Have you ever wondered what happens when environmental services run up against the government’s desire to bring “economic development” at all costs?
As Chicagoland is seeing, the result isn’t pretty.
Last summer, Chicago moved to levy fines against buildings that don’t make it easy enough for tenants to recycle. It was Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s effort to encourage more environmental friendliness in an area that recycles only 10 percent of the near nearly 1 million tons of waste it produces in a year. But this month, local officials in the Chicago suburb of Mundelein, Illinois are moving to condemn a recycling plant using the scourge of homeowners, workers and business owners everywhere: eminent domain.
The Alan Josephsen Company recycles cardboard, waste paper and paper packaging for customers throughout Illinois’ populous Lake County, which is wedged between Lake Michigan and the Wisconsin border. It has operated in Mundelein for nearly four decades, since opening in 1978 to meet rising demand for recycling services from small offices in the village and surrounding county. But Mundelein’s embattled Mayor Steve Lentz campaigned heavily for a razor-thin reelection on the promise of redeveloping downtown, and the recycling facility is in the way of those plans.
Mayor Lentz’s victory by a mere five votes may not be official yet, but the village government he leads is already moving to condemn the Alan Josephsen Company’s local recycling operation, which one trustee called an “eyesore.” Lentz and the village trustees hope to force the recycling facility out of downtown and turn the company’s property over to private developers for residential units and commercial space.
As Trustee Ray Semple bluntly told the Chicago Daily Herald, “There is zero benefit to downtown Mundelein to have that business where it is.”
But deciding what “benefit” a successful, law-abiding business provides on its own land is not a legitimate government interest. Government officials should not be able to kick residents’ off their own property because those officials would have rather have “better,” more fashionable residents.
The Institute for Justice (IJ) has long fought similar eminent domain schemes across the country. Since the Institute’s narrow loss in the infamously reviled Kelo decision, IJ lawsuits have defeated local governments’ attempts to seize private property for private development in Arizona, California, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee and elsewhere. IJ attorneys are currently working to protect a working-class neighborhood in Charlestown, Indiana from city officials’ unconstitutional scheme to replace it with the kind of upscale “redevelopment” that Mundelein officials want to replace the Alan Josephsen Company’s recycling plant.
Mayor Lentz, Trustee Semple, and other Mundelein officials should know that government ought to serve and protect all of its constituents, not destroy their homes and take their property to give to richer developers. Eminent domain for private gain is a gross abuse of government power, and it must be stopped.