Citizens Fight Eminent Domain Abuse

May 27, 2008

October 2003

Citizens Fight Eminent Domain Abuse—AND WIN!

By Rob Wiles

For years, fighting eminent domain abuse has been a very difficult battle. In the recently published IJ/Castle Coalition study Public Power, Private Gain, Dana Berliner documented more than 10,000 instances where ordinary citizens faced the prospect of losing their homes and businesses through eminent domain for the benefit of private developers.

In the past few years, though, the tide has definitely turned. Since March 2002, when IJ launched the Castle Coalition—a nationwide network of property owners and citizen activists who work together to end eminent domain abuse—local activists have increasingly turned to the Castle Coalition website, and the tips featured in our Eminent Domain Survival Guide, for guidance on how to defeat eminent domain abuse. Three recent success stories demonstrate the positive results.

In Evendale, Ohio, small business owners Bruce Hassel and Dan Regenold followed the Survival Guide’s advice on how to organize a broad-based community effort to halt a proposed local urban renewal plan that threatened nearly 80 small businesses in the upscale Cincinnati suburb with a phony “blight” designation. Using a combination of op-ed articles, FOIA requests, city hall protests and consultation with IJ staff, Hassel and Regenold eventually pressured the Evendale City Council into dropping its proposed plan in July 2003.

In Duluth, Minn., Irene Katoski led a successful fight to prevent the City from taking her family’s business through eminent domain for private development. The Katoskis and their many local supporters turned to op-eds, talk radio, billboards and rallies, and eventually were able to convince the Duluth City Council to reject a redevelopment proposal that would have allowed the use of eminent domain.

In Crestwood, Illinois, the efforts of business owner Tom Crane almost single-handedly derailed a bill before the Illinois state legislature that would have allowed three communities to use quick-take condemnations for redevelopment. Quick-take proceedings allow the government to take possession of condemned property even before a court decides whether the taking is for a valid public use. This often results in the immediate bulldozing of structures on the disputed property—a gross abuse of the affected property owner’s due process rights. Among those pushing hardest for the proposed law was Donald Trump, who obviously learned nothing from his first encounter with IJ’s eminent domain team.

Taking his cues from the Survival Guide, Tom Crane lobbied, wrote up handbills to spread on the House floor and did just about everything else possible to succeed. In May 2003, the Illinois House defeated the quick-take measure in a landslide. Crane gives all the credit for his success to the Castle Coalition website.

As these three stories attest, individuals are starting to fight back against eminent domain abuse and succeed. We encourage anyone who is concerned about eminent domain abuse in their own backyard, or who is under the threat of condemnation for another party’s private gain, to join the Castle Coalition and see for themselves what we have known all along: you can fight eminent domain abuse and win!

Rob Wiles is IJ’s coordinator of the Castle Coalition.

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