Castle Coalition Takes on Eminent Domain Abuse with Third Conference
By Rob Wiles
During the last weekend in March, the Institute for Justice hosted its third annual Castle Coalition Eminent Domain Activist conference in Washington, D.C. The event, officially titled, “From Hardship to Victory: Strategies for Winning the Fight to Stop Eminent Domain Abuse,” drew more than three dozen property owners and activists from around the country, representing a number of fronts in the battle to keep government from taking land for private development.
The conference certainly lived up to its title, as this year’s attendees included not only those from communities currently threatened by eminent domain, but also several who won their grassroots battles during the past year.
The bulk of the activist training consisted of an intensive series of lectures, workshops and brainstorming sessions designed to assist property owners in effectively tackling eminent domain abuse from a number of angles. The participants also heard from Janice Hundt of Baltimore County, Md., who fired up the crowd with a lively presentation describing the nuts-and-bolts of the campaign she and other local property owners waged in 2000 to defeat eminent domain abuse in her county, which resulted in the passage of an anti-eminent domain referendum with 70 percent of the vote.
Veterans from the Castle Coalition’s recent success defending bogus “blight” through the ballot box in Lakewood, Ohio, were on hand to provide tactical tips and encouragement to those still fighting to save their homes and businesses. Lakewood West End resident (and IJ client) Julie Wiltse attended the conference, along with her Lakewood neighbors Mark and Gilda Timieski, and gave an on-the-ground perspective of how to organize a winning campaign. IJ intends to turn the Lakewood experience into a blueprint for grassroots success that can be replicated in communities all around the country.
We also saluted the efforts of Mark and Gilda at the conference dinner by presenting them with the Coalition’s annual “Castle Award,” established last year to honor those local activists who deserve special recognition because they stand up for property rights and win. Although Mark and Gilda don’t live in the West End, they could not stand idly by while Lakewood abused eminent domain. Castle Awards were also given to activists Steve Blechle of O’Fallon, Mo., and Tom Crane of Crestwood, Ill., both of whom achieved grassroots success in the last year largely as a result of using the resources available on the Castle Coalition website, especially the Eminent Domain Survival Guide.
After the conference, attendee Lori Vendetti from Long Branch, N.J., wrote: “You all put together a wonderful conference. The speakers were all so interesting and I never once had a drooping eye. I have been to numerous conferences, but this one was by far the best I have ever attended! It got our juices flowing and gave us some hope for our fight. We know that it will be an uphill battle, but with the suggestions, tools and contacts that the conference provided all of us, we hope that we can be one of those successful stories that are discussed at future conferences.”
It has been a great year for the Castle Coalition: the April 2003 release of Public Power, Private Gain shifted the eminent domain debate in the media into one that is now largely waged on our terms; the 60 Minutes piece that aired in September introduced a nationwide audience to the outrage of eminent domain abuse; and our website resources have given valuable assistance to grassroots efforts nationwide resulting in almost a dozen success stories.
We’re now building on those successes, positioning the Castle Coalition for even better things to come. It is clearly the end of the beginning for the nationwide grassroots fight against eminent domain abuse, and IJ continues to lead the charge. For the unscrupulous developers and government bureaucrats who now find themselves up against our energized activists nationwide, here’s hoping this year marks the beginning of the end.
Rob Wiles is IJ’s coordinator of the Castle Coalition.