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Eminent domain abuse described by Annual Meeting speaker

Issue Date: December 12, 2007, AgAlert, California Farm Bureau Federation by Sharlene Garcia


Eminent domain abuse is a top priority among farmers and ranchers and was addressed during the California Farm Bureau Federation's 89th Annual Meeting by property rights supporter Steven Anderson.

"Your home is not safe, your business is not safe, your farm, your ranch, your house of worship, no property in this country is safe under the federal constitution," said Anderson.

Eminent domain abuse has received a lot of attention since the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo v. New London case in June of 2005. The decision allowed government to take property through eminent domain and give it to another private entity.

Anderson is the Castle Coalition director of the Institute for Justice. The Castle Coalition is the institute's nationwide grassroots property rights project. The institute represented landowners in the historic Kelo v. New London case.

"We have seen the floodgates open," said Anderson. "In a five-year period after the Kelo case between 1998 and 2002, we found more than 10,000 abuses of eminent domain across the country."

These cases are widespread and affect many people, but according to statistics the abuse of eminent domain fall disproportionately on minorities and those with lower incomes and lower levels of education, he said.

Anderson pointed out that one reason for this disproportion is poorly written blight laws. In California, he said laws are written so broadly and are so vague that almost any property can be considered blighted, which means it can be taken by eminent domain. He cited determining factors that include obsolete design and incompatible land use.

Although the examples of abuse stemming from the Kelo case are many, Anderson said there is good news.

"The good news about the Kelo case is that it ignited an unprecedented and historic backlash against this decision," said Anderson. "No Supreme Court case of recent memory has ever caused the kind of change politically that the Kelo case has."

Anderson said he has seen changes in three distinct places--in state capitols, state supreme courts and city halls. At the state legislative level, 42 states have increased their protections against the abuse of eminent domain since the Kelo decision. Two state supreme courts have rejected the Kelo rationale. And a number of cities and counties, including Anaheim and Orange County, have restricted their own ability to take property under eminent domain powers.

"California is one of the biggest abusers of eminent domain in the country," said Anderson. "California gets a D+, unfortunately, on our report card on the changes made since the Kelo case."

Anderson assured listeners that help is on the way, by means of the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act. He said the act is broad-based, non-discriminatory protection for farmers, ranchers, homeowners, renters and any house of worship.

Targeted for the June 2008 ballot, this eminent domain reform measure is intended to stop government from taking private property and giving the land to other private interests. It is sponsored by CFBF, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights.

Demonstrating the importance of this issue to family farmers and ranchers, Farm Bureau members by the thousands joined fellow Californians in signing more than 1 million signatures to qualify the initiative for the June ballot.

"The right to own property is a fundamental right, the foundation of all of our rights," Anderson said. "Without the right to private property, we can have no other right. You can't have the right to free speech if you don't own a printing press and you can't freely worship if you don't own a church."

Anderson believes it is important to talk about eminent domain reform in broad-reaching ways--property rights are universal.

"What we have to remember when we talk about property rights is that it's not about the property, it's about the people," said Anderson. "It's about the notches you put on your doorjamb measuring your daughter's growth, it's about the nest egg you've built to send your son to college, it's about the mouths you feed, the families you provide for, because of the businesses and farms you run."

(Sharlene Garcia is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at sgarcia@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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