Statutory – Enacted, regulated, or authorized by statute.
Rape – To seize, take, or carry off by force.
This past Saturday, June 21, 2008, my wife and I got together with a bunch of local folks and fellow activists to celebrate the relocation, reconstruction and dedication of Susette Kelo’s little pink house, the one made famous by the infamously, abominable US Supreme Court decision that essentially gutted constitutional protection for individual property rights. Even with the backdrop of a supposed “lost cause” the celebration was wonderful in its simplicity and its metaphors. More on that, later.
June 23, 2008 marks the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision which affirmed both the federal, state and local government’s power to condemn and seize private property and give it to another private party, the justification being “economic development.” In the words of former Justice Sandra Day-O’Connor, “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.” In the case of Kelo, the City of New London, gave its power of eminent domain to a non-elected quasi-public, non-profit organization, the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) to seize private property in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood as a means to to proceed with a large-scale plan to replace a faded residential neighborhood with office space for research and development, a conference hotel, new residences and a pedestrian “riverwalk” along the Thames River. Today, three years after the decision, there has been no new construction. There is a great crop of weeds growing there, though. I guess that makes it a greenfield instead of a brownfield, right?
Although I have a lot more to say on the subject regarding the eminent domain fight in Fort Trumbull (I was the corresponding secretary for the Coalition to Save Fort Trumbull Neighborhood) I really want to focus for the time being on two questions considered by most people I’ve talked to on the subject and are reflected in Carla Main’s insightful and moving book, “Bulldozed”. In a RealClearPolitcs review of her book, Main looks at two questions. They are, first; “How the heck did we get to this point?” and secondly, after reading about some little, old lady getting kicked to the curb, “Who are these people? Who would do this sort of thing?”
These are two great questions to ask in considering how the State of Connecticut, the City of New London, and the NLDC gave us this colossal legal, political, and economic mess. Unfortunately, they had a little help from a citizenry that was caught sleeping. We got to this point initially because we were being shoveled a tidal wave of glowing fantasies that fed into a void of political leadership along with hunger for a more diverse and sustainable economy. As much has been made of how the city of New London had been down on its heels, it was logical that the locals were ready for a major course correction, reversing the direction and trends the city had been moving in. In 1997 the city, was deemed a distressed municipality needing a massive infusion of grand list vitality. It was a fact back then that 54% of the properties in the city were tax-exempt and there was very little land available for development. So, in that environment and on the heels of Pfizer Corporation’s February 1998 announcement that their new “world-class, state-of-the-art” Global Research facility was being proposed for an abandoned site just south of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, most of the residents in this seaside, maritime community believed their ship had come in. Tax dollars and an wave of new-found pride would overwhelm the decades-old malaise that had paralyzed the city and finally, New London would be reborn! Add to this mix a visionary in the form of Claire Gaudiani, president of Connecticut College and NLDC promising to turn the windblown, empty streets of New London into a thriving enclave of students, scientists, artists, and upwardly-mobile professionals. She promised lattes, ferries, parks, and, lest we forget…more trees! In the words of Guadiani, this transformation would result in New London becoming a “hip, little city.”
With the NLDC ramping up their PR efforts for a “new” New London and Pfizer’s promise of jobs, tax revenues, and a new professional culture, many New Londoners were bying into the dream. Then the details began to emerge. It was all laid out nicely in the new Fort Trumbull Municipal Development Plan. Remarkably, the MDP mirrored the plans that Pfizer made for the peninsula. Of course, Pfizer would deny the charge. And so would Claire Gaudiani, whose husband, David Burnett was the director of Pfizer Research University. No matter how much they denied it, Pfizer was the “elephant in the room” when it came to why the Fort Trumbull neighborhood was to be razed. Read Ted Mann’s piece on “Pfizer’s Fingerprints on the Fort Trumbull plan.”
Over the years Gaudiani and the NLDC worked over the folks in the “Fort” neighborhood, yet consistently pointed to the reasoning that they were doing everything lawfully and with care and respect. As Gaudiani stated, “The NLDC followed every jot of the Connecticut law on planning.” She said they (NLDC) were not only about doing good, but doing it well. Nevertheless, the folks on the other end of her “good” weren’t doing all that well. But don’t try to convince the NLDC that their overtures were nothing more than gracious and generous. In a recent letter to the editor, former NLDC board member, Steve Percy tendered the same artful pretense when he stated, “Financial offers to property owners in the Fort Trumbull area were so financially attractive most owners accepted. Only in the case of five of the six plaintiffs in Kelo vs. New London and with two other individual property owners, was NLDC forced to use eminent domain, a decision upheld by the court.” Note Percy’s ethos. It promotes the belief that NLDC was first, generous and secondly, did everything by the books. Both of these statements are insulting considering the facts. Gaudiani, Percy and other NLDC supporters like to contend that most everyone who accepted the NLDC’s offers were happy with the offers. The fact is, (and I know this to be true because I talked to most of the residents of the Fort) a significant number did not want to sell or leave the neighborhood, but chose to do so because of the threat of eminent domain and the potential disruption of their lives due to ongoing demolition.
Considering that Percy and the NLDC were threatening eminent domain before the plan was certified (as required by law), they were violating state real estate statutes and redevelopment law. That’s a matter of public record. Yet the NLDC continues to says they did everything according to the law.
On the other point, Percy refers to the amounts offered to the homeowers as attractive offers. Gaudiani agrees and stated:
All in all, not bad. Not that money solves all problems of relocation, but thinking of the greater good of the community and the need to build a stronger tax base to help the real “little people,” I have always believed this to be a very fair settlement process. Unfortunately, those who remained in the project area and chose to fight the taking in court may have a tougher time obtaining replacement property in New London. However, most of this property is rental property, not individually owned-and-occupied structures. Still, everyone still there will benefit by the decision of the state to offer them a premium to move on peacefully.
The premium Gaudiani refers to was the offer by the State of Connecticut to provide honest appraisals for the value of the properties in the Fort neighborhood. The state was obligated, now that the case was in the national public eye, to give the homeowners legitimate value to the properties Gaudiani once called, “highly marketable real estate.” The fact is that Gaudiani and the NLDC wanted the properties on the cheap, yet were marketing them as extremely valuable.
Gaudiani’s wacky utopian version of social justice is distorted when it comes to who pays for that justice. As she was heard to say, “Anything that’s working in our great nation is working because somebody left skin on the sidewalk.” Unfortunately, the skin she was referring to wasn’t going to be her’s or Percy’s, but rather the skin of the weak, the poor, the undereducated, and the desperate. These are same folks she “uses” to be the reason for the needed increase in public funds that would come from the project. In the end though, her plan of social justice is another case of unjust weights. It does not make the person leaving their skin on the sidewalk whole. That’s called justice. Although Gaudiani makes a big deal of the principal of the “common good,” she fails to properly balance it with the important standard of “equity.” This is apparent in her attempts to instruct on the constitutional provisions of eminent domain. She subscribes to an ethic that places the common good above the principle of private ownership of property. As the Fifth Amendment notes,
“No person shall … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
So ultimately, if the government decides that personal property is to be seized for things such a hotel, health club, housing, a museum, a hospital, or a college, then just compensation is to be made. But what is just compensation. Consider what Anthony Gregory of the Independent Institute says about it:
There is another major difficulty in these reform proposals, as well as in all talk of Eminent Domain in general, and that pertains to the muddled concept of “just compensation.”
What is economic justice? In the market, any compensation that is voluntarily agreed upon by both parties to a transaction is properly seen as just. If buyer and seller or employer and employee are both willing to make a deal, their freedom to do so, at any mutually agreeable price, is the fulfillment of justice in the world of economic exchange.
Interference with this freedom, in the form of wage or price controls, taxation, or the outright prohibition of certain goods, is an injustice, an attack on the foundations of private property and on civilization itself.
The state, unlike market participants, does not make its transactions through voluntary persuasion and bargaining, but through violence and the threat of violence. Certainly in the case of Eminent Domain — which means “supreme lordship” — we see that the victims of seized assets have never consented, otherwise a pure exchange could take place that requires no police power. No such coerced transaction can be said to entail “just compensation,” since compensation is only just when the party being compensated agrees to the deal.
Oftentimes, the state claims it is offering a “fair market value” for the property it seeks to seize, but this is a sham. The market price for something is, by definition, the price that both parties consent to. In a fair market exchange, each party gives up something he values less for something he values more, or else he wouldn’t agree to it.
It is only through such a voluntary transaction that we can determine what something’s market value is in the first place. Market value is not universal, but particular to the assets exchanged in a specific transaction. For any given piece of property, there can be no market value without market exchange.
When the state has to rely on the coercive power of Eminent Domain, it is a sure sign that the property owner is not being given something he values more in exchange for something he values less, and it is a perversion of language to describe the compensation, however high, as having anything to do with the market.
The essential dilemma and resulting irony that Gaudiani’s “common good” creates is that by advocating for eminent domain’s use in the Fort Trumbull project, she signed on to a system that victimizes those with the least ability to advocate for themselves. Put simply, when she couldn’t convince by reason, she resorted to blunt force. Fortunately, the plaintiffs in the Kelo case were lucky to have a pro bono advocate in the Institute for Justice. Otherwise Gaudiani and the NLDC would have continued the pillaging of property and personal liberties with abandon and the blessing of the law. For Gaudiani, a member of the National Council for a Civil Society, it must be quite a dilemma to see her actions in the Fort Trumbull conflict being recognized as a model of tyranny and corruption. While she promoted a civil process, her organization represented the classic conflict between aristocrats and the proletariat. In the end, the NLDC decided to use the right of a government to forcibly seize the property of those living the American Dream for a risky venture. Essentially, their act was one of “Statutory Rape.”
“Great God in Heaven, save us from the humanitarians who are generous with the lives of other people’s sons. Amen.”— Tom Eddlem, “The Non-Interventionist’s Prayer”
National Center Blog – Amy Ridenour
Kelo-New London Aftermath – NewsBusters
New London Property Rights Case – Institute for Justice
Eminent Latitude – Washington Post
Filed under: Anthony Gregory, Avner Gregory, Claire Guadiani, Conflict of Interest, Corruption, David Burnett, Declaration of Independence, Eminent Domain, Ethics, Fifth Amendment, Fort Trumbull, Golden Rule, Independent Institute, Institute for Justice, John Rowland, Just Compensation, Leadership, New London, NLDC, Pfizer, Property Rights, Public Use, Social Justice, Statutory Rape, Sussette Kelo, Takings Clause, US Constitution | Tagged: Civility, Declaration of Independence, Eminent Domain, Ethics, Hypocricy, Just Compensation, Kelo Decision, Little Pink House, Pfizer, Private Property Rights, Public Use, Social Justice, Supreme Court, US Constitution | 5 Comments »