Property Rights

Now Playing at Reason.tv: Eminent Domain Gone Wild

|

Click on the image to see the full video.

Reason.tv host Drew Carey visits National City, California, where the local government is taking eminent domain abuse to new lows.

Eminent domain is the constitutionally sanctioned practice of taking land for legitimate public uses. Traditionally, that's meant things like roads and schools. Over the past several decades, however, governments have gone hog wild with eminent domain, routinely condemning property and turning it over to well-connected private developers as a way of subsidizing economic development and increasing tax revenues (never mind that it doesn't always work out that way).

Officials in National City, a predominantly Hispanic community near San Diego, have pushed to bulldoze a popular athletic center for struggling kids to pave the way for private developers to build new luxury condos.

As tragic and absurd as this may sound, such outrageous affronts to property rights are an almost daily occurrence. Episode 3 of The Drew Carey Project chronicles the devastating impact of eminent domain abuse on the lives of people whose property the government can threaten to take, not for public use, but for the benefit of wealthy developers.

NEXT: He Was the Barber of Tehran

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 Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The guy from the city equating eminent domain with an officer’s gun… but not in a bad way… I’m not even sure how to react to that.

    As for the rest, honestly, at this point I’ve pretty much become numb to it. Another one of those things I’ve given up on.

  2. What percentage of the budget of the Community Youth Athletic Center comes from public funds? Unless it’s minimal, I think the figure is relevant in the discussion and a reporter would be less than honest to create a story without mention of that fact. If the institution can’t exist without one form of government taking, it makes it a less attractive poster child for an argument against a different kind of government taking.

  3. Cue Dan T:

    “This is what you libertarians want. So what’s the problem?”

  4. Egg-Cellent point, parse. Is the athletic center wholly private or is it tainted with public funding?

  5. The city council has managed to create a real life version of a Lifetime network plot. That should make them deeply ashamed.

    (Seriously, this is ridiculous. Even if the athletic center gets public funds, why condemn that? Surely there’s a parking lot owned by the city?)

  6. Andrew – Why so sad? Kelo just happened not so long ago, and when it did nearly 80% of the public polled said they were against the finding that public takings through eminent domain can enrich private developers. This is a Libertarian issue that has a great deal of resonance with most people; instead of being numb, be angry and get folks riled.

  7. An obvious win-win strategy would be for the developer to build a new gym or park for the community at another location. They could then brand the place with their corporate name all over. Great publicity, and they get the spot they want. If they really expect their project to be so profitable, why not invest a small amount in order to satisfy the community?

  8. Karen,

    Lifetime? Wasnt this the plot of Breakin’ 2 – Electric Boogaloo?

  9. Okay, after posting my last comment, I went to IMDB. Now I am scared at what is stored in my brain.


    Plot Outline:
    A developer tries to bulldoze a community recreation center. The local breakdancers try to stop it.

  10. I appreciate the way the anti-EDers are framing this is a class-conscious way, talking about rich bad guys and the well being of poor people and neighborhoods.

    It will help to make sure the reforms target actual, harmful abuses.

    Sort of llike when the Republicans made farmers and single-home owners the poster children for the capital gains tax cuts in the 1990s. Their strategy made it easy for Clinton to pass targetted capital gains tax cuts that focuses on farmers and first homes.

    That’s what we call a win-win.

  11. joe,

    Some of us (myself included) are truly anti-ED, even for military bases and roads.

    Most probably support the true constitutional use of ED (and I dont really have much problem with it myself, other than a general problem with determining just compensation), in which case the problems are cities tearing down lower tax property to get higher tax property. Notice that the city didnt approve the attempt to build a hotel on Souters house. If that had gone thru, we would oppose it too (just not very loudly, and mocking him the entire time).

  12. A query for joe,

    With the additional tax revenues generated by these luxury condos, won’t National City be able to serve the poor even better. They could hire degreed sociologists to assist the Hispanic youth. Certainly this would be better for the community than a bunch of amateurs running a damned gym.

    Maybe not.

  13. No, probably not. Money isn’t everything.

  14. I have a slightly irrelevant gripe. I sent links to what I thought were two pretty good stories to the H&R team this week. One was a video of Giuliani answering a medical pot question where he cites his wife as an expert in the subject, and the other was a story about Drew Carey being part owner of an expansion MLS team right here in Seattle. One of the things he’s doing that’s rather innovative is allowing the fans to buy memberships where they can vote on the fate of the general manager after four seasons.

    No one’s said anything about these two. Sorry to be a whiner, but throw me a bone here.

  15. “With the additional tax revenues generated by these luxury condos, won’t National City be able to serve the poor even better. They could hire degreed sociologists to assist the Hispanic youth. Certainly this would be better for the community than a bunch of amateurs running a damned gym.

    Maybe not.”

    Haha. Good one. I’d like to see that happen…

  16. joe, sometimes you are just so damned reasonable. Who knows, maybe you’ll start being concerned about everybody’s property rights.

  17. Well, then, you’re more optimistic than I am.

    I don’t think you’re ever going to start caring about poor neighborhoods, except to the extent they make good poster children for ideological causes.

  18. That’s the big difference, J sub D.

    I’d think it was a bad idea to screw these kids even if there was no ED involved at all.

    See comments above about whether the gym received public funding.

  19. “I don’t think you’re ever going to start caring about poor neighborhoods, except to the extent they make good poster children for ideological causes.”

    When you say “you’re” I hope you aren’t talking about IJ.

  20. “I don’t think you’re ever going to start caring about poor neighborhoods”

    I care about poor neighborhoods. I suspect “we” all do. The difference is, you want to take MY money to make the neighborhood “less poor” (somehow), and I’d rather keep my money and help the poor neighborhood in other ways.

    But you know that.

    CB

  21. I still think that the property taxes should be based on the market value of the property. If the tax rates were low, the developers would have to pay a mint to bid the owners out of this place. They could probably afford two athletic centers.

  22. I appreciate the way the anti-EDers are framing this is a class-conscious way, talking about rich bad guys and the well being of poor people and neighborhoods.

    Umm, dude, eminent domain abuse does tend to target poorer neighborhoods. And many libertarians have a genuine problem with seeing government power used to pick on the lower classes.

  23. Shrubber,

    You mean, the value of the land, not improvements? That’s an intruiging idea, but it runs up agains a serious problem of regressiveness.

    We’d tax the owner of $100,000 house on 1/4 acre the same as the owner of a $1 million house on the same size lot?

  24. So it’s okay to screw the taxpayer to provide the poor with entertainment? An Xbox in every tenement or something like that.

    I’m not denigrating the value of the community center, I don’t think that poor and middle class property owners should be forced to pay for it whether they use it or not. Do you?

  25. “I still think that the property taxes should be based on the market value of the property.”

    They are.

    CB

  26. My gosh, that was enough to bring a tear to the eye. Reason needs to get that shown everywhere it possibly can.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg in sourthern Cal. Indio uses eminent domain everywhere in town. They are currently kicking out 5 business owners – mostly Hispanic – in the downtown area for “urban renewal. La Quinta and Cathedral City also have huge eminent domain battles going on right now. El Centro? Forget about it. It’s eminent domain capitol for California.

  27. So it’s okay to screw the taxpayer to provide the poor with entertainment?

    Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s a terrible, horrible thing to shut down a rec center, right up until you might end up with a few more bucks in your pocket.

    Damn those greedy developers!

    And yes, I get the distinction between keeping money and being given money. I’m just pointing out that, for all the “do it for the children” posing, that’s what this issue is about.

  28. I used to wonder why Eminent Domain abuse seemed to be an issue that only libertarians got upset about. After the Kelo decision, I did see a thread on a leftist site on the subject and the majority of the people posting thought it was a horrible decision.

    There were, however, quite a few people there who supported the Kelo decision because they saw that it could be used in the future to close Wal-marts. I kid you not.

  29. We’d tax the owner of $100,000 house on 1/4 acre the same as the owner of a $1 million house on the same size lot?

    Of course not. We’d tax total value. If you own a hovel on the waterfront in San Diego County, you should be taxed on the value of the property you own, house plus land. Another good reason to keep property taxes as low as possible.

  30. Sage,

    Check the video archives at reason.tv – they posted a clip of Drew Carey on Monday Night Football talking about his MLS ownership.

    My biggest concern over the National City ED debate and others like it: the courts may wind up defining “blight” for the purposes of a taking under ED, and those become written in stone.

    Even though it’s probably better than letting legislators define the term (as is the case now), it only limits the number of people who can be ass-raped, rather than eliminating ass-rape altogether.

  31. There were, however, quite a few people there who supported the Kelo decision because they saw that it could be used in the future to close Wal-marts. I kid you not.

    Considering that one would only be closed in favor of a more politically connected and wealthy developer, I don’t see it happening with Wal-Mart. But with Fat Joe’s Burger Joint, you can almost count on it.

  32. joe, the issue is PROPERTY RIGHTS! Libertarians support them for all. Not just the weathy, all. Kelo wasn’t about rich people. Here in Motown, the Poletown fiasco was decried by libertarians as well. To throw you don’t care about the poor at people who oppose ED is B/S, and you know it. That kind of attack is unworthy of you, joe.

  33. Yes, J sub, I already said that.

    Quick, tell me that property rights are the central principle here AGAIN, because despite having written that a few times already, I don’t think I understand that you’re motivated primarily by concerns about property rights.

    Hmm, property rights you say? Gee, I wish I’d thought of that when I wrote, “I don’t think you’re ever going to start caring about poor neighborhoods, except to the extent they make good poster children for ideological causes.”

  34. I wish I’d thought of that when I wrote, “I don’t think you’re ever going to start caring about poor neighborhoods, except to the extent they make good poster children for ideological causes.”

    Yeah, that’s what you wrote. I thought ad hominem tactics were beneath you.

  35. If stating your own position back to you is an ad homenim attack, maybe you should reexamine your positions.

  36. WHAT’S THE PRICE?

    When Walt Disney bought up land in Florida for Disneyworld, it sent in secret real estate agents to purchase small amounts at a time until it was all acquired, transferring millions to it away from the sellers.

    Even if the athletic center was completely private, it could be bought out at a grossly underpriced value, say from unscrupulous manager/owners who pocket much of it and so on.

    Unlike some ED issues where the holdouts can jack up their price to exploit the buyers, the athletic center is a single entity with which to bargain through the local government – so the negotiated price is not affected by subsequent holdouts.

    If the center was correctly costed out with price estimates to be paid by the condos, it would include the cost of duplicating a hypothetical facility … keeping the kids indifferent for access and use.

    Most likely, such an estimate would exceed the condo’s willing price to pay and kill the deal. Presumably, the condo folks have done their homework and are already aware of the alternatives (at higher cost).

    That’s why they’re here, trying to cut this particular deal. Privatizing public property by acquiring it at below-market rates and then reselling it is a common ruse.

    The deals tend to favor heavily the buyers if for no other reason, their concentrated interests have much more sway on which cost estimates to use (the high ones) by the regulators and politicians involved.

    It’s all about the price, and in this case, assigning intangible value to the kid’s welfare.

  37. On the taxes. Based on value of property…

    National City is in California. Prop 13. Tax based on value at purchase, inflated a max of 1.25% per year. Therefore probably undervalued for tax purposes. New owner, new value, MUCH higher taxes.

    Prop 13 has been to US Supreme Court which held that tax system doesn’t have to be fair. (Good grief)

    In another state, assessment might be ad valorem, but California is weird.

    x

  38. If stating your own position back to you is an ad homenim attack, maybe you should reexamine your positions.

    I really am not in the mood to get in a pissing contest. When have I ever said that I don’t care about the poor? I’ve argued that the welfare state is counter-productive, yes. I’ve also argued that taxes should be lower, yes. Oh yeah, poor people pay taxes too, property taxes being especially burdensome to them. So please, point out any writing of mine, anywhere, where I have had said that I’ve no concern for the lower class. Please.

  39. Poor people suck! yeaaaaahhh

  40. joe’s heart bleeds for the poor, bleeds man! He would never use the poor as a poster child for an ideological cause. Never!

  41. What really bothers me about this whole private property thing is where some roads are actually owned by private owners, but they let everyone use them! How on earth do we screw the poor on that? I’ve chomped through three cigars in the last hour thinking about it. It’s even fogged up my monocle.

    I know what will make me feel better. I’m going to go downtown and find a group of bums. Then I’ll throw a nickel in the middle of the pack and watch them fight over it. That’s the kind of cheap entertainment I can bring the whole family to.

    Oh yeah: MWAHAHAHA!
    [twirls imaginary mustache]

  42. hilarious, sage! fantastic!

    (otherwise, this citizen is completely lost on this argument. hrumph)

  43. J sub D

    Joe, I think, is saying that if the gym was a privately owned facility operated as a charity, and the owners decided to close the gym down and sell the property to rich condo developers, then you wouldn’t be up at arms about it.

    Joe confuses your unwillingness to use violence on behalf of a cause for “not caring”.

    I don’t think he is being obtuse – it’s a massive blind spot suffered by many of my fellow Massachusetts residents.

  44. Violence. Violence!!

    Sometimes, I think it would be beneficial for libertarians to actually be mugged. It would clear up some massive blind spots they have.

  45. Sometimes, I think it would be beneficial for libertarians to actually be mugged

    What do you think April 15th is?

  46. Sometimes, I think it would be beneficial for libertarians to actually be mugged. It would clear up some massive blind spots they have.

    You’re right joe, there’s a massive difference between a mugger threatening to beat me up if I don’t give him some money, and a government official threatening to kidnap me if I don’t give him some money (or prune my branches, or open my store on Thanksgiving day or manufacture my own whiskey or grow wheat on my own land to feed my cattle).

  47. Sometimes, I think it would be beneficial for libertarians to actually be mugged. It would clear up some massive blind spots they have.

  48. If at first you don’t succeed …

    Sometimes, I think it would be beneficial for libertarians to actually be mugged. It would clear up some massive blind spots they have.

    joe, I live in Detroit. Been there, done that, or rather it’s been done to me. Amazingly enough, it didn’t endear me to wealth redistibution one bit. I’m funny that way.

  49. I think it would be beneficial for libertarians to actually be mugged

    Perhaps making a statement like that is not the best way to convince taxation-is-backed-by-violence libertarians that you’re not sanctioning violence.

  50. Violence. Violence!!

    Sometimes, I think it would be beneficial for libertarians to actually be mugged. It would clear up some massive blind spots they have.

    This is laughable. I pay taxes — and generally follow laws that are heavily enforced — precisely because I don’t want to be handcuffed, possibly slapped around (or worse), and thrown in a 12′ by 12′ jail cell. By then again, I’ve never been mugged, so I can’t possibly imagine how terrible getting arrested and thrown in jail would be.

  51. Sometimes, I think it would be beneficial for libertarians to actually be mugged. It would clear up some massive blind spots they have.

    Of course, it would also help if they have children. Right, joe?

  52. But to give joe the benefit of the doubt, do you care to explain how getting mugged would help clear up some blind spots I might have?

  53. Guys, just a reminder: Don’t miss Bumfights tonight. I hear that “Lefty” McGillis is finally facing off against “Funky” Fredrickson in a Tin Can Match. Should be a great bout. Also there’s some bonus footage of an Orphan-Tossing Contest that’s a must see.

    (For those of you who don’t know, a Tin Can Match is a fight where the winner gets a tin can. There’s no budget for imagination – it’s all in the content.)

  54. I think the best part is the slogan of the Bumfights producers:

    “Inhumane? Hell, those ain’t people!”

  55. “The winner gets a tin can.”

    But it’s got dog food in it, right?

  56. NOT ANYMORE, IT DOESN’T.

  57. Worse; fried haggis!!

  58. Imagine the profits!

  59. I’m confused. The video said that 2/3 of the properties in the city were considered “blighted”. I know that nobody votes anymore, but I’d think that a campaign showing that 2/3 of the residents could be kicked off their own property would bring about enough support for a few recall votes.

  60. I appreciate the way the anti-EDers are framing this is a class-conscious way, talking about rich bad guys and the well being of poor people and neighborhoods.

    It will help to make sure the reforms target actual, harmful abuses.

    So, would it be OK to do this if the community center was in a well-off neighborhood, and the developers were a politically-connected, perhaps minority-owned firm, out for its first big score? Is that not just as much an “actual harmful abuse” as what seems to be going on here?

  61. For those of you who might be confused by joe’s point:

    Here is an example of violence.

    Here is an example of what we libertarians mistakenly call violence, even though it isn’t because it is the action of government officials exercising the will of the majority.

    See the difference?

    No?

    Perhaps you some more pictures will help:

    Victim of violence

    Not the victim of violence

    see it now?

    No?

    Perhaps joe will deign to explain the difference that we’re too blind to see

  62. Sometimes, I think it would be beneficial for libertarians to actually be mugged. It would clear up some massive blind spots they have.

    Unlikely, given that libertarians already understand that the cops can’t prevent or intervene in crime, but are there mostly to mop up afterwards.

    In fact, given the prevalence of gun ownership among libertarians their belief in vigorous self-defense, I would suspect that increased muggings of libertarians would probably have a different result altogether.

  63. tarran, Thanks for the Muppet Show link. Kermit an Co was truly an underappreciated TV show.

  64. The best part of the cities plan is that the property values of “blighted” areas will remain stagnant (longer than the surrounding properties, anyway).

    Eventually the price the city would have to pay the owners for “highest and best use”, as determined by an appraiser, would be so low compared to what the property would be worth as soon as the “blight” label is removed. It will be even more attractive to condemn.

  65. Former Spokesperson to the URKOBOLD | November 15, 2007, 12:29pm | #

    canned fried haggis fritters?

    Tough break with the layoffs. How are things in Accounts Payable?

  66. Paging joe …

    Paging joe …

    Paging joe …

  67. Damn those greedy developers!

    Yup that is pretty much joe’s argument on anything to do with property ownership…no matter if the poor, the constitution or the economy that gets hurt.

  68. I don’t think you’re ever going to start caring about poor neighborhoods, except to the extent they make good poster children for ideological causes.

    Joe if you care about poor neighborhoods so much then why do you support policies that keep them poor?

    Oh wait now i get it…you love poor neighborhoods so much that you want to maintain the residents low income so that the neighborhood remains poor…i get it now.

    you are right Joe as a libertarian I do not care about poor neighborhoods in fact i support policies that would raise the income of residents poor neighborhoods so as to eliminate poor neighborhoods. In fact I will say it right now I hate poor neighborhoods. Man I am evil.

    How your deeply your position is defended by some backwards double speak is mind boggling.

  69. Eventually the price the city would have to pay the owners for “highest and best use”, as determined by an appraiser, would be so low compared to what the property would be worth as soon as the “blight” label is removed. It will be even more attractive to condemn.

    Excellent point.

  70. joe’s not against the poor, everybody. Quit ganging up on him!
    He’s all for the poor. As long as he doesn’t have to look at them or smell them.
    You know, good urban planning can solve all of that!

  71. i’d like to give a shout out to eric naught point five for pointing out this thread.

    i’d like to shout out joe for doing his thing.

    i’d like to give a shout to all my libertizzles who are keeping shit FM up in here.

    also i’d like everyone to be attacked by everything they’d hate so they’d learn to think as i do because that’s not a stupid fucking thing to say at all.

    not at all.

  72. Hey, put me down under “libertarian who has been mugged” (by someone other than the government). Although I actually became a libertarian four or five years after that, so my misperceptions weren’t very well cleared up.

  73. you must misperceived your misconceptions, perceptually.

    ps viable strategy: capital punishment folks get murdered so they will support the death penalty.

  74. If I ever got kidnapped, I know I’d rethink my objections to putting drug users in jail.

  75. SOMETIMES LI’L URK? THINK JOE NEED A HUG A PUPPY.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.