Government Theft

Eminent domain is the power of government to force people from their family homes, to destroy their businesses. It is a despotic power, and Americaís Founders placed limits on the condemnation power in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Governments may condemn only for ìpublic use,î as well as paying just compensation. All 50 state constitutions also limit condemnations to those for public use. Yet government increasingly uses the eminent domain power to condemn property for private uses. Acting more like real estate agents than public servants, government agencies form unholy alliances with developers in order to force the rightful owners off of their property.

In this report, we bring together the 10 most egregious uses of eminent domain for private purposes from 1998 to 2001. These 10 are just the tip of an iceberg. We selected them from more than 100 that have come to our attention, yet there are many others we do not even know about. Indeed, in 1998, the head of the Council for Urban Economic Development estimated that cities undertake roughly 80 projects per year for private businesses that involve condemnations,1 and each project could involve more than one condemnation. Many owners cave in to pressure and settle. Others resist condemnation in court, but the legal decisions are unpublished. Still others receive minimal news coverage or coverage only from local papers that do not survive in electronic form. For example, we could find few details on a mobile home park for fixed-income senior citizens that was condemned for a private mall project that fell through in Garden Grove, California.2 We are thus regretfully certain that there are many other condemnations from this time period that are as offensive and improper as the ones listed in this report.

These ten low points of eminent domain abuse include:

  • Removing an entire neighborhood and the condemnation of homes for a privately owned and operated office park and other, unspecified uses to complement a nearby Pfizer facility in New London, Connecticut
  • Approving the condemnation of more than 1,700 buildings and the dislocation of more than 5,000 residents for private commercial and industrial development in Riviera Beach, Florida
  • A government agency collecting a $56,500 bounty for condemning land in East St. Louis, Illinois, to give to a neighboring racetrack for parking
  • Replacing a less-expensive car dealership with a BMW dealership in Merriam, Kansas
  • Condemning a building in Boston just to help the owner break his leases so that the property could be used for a new luxury hotel
  • Seizing the homes of elderly homeowners in Mississippi and forcing them and their extended families to move in order to transfer the land to Nissan for a new, privately owned car manufacturing plant, despite the fact that the land is not even needed for the project
  • Taking the building of an elderly widow for casino parking in Las Vegas, claiming it was blighted but without ever even looking at the building
  • Improperly denying building permits to a church in New Cassel, New York, then condemning the property for private retail as soon as it looked like the church would begin construction
  • Condemning 83 homes for a new Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio, that was supposed to bring jobs but ended up employing less than half the projected number because it is fully automated
  • Forcing two families (along with their neighbors) to move for a private mall expansion in Hurst, Texas, while spouses were dying of cancer

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