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For about 200 years since the founding of this Republic, everybody — Republicans, Democrats, independents, rich, middle class and poor — were in agreement that government could exercise eminent domain and take private property for just compensation for a public purpose, to wit: a school, a road, transportation facilities, a public building.
All were in agreement there could be no taking for a private commercial business enterprise. The time-honored concept that eminent domain should not be used for a private real estate development came to an end several years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, ruled a municipality could take private property and turn it over to a private real estate developer.
Parenthetically, that development never came to pass, the property remains empty to date and the municipality passed a resolution apologizing to the homeowners it threw off their properties.
The Kelo case caused a furor throughout this country, with the result being that 44 states enacted legislation prohibiting such a taking. Not surprisingly, New York state was not one of those states, given the fact that too many politicians are bedded with real estate interests.
For example, several years ago Daniel Doctoroff, then a high official in the Bloomberg administration, bragged before a group of real estate moguls that under its administration more than 90 percent of variances sought were granted.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently enacted a bill, H.R. 1433, called The Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2012, which would take a significant step to correct the results of the Kelo case. That bill is now pending before the U.S. Senate.
Predictably, the Bloomberg administration opposes the bill with the same sort of a lack of transparency and misinformation it pursues in its ill-advised Willets Point proposal, to wit: Lisa Bova-Hiatt, deputy chief of the city Law Department, claims that if H.R. 1433 is passed, “important revitalization projects would not be possible” (“Bill could nix Willets project,” Times Ledger Newspapers, April 19-25).
With all due respect, Bova-Hiatt must be working on another planet because she fails to understand the issue. For hundreds of years, urban expansion has taken place with builders buying property from private owners without governmental eminent domain.
It is called free enterprise, the foundation of the capitalist system. Has anything changed? The answer is yes: It is called sordid politics and the little people be damned.
Benjamin M. Haber
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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