including the government. But are they

right? In fact, there’s something in the constitution called ‘eminent domain’ that gives governments the

power to take your property even if you don’t want to sell.

PERSON ON STREET: ‘Eminent domain’?

PERSON ON STREET: Define ‘eminent domain’?

PERSON ON STREET: ‘Eminent domain’?

PERSON ON STREET: I’m gonna let him speak first.

PERSON ON STREET: (blank look, says nothing)

PERSON ON STREET: Like this is mine right here right now.

PERSON ON STREET: (blank look, says nothing)

PERSON ON STREET: (on the phone) Do you know what ‘eminent domain’ is?.

PERSON ON STREET: Is that where the government can take what they want?

PERSON ON STREET: Is that like M&M, like “M&M’s domain”.

PERSON ON STREET: ‘Eminent domain’ is the concept that allows the government to take property

and pay you for it.


CARRA: The Founding Fathers wanted to create a nation of free people and they wrote the Constitution

to protect individual rights from government power. The founders believed that one of the most

important individual rights is the right to own property. But the Founders also made an exception to this

rule. The 5th Amendment to the US Constitution states that governments may take private property, but

only under certain conditions—the property must be put to a “public use” and the property owners must

be provided “just compensation.” This practice is called “Eminent Domain.” An example of this is the

construction of the Interstate Highway System. ‘Eminent domain’ was used extensively whenever

property owners would refuse to sell their property to the government.

Throughout most of our country’s history local governments have used the power of ‘eminent domain’ to

take private property in order to convert the property to “public uses” like schools, hospitals and roads.

But in the 1950s the city of Washington, DC made plans to use ‘eminent domain’ for a different reason.

The city wanted to force out property owners and tear down old buildings and houses in order to build a

nicer community. Some property owners objected, arguing that this kind of urban renewal project was

not a legitimate “public use”. In 1954 the US Supreme Court voted in favor of the city and Washington,

DC officials used ‘eminent domain’ to rebuild the run-down neighborhood from scratch. Ever since then

governments have used ‘eminent domain’ for more than just “public uses” like roads and schools; they’ve

also used ‘eminent domain’ to transfer property from one private owner to another private owner in the

name of “economic development.”

BRUCE BROADWATER: I think a city has a responsibility to maintain their housing stock and to

make sure that people live in good quality homes.

CARRA: Bruce Broadwater is a city councilman and former mayor of Garden Grove, California.

BRUCE BROADWATER: Redevelopment feeds on itself, I mean basically it pays itself back. And it’s

just such a great tool to use and ‘eminent domain’ is a part of that.

STEVEN GREENHUT: Unfortunately, over the history of our country governments have taken to use

‘eminent domain’ for private uses.

CARRA: Steven Greenhut is a journalist in Southern California who has written extensively about

‘eminent domain’ use.

STEVEN GREENHUT: To take private property from homeowners such as these and give it to big

developers and due process means reading about the project in the newspaper after it’s already been

approved. And just compensation? Well, cities often short change the owners, they give low ball offers,

they don’t pay the lawyer fees. They call it a tool in their arsenal which is kind of like calling a machine

gun put to someone’s head a tool - but that’s the basic idea.

BRUCE BROADWATER: The use of ‘eminent domain’ is a delicate tool but it is a tool and it helps

keep a community clean, it helps keep a community vibrant. It’s a good tool and it definitely… I don’t

think it should be taken away.

STEVEN GREENHUT: We’re not talking about unsafe, terrible neighborhoods; we’re just talking

about neighborhoods that some developer might covet to build something that pays more in tax revenue

than is currently existing.

CARRA: If you think ‘eminent domain’ sounds complicated, you’re right…it is. So let’s look at how it

works in real life.


CARRA: We’ve met a few people whose lives have been affected by ‘eminent domain’ and found out

how much they care about their homes and businesses. To them, the idea of property rights is more than

just a legal concept, it’s also very personal. All across the country cities are using ‘eminent domain’ for


In Arcadia, California, Manny Romero has owned a popular ‘50s-style diner for the past 10 years. The

city wants to use ‘eminent domain’ to tear down his diner so that a neighboring Mercedes dealership can

expand its parking lot which would increase tax revenues for the city.

CUSTOMER: I’ve been coming to this restaurant for about 50 years.

MANNY ROMERO: I’ve been in Southern California for 35 years. I’ve owned Rod’s Grill for 10


CUSTOMER: The waiters, waitresses, cooks, - they’ve been so good, you know, to not just myself and

my family but to everybody else in Arcadia.

CUSTOMER: It’s always been kind of a family place.

CUSTOMER: I like their shakes, their shakes are really good.

CUSTOMER: The city wants to see this torn down and become a car dealership.

CUSTOMER: Because they’ll get more tax money from the bigger business.

MANNY ROMERO: The fundamentals of ‘eminent domain’ is it’s supposed to be only for public use.

And I realized that the city is saying this is to expand Mercedes Benz. And I said, “Wait a minute. This

is not the proper way of using ‘eminent domain’.” And I tell them I’m not going to sell it because they

are not telling me they want to use this property to put a school, a library or any public service use. They

want to tear it down so that they can just park Mercedes Benz. What about us?

CUSTOMER: The citizens of Arcadia have a deep concern about ‘eminent domain’ being misused.

MANNY ROMERO: I am in debt for a lot of money. My savings is running out. Most of my staff that

is here, has been here a long, long time. All these people will be out a job. I hope no one ever has to go

through what I’ve been going through. This is America; this is a country with free enterprise. You have

all the rights to own your property; your own home, your own business. You have the right to build your

American dream.

CARRA: Princess Wells owns a home and business in the seaside community of Riviera Beach, Florida.

Mayor Michael Brown and city officials are leading efforts to redevelop 800 acres of waterfront property

where Princess Wells and 5,000 other people live.

PRINCESS WELLS: My house, we’ve lived there for over 25 years. Hard work - children - love. We

built the house in approximately 30 days. When you build it yourself, its awesome, it’s important to you.

It’s a nice, quaint, middle class neighborhood. We are like prime property, you know we are so close to

the ocean. It’s wrong to be able to come out and take it because I worked hard for it. If they take it by

‘eminent domain’ therefore they won’t have to pay us what our house is worth. And they can take that


same property and they can sell it for millions. I had no idea that one day they’d just would not want me

to be here just ‘cause I don’t have enough money.

CARRA: If redevelopment plans go forth Princess Wells will lose her home and her business as well.

PRINCESS WELLS: If I have to move my business I’ll have to do everything from ground level one all

over again. Mayor Brown has stated that they are going to continue and that they are not going to stop.

The threat of ‘eminent domain’ still looms.

CARRA: Now let’s take a look at the Susette Kelo case. This case made it all the way to the Supreme

Court in 2005. It sparked a huge debate about the importance of property rights. The case involves

homeowner Susette Kelo and her neighbors versus the city of New London, Connecticut.

SUSETTE KELO: When I first came here with the realtor I walked in the front door it was like I had

been here all of my life. It was just an overwhelming feeling when I walked in this place.

CARRA: In 1998 the city condemned 115 properties in order to build a private health club and office

buildings to support the development of a local pharmaceutical plant. 15 property owners did not want to

sell so the city used ‘eminent domain’ to seize their properties.

SUSETTE KELO: There were…if I can count them, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; there were 9 houses spanning

this street here. Everybody knew everybody. If you went to work the neighbors watched your kids and

that’s the way it was. In the spring of 1998 the city of New London came out with a municipal

development plan that said that the homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood would be taken by ‘eminent

domain’. They thought that they could place something here that would bring more taxes to the city.

This was here, the penny candy store. And the grinder shop, this was the Chivals’s deli. When this first

started there were 90 properties in this neighborhood. The first ones that sold were the absentee

landlords. And then after that they went after the elderly.

MICHAEL CRISTOFARO: It was the day before Thanksgiving that they came to my house with a

Sheriff. And they handed my mom the condemnation papers – basically condemning the property.

SUSETTE KELO: And this here is where the Pascalini’s lived. Mrs. Pascalini was 100 years old when

they made her leave last summer. 100 years old! And after that they came after us. We bought

billboards, we wrote letters to the editor, put ads in the paper, we went door to door, we had petitions, we

went to Hartford, we met with the historic people, we met with everybody trying to NOT stop the

development understand. We never wanted to stop it, we just simply wanted to stay. He had an autobody

shop; they took that by ‘eminent domain’, they tore that down. So, not only has he lost his home, he lost

his business as well.

MICHAEL CRISTOFARO: We fought for 9 long years. And, unfortunately, the US Supreme Court

ruled against us, which I was really shocked. They basically just stripped everybody’s property rights

away from them. ‘Eminent domain’ is supposed to be used for your typical, you know… to build a

school, a reservoir, a Police Department, to widen the roads…but, not for economic development. Now

they’re saying they could take your property… if someone can generate more property taxes than you. Is

that right?

SUSETTE KELO: Where ever we go we would be fortunate to (choking up), we would be fortunate to

ever find people like the people that were here in our lives again. Really good people.


CARRA: With the whole country watching the Supreme Court made a very controversial decision. In a

5 to 4 split decision the Court upheld New London’s right to use ‘eminent domain’. Justice John Paul

Stevens wrote the decision. In it he wrote:

“The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide

appreciable benefits to the community, including, but by no means limited to, new jobs and increased tax

revenue… because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy

the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment”.

But four out of the nine judges disagreed. They said that if ‘eminent domain’ can be used for any public

purpose, then all property is at risk - especially property owned by poor people without political influence.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is one of the judges who disagreed with this decision. She wrote:

“Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and

transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded… nothing is to prevent the State

from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a


The Kelo decision was a victory for city planners but many people believe the decision gave government

too much power.

SUSETTE KELO: You don’t take stuff that doesn’t belong to you and that’s the way I was raised and

that’s the way I raised my children and that’s the way most people think. You don’t take something that

doesn’t belong to you and you certainly don’t take people’s property or their homes. These are our


CARRA: So what about your home or mine? Is everyone’s home at risk? The use of ‘eminent domain’

increased dramatically after the Kelo decision. At the same time concerned citizens across the country

began working to reform ‘eminent domain’ laws. In fact, after the Kelo decision more than 30 states

placed limits on ‘eminent domain’ use.

STEVEN GREENHUT: We have to put property rights first, we have to allow people to be free and

live their lives as they choose. And the way to enhance older neighborhoods, and there are some crummy

older neighborhoods, is to free the market.

BRUCE BROADWATER: Because there are people that think that property has more rights than

human beings, there’s no reason to let a community become a sewer. We’ve seen so much of that

throughout the United States.

CARRA: As the debate rages on, more and more Americans are asking themselves this basic question:

Who should make decisions about how property is used? The people who own the property? Or the

government? So what do you think?

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2002 Filmore Ave • Suite #1 • Erie, PA 16506

Phone: 814.833.6950 or Toll Free: 888.242.0563

Fax: 814.833.7415 or Toll Free: 866.526.1484

Email: info@izzit.org • Web: www.izzit.org

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