Government Playing with 'Corked Bat' in Stadium Game - National Center Cites Need for Eminent Domain Reform


Contact: Peyton Knight or Ryan Balis at (202) 543-4110
For Release: October 18, 2005

 

Washington, D.C. - The National Center for Public Policy Research is crying foul over the emergence of what it considers a dreadful American pastime - eminent domain abuse.

Over the next several weeks, Washington, D.C. government officials will begin the process by which they hope to seize the land of property owners along the Anacostia River to build a $535 million baseball stadium.

"The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution stipulates land can be taken for 'public use,' not public good or private benefit," said Peyton Knight, Director of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs for the National Center.  "As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted in her dissent to the Kelo decision, no one's home is safe.  This twisted interpretation of the law has potentially put every home and small business in America in the crosshairs of politically-connected developers and their unscrupulous government allies.  Eminent domain reform is needed soon, lest property rights continue to strike out in post-Kelo America."

The City has yet to hear from nearly half of the landowners whose property is targeted for the new stadium site. City officials will now look to condemn the properties and relocate the owners through eminent domain.

Steve Green, director of development in the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, told The Washington Times:  "We think there are some that we'll have good-faith negotiations with."

"Typically, 'good-faith negotiations' do not portray the buyer holding a gun to the seller's head," noted Knight.  "These negotiations have been tinged with bad-faith since April, when the City told property owners they had to be out of their homes by New Year's Eve.  Mr. Green can pretend he's dealing in good faith, but he's really playing with a corked bat."

Patricia Ghiglino, who owns a yellow-brick art studio in the path of the stadium, has vowed to take the matter to court.  Retired Army officer Kenneth Wyban also plans to go to court.  His pre-Civil War home that he has worked for years to restore, and had hoped to turn into a bed-and-breakfast, is also targeted for acquisition.

"I was born in Peru, and I never ever imagined something like this could happen here," Mrs. Ghiglino recently told the National Center.  "I think what is really upsetting is that they are stretching the concept of eminent domain for economic development... they are opening the door to corruption."

Ghiglino doesn't know where she'll move, only that it likely won't be D.C. because real estate prices are too high and she doesn't want to "get burned a second time."

Knight questioned the "public use" aspects of the stadium project. 

"Are the ballplayers government employees?" he asked. "Will a private entity profit from ticket sales and other revenues, or will that money go to government coffers?"

Property owners in D.C. are not alone.  In Riviera Beach, Florida, the local government is considering using eminent domain to displace 6,000 local residents.  Riviera Beach is mostly a poor, black community.  The "public use" in this instance is a billion-dollar waterfront yachting and housing complex.  A spokesman for the development company overseeing the project told The Washington Times that people with yachts need a place to keep and service them.

"A great aspect of America is the ability of the less fortunate to purchase and own property," said Mychal Massie, a member of the National Center's Black Leadership Network Project 21.

"Eminent domain abuse denies the people who the Framers cared most about the right to create wealth through property ownership," Massie added.  "This assault on our constitution not only denies them this right, but by forcing them out, it in effect creates other depressed areas that eventually will be claimed by the powerful for their own selfish gain. We must resist such tyranny at every turn."

In August Alabama became the first state to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling in Kelo by enacting broad protections against the taking of private property for the private economic use of another entity. According to the Institute for Justice, some 37 states have passed or are currently debating legislation to restrict eminent domain abuse. 

According to the Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm that represented the homeowner in the Kelo case, "a number of states have better-defined takings provisions than the language of the Fifth Amendment."  The Institute cites Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Washington, and Wyoming as the best examples.

The National Center encourages all states to adopt policies to prohibit governments from taking private property for economic development or increased tax revenue.  State and local laws that allow government to take so-called "blighted" property and transfer it to another private entity for economic development also should be reformed.

"One man's blight is another man's castle," noted Knight.  "Without proper restrictions and well-defined parameters, governments will exploit the blight loophole and continue to abuse eminent domain power."

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, non-profit educational foundation based in Washington, D.C.

For more information, contact Peyton Knight or Ryan Balis at (202) 543-4110.

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