Attendees Arrived Early, Stayed Long Afterwards
Seventh Annual Conference on Private Property Rights A Great Success
Cutting Edge Information Held Participants' Rapt Attention
An infectious spirit filled the air. Early in the morning people from around the country gathered in the lobby, meeting each other excitedly over coffee, bagels and pastries. Many had seen each other a year earlier. Some were meeting for the first time after conversing by telephone many times. Others were meeting people whose ideas they admired. When the time arrived, they were ushered into the main conference room, where the opening address soon began.
From the first speech, through the luncheon address by Dana Berliner, to the exact hour of 5:00 p.m. when the final speaker and a last announcement were over, the packed audience kept their seats listening and asking questions with rapt attention.
Don Parmeter, the president of the Northland Alliance in Minneapolis, Minnesota, immediately engaged the participants with his opening address entitled, "Grassroots ActionChanging the Way We Govern Ourselves." He told how he had grabbed the reins out controversy to head a citizens council that never gave the National Park Service any respite in Minnesota. The idea, he said, drawing from his military training, is, "If you want to win the battle, you have to control the battlefield." And he did just that, pulling the rug out from under the National Park Service when they sought to convert 15,000,000 acres around the Voyageurs National Park to an international UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. After winning that battle, he went on, always digging out the truth about legislation, catching land-grabbing bureaucrats in downright lies, and even making allies in the Soviet Union who told him, "You've got a problem with the bureaucracy in your country!" They admonished him, "If they're taking your property, you've got to stop them."
In his speech, Mr. Parmeter used the threat of water basin planning as the example that must be organized around and outlined the most important basics to reverse the mistakes of the past by "people who have let freedom get away." Don't neglect suburbanites, he said. "They like freedom."
Report from New York
Jeff Williams, a New York Farm Bureau expert on lobbying to defend private property rights, gave a talk about "Property Rights Bills in the New York State Legislature." "The issue of private property rights in the state is in a bad state," was his opening remark. Before describing some of the threats in the legislature, he remarked that property rights bills "affect your home, land, and even your insurance." He said, "The Farm Bureau has seen a decline in the ability of those with sympathy of our viewpoint to stand up."
However, he declared, "Something will change." Considering smoking policy, he remarked, "As far as winter coming on, smokers are gonna get cranky standing out in 20 degree weather." He told the saga of the battle over the "Canned Shoot" bill, which would have effectively outlawed game farms. The Farm Bureau led the bill to defeat by a Governor's veto after it passed both houses of the Legislature. But an animal shelter bill that requires insulated dog houses, heated in the winter, passed the Legislature. Another bill that the Farm Bureau saw successfully defeated was one allowing local regulating of hunting and fishing. But hunters came close on that one, game farmers nearly lost the canned shoot bill, and a bill to prohibit open burning statewide and one to prohibit "fugitive light" are some legislators pet projects.
Stuart Shamberg, the founder of Shamberg Marwell Hocherman Davis and Hollis in Mt. Kisco, displayed a remarkable ability to make sophisticated legal concepts intelligible to people with no training in law while holding the intense interest of experts. Describing one day in July 2002, he said that the New York State Court of Appeals took on three cases apparently just to say that the Appellate Court cannot overturn local zoning boards if any evidence exists to support them. "The Court of Appeals is sending a message. Do not touch the determinations of the Zoning Boards and the Town Boards If you lose, there's not much redress that you are going to get in the courts."
In another case, that of Bath Petroleum, Mr. Shamberg said, a New York Appellate Court left unassailable the arbitrary administrative determinations of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Court of Appeals refused to hear the case. New York jurisprudence now stands so that if an administrative agency offers any "rational basis," however illogical, the court will overturn not the agency. (speech)
Conservation Easements and Land Trusts
In her lucid talk about Conservation Easements, Professor Julia D. Mahoney, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia School of Law began with the words, "The idea of preservation is an extremely problematic one." She said, "Conservation servitudes have been used to protect literally millions of acres of lands." Yet, she raised questions about the feasibility and desirability of making decisions in the present to bind future generations.
Prof. Mahoney said that, as a legal scholar, one thing that's very striking to her about conservation servitudes is that they are engineered to be very difficult to undo. She said, "The objective is to prevent the reunification of the interest to the property owner."
Jay H. Lehr, Ph.D., came from his organization Environmental Education Enterprises in Ohio, and the Heartland Institute in Chicago, where he is the Science Editor, to issue a warning about land trusts. He pointed to the fundamentals of capitalismno central planning, and an economic system based on property rights, which requires freedom; on markets; and on the rule of law, which requires the ability to make contracts. His powerful talk demonstrated that the land trusts are using the facets of a free, capitalistic society to advance Marxism.
Keynote AddressEminent Domain for Private Gain
Dana Berliner hit home in Albany, the capitol of New York State, with her keynote address, "Eminent Domain for Private Gain." As Senior Counsel at the Institute for Justice in Washington, D.C., Ms. Berliner defends property owners all over the United States when local government declares their house or business "blighted" and condemns the property for development by another private party, invariably a big developer. She said that New York is one of the worst states in the nation for eminent domain. Just a few weeks before her speech, Governor Pataki vetoed a bill that would have required personal notice to private property owners in time for them to challenge condemnation of their property. The Institute for Justice has been fighting a group of cases in Port Chester, New York City, and North Hempstead where small businesses and a Pentecostal Church were condemned for development. The case in Port Chester is proceeding through the court on the issue of adequate notice. Ms. Berliner urged the people to become involved in local property rights. Citizens are invited to join the Institute's "Castle Coalition" where individual activists are trained in defending property owners from eminent domain.
New Threats to Private Property Rights
With her talk on "Scenic BywaysInnocent-Sounding Land management," Susan Allen brought before a very interested audience her many years of researching the skillfully built foundations that swell into difficult property rights restrictions. She displayed reports, maps, documents from interlocking programs, and successions of preservation plans in the northeastern Adirondack region, and described the key attributes of each. An attentive listener could see the juggernaut that was gradually built into lavishly funded federal and state programs like Scenic Byways, Heritage Areas, and watershed management, to the detriment of property owners' rights. Ms. Allen, who with her husband owns Adirondack Maps, is the publisher and editor of the objective Adirondack Park Agency Reporter, now in its twelfth year without a missed monthly issue.
A classic. This was the talk by Joseph Havranek, who with his wife Kelli, organized the Rondout Landowners Alliance to face off against the local towns of Marbletown and Rosendale in Ulster County, N.Y., when the property owners were threatened with a secretive plan to build an access trail along the abandoned Delaware & Hudson Canal. It turned out that they really face the National Park Service and that the trail stretches across the state from the Hudson River to the Delaware, but they have already beaten back the threat of eminent domain and embarrassed the local officials into disavowing the trail. After Mr. Havranek's talk, Peter LaGrasse called the speech a "classic" that should be heard by every citizen who intends to organize to defend property rights. Working originally in the dark, Joe and Kelli Havranek brought the truth to light and drew the entire community behind them in defense of the future of their town.
Speaking of the trail route, Joe Havranek said, "Only a small part of the land was not privately owned. That's one of our biggest concernsthe land. We own the land. We love the land."
"You cannot have a free society without people owning their own land and their own property," said Robert J. Smith, as he began his totally engaging discourse on "Invasive SpeciesIntrusive Regulation." Mr. Smith, who is the President of the Center for Private Conservation in Washington, D.C., began with a short overview of recent decades of schemes and programs to regulate and acquire private property for government. He recalled when Bill Reilly, who once headed the Council on Environmental Quality under Richard Nixon, said, "Private Property rights are a quaint anachronism which society cannot afford." Today, Mr. Smith said, "Even under the Bush Administration, land acquisition is still going on."
"Invasive species regulation is the next big threat to private property rights," declared Mr. Smith. "What is an invasive species? Anything your neighbor doesn't like." He said, "The hard core purists say that an invasive species in anything non-indigenous to the U.S. or any area you're in." He said that Dutch elm disease is an example of what an invasive species can do. Starlings and sparrows took over the bluebirds. But much of our cropswheat and potatoes: hunted speciesring-neck pheasants and brown trout, could be classified as invasive species. "The greens hate tall fescue, the major turf grass of the United States," he said, continuing on with examples of the many species that have become staple to our way of life and agriculture.
R. J. Smith's talk expanded into the regulatory domain, first with examples demonstrating that the federal government already has the power to ban and control species that could present dangers. He pointed out many more ironies, how the greens are now battling the dropping of fast-growing grass seeds on lands laid barren by wildfire, because tiny mounts of non-native seeds could be contained in the mix. But there is already a blitz to institute regulation of invasive species, he said, describing the dismaying progress of multiple agency efforts to get invasive species legislation through the Congress without a word about protecting private property rights from the Farm Bureau or the National Cattlemen.
Prospects for our Heritage of Private Property Rights
James E Morgan of Galvin and Morgan, Attorneys, in Delmar, who chaired this panel, opened the discussion with an impassioned statement, "There are new reasons for us to be optimistic." He pointed to the recall election in California and the groundswell of devotion to property rights demonstrated by the gathering this very day. He said that he believed that a new spirit will bring change in this country.
Aloysius Hogan, Legislative Director for Senator James M. Inhofe (R Ok.), who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, gave a "Senate Perspective on Private Property Rights." He said that, in his view from the Senate, there are three groups we have to deal with: the eco-radical groups, the trial lawyers, and the government unions. These three conspire for more bureaucracymore money, which usually devolves into more central planning. He said that the twelve top environmental groups have formed the "green group," which takes positions on issues, usually by co-signed letter. A similar property rights group is needed. He said that the Senate has not heard about opposition to Scenic Byways. He said that the opposition is now polarized and that one person can make a difference.
Andrew M. Langer, who is Manager of Regulatory Policy for the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Washington, D.C., described a coalition to overcome the inside-the-beltway mentality of "not knowing where the next great idea is." He said that over 150 activists organized by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform have formed a loose coalition that is meeting every week. Mr. Langer said that another loose coalition is meeting with him regularly. He said, "The property rights movement must become as indispensable to the Congress as the taxpayer group is." He suggested that we begin by "holding politicians accountable" with a "property rights protection pledge."
"Winning Disabled Access to the State Forest Preserve" was the topic of Alvin O. Sabo, a partner in the law firm of Donohue, Sabo, Varley & Armstrong in Albany. He was introduced by his client Ted Galusha of Warrensburg, who has been fighting for motorized access to the forest lands for many years. Mr. Sabo said that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that the agency make available a reasonable solution to the problem of disabled access. They do not have to put an elevator to the top of Mt. Marcy, because that would be unreasonable, he said, but they do have to afford handicapped individuals the same experience of the quiet of the wilderness as the general public. The settlement of the Galusha lawsuit allows disabled access over motor vehicles roads used by DEC personnel.
Afterwards For many of the participants, the conference was not over at the end of the day, as people stayed to discuss their plans over informally organized meals together. It was at one of these small gatherings that it was said that these successful annual conferences sponsored by the Property Rights Foundation of Americathe only such events of national scopemust reach many more people in the future.