Mother Nature's Blight


So what constitutes eminent-domainable "blight"? In the Edwards Air Force Base-adjacent town of California City, "15,000 acres of vacant desert land" does, at least when some of the private owners who haven't already buckled don't want to sell their property to Hyundai Motor America, which seeks to build a 4,340-acre test track.

Thankfully, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer is joining a lawsuit to block the seizure. And, supporting commenter joe's controversial thesis, Lockyer sez he's doing so partly at the encouragement of Kelo:

Under state law, a city may only take land for economic development purposes in blighted areas.

The attorney general contends that the intent of redevelopment law was to help cities rebuild aging urban neighborhoods, not develop vacant land. […]

"Including a large vacant rural expanse of land in a redevelopment project is totally inconsistent with legislative intent," Lockyer argued in the court papers. […]

Kelo vs. New London … left states, including California, some discretion to develop stricter standards for use of eminent domain in redevelopment, Lockyer said.

Of course, the states had that discretion before, but Lockyer (who's generally awful) is nothing if not sensitive to the prevailing political winds.

NEXT: NASA: Situation Normal, All Foamed Up

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Q. A REDEVELOPMENT project takes place in an area that is already:

    A. Hot

    B. Dry

    C. Developed

    D. Just fucking kill me already.

  2. Here's a vote for D!!!

    (just kidding)

  3. To economists this is known as the "holdout problem." The only reason why ED exists is to surmount such a problem in certain circumstances.

    I know joe says that Kelo says only one thing, but it really says far more than one thing; it says at at least three things. joe wants to avoid the other two things it says as well as the real meaning of one thing he does say it says.

  4. Actually, since Kelo justified turning property over to someone who would pay higher property taxes on it (the famous example of giving a Motel 6 to the Ritz-Carlton company), it sounds like this case fits the standard perfectly--surely the Hyundai people will pay more taxes that a few desert shrubs do.

  5. right, only apparently the california gov't doesn't want that. so, people living in CA (in this case) are lucky, people living in MA aren't. tough luck.

  6. That post was completely incomprehensible, H.

    What's the "one thing?" What are the other two things?

  7. zach,

    Massachusetts law doesn't authorize takings for economic development.

  8. Zach--

    It's Connecticut that's the home of New London, which not only robs its own citizens of their property but refuses, as a matter of policy, to hire cops with above-average IQs. (No joke.)

    Since I now work as a Goddess of Advertising, I'd like to suggest a new motto for my home state. Right now I'm going with "Connecticut: We're not ALL fucked up." Or maybe "Connecticut: at least we have Indian gambling."

    How about "Connecticut: at least our cockroaches are sane?"

  9. sorry. CT. one of those crazy ass hippy states.

  10. Connecticut: Christ, I need a drink.

  11. My suggestion:

    Connecticut: See If You Can Make It Out Alive!

    Did two years in New Haven, and felt lucky to get out with my life and most of my stuff.

  12. Dead Elvis-
    Yeah, New Haven's pretty scary. But if you just ignore New Haven, New London, Bridgeport, Waterbury, Hartford, East Hartford, and Norwich, we've got some of the safest cities in the nation!

    By which I mean Litchfield is pretty nice.

  13. Connecticut: We're really close to two major metropolitan areas!

  14. Jennifer, you forgot about the little section of Manhattan called Fairfield County.

  15. Jennifer,
    Isn't CT the highest per captia income state in the union?

  16. Jen,

    How about, "Connecticut: Removing blight one residence at a time!"

  17. Coach-
    Yes, but that's because of the suburb-of-Manhattan parts like Greenwich and Darien. Think of it this way: if Bill Gates moved next door to you, your street would have the highest per capita income in your city, but that doesn't mean you live on a street filled with millionaires.

  18. Or how about "Connecticut: America's Eastern ghost towns."

  19. The response of California's Attorney-General to Kelo is welcome.

    Also in California, Sen. Tom McClintock has proposed a constitutional amendment to protect private property from abuses of eminent domain.

    You can read the "Homeowner & Property Protection Act" @

  20. joe,

    If you had read the decision you'd know. 🙂

    Also, the post seemed to make enough sense for you two ask me two questions based on it. 🙂

  21. I think "blight" is defined as the situation where you don't own the land, but would like to.

  22. Connecticut: Where people driving from New York to Boston, or vice-versa, stop to go to the bathroom.

    And I hope the anti-Kelo law passes here, but it still really sucks that a part of the Constitution was basically gutted and allowed to be re-interpreted at will by the states. This whole parsing of "public use" versus "public benefit" versus "public good" strikes me almost like some state refusing the vote to blacks, and the Supreme Court upholds the state's ruling by noting that, while the Constitution forbids vote-discrimination based on "race," it says NOTHING about "ethnicity." So you see, we're not denying you the vote because you're BLACK; we're denying it because you're NIGERIAN. Or Somali. Let's let the states decide for themselves what "race" should mean in this context.

  23. No! No! THIS is it:

    Connecticut: MOST of our mayors have never raped prepubescent children.

    That's about the nicest sincere thing I can think of right now. Or maybe,

    Connecticut: MOST of our governors were never forced to resign and serve time in Federal prison.

  24. Jennifer:

    If the Federal Government has any valid roles, surely protecting citizens from the state or local governments' attempts to steal their property should be one of them.

  25. Evan--
    That's exactly my point. The Feds (as well as the federal judiciary) should be *upholding* the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitution, not tell the states to apply them as they see fit.

  26. Jennifer: Where in Connecticut are you? My husband is from Bristol, (lived there for the first 20 years of his life), and his mother still lives in Bristol. As well as a brother in Hartford and a sister in New Haven. I've been to Connecticut once, but all I noticed was all the traffic, and that the Mystic Aquarium is nice. =)

  27. I'm in Bristol now myself, but only until my lease expires and I can move closer to work.

  28. Connecticut: Half-way between the Hamptons and Cape Cod.

  29. Connecticut: The Strip Mall That Connects NYC and Boston

  30. If anyone knows a libertarian geek in the DC area who is looking for work, the Institute for Justice is looking for someone with database and web programming experience for a project that has to do with a website tracking ED cases. I'd apply, but I'm pretty busy working at the loony bin these days.

  31. I'm actually sorry I started all these snarky anti-Connecticut comments, because I AM curious about what y'all think of my race/ethnicity analogy.

  32. Sigh. Another thread killed by me.

  33. Hakluyt,

    I read the decision the moment it came out, and broadcast the link to my office.

    I know what the decision, and the dissents, say.

    I also know that you screw up your legal analysis in this area most of the time, so I'll rephrase:

    What are you imagining "the one thing" to be? What are you imagining "the other two things" to be?

  34. Evan,

    "If the Federal Government has any valid roles, surely protecting citizens from the state or local governments' attempts to steal their property should be one of them."

    Is it "stealing" when the govenrment takes exactly the same land in exactly the same manner for exactly the same price, but builds a road on it?

    Since when did the distinction between "stealing" and "acquiring legally" depend on what the thief/buyer did with the goods?

  35. Since when did the distinction between "stealing" and "acquiring legally" depend on what the thief/buyer did with the goods?

    Maybe since the Founding Fathers wrote the part of hte Constitution specifying under what conditions the government could confiscate property?

  36. Jennifer,

    Your analogy gets it exactly backwards. The century-long line of decisions that were affirmed by Kelo would be comparable to the courts rejecting a law that discriminated against Latinos based on a prohibition against dicriminating based on race, by incorporating ethnicity-discrimination into racial-discrimination jurisprudence.

    Except you'd like it if they did that with discrimination, and you don't like that they, arguably, did something similar with takings.

  37. Jennifer, did you ever have one of those texbooks with little DID YOU KNOW? blurbs in the margins?

    DID YOU KNOW that taking private land to transfer to a private owner so he could build a private road that the public was not allowed to use has been allowed since the founding of the Republic?

  38. Joe-

    I'm not understanding your explanation. The Constitution is supposed to limit the power of the government, and Kelo basically says the states should determine just how Constitutionally limited they are.

  39. Joe--

    Which private, non-public roads would this be? Even the railroads were at least open to the public for a fee; the Pfizer complex in Kelo will not. I don't recall any land being ED'd so Rockefeller could build a private road to his estate.

  40. Jennifer,

    Private roads that access such facilities as mines or docks.

    Railroads too, later.

    As for the explanation - imagine if there was language in the Constitution that forbade discrimination based on race. A judge sees discrimination based on ethnicity, and decides that the important principle is exactly the same, thus striking down the ethnic discrimination.

    That would be the same as the judges reading that land could be taken for public use, seeing that land is to be taken to advance a public purpose but not end up owned by the government, and deciding that the essential principle was exactly the same.

    How about this - should the government be able to condemn land for a pipeline that will connect an oil refinery to a power plant, when the pipeline will be privately owned? Such takings have always been upheld, on the theory that allowing a (privately owned) power plant to produce electricity (that will be sold on the private market, and make a private profit for the private owners) will advance a public purpose. Heck, that public purpose might even include economic development.

  41. Once again, it takes a bunch of experts to determine exactly how it's legal for the gov't to steal your property from you.

    Some people regard this as a good thing, and claim that because it's been legal since (supposedly) "the founding of the Republic" that this makes it "OK."

    How they reconcile that concept with the abolishment of slavery boggles my mind. I mean, it used to be legal, right?

    Wrong is wrong, precedence be damned - to the blackest pit in Hell!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.