Notes From Babel

Greedy Holdouts

with 2 comments

Long Beach just voted to use eminent domain to shave off landowners’ property abutting PCH in order to make way for a right turn lane.  Notice how sympathetic the local Press Telegram is to the city’s beneficent agenda:

The City Council made the rare decision Tuesday to use its power of eminent domain to acquire a sliver of property along Pacific Coast Highway in order to widen the roadway.

The council voted 8-1, with Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske dissenting, to force the sale of the 9,934-square-foot strip of land in southeast Long Beach to create a right-turn lane on southbound PCH north of Second Street.

The property is behind City National Bank and in front of Hof’s Hut restaurant. The city will pay the property owner $655,000, which is an offer that the owner had rejected.

One thing that always bothers me about these stories is that the reporter will generally do a bit of research to report the long plight the local redevelopment agency has faced on a particular project in advancing the “public good,” but rarely gives the owners’ side of the story.  This is the case here:

Eminent domain gives governmental entities the ability to force someone to sell their property at a fair market value for the public good. Dennis Thys, the city’s director of Community Development, said the traffic mitigation project had been recommended in a 1998 environmental impact report for the Marina Shores Shopping Center located on PCH, south of 2nd Street, which is where the Whole Foods Market is located.

The often crowded intersection serves more than 85,000 vehicles per day and up to 100,000 daily during peak summer months, city traffic engineer Dave Roseman said.

“It’s an exciting time for the community,” said 3rd District Councilman Gary DeLong. “They have waited for this project for many years.”

Any comment from the owners or their counsel?  Any field research about the impact on the owners?  Any discussion of whether the $655,000 would actually compensate the owners for their loss?  Nope.  In fact, throwing out those kinds of numbers—big ones from a regular Joe’s point of view—without any context automatically makes the owners look like greedy holdouts standing in the way of the convenience of everyone else.  This version of the story goes one further, explaining not only did the owners inexplicably reject the city’s generous offer for this noble project, but the subject property merely “consists of landscaping and a single parking space.”  The nerve of those evil property owners!

I’m not saying I’m against this project (though I will say this intersection is certainly not of the particularly troublesome ones in Long Beach), but it is trouble that, even in the wake of Kelo and our Supreme Court’s well nigh complete abdication of judicial review of governmental takings, the media machine still insists that we automatically assent to the government’s use of this power, and to paint detractors as greedy enemies of the public good.


Written by Tim Kowal

February 17, 2010 at 1:52 am

Posted in Eminent Domain

2 Responses

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  1. It takes some nerve for the Press Telegram to assert that the use of eminent domain is “rare” when it comes to the city of Long Beach.

    Take a drive down Atlantic blvd. Nearly everything on Atlantic between Ocean Blvd and the 405 has been marked for condemnation. For the benefit of those who don’t know…the lone survivor of this takeover is a small church, which Attorney General candidate John Eastman successfully defended (with the help of Tim as part of his legal team.)


    February 19, 2010 at 3:59 pm

  2. Good point, Kyle. If Long Beach ever avoids the use of eminent domain it is only because owners buckle and settle under the threat of eminent domain rather than stick around and put up the costs to fight. When we fought for Filipino Baptist Church’s right to keep their building, we reminded the city that, when the church first took possession of the property, the city had promised that it would find a suitable place for the church to relocate if and when the city ever moved forward with redevelopment. When the city did seek to go forward with its plan to redevelop the church’s property, it offered the church a list of relocation sites consisting of a gas station, a saloon, a restaurant, and sites 10 miles away in Compton/Rancho Dominguez—making the non-taxable church the problem of another city entirely.

    Long Beach is far committed against using the abusive power of eminent domain.

    Tim Kowal

    February 21, 2010 at 12:51 am

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