The citizens have a deep concern about eminent domain being misused. Well back up, we’ve never taken anybody’s home. They were scared, they were afraid, you mean we’re going to lose our job? Abuses such as these happen and it’s important to understand that. When they go home, that’s their place of refuge, that’s their sanctuary. That’s sacred to them. It should be over, but it’s not. A man’s home is his castle. Okay, I know it sounds kind of cliche, but for anyone who actually owns a home, it really is true. Homeowners take great pride in the fact that they can do whatever they want with their homes, without interference from anyone else, including the government. But are they right? In fact, there’s something in the Constitution called “Eminent Domain,” that gives governments the power to take your property- even if you don’t want to sell. Eminent domain? Define eminent domain? Eminent domain? I’m gonna let him speak first. Like this is mine, right here, right now. Do you know what eminent domain is? Isn’t that where the government can take whatever they want? Is that like M&Ms, M&M’s domain? Eminent domain is the concept that allows government to take property, and pay you for it. The Founding Fathers wanted to create a nation of free people, and they wrote the Constitution to protect individual rights from government power. The founders believed that one of the most important individual rights is the right to own property. But the Founders also made an exception to this rule. The 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that governments may take private property, but only under certain conditions: The property must be put to a public use, and the property owners must be provided just compensation. This practice is called Eminent Domain. An example of this is the construction of the Interstate Highway System. Eminent domain was used extensively whenever property owners would refuse to sell their property to the government. Throughout most of our country’s history, local governments have used the power of eminent domain to take private property, in order to convert the property to public uses, like schools, hospitals and roads. But in the 1950s, the city of Washington, DC made plans to use eminent domain for a different reason. The city wanted to force out property owners, and tear down old buildings and houses, in order to build a nicer community. Some property owners objected, arguing that this kind of urban renewal project was not a legitimate public use. In 1954, the US Supreme Court voted in favor of the city, and Washington, DC officials used eminent domain to rebuild the run-down neighborhood from scratch. Ever since then, governments have used eminent domain for more than just public uses, like roads and schools; they’ve also used eminent domain to transfer property– from one private owner, to another private owner… …in the name of economic development. I think a city has a responsibility to maintain their housing stock, and to make sure that people live in good quality homes. Bruce Broadwater is a city councilman and former mayor of Garden Grove, California. Redevelopment feeds on itself, I mean basically it pays itself back. And it’s just such a great tool to use, and eminent domain is a part of that. Unfortunately, over the history of our country, governments have taken to use eminent domain for private uses… Steven Greenhut is a journalist in southern California who has written extensively about eminent domain use. …to take private property from homeowners such as these, and give it to big developers. And “due process” means reading about the project in the newspaper after it’s already been approved. And “just compensation?” Well, cities often short-change the owners, they give low-ball offers, don’t pay the lawyer fees, They call it a tool in their arsenal, which is kind of like calling a machine gun put someone’s head a tool– but that’s the basic idea. The use of eminent domain is a delicate tool, but it is a tool…and it helps keep a community clean, it helps keep a community vibrant. It’s a good tool and definitely, I don’t think it should be taken away. We’re not talking about unsafe, terrible neighborhoods. We’re just talking about neighborhoods that some developer might covet to build something that pays more in tax revenue than is currently existing. If you think eminent domain sounds complicated, you’re right– it is! So let’s look at how it works in real life. We met a few people whose lives have been affected by eminent domain, and found out how much they care about their homes and businesses. To them, the idea of property rights is more than just a legal concept, it’s also very personal. All across the country, cities are using eminent domain for redevelopment. In Arcadia, California, Manny Romero has owned a popular 50s-style diner for the past 10 years. The city wants to use eminent domain to tear down his diner, so that a neighboring Mercedes dealership can expand its parking lot, which would increase tax revenues for the city. I’ve been coming to this restaurant for about 50 years. I’ve been in southern California for 35 years. I own Rod’s Grill for 10 years. The waiters, waitresses, cooks, they’ve been so good, you know, to not just myself and my family, but to everybody else in Arcadia. It’s always been kind of a family place. I like their shakes, their shakes are really good. The city wants to see this torn down and become a car dealership. Because they’ll get more tax money from the bigger business. The fundamentals of eminent domain is it’s supposed to be only for public use. And then I realized that the city is saying this is to expand Mercedes Benz. And I said, “Wait a minute, this is not the proper way of using eminent domain.” And I told them I’m not going to sell it because they are not telling me they want this property to put a school, library or any public service use. They want it to tear down, just so they can park Mercedes Benz. What about us? The citizens of Arcadia have a deep concern about eminent domain being misused. I am in debt for a lot of money. My savings is running out. Most of my staff that is here, has been here for a long, long time. All these people will be out a job. I hope no one ever has to go through what I’ve been going through. This is America. This is a country with free enterprise. You have all the rights to own your property; your own home, your own business. You have the right to build your American dream. Princess Wells owns a home and business in the seaside community of Riviera Beach, Florida. Mayor Michael Brown and city officials, are leading efforts to redevelop 800 acres of waterfront property where Princess Wells and 5,000 other people live. My house, we’ve lived there for over 25 years. Hard work. Children. Love. We built the house in approximately 30 days. When you build it yourself, it’s awesome, it’s important to you. It’s a nice, quaint, middle-class neighborhood. We are like prime property, you know, we are so close to the ocean. It’s wrong to be able to come out and take it, because I worked hard for it. If they take it by eminent domain, therefore they won’t have to pay us what our house is worth. And they can take that same property- and they can sell it for millions. And I had no idea that one day they’d just, would not want me to be here, just because I don’t have enough money! If redevelopment plans go forth, Princess Wells will lose her home, and her business as well. If I have to move my business, I’ll have to do everything from ground level one, all over again. Mayor Brown has stated that they are going to continue and that they are not going to stop. The threat of eminent domain still looms. Now let’s take a look at the Susette Kelo case. This case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 2005. It sparked a huge debate about the importance of property rights. The case involves homeowner Susette Kelo and her neighbors versus the city of New London, Connecticut. When I first came here with the realtor, I walked in the front door– it was like I had been here all of my life. It was just an overwhelming feeling when I walked in this place. In 1998, the city condemned 115 properties in order to build a private health club and office buildings to support the development of a local pharmaceutical plant. Fifteen property owners did not want to sell, so the city used eminent domain to seize their properties. There were– if I can count them– 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8– there were 9 houses spanning this street here. Everybody knew everybody, if you went to work, the neighbors watched your kids… and that’s the way it was. In the spring of 1998, the city of New London came out with a municipal development plan that said that the homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood would be taken by eminent domain. They thought that they could place something here that would bring more taxes to the city. This was here, the penny candy store. And the grinder shop, this was the Chivals’s deli. When this first started, there were 90 properties in this neighborhood. The first ones that sold were the absentee landlords. And then after that, they went after the elderly. It was the day before Thanksgiving, that they came to my house with a sheriff. And they handed my mom the condemnation papers, basically condemning the property. And this here is where the Pascalini’s lived. Mrs. Pascalini was a hundred years old when they made her leave last summer. A hundred years old. And after that they came after us. We bought billboards, we wrote letters to the editor, put ads in the paper, we went door to door, we had petitions, we went to Hartford, we met with the historic people, we met with everybody- trying to– not stop the development, understand. We never wanted to stop it, we just simply wanted to stay. He had an autobody shop. They took that by eminent domain — they tore that down. So, not only did he lose his home, he lost his business as well. We fought for 9 long years. And unfortunately, the US Supreme Court ruled against us, which I was really shocked. They basically just stripped everybody’s property rights away from them. Eminent domain is supposed to be used for your typical, you know– to build a school, a reservoir, a police department, you know, to widen the roads. But not for economic development. Now they’re saying they could take your property if someone can generate more property taxes than you. Is that right? Wherever we go, we would be fortunate to… …we would be fortunate to ever find people, like the people that were here, in our lives again. Surely good people. With the whole country watching, the Supreme Court made a very controversial decision. In a 5 to 4 split decision, the Court upheld New London’s right to use eminent domain. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the decision. In it, he wrote: But four out of the nine judges disagreed. They said that if eminent domain can be used for any public purpose, then all property is at risk– especially property owned by poor people without political influence. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is one of the judges who disagreed with this decision. She wrote: The Kelo decision was a victory for city planners, but many people believe the decision gave the government too much power. You don’t take stuff that doesn’t belong to you. And that’s the way I was raised, that’s the way I raised my children, and that’s the way most people think. You don’t take something that doesn’t belong to you– and you certainly don’t take people’s properties or their homes. These are our homes. So what about your home or mine? Is everyone’s home at risk? The use of eminent domain increased dramatically after the Kelo decision. At the same time, concerned citizens across the country began working to reform eminent domain laws. In fact, after the Kelo decision, more than 30 states placed limits on eminent domain use. We have to put property rights first, we have to allow people to be free and live their lives as they choose. And the way to enhance older neighborhoods– and there are some crummy older neighborhoods– is to free the market. There are people that think that property has more rights than human beings! There’s no reason to let a community become a sewer. We’ve seen so much of that throughout the United States. As the debate rages on, more and more Americans are asking themselves this basic question: Who should make decisions about how property is used? The people who own the property? Or the government? So what do you think?