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Opening Arguments

Bums kicked out

I love a story with a happy ending:

Michael Monaghan has wanted to develop his property on Main Street in Hackensack, New Jersey, just a few miles away from Manhattan.  Yet the city twice denied two applications for banks to build on his land. 

Instead, Hackensack’s Planning Board designated Michael’s and another owner’s land as an “area in need of redevelopment,” authorizing the use of eminent domain to condemn and seize the properties.  “I've stood up and tried to protect my property for the last eight years,” he said in an interview with a local paper.

Adding insult to injury, this designation was completely unwarranted.  According to Michael’s attorney, Peter Dickson, the board “did not make the Constitutional finding of blighted, and did not have any evidence that would support such a finding.”

Last month, the Appellate Division of the state Superior Court agreed, ruling the Planning Board didn’t properly prove that those properties were blighted and “in need of redevelopment.”   The city council intended to appeal the appellate court’s decision. 

But fortunately for property owners, Hackensack’s entire city council was booted out of office.  The grassroots group Citizens for Change won every single seat on the city council, despite being outraised 2:1.  Their slate of candidates successfully ran on a platform against costly litigation, nepotism, and corruption.  (For example, Hackensack’s police chief was recently convicted for official misconduct and insurance fraud.)  Citizens for Change also sharply criticized Hackensack’s redevelopment projects, calling them “sweetheart deals and special privileges for politically connected property owners and developers.”

I never cared much for eminent domain even before the awful Kelo decision that all but did away with the whole concept of private property. It's among the easiest government powers to abuse for the benefit of cronies and harm to the average citizen. Until the state tightened the rules in the wake of Kelo, Indiana indulged in a "let's pretend" eminent domain policy. To be taken over, an area had to be designated as blighted. But all it took for an area to be blighted was for it to be called blighted.

This story should be instructive for those who say you can't fight city hall and it's pontless to stand up to the abuse of power. If more people knew how easy it is to get elected to some local offices, the ballots would be a lot fuller. Council districts are so small and so few people vote that victory can be achieved with a handful of votes.

(via Hit & Run)