Monday, September 22, 2014

Rail~Volution 2014 and Eminent Domain

Rail~Volution 2014 is a convention at the Hyatt Downtown Minneapolis from September 21-24.

The Rail~Volution mission statement is:  “people from all perspectives who believe strongly in the role of land use and transit as equal partners in the quest for greater livability and greater communities.

It's about land use -- taking and using other people's land -- the American way. Abuse of power.

Eminent Domain is the Latin term meaning Supreme Lordship, representing the high and mighty who decide the winners and losers in urban planning. Eminent domain takes land. It doesn't have to make sense.

Seattle seized a parking lot to turn it into a parking lot. They also tried to seize a little Latvian church for light rail tracks. After they heard opposition, they figured a way to not destroy the church, which had been previously moved for a highway. Sound Transit is also moving 12 business from the 9500 block of First Avenue NE for light rail. In 2005, Seattle tried to use eminent domain to seize John Fujii's parking garage for the Seattle Monorail, which only needed a third of the property temporarily. The Monorail hoped to sell the property for a profit once it was done with it, but the project fell through.

Utah state law says public transit may not acquire property by eminent domain, but they are trying to seize a furniture business (old link) for a new transit garage.

Richfield, Minnesota sounds like the sort of place that has money and doesn't have to take property. But it wanted Best Buy, a business that sounds like it makes money, to build its headquarters in Richfield. So they threatened to apply eminent domain on homeowners and businesses, condemning properties by saying they didn't have enough insulation to meet new laws. Everyone agreed to sell instead of receiving nothing, except a car dealership. Richfield claimed the Walser car dealership made too much noise. Not the nearby airport, the car dealership. After a legal battle, the parties settled. Best Buy got its 1.4 million square foot headquarters with room for 7,500 employees. In July 2012, they had 4,760 employees left and have since went through two sets of layoffs. They have plenty of space to lease (leasing brochure). And Richfield has a 24 year tax incremental financing plan.
TL;DR - Richfield bet on Best Buy over residents and small businesses.

Dakota County, Minnesota tried to seize a 10-acre family home allegedly for a bike path, rejecting the property owner's offers of an easement. The case went to court and was settled in 2014. In early 2008, Eagan rushed to seize properties without a plan or a developer, land banking, because a new law prohibiting taking private land for private developments was about to go into effect.

Atlantic City, New Jersey was a pawn in an eminent domain battle over 127 South Columbia Place. Their Casino Reinvestment Development Authority had seized hundreds of properties to build the Atlantic City casinos, but homeowner Vera Coking did not want to sell her home. The property was desired by Donald Trump as a limousine parking lot for Trump Plaza. Vera Coking said Trump was a maggot. Coking and the Institute for Justice fought off CRDA in court in 1998. Trump Plaza closed September 23, 2014 (the 4th Atlantic City casino to close this year), and the Coking home sold in July 2014 for $530,000.

And the CRDA is still trying to seize more properties for casinos, as if Atlantic City is some giant game of Monopoly®. CRDA wants Charles Birnbaum's Oriental Avenue property. They don't know why. “There’s no plan. There’s no particular thing for which this property is being taken,” said attorney Robert McNamara, representing Birnbaum.

NJ Transit had been seizing land for a proposed ARC tunnel under the Hudson River, even though NJ Gov. Chris Christie cancelled the project in October 2010. Four years later NJ Transit is still taking land for the project, appealing a 2012 verdict valuing the land at $8.15 million. NJ Transit also missed a legal opportunity for $2 million of clean-up costs for the land.

North Kansas City wanted to have it their way by seizing a Burger King. They didn't have a plan. Their developer was bankrupt. The District Court of Appeals found the city (pop. 4,208) did not have the authority to condemn Burger King for the “public purpose of eliminating blight.”

Chicago used eminent domain to seize a cemetery. The fight lasted three years. The area is now being paved over for O'Hare Airport runway 10 Center

Maryland's new $2.43 billion purple line light rail train has a list of 500 properties to be seized, including 170 temporary condemnations that would be returned to the property owners after construction is over.

New London, Connecticut is the most famous case of eminent domain, Kelo v. City of New London. The city and state fought small homeowners to clear land for developments related to Pfizer. Then Pfizer left town.

Canada takes advantage. A rancher in Roseburg, Oregon will have a natural gas pipeline running through his property according to Veresen, a Calgary company. Also, the company owning the Missoula, Montana water supply is selling the rights to Algonquin Power's Liberty Utilities of Canada to prevent Missoula from seizing the water supply through eminent domain.

Civil Rights
Fifty-eight percent of those targeted by local municipalities' exercises of their eminent domain power were minorities, compared to only 45% of people in surrounding neighborhoods that were not similarly targeted, according to a study of 184 eminent domain instances across the country [Victimizing the Vulnerable].

In Richmond Virginia, Longwood University regrets using eminent domain during the civil rights era  to cause “real and lasting offense and pain to our community.”  Longwood University says they “acted with particular insensitivity with regard to the relocation of a house of worship” through the seizure of the Race Street Baptist Church in the mid-1960s through eminent domain, a process that displaced both white and black families in Farmville.

“Forty years ago, eminent domain was used to tear the heart out of many communities.  It displaced residents, tore apart familes, friends and lives.  Some lives and some people never recovered.  The 1960s were a heyday of eminent domain.  We used the tool to acquire land for highways in urban areas.  At times, there was no doubt a tendency to place highways through poor, minority neighborhoods that would have the least ability politically to fight back.  In places like Chicago, highways were just as often used to create a barrier between the ruling Irish and African-American neighborhoods.  The 1960s were the heyday of urban renewal as well. Whole neighborhoods were razed in many cities in an effort to redevelop them.  In St. Paul, this kind of tool was used to clear out the West Side Flats, the Upper Levee, Rondo (through I-94), the Central Park and parts of the Capitol-Cathedral Hill neighborhood. What unites these neighborhoods again - largely not an accident - is that they are largely poor, minority, and immigrant neighborhoods.” - e-Democracy, St. Paul

St. Paul's population peaked in 1960 at 313,411.  Swede Hollow was one of the first neighborhoods of St. Paul and one of the first to be levelled. St. Paul evicted the residents of Swede Hollow on December 11, 1956 and set the homes on fire. Twenty years later in 1976, the city declared Swede Hollow a nature center. In 2014, officials toured Swede Hollow Park to see what they would be destroying for new Rush line train tracks.

Compare that to what was recently done to businesses on University Avenue.

Is this the “greater livability and greater communities” that Rail~Volution wants?

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