Friday, April 23, 2010

Eminent Domain and You

There's a way to do eminent domain right, and there's a way to do eminent domain wrong. If you have to take somebody's property, you make it right. I don't have a dog in the fight in the rightness or wrongness of building new hospitals in Lower Mid-City, but this process has been wasteful, divisive and feudalistic.

After years of fighting, Lower Mid-City is about to face the bulldozer, and property owners are going to get nickel and dimed for their homes - homes they did not choose to leave. For the hospitals, there was usable land elsewhere, and there were already existing buildings ready for renovation. (And waste and inefficiency involving tax dollars makes me angry, since I drive past acres of land housing the shell of the Lindy Boggs Medical Center every day)

Liprap once posted a map that demonstrated a massive conflict of interest. I can't find the link, but maybe she'll provide it.

A lot of speculators "invested" in property around the boundaries of the new hospitals. They invested, and then they let those properties moulder (stagnating the vitality of the neighborhood) during the recovery. This was due either to them not knowing what was going to happen to the neighborhood (why invest more money just to have the state nickel & dime you then tear your stuff down) or they did know what would happen, and hoped to redevelop the properties or sell them at a higher value once the new hospitals were being built.

I have no problem with people making money, but at the point of investment, the plans were not yet complete, and residents were still trying to recover their property and revitalize their neighborhood. All this during a recovery process so disorganized that some residents old and new sunk rebuilding money into property to be bulldozed less than 5 years later.

I wonder what the coming class action lawsuit will look like?

Sound familiar? It should. This kind of behavior was codified back in June of 2005 with the Kelo case. It was a BFD at the time, if I recall. Especially to conservatives. States like Georgia immediately constructed legislation to limit and define the state's eminent domain process.

I guess that didn't happen in Louisiana, though one would question Bobby Jindal's conservative credentials for allowing a process like this to continue in the ways that it has.



patsbrother said...

Point of information: "codified" means "made a statute." The Kelo decision codified nothing. In Kelo, the Supreme Court held a particular action by a local government did not violate the Constitution.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

It is awesome having one's own spelling and usage editor to nitpick every blog post you write on a lunch break.

We wouldn't want anyone to get confused and think we're talking about an actual issue or anything.

What word should I use, if codify is inappropriate?

patsbrother said...

The Supreme Court declared that action was not unconstitutional.

Which means: the Constitution does not prohibit this, so it's up to the elected branches of government to determine whether this will be allowed.

If a government chooses specifically to allow or to prohibit such action, it can write it up as a statute. The laws passed by governments (statutes) are gathered in Codes, such as the U.S. Code (USC), the Offical Code of Georgia (OCGA), or the Napoleanic Code. When you pass a statute, you codify into law whatever that statute requires or prohibits.

When an action by government or a statute is challeneged as unconstitutional, courts are asked merely if the Constitution prohibits or permits that action or whether that statute comports with the Constitution.

The duty of the judiciary is to say what the law is. They are told that when laws are in conflict, they must resolve that conflict, and they have rules as to which law trumps the other, with the Constitution on top. When it comes to the Constitution, courts essentially are limited to describing the floor and the ceiling: below this line, the State cannot go, nor above this line. The State can choose to act in any way within those boundaries.

One thing that really upsets me about Supreme Court news stories is the idea that if the Supreme Court sided with someone, they are saying that's what has to happen. If the Court said something was not unconstitutional, really all the Court has said is that we are free to change that around, but the Court is not.

That's why Georgia and other states immediately took steps to add safeguards to their state constitutions and codes, to prevent local governments from doing what New London did in the Kelo case.

patsbrother said...

Wait: you're comparing a Veterans Affairs hospital to the New London, Connecticut, development for private business? Seriously?

One has a clear public purpose; the other's only public purpose was to allow private development in the hopes that would increase the tax base.

Apple: meet orange.

If you refer to Kelo just to comment on how it stinks to have to move when you don't want to, you really, really should be bitching about people in the late 1700s. Please, note, Mr. I-Want-Railroads: eminent domain is how we got them.

The VA hospital is a federal project and, as the article indicates, compensation for the displacement required under this use of the Takings power is set by federal rules. If those rules are not being followed: direct the feds' attention to it. If those rules are being followed and that's what sucks: direct your complaints at the feds.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

You still haven't told me what word I should have used.

"One has a clear public purpose; the other's only public purpose was to allow private development in the hopes that would increase the tax base."

Umm. I guess you've spent too much time looking at the "codify" misuse to observe the issue we're dealing with here. That is a shame.

patsbrother said...

Seriously? Fine.

CORRECTION: "This kind of behavior was [declared constitutional] back in June of 2005 with the Kelo case."

In the words of Justice Thomas: "Whoop-dee-damn-do."

As to your second gripe, I discussed (a) the law, and (b) eminent domain.

If "the issue we're dealing with here" is (c) people buying property in expectation of property values going up with the hospital, and not putting money into those properties as the land is what will be valuable, then your post has almost no point to it. That part of the situation is not a problem with eminent domain; that's what happens when one has property rights.

This situation shouldn't "sound familiar" to the Kelo case. In Kelo, the government condemned property with the explicit purpose of handing that land over to private developers (under a lease). Here, you are complaining about private individuals buying up property near an area which is scheduled to be condemned for the explicit purpose of building a government hospital. The government will use eminent domain to take the land the government will use for a clear public use, and private individuals buy up property around it hoping for a profit. As crappy as that might be for those already in the area (and for their current property values), that's not an example of poor use of eminent domain. That's an example of private individuals acting in expectation of future gain.

Again: apple, meet orange.

Before I go on and guess at what you really meant when you wrote your post, tell me (a) who you expect is going to be the defendant in this class action lawsuit you speak of, and (b) what do they expect to sue over? The only possibilities I see are not mentioned in your post and would involve facts I would have to assume.

patsbrother said...

So, it's been a couple of days now. Are you ever going to grace us with an explicit statement of what "the issue we're dealing with" is?

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

I'd need a flow chart and refrences. The current positioning for the hospitals is optional and political.

It is meant to increase property values in a depressed area of town, where many well-connected individuals own land, and some might have desired to sell their holdings directly to the state.

The hospitals could be built elsewhere.

The state and city allowed homeowners inside the planned footprint to return and invest money (sometimes from the state, mostly personal) into property the state planned to take from them.

Then the state seizes such property without just compensation. The class action could be against the state and the city to secure more just compensation.

Because, again, the hospitals can go somewhere else. Those somewhere elses, however, might not benefit the well-connected property owners as greatly as the current plan.

patsbrother said...

Decisions which are optional and political are left to the political branches of government. Courts don't get to call McGuffin when someone passes an uncommonly silly law.

As you indicate, part of the reason they chose that location is to revitalize a depressed area. That is a PERFECTLY legitimate reason to build there.

The fact that they could have built the hospital somewhere else does not make one wit of difference. Something can always be built somewhere else.

If people are NOT receiving the current price of their property, then yeah, you have a problem. However, if you're complaining that they're ONLY receiving the current price of their property, which is low due in part to other private citizens buying up nearby property and failing to keep it up, then that is something else entirely. Yeah, that people did that is lame, but that's no reason to sue your government. "Just compensation" is not the price that could've or would've been had life turned out differently. Is that really, really why you've been complaining about eminent domain? You're nutty.

Real question: aren't there two hospitals scheduled for the Mid City location? Even if they were to re-open Charity, where would that other hosptial go?

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

If people are NOT receiving the current price of their property, then yeah, you have a problem.

Problem is close to this - some people were allowed to put substantial recovery money into their homes.

As for "where the hospitals go" if LSU (the larger hospital) were to renovate the Charity building, the VA (smaller) hospital would move closer to downtown and require much less property acquisition.

patsbrother said...

No, that's not "close to this."

What is the current worth of that property. If they aren't getting that, then you have a problem. If they bet against the hospital going there, and spent money investing in that property anyway, they still should only get the property's worth.