Monday, January 16, 2006

Kelo in action

Back when the US Supreme Court (thanks to Swinging Sandra O'Connor) decided in Kelo that government can seize private property from its current owner and transfer the property to another private party in the name of economic development, many of us predicted that abuses were sure to follow. Yours truly, for example, wrote a TCS column, in which I opined that:

After news of Napoleon's victory in the Battle of Austerlitz was conveyed to British Prime Minister William Pitt, Pitt pointed to a map of Europe and said: "Roll up the map; it will not be wanted these ten years." In light of the Supreme Courts decision to side with New London, we might just as well roll up the Takings Clause of the Bill of Rights, because we won't need it any longer.

Regrettably, confirmation of my concern comes from my own home town: In the sort of blatant move one associates with the Soviet kolkhoz process, Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks (our feckless ex-police chief) wants to the city to sell property seized to build a badly needed animal shelter funded by a city bond approved by the voters to a politically well-connected developer (Francisco Pinedo, president of Cisco Bros.) who has made campaign contributions to Parks and other top city officials. The LA Times reports:

The city's initial plan was to use the site for a new South Los Angeles animal shelter. The city paid $5.8 million to buy the property with money raised by a bond issue that voters approved to expand animal services. ...

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who is spearheading the plan and represents the area, says the public would benefit more if the land were used for a business. ...

The previous owners of the property, which includes three warehouse buildings, said the city has betrayed them. Their furniture-manufacturing firm had 20 years of success in South Los Angeles, said Scott Vaughan, a partner in Vaughan Benz, which has moved to near Chinatown. "It was thriving." "If they are not going to do what they claimed they were doing and put an animal shelter there," he said, "it was unnecessary to take our property." Vaughan Benz fought the city's decision to seize its property in court, and the partners said the time and money spent on that battle hurt their business.

This is the worst sort of abuse of the eminent domain process, in which a private property owner gets screwed of its land so that a wealthy and politically-connected developer can make money.

But the problem is compounded by the involvement of the voter-approved bond fund:

"I really do feel uncomfortable about it," said James W. Odom, a member of an oversight committee set up by the city to make sure it properly spends the money from its animal shelter bond issue. If the city decides to change the property's use, Odom said, he will fight to make sure the animal shelter bond money is paid back. ...

City sources ... said the income from the sale is unlikely to fully pay back the $8 million spent so far from the animal shelter bond, which includes the legal costs of acquiring the property through eminent domain and $1 million in already completed design work.

Put bluntly, this reeks of corruption. If the deal goes forward, there needs to be an investigation to determine whether Parks violated the law. Ironically, however, city attorney Rocky Delgadillo has gotten even more money in campaign contributions from developer Pinedo!

Is there ANYONE out there who could not have predicted that our property rights would eventually be at the mercy of those with enough dough to bribe corrupt politicians?

1 comment:

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