Tuesday, November 15, 2005

PA S.B. 881 to combat eminent domain abuse -- Sending Support!

The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit group that has been fighting the good fight to curb eminent domain abuse, put out a call about legislation headed to the PA Senate.

I have a longer statement against eminent domain that I provided to a state-hearing held in Pittsburgh on this bill a few months ago. I hate eminent domain and think it needs to be stopped at all instances in Western Pennsylvania in the years to come. Their call is reposted below, with slight edits.

The Pennsylvania state senate will vote soon, probably Mon., Nov. 21, on an eminent domain reform bill that could be a model for the nation. It's a good bill - an identical one already has passed the House - and needs all the support it can get. Now is the time to contact your state senator to express your support. Below is information on the bill. Of particular note, there currently are efforts afoot to exempt Philadelphia from the provisions in this bill, so contacting senators in that region is particularly important.


Senate Bill 881 is in the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Opponents (such as Rep. Dan Frankle, D.) continue to try to defeat or weaken the bill.

This bill will not pass without your support. This legislation is the best chance Pennsylvanians have for real and significant eminent domain reform. If you want to protect your home or small business from eminent domain abuse, you must CALL OR EMAIL YOUR SENATORS TODAY and urge them to pass S.B. 881 without amendments that weaken its protections by creating loopholes that allow the abuse of eminent domain for private development to go unchecked.

An identical bill passed the PA House, H.B. 2054.

Members of the Pennsylvania Senate with email addresses

Phone numbers and contact information of those in the PA Senate.

Statement of the Institute for Justice in Support of Legislation To Protect Pennsylvania Home and Small Business Owners

The Institute for Justice is the nation’s leading advocate for home and business owners who are affected by the abuse of eminent domain for private development, and it represented Susette Kelo in the now infamous Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London. The Institute supports S.B. 881 and H.B. 2054 as written and opposes any amendments that will eliminate or weaken any of the protections they provide to home and small business owners.

In Kelo, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Constitution allows governments to take homes and businesses for potentially more profitable, higher-tax uses. In the aftermath of that decision, the defenders of eminent domain abuse in Pennsylvania have already begun desperate attempts to keep the power to take homes and businesses and turn them over to private developers. The beneficiaries of the virtually unrestricted use of eminent domain-local governments, developers, and planners-are frantically lobbying to prevent any attempt to diminish their power and have taken aim at SB 881 and HB 2054, two balanced bills that strike at the heart of eminent domain abuse.

The Bills Are a Thoughtful Response

Pennsylvania legislators have been holding hearings across the state regarding the abuse of eminent domain over the past several months. They’ve heard from people on both sides of the issue and the legislative responses are the result of these well-attended meetings. There’s a genuine consensus among many lawmakers -- that’s why so many have sponsored the bills.

The Bills Are Balanced and Appropriate

The bills are not radical -- they make certain that home and small business owners in this state know that they can keep what they’ve worked so hard to own.

Eminent domain will still be allowed for traditional public uses like roads, schools and post offices. Utilities and other public services will still be built. Urban communities remain able to clean up areas full of abandoned and dangerous properties, but under these bills blight designations are reserved for only those situations where there are real threats to public health and safety.

Economic Blight Amendments Must Be Defeated

Any attempt to include a concept of “economic blight” in the bills must be defeated. This will ultimately lead, as it does already, to the transfer of homes and businesses to developers who promise increased tax revenue and jobs. Communities would no longer be razed because some consultant considers them “economically undesirable.”

Economic blight cannot be a justification for eminent domain because that means no one’s home or business is safe -- any home can make more money as a luxury condominium and any small business can make more money as a big-box store. Under the bills, governments will no longer be able to take properties from private individuals and hand them over to wealthy, well-connected developers.

Pennsylvania Has a Horrible History of Eminent Domain Abuse

Between 1998 and 2002, the Institute for Justice found more than 10,000 abuses of eminent domain around the country and many of these were in Pennsylvania. Some continue, and new ones seem to be added every day:

Ardmore - City officials are trying to strip the historic downtown district of its unique character, in order to replace it with cookie-cutter mixed-use development. A charming, Main Line suburb along the old Pennsylvania Railroad, Ardmore’s quaint downtown business district is home to many locally owned small businesses passed through generation for over a century. A half-block of successful small businesses is slated to be demolished and replaced with mall stores, upscale apartments, and a large garage.

Pittsburgh - There are several horrible situations worth noting, but two stand out: H.J. Heinz used the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority to bully the Kumer family and Pittsburgh Wool Company from its location, though three years later Heinz sold the property to a Cleveland developer for upscale apartments. Mayor Tom Murphy sought to take 64 buildings and 125 businesses for a movie theater and Nordstrom for his failed Fifth and Forbes project. In the end, all the project created was considerable disinvestment.

Coatesville - Dick and Nancy Saha waged a six-year battle to keep their family farm from becoming a golf course. Spending the bulk of their retirement savings on legal fees, the couple were finally successful when the city council agreed to drop the eminent domain taking in exchange for the right to purchase five acres of property that the Sahas had offered the city for free at the beginning of the dispute.

Washington - "The Crossroads" development calls for a new office building, hotel, retail, and residential space where popular local businesses like World West Galleries and Fine Art Printers, Shorty’s Lunch, and Jerry’s Shoe Repair currently exist and thrive.

Eminent Domain Is Not Necessary for Economic Development

City officials often claim that without the power of eminent domain, they will be unable to do worthwhile projects and their cities will fall into decline. They are wrong. There are many ways to encourage economic growth without taking someone else’s property. These include, for example, economic development districts, tax incentives, bonding, tax increment financing, Main Street programs, infrastructure improvements, relaxed or expedited permitting, and small grants and loans for fa├žade improvements.

Development happens every day, all across the country, without the use of eminent domain. Defenders of eminent domain for private development present a false choice between protecting people’s rights and economic development. In fact, we can have both.

Eminent Domain Is Not a “Last Resort”

In most cases, the threat of eminent domain plays an important role from the very beginning of negotiations. Cities know that most home and business owners will be unable to afford to fight; this fact gives cities a strong incentive to threaten property owners with condemnation at the very start.

Procedural Changes Will Not Stop Eminent Domain Abuse

More process and public input and better planning are not the answer. These measures will do absolutely nothing to protect the rights of home and business owners. Despite overwhelming public opposition by citizens and Ardmore’s invited consultant, the Urban Land Institute, the Board of Commissioners still voted to destroy a third-generation office supply company, a popular Chinese restaurant and the local American Legion and VFW posts. Local legislators typically know the outcome they want and then follow the procedures necessary to get it. Indeed, all of the examples of abuse occurring here in Pennsylvania and across the country proceeded according to the current procedures, evidence alone that changes are necessary.

Better planning is also no solution and will do nothing to protect home and business owners from losing their property to private developers. Planners call for even more of the kind of planning that, if implemented, necessitates forcing some people out of their homes and businesses to make way for other, supposedly better-planned uses occupied by more economically desirable people. While all of this additional planning will no doubt bring lots of money to planners, it will not prevent the use of eminent domain for private commercial development and in practice will probably encourage more abuse.

In crafting these bills, everyone’s concerns have been considered and compromises have been made. The result of this thoughtful approach is that these bills stand as models for the rest of the country. We urge passage of these bills and oppose any attempt to weaken them. We also hope Governor Rendell will sign these necessary reforms into law. Pennsylvania deserves it.

So, contact your and other senators.

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