Eminent Domain

Alabama Brings Back Eminent Domain for Private Gain


Greg Willis | Wikimedia Commons

This month, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed into law a bill that allows local officials to condemn private property and turn it over to private developers.

Alabama's statutes had contained some of the best protections in the nation for property owners; officials couldn't seize property for private development unless it was a true threat to human health and safety.

Welcome back to the bad old days.

Advertised as a tool to attract industry to Alabama, the new law (the Major 21st Century Manufacturing Zone Act) expands tax subsidies for companies that open a manufacturing facility of at least 250 acres. It also allows municipal officials to seize property for "private uses and purposes imbued with a public interest" like auto factories, biomedical facilities, and pharmaceutical plants.

Officials can now condemn property they deem "blighted," which, since the statutory definition of the term is so subjective, could be nearly any property. Criteria include:

  • "deteriorating structures"
  • "inadequate street layout"
  • "faulty lot layout"
  • "obsolete platting"
  • "excessive vacant land"

In 2005, when the Supreme Court sanctioned condemnation for private development in Kelo v. New London, Alabama legislators were the first in the nation to react. The reform defanged urban renewal plans like this one from Tuscaloosa, where local officials authorized themselves to seize a broad swath of the downtown area. Until then, every property owner in the project area had faced the threat of eminent domain, regardless of whether their property was actually blighted—just being in the vicinity of a rundown property could trigger condemnation.

Alabama municipalities looking to attract industry would be wise to look not to the ruling in Kelo, but to the fate of New London after the decision. Pfizer Inc. left town after the subsidies that originally lured it to New London expired. And the neighborhood officials fought so hard to raze is now an illegal dumping ground.

The new law makes Alabama the second state to renege on strong eminent domain reform. (Utah stripped eminent domain powers from redevelopment authorities in 2005 only to partially restore them in 2007.)

In other Alabama news, legislators are scheduled to consider a bill this week that would make Alabama the last state in the nation to legalize home brewing. So there's that.

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  1. Citizen vigilance is the only way to stop government greed.

    1. Burn Alabama burn

  2. You left out one of the criteria:
    “I said so”

    1. Because fuck you “I said so”


  3. I just got done making fun of California for closing’s Tam’s burger joint. Now, I learn Alabama isn’t heading in the right direction either.

    Mercatus says Tennessee is the 3rd most free state; I’m only 20 miles from the state line. Time for a move?

  4. Other Alabama “news”: http://blog.al.com/wire/2013/0…..er_default

    5 favorite bible verses of Alabama politicians.

  5. Other Alabama “news”: http://timesdaily.com/stories/…..ses,204477

    Governor Bentley wants to give teachers a 3 year, 10 percent salary raise.

  6. “deteriorating structures”
    “inadequate street layout”
    “faulty lot layout”
    “obsolete platting”
    “excessive vacant land”

    Only the first of these has anything to do with public safety. And do they even define ‘faulty lot layout’ or is that just a get out of jail free card so that they can seize whatever they want?

    1. “excessive vacant land”

      …like your vegetable garden, dog run, flower garden, shrubbery, etc.

  7. How does platting become obsolete? The only thing I can think of is that there are a large number of squatters?

  8. The pre-game “hype” video for the 2012 Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTLDO6mW-bw

    Pretty cool clips from previous match-ups.

  9. Other Alabama “news”: http://www.al.com/entertainmen…..ng_20.html

    The Straight to Ale brewery in Huntsville is showcasing legally brewed beers made from the illegal recipes developed by state home brewers.

  10. OT: New York Times actually runs a good Op Ed!

    From the piece:

    As the federal government and its central-bank sidekick, the Fed, have groped for one goal after another ? smoothing out the business cycle, minimizing inflation and unemployment at the same time, rolling out a giant social insurance blanket, promoting homeownership, subsidizing medical care, propping up old industries (agriculture, automobiles) and fostering new ones (“clean” energy, biotechnology) and, above all, bailing out Wall Street ? they have now succumbed to overload, overreach and outside capture by powerful interests. The modern Keynesian state is broke, paralyzed and mired in empty ritual incantations about stimulating “demand,” even as it fosters a mutant crony capitalism that periodically lavishes the top 1 percent with speculative windfalls.

    How’d they let this article through?

    1. Wait, wait. I feel a little dizzy. Let me sit down for a second.

    2. From the comments:
      “Starting in the 1980s, “our” profit-obsessed corporations handed the U.S. economy on a platter to the Japanese and Chinese.”
      Yes, they are so “obsessed” with profits, they ruined the economy! Not sure how that works, and I’m sure the idiot who posted that doesn’t know, either.

      1. I’m interested in the objection to “profit”. I’m guessing the alternatives to “profit” are either coming in even or at a loss. The former is a practical impossibility, so would the lunatic Left rather we have a “loss” driven economic system?

        1. “so would the lunatic Left rather we have a “loss” driven economic system?”
          I’m pretty sure the amount of thought that went into your post is probably ten times the amount this guy gave to the alternatives.
          Let’s just say he’s ‘cluically challenged’.

      2. Wait, he’s still obsessed with the Japanese? That’s so 1991. After the economic collapse in 1992-93, I would have assumed liberals would have stopped talking about a future of Japanese economic domination, but that would be giving the left too much credit.

      3. Starting in the 1980s, “our” profit-obsessed corporations handed the U.S. economy on a platter to the Japanese and Chinese

        You see, the corporations in their corporation buildings give all the jobs to the chinese so that Americans will spend their money on chinese crap. Americans are broke and the chinese are getting all the money. It’s all very evil and corporation-y, to any right thinking individual.


    3. I think this is why they let it through:

      All this would require drastic deflation of the realm of politics and the abolition of incumbency itself, because the machinery of the state and the machinery of re-election have become conterminous. Prying them apart would entail sweeping constitutional surgery: amendments to give the president and members of Congress a single six-year term, with no re-election; providing 100 percent public financing for candidates; strictly limiting the duration of campaigns (say, to eight weeks); and prohibiting, for life, lobbying by anyone who has been on a legislative or executive payroll. It would also require overturning Citizens United and mandating that Congress pass a balanced budget, or face an automatic sequester of spending.

      Stockman presents an excellent summary of our financial woes, but some of his solutions make no freaking sense.

      1. strictly limiting the duration of campaigns (say, to eight weeks)

        Press conferences, informational mailings, public meetings and all of the rest would be A-Ok because those are just informative.

        Criticism of politicians on the other hand would be banned outside of that campaign period.

        lobbying by anyone who has been on a legislative or executive payroll

        Their wife/husband, kid, business partner, or babysitter can be the lobbyist.

        1. Public financing is also wicked, because we know the laws will be used to punish candidates that promote “wrong” views, as with the Vlaams Blok in Belgium

      2. Getting rid of reelection wouldn’t help. If anything, it would increase the tendency for people to be corrupt. If you don’t have to worry about reelection, then who cares whether you keep your campaign promises?

        1. Single term. 6 or 8 years. Votes of confidence throughout. 2/3 of the voters required to bounce him early.

          Problem solved.

          1. Re-elect as long as you want. But each time one needs a wider majority to win. ie 50%+1 vote the first election (vs nonincumbent), 51%+1 the next time, 52%+1 the next time, etc.

            1. Yeah, but then you are stuck with the other side being the winner.

              Have the votes of confidence during the primaries and then if you boot him you get a completely new set of choices in the fall.

    4. Yes, one of their few signed op-eds….usually they give some lefty horseshit and leave it unsigned.

      This good one is by David Stockman, and is immediately attacked by Joe Weasel…Weisally…Weisenthal…whatever…in a critiqe entitled:

      David Stockman Writes Huge Unhinged Screed About How America Is Doomed And How You Should Get Out Of The Market NOW

      Joe seems to think it unbelievable that anyone would argue “the future of America bleak because of massive government debts, crony capitalism, bailouts, megabanks, the removal of the gold standard, and even green energy.”

      Really, Dave must be high to argue that cuz none of those things are true.

      Wait a minute…the guy’s name is Joe….I wonder if he is Reason’s resident turdpolishing shitweasel?

  11. “excessive vacant land”
    You know those pre-fab storage sheds? You oughta be long on ’em.

    1. Was just driving through the ‘excess vacant land’ they’re probably talking about yesterday. imagine a grid of suburban layout streets, with NO houses on them. Right next to the airport, where no one wants to live cause of the jet noise, but can’t sell, because. . .no one wants to live there. Not even section 8’ers. Current law – the ‘no imminent domain’ blocks the city/county from just buying them en masse.

      1. “Current law – the ‘no imminent domain’ blocks the city/county from just buying them en masse.”

        1. Go find a page with Cesar Chavez’s picture on it. I ain’t your damned research flunky. Alabama laws are so damned convoluted you’ll probably miss the easter egg hunt today.

          1. Wind Rider| 3.31.13 @ 2:54PM |#
            “Go find a page with Cesar Chavez’s picture on it. I ain’t your damned research flunky. Alabama laws are so damned convoluted you’ll probably miss the easter egg hunt today.”
            So no cite.

            1. Go back and read the original article, troll.

              1. Yeah, well, for such an arrogant asshole, I bet you hoped the article backed up your claim.
                It didn’t. Go piss up a rope.

          2. Wind Rider| 3.31.13 @ 2:54PM |#
            “:I ain’t your damned research flunky”
            No, you aren’t. You’re an ignorant, obnoxious asshole too self-absorbed to even back the claim you made.

        2. I was more wondering what imminent domain is.

          1. a typo, okay? happy now?

  12. Remember, you do not own your property. Ever. You rent it from the government, and property taxes are your rent. And if the landlord–government–ever decides it wants to do something else with your “property”? It evicts you.

    So now we’re two stages into complete eradication of private property, with property tax, eminent domain, and zoning laws. No! Three stages into the complete eradication of private property, with property tax, eminent domain, zoning laws, and environmental controls. Four stages!

    I’ll come in again.

    1. Yes, you can get your land out from under the sovereign — look up allodial land ownership.

  13. I think this is why Stockman’s article got published in the NYT:

    This dynamic reinforced the Reaganite shibboleth that “deficits don’t matter” and the fact that nearly $5 trillion of the nation’s $12 trillion in “publicly held” debt is actually sequestered in the vaults of central banks. The destruction of fiscal rectitude under Ronald Reagan ? one reason I resigned as his budget chief in 1985 ? was the greatest of his many dramatic acts. It created a template for the Republicans’ utter abandonment of the balanced-budget policies of Calvin Coolidge and allowed George W. Bush to dive into the deep end, bankrupting the nation through two misbegotten and unfinanced wars, a giant expansion of Medicare and a tax-cutting spree for the wealthy that turned K Street lobbyists into the de facto office of national tax policy. In effect, the G.O.P. embraced Keynesianism ? for the wealthy.

    The explosion of the housing market, abetted by phony credit ratings, securitization shenanigans and willful malpractice by mortgage lenders, originators and brokers, has been well documented. Less known is the balance-sheet explosion among the top 10 Wall Street banks during the eight years ending in 2008. Though their tiny sliver of equity capital hardly grew, their dependence on unstable “hot money” soared as the regulatory harness the Glass-Steagall Act had wisely imposed during the Depression was totally dismantled.

    I can’t say I disagree with him on much of it.

    1. I think the impact of Glass-Steagall is overstated, but the rest of it seems fairly accurate.

    2. The abandonment of fiscal rectitude happened long before Reagan. As Buchanan argued, it was pretty much chucked in the 60s.

      And “Keynesianism for the wealthy” is the kind of easy line that doesn’t really say anything.

  14. I’m interested in the objection to “profit”.

    Profit is bad because that money goes to the wrong people.

    You know, evil investors, in stead of noble laborers.

    1. But that money gets invested in capital, including labor, or saved in a bank, where it is loaned out to others. Right, or am I missing something?

      And what about the “take home money” of the laborers? Isn’t that “profit” in a way?

  15. am I missing something?

    You see that, and I see that, but the child’s-eye-view of the Occupy Wall Street dopes sees only the “taking” part of what is an exchange.

  16. Stockman presents an excellent summary of our financial woes, but some of his solutions make no freaking sense.

    Yeah, he has a definite tendency to pick up a big speed wobble when he gets to the “prescriptive” part of his presentations.

  17. Well, reading the thing from my viewpoint as a resident of Birmingham, in that oh, so famously bankrupt county of Jefferson, the first thing that comes to mind is “they want to clear out the slum cesspools around the freakin airport”.

    There is about a one or two mile deep zone around the Birmingham Airport that makes Detroit look like Disneyland. Fallen in and or burned houses, empty, falling in commercial structures, abandoned and overgrown manufacturing plants. It’s a mess.

    Of particular note was the ‘military department’ clause – pretty sure they want to expand the Air Guard facility to what, back in the 40’s, was a residential area that is almost all vacant lots and dilapidated remaining structures, but with the individual parcels still owned by people who don’t want to sell, nor do they want to live there because of the airport traffic (jets/noise).

    I do agree that this is probably the hard way to do it, frought with unintended consequences – but then Montgomery has a habit of doing that, and ‘fixing’ (ha!) it later. This is intentions tangled in lawyerspeak, not nefarious purpose afoot.

    1. My guess is it’s an elaborate ploy to get a NFL team in Birmingham.

      Re-start the old Birmingham Bolts franchise of the XFL? Hopefully, it’s an AFC team.

      1. We’d prefer hockey to come back. A lot of fun was had throwing ice cups at the refs. Bit of a stretch to make the field at Legion, unless you’ve got one hell of an arm.

      2. Last I checked, XFL was still an active trademark, so they must be doing some biz to keep it alive. The “X” doesn’t stand for anything. There are some minor league XFLs too, wherein the X stands for “Xtreme”.

  18. There is about a one or two mile deep zone around the Birmingham Airport that makes Detroit look like Disneyland. Fallen in and or burned houses, empty, falling in commercial structures, abandoned and overgrown manufacturing plants. It’s a mess.

    Does anybody really believe the local (or state) government is going to be able to successfully develop this land after private investors have failed? I, of course, immediately assume local government has played a starring role in creating the mess.

    1. White flight created the mess when the city demographic shift elected Richard Arrington 30 years ago. Since then, the in-metro population has dropped to around 220K people out of a regional 1.2 million. Yes, the outright theft and looting by a string of city and county officials plays a huge part in creating the vacuum.

      Because of the ironclad non-imminent domain rules, it was more economical for people to just let it all fall to shit, as it cost them nothing (likely not be seized even for non payment of property taxes).

      There’s a probability very close to approaching zero that the lunkheads in office will actually come up with any ideas that will work, but if the areas can be consolidated and offered in bulk (such as the old Chicago Bridge plant area, or the razed neighborhood areas or the ‘live in it free till it falls on us’ squatter crowd) then it might be possible to make it attractive to private firm expansion. UPS and Fedex are looking pretty cramped in the one little corner of the airport they have now. . .

    2. As for local yahoos having pivotal roles in the financial ruin of a circle jerk, yes, they played their supporting roles to the hilt (to the point a few are actually in jail at this point) – the catalyst, however, came from the EPA insisting on very high hurdles for the new sewage treatment plant the county set out to construct to replace the aging infrastructure that everyone agreed was putting (literally) too much shit into the waterways it emptied into. Thus, with the cronyism of no-bid spiraling out of imagined budget contracts, and shady financing readily offered to bribable officials, ker POW! The county went bankrupt – from a SINGLE public works project.

      1. And the widely held sentiment among the populace on this drastic and dire financial situation? *shrug* The main reason being that, without funding for pesky imperious bureaucrats demanding their palms get greased (they all got laid off), things are a lot simpler around here. No local dickheads messing in everybody’s business, no problem!

  19. I also assume the bigger is better fetishists can only envision a grandiose integrated large-industrial development (starring Fred Smith and hundreds of FedEx planes and trucks), and would rather see it continue as a wasteland instead of just suspending all zoning regulations and creating an enterprise zone accessible to small individual light industrial manufacturers and other entrepreneurs. Hell, they could even wind up with an edgy hipster artist/makerist community if they played their cards right. Who wouldn’t want that?

    1. If the government wants to regulate hipster businesses to death, I can’t see much of an issue.

    2. The hipsters are already carving out quite a large arts/crafts area in the vacant east central light industrial area of the city. There’s no lack of entertainment venues or styles to choose from on the weekends downtown.

      One good thing about living in a corruptocrat city in a bankrupt county, they’ve pretty well figured out that if they don’t fuck with people, they’ll generate tax revenues – as opposed to a bunch of empty buildings and lots. So there has been somewhat of a learning curve.

    3. As to the bigger better fetishism, yeah, the bill is rife with that. It doesn’t take 250 acres to set up a woodcarving/cabinet making shop. Still, a lot of what they’re targeting is already BIG (Chicago Bridge plant, former Hayes Aircraft hanger system), so it’s pretty easy to envision a new large manufacturing or some such activity in it’s place, despite the pols envisioning it with a Gnome business model mentality.

  20. Oh, and one more point about Alabama, that took a jab for the homebrew thing – we’ve also got a Medical Marijuana Bill working its way through the legislature (the first year one even made the agenda – woo hoo!). Planning on driving down to Montgomery myself on Wednesday for the vote hearing in the medical sub-committee.

  21. And the picture chosen for the article – speaking of ‘hipster Renaissance’ – if I’m not mistaken, that’s a not too flattering shot of a place called Sloss Furnaces, which was an iron plant in the heart of downtown that was active till the mid-70’s. Used to see pours in progress en route to the school I was attending downtown, which was visually stunning, but smelly as hell. It is no longer fallow, having been converted into an industrial museum and entertainment venue that is fairly well frequented with some pretty good shows.

    1. WRAX (remember that?!) would frequently sponsor shows for under-the-radar bands at Sloss (1998-2002), if I remember correctly.

      1. Unfortunately, was in Virginia during that period. Much to my regret.

  22. Google celebrates the birthday of Cesar Chavez but not Cesar Romero?

  23. I was more wondering what imminent domain is.

    You’ll find out soon enough.

    1. Especially when it’s imminently emminent. Yeah, it was MY fucking typo, so why not OWN the sonofabitch, eh?

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