Hands off Pleasant Ridge!

Take action and tell Mayor Hall that you oppose his assault on Pleasant Ridge!

Mayor Bob Hall of Charlestown, Indiana, has for years waged a single-minded war with the aim of destroying 354 homes in the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood, in order to pave the way for private development. In 2014, the Institute for Justice won the first battle against this plan, by organizing people in the local community and drawing in both local and national media to shine a spotlight on the city. As a result, the City Council relented and voted down the mayor’s plan to abuse eminent domain for private gain.

But the mayor isn’t stopping his assault on this community—and we’re seeing even more serious abuses of power. Not only has the City Council passed a resolution seeking to declare Pleasant Ridge “in need of redevelopment” so it can seize properties for private development; they’ve conducted an all-out assault on Pleasant Ridge.

In January, the city passed a rental-inspection program deliberately aimed at the neighborhood. This program gives the city the power to send inspectors to intrude upon rental residences. If the owners or occupants attempt to exercise their Fourth Amendment right to refuse the search, the city has to go obtain a warrant; but they are nevertheless punished by a fine of up to $1,500 per day and can even have their utilities cut off for every day they refuse an inspection. Punishing people for exercising their rights in this manner is unconstitutional and has been affirmed as such by the U.S. Supreme Court last year, in Los Angeles v. Patel. Such a program would be bad enough on its own, but it is especially worrying when it is employed to find pretexts for kicking the residents of Pleasant Ridge out of their homes.

In February, the city passed another ordinance creating excessive fines for alleged “public nuisances” like chipped paint, having a single tall weed, or not having a screen on your window. Much like the situation in IJ’s Pagedale case, these fines are out of proportion to the harm caused to the public, making them unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

The most serious problem, however, is that this ordinance is expressly designed to get the homeowners classified as “habitual offenders” even after just one violation, by not giving them the chance to abate the “nuisance” of a single spot of chipped paint.  And since the officer enforcing this code is a direct appointee of the mayor, the one who has it out for Pleasant Ridge, this biased application of the law is very plausibly in violation of the Due Process Clause. Even an ostensibly neutral law is unconstitutional when applied in a biased fashion.

What Mayor Hall and the Charlestown City Council have to recognize is that the abuse of eminent domain for private use is both unconstitutional and in violation of Indiana law. In fact, the legislative reforms in Indiana that limit such abuse were a response to the infamous Kelo v. New London case, which inspired a national wave of outrage against the practice. The city does not have the legal authority to get away with their plan to demolish a whole neighborhood that is not actually “blighted” under the state’s strict criteria. But in the meantime, the city can cause a great deal of worry and suffering for the innocent residents of Pleasant Ridge by holding the threat of eviction over their heads.

Tell Mayor Hall to take his hands off Pleasant Ridge!

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