National Leaders, Local Activists Fight for Private Property Rights & Local Culture

PRFA HOLDS NINTH ANNUAL SUCCESSFUL PROPERTY RIGHTS CONFERENCE

Eminent Domain Ruling Compels Interest in Private Property Rights

The theme of the gathering was a challenging one, “The Burning Quest—Rules of Engagement for Defending our Private Property Rights.” Expectations were high as people congregated early in the morning of October 22 at the Holiday Inn in Albany for the annual event sponsored by the Property Rights Foundation of America. The hot coffee and crullers failed to distract from the excitement and pleasure that attendees expressed as they met old friends and made new acquaintances of speakers and others. But would the property rights leaders, grassroots activists, citizens facing infringements, and policy makers who had traveled from near and far find the day worth their hopes, excitement and sacrifices?

The answer was unmistakable when the last speaker finished to a very attentive audience at 5:00 p.m. The Ninth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights was universally pronounced “the best ever.”

Promptly at 8:45 a.m., Carol LaGrasse, the president of PRFA, moved quickly from a few words of welcome to the message. The U.S. Supreme Court’s assault on the right to own private property in the Kelo v. New London ruling pierced the heart of the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against wanton eminent domain, she said. But this day was an opportunity. Top leaders speaking on great trends promised to offer inspiration, knowledge, and direction. Creative local activists would divulge plans of action to face off repressive government hand to hand.

“Set your goal, and fight to win,” she said, as she begin to list her “Rules of Engagement.”

“Speak your issue clearly, to be heard by the government and by those who can follow you,” she continued. She went on with a point-by-point roster of the standards that she recommends for successful citizen action, before wishing everyone a wonderful day.

Peter Blackman, a writer and attorney, gave the opening address, on “Property Law Today—The New Feudalism.” He had moved from New York to Louisa, Virginia, where he was confronted with the National Park Service and a local land trust when he tried to restore his house in accordance with a restrictive historic covenant. Earlier this year, he had testified before the Subcommittee on National Parks of the U.S. House of Representatives over proposed revisions of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Building on a review of the compromised understanding and respect for property rights among the American people and courts, Mr. Blackman urged his listeners to master “a compelling philosophical framework” to back up their efforts to protect private property rights. His opening address should be standard reading for anyone interested in understanding the meaning and importance of private property rights.

Kelo may have a silver lining,” Mr. Blackman said, for it is so disastrous that it may finally allow the voice of reason to be heard.”

“Selfishness has been the cross by which those wishing to abridge property rights have sought to crucify us from time immemorial,” he remarked as his speech drew to a close. “They profess to act in the interest of the public good, a public good that they so kindly define for us, a public good that coincidentally, promises to increase their organizational, bureaucratic interest, which generally amounts to mindless expansion. And yet, as Kelo has made plain to the masses, the supposed public good can be a cover for the truly selfish interests of a small group of developers.”

Turning the Tables to Defend Private Property Rights
Every so often, an individual arises from the treads of the bulldozer that ran over his private property rights to become a flag bearer for the cause. John Gile of Rockford, Illinois, was the victim of the National Wildlife Federation’s piracy of his copyrighted children’s book The First Forest. At the conference he delivered an inspiring speech about his “Successful Copyright Defense against the National Wildlife Federation.”

In a textbook case of copyright infringement, the Federation printed 547,000 copies of Mr. Gile’s book in its own publication without permission or compensation, and altered the book’s ending, which centered on forgiveness and renewal, to make it a story of crime and punishment. Because copyright protection is so important as a fundamental right, Mr. Gile declared at the conference, “It embarrassed them, but I decided to go bankrupt over this.” After a hard battle, he forced the National Wildlife Federation to admit to unlawful actions in federal civil court and to pay $350,000 for damages to his registered copyrights.

Mr. Gile refused to accept a gag order and next launched a national campaign for justice for copyright holders. “This is a crime, to be prosecuted,” he said, but “for three decades the Justice Department has not enforced the copyright law for small publishers.” “Copyright holders experience damages to our personal property,” he said, “and the loss of unpaid royalties.” He is asking the Congress and the U.S. Attorney General to protect the copyrights held by small publishers.

Raised on a ranch in Fort Laramie, Harriet Hageman, was the fifth of six children. The family put everything into their property. She came to the conference to speak about her work as an attorney based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, she said, “because it is related to the future of our community, family, and our country.” Her theme was “Litigating for Private Property Rights—A Western Perspective.”

“The Endangered Species Act is being manipulated, not for the benefit of protecting endangered species, but for the specific purpose of restricting land use on private property,” she emphasized.

She used the Preble’s Jumping Mouse and the introduction of the Canadian Gray wolf as examples of the perverse exploitation of the Endangered Species Act. Four Wyoming counties were determined to have habitat for the Preble’s Jumping Mouse, and had to provide mitigation for the mouse, although no such mouse was found in Wyoming and the Fish and Wildlife Service never could determine whether or not any particular mouse was, indeed, a Preble’s Jumping Mouse.

The Fish and Wildlife Service introduced the Canadian Gray Wolf to Wyoming in 1994, although it was not native to Wyoming and although the Canadian Gray Wolf is not threatened or endangered. “The introduction was for the purpose of restricting land use,” Ms. Hageman said.

One thousand animals a month are killed by wolves to eat and for sport, she said. Wyoming was known for its preeminent moose population and elk herds. Not only these, but the ranchers’ cattle and sheep fall prey to wolves. For every one killing of a domestic animal confirmed by the Defenders of Wildlife to comply with its much-publicized pledge of compensation, ten animals are lost to wolves. Ranchers are selling out to developers as result of wolf depredation. “The legacy of the Endangered Species Act is that we are losing our open space,” she said.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service spends millions yearly to establish the gray wolf, but considers it ‘unsuccessful,’” Ms. Hageman said. “They are really successful; they are limiting private property rights.”

Ms. Hageman has organized the Wyoming Conservation Alliance, because “fighting lawsuits is not necessarily the best thing.” She said that they review the Federal Register every day and notify their members of their discoveries. “Everybody in this country needs to get in on the front end. This is where so many decisions are made and this is where we have to be out there defending our rights.”

Citizen Action to Defend Our Property Rights and Local Traditions
“Basically, all I wanted was a new snowmobile trail. What happened was I ended up here,” said James McCulley. Unfamiliar with public speaking, the Lake Placid, New York, resident took the podium to powerfully describe his Successful Court Battle to Protect Old Mountain Road from the State Wilderness.”

“Old Mountain Road was an old town road,” Jim McCulley said. “We considered it was part of the old snowmobile system.”

“One of their favorite systems of taking our rights away is by creating a wilderness area. So they create a wilderness area and they shut down the roads,” he said. The State’s tactic to take the road is that “they keep calling it Forest Preserve land.”

“We tried to negotiate to save the road,” he pointed out.

“Each time, the Town of Keene and the Town of North Elba informed the DEC that they would not abandon the road,” he said. “They considered the road a part of the history and a part of their heritage and they would not abandon that road.”

On March 23, 2003, Mr. McCulley drove his snowmobile on the Old Mountain Road into the State Forest Preserve land in North Elba. When he returned, he telephoned a State Forest Ranger and requested that he be issued a ticket.

At the conference, he described how he argued his case at the town justice court. With no prior experience, he handled the cross-examination of the “State lands guru,” as he referred to the official, in the four-hour trial. He cited the 1885 law establishing the State Forest Preserve, which prohibits that State from doing anything to “prevent or operate to prevent the free use of any road, stream or water as the same may have been heretofore used or as may be reasonably required in the prosecution of any lawful business.”

When Mr. McCulley’s case finally reached the Essex County Supreme Court, the tables were turned against the State. In a 27-page decision, Judge Andrew Halloran ruled in March 2005 that Mr. McCulley was not guilty of using his snowmobile illegally on Forest Preserve land because the Old Mountain Road was a town highway.

Gretna Longware of Elizabethtown, New York, is the leader of “The Campaign to Save the Hurricane Mountain Fire Tower,” the subject of her speech. She brought to the conference her first-hand story of the battle to preserve this cherished 80-year old example of Adirondack cultural heritage against the State’s decades long campaign of attrition.

In 1973, the State decided to stop using the mountain-top lookouts as fire watches and gradually they were discontinued. But, Mrs. Longware pointed out, the towers remained very popular with the public to hike and visit.

“In 1987 the State Master Land Plan was developed making towers non-conforming use in Wilderness area,” she said. “Hurricane Mountain is now Primitive Area but the environmental groups want to change its classification to Wilderness, which means Hurricane must go!”

“A group of us have formed The Friends of Hurricane Fire Tower. We are asking the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) and APA (Adirondack Park Agency) to allow us to adopt the tower,” she said. “All it takes is a small piece of land under the tower to be designated as Historical.”

The environmentalists argue that the Hurricane Mountain Tower threatens the natural view that outdoor enthusiasts are looking for during their recreation, she said.

“We feel this tower is part of our history, our culture, and that we should have the right to ask for it to be left for us,” she declared.

A natural leader, Guy Poulin spoke about “Organizing Successfully against the Sacandaga Reservoir Regulating District.” His campaign two years ago to defend the shore-land owners around the Great Sacandaga Lake resulted from a chance reading of the legal notices in the local newspaper, the Leader Herald. The minute that the Northville resident realized that the landowners would suddenly be subjected to sky-high yearly access fees for using the reservoir he did two things. He dug into the facts about the law and the policy change and then he organized the property owners.

“I was called a liar,” he said at the conference. “I requested a copy of the fee schedule. They said that I had to FOIL it.” They soon had to copy it for him. His knowledge changed the temper of the public.

“I made 200 copies of this and got it around to the people,” he said. At the hearing at the school in Northville, there was space for 650 people, he said. “Eight hundred people came. They closed the doors. They were ready to lynch them.”

“Permit fees were only to be used to run the permit system itself,” he explained at the conference. Armed with the truth, the people would not back down.

The permit fee increases violated the state law establishing the reservoir. The downstream cities that are protected from flooding and the utility that earns income by operating the hydroelectric power dam are required to pay for the reservoir maintenance.

The angry crowds at hearings and the continuing stream of documents that Mr. Poulin dug out resulted in a roll-back of the illegal permit fees. The Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reform was directed to investigate the Hudson River Black River Regulatory District, which oversees the reservoir. The Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions was already digging into the finances of the hundreds of authorities and commissions in the state. Heads rolled at the governor-appointed board of commissioners of the District and the local office overseeing the access permits. Soon, media announced that the State Comptroller’s Office had jumped into the investigation. The light was finally illuminating the affairs of the insulated Hudson River Black River Regulating District. It began with Guy Poulin.

Organizing Against the New Jersey Highlands Preservation,” the talk delivered by Devlen Mackey, revealed the challenge of defeating a regional incarnation of a multi-state plan that boasts the intense backing of the high-powered environmentalists who have the ears of the governor and legislature.

Couched as forest stewardship to protect the water supply of nearby urban areas, the preservation agenda for the Highlands in northern New Jersey actually envisions a wide corridor of land that radical environmentalists see as one continuous wilderness stretching from the western Berkshires in Massachusetts, down through western Connecticut, across the lower New York Highlands, through northern New Jersey, across eastern Pennsylvania, to the federally preserved areas in the Appalachians.

Devlen Mackey and his wife Holly are the owners of Mackeys Orchard, part of an 800-acre-farm started by Devlen’s ancestors eight generations ago. They love the farming way of life. In addition to growing apples, nectarines, plums, peaches, and cherries, the couple also has a farm store with a bakery, homemade ice cream and fresh produce.

Mr. Mackey described the massive effort that the farmers led in hopes of defeating the legislation to preserve the Highlands. However, rallies and massive protests at legislative hearings failed to slow the enactment in 2004 of the New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.

“At Voorhees High School,” Mr. Mackey said, “they gave people a chance to speak. There were a thousand in the room and thousands outside.”

Thousands of people came to Trenton, the capitol, he said, packing a hearing room and the space outside. But, he concluded, “We were overwhelmed by the media stacked against us.”

Worse yet, natural allies would not stand together to defeat the legislation.

“The quarry association got an a one hundred percent exemption for the quarry business…Multiple developers purchased the line to go around them,” he said. “The Farm Bureau’s opinion was to get along. After they fought the Pinelands, the legislature wouldn’t talk to us for a few years.”

“I estimate that $8 billion of our assets and equity are gone with no form of compensation for us,” Mr. Mackey told the attentive listeners at the conference. He said that seven counties with eighty-eight municipalities now face fifteen zoning commission members solely appointed by the Governor. “Four hundred thousand acres are unbuildable.” He asked the leaders of the national property rights movement for help to restore the rights of the Highland property owners.

Keynote: The Successful Oregon Measure 37 Referendum
Bill Moshofsky
, the President of Oregonians in Action Legal Center in Tigard, Oregon, delivered the keynote address on “Regulatory Takings Compensation—The Successful Oregon Measure 37 Referendum.” Bill Moshofsky, who was vice president of Georgia-Pacific several years ago, has extensive private law practice, has served on many business and professional organizations, and has served as a volunteer nearly full-time for Oregonians in Action since 1989.

“We must get back to basics,” Mr. Moshofsky said at the conference. “The courts have failed to protect private property from regulatory intrusion.”

The way the law stands, he said, “If you have five percent use, you don’t deserve compensation. That’s ridiculous, if the owner loses the use, you don’t have anything left.”

Moreover, he said, “They fail to distinguish between nuisance and regulations that provide a public benefit.”

“To my thinking, it is hypocritical for courts to allow freedom of speech in any guise, when they don’t protect property rights,” he observed.

He referred to the 1978 Penn Central case, where, in a shattering defeat for private property rights, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed that the court could weigh, or balance, the public benefits against the regulatory impositions on property owners. “I don’t think of any case where the landowner recovered under that scenario,” he said. “Jim Burling told me last night that there was one landowner who recovered,” he noted.

In Oregon, sixteen million acres are zoned for farm use, he said, but less than two million acres are actually farmed and less than five million can grow crops, with the rest suitable only for pasture.

“Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” he questioned. “Basically it is a scam.”

He said that the “urban growth boundaries” established under Oregon’s statewide zoning are forcing the land prices up.“They call it ‘smart growth.’”

After citing other examples of the outrageous infringements on private property rights under Oregon’s land-use law, compellingly described in his book Regulatory Overkill, Mr. Moshofsky briefly related how they enacted Measure 37 for regulatory takings compensation last November. “The other side spent $3 to $4 million to defeat us,” he said, but the referendum passed by 61 percent of the vote.

Oregon’s new regulatory takings law requires that the state or local government compensate the property owner when an application is made under the procedure outlined in the law. Stated simply, if the agency is not going to pay the compensation, the landowner is exempted from the regulation. The reforms to the Endangered Species Act that Rep. Richard Pombo of California introduced into Congress late this summer are modeled after Oregon Measure 37.

The opponents of private property rights are battling in court to invalidate the Oregon law. “Just a week ago, a trial court decided Measure 37 is unconstitutional,” Mr. Moshofsky said, holding up the major newspaper with the headline “Judge razes Measure 37 land law.”

“We are confident Measure 37 is constitutional, and we are appealing,” Mr. Moshofsky said.

Threats and Directions to Strengthen Property Rights in America
James S. Burling
, Senior Counsel of Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, California, returned after seven years to the PRFA annual conference to describe first-hand the direction of the property rights movement with a talk entitled “Forward for Private Property Rights.” In his speech a few minutes earlier, Bill Moshofsky had referred to Jim Burling as “one of the nation’s foremost authorities on private property rights.”

“One of the problems we have in convincing the legislatures and courts in defending property rights is that, if you want to see what the real enemy is, in the morning you get up, and look in the mirror,” Mr. Burling said early in his address.

“The founders worried about the tyranny of the majority,” he pointed out. He asked rhetorically, who are the people who feel the impact of intrusions on property rights? “It is a real tiny minority: people with developable land, who want to develop, and can.”

“Our strategy, we at Pacific Legal Foundation, at Institute for Justice, and so on, is that we are looking at what happens to real life people when they run into these regulations,” he said.

“The Kelo case is a classic horror story of what happens when people live in their homes for many years and are kicked out.”

The Suitum case before the U.S. Supreme Court involved a widow at Lake Tahoe, he said. At one point, the government’s attorney argued that “property rights don’t have so much importance to people.”

Just then, he said, “Justice O’Connor leaned over and said, ‘Why don’t you just give this poor elderly woman her day in court?’”

“When you can talk about this widow not being able to use her property, that makes a difference,” Mr. Burling said. “You can talk about 80,000 acres, or 20 million acres arbitrarily regulated, but it is more effective if a one-quarter acre lot belongs to a widow.”

With dry humor, he pointed out some of the cases that have had immense positive impact on private property rights. He brought to life the explanation of the Dolan v. Tigard victory with the words, “I don’t see many people going by on bicycles picking up plumbing supplies.”

In this 1994 ruling, in a case brought by Oregonians in Action, the Supreme Court turned down the city’s requirement that the Dolans build a bicycle path to alleviate potentially increased traffic resulting from the expansion of their plumbing supply store.

But, Mr. Burling pointed out cases where property rights lost, such as the Supreme Court’s ruling in Chevron v. Lingle. “The Court can’t look at a regulation that doesn’t advance a significant government interest,” he said, referring to a Hawaii rent control case where it was shown that the practice of rent control failed to serve its purpose of controlling the retail price of gasoline. “The minute you talk about economics to courts, their eyes glaze over.”

Referring to the Kelo case, which was on everyone’s minds, Mr. Burling said, “It was a train wreck fifty years in the making.” But, in the 1954 case of Berman v. Parker, he said, “there was no widow.” In the next landmark eminent domain case, no sympathetic victim existed, either. “The 1984 ruling involved a land trust. That was okay,” he said. “There were no people.”

“After 1984, the Supreme Court opened the flood gates,” he said. “Kelo fulfilled the promise started in Berman. But Kelo caused excitement. There were old people.”

Robert J. Smith, Adjunct Environmental Scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., moved the discussion back 10,000 years with the subject of his talk, “The Pleistocene Park Project—Removing Civilization from North America.”

“On August 18, the world’s most distinguished science journal, citing twelve authorities, announced the plan for the world’s largest natural resources park, Pleistocene Park,” said “R. J.” Smith. “The plan calls for taking most, if not all, of the land in the Great Plains from the east side of the Rockies to the short grassland prairies—much of ten states, and one-fifth of the United States.” “The plan would return the ecosystem and all the large animals that roamed North America at the end of the ice age,” he said. “It would be completed in fifty years.”

“This is not a joke,” he warned. “The plan is deadly serious.”

The mammoths that once roamed the Great Plains are extinct, but many other species from Africa and Asia such as elephants, camels, and lions would be introduced and expand their populations across the prairies.

Mr. Smith tracked the individuals behind this scheme and earlier extreme environmental plans, including the radical Wildlands Project. He called to mind the fact that David Foreman and other radicals set the stage for modern eco-terrorism, and that David Foreman started The Wildlands Project with Reed Noss. “It was considered kooky when it was started. This crackpot scheme is now mainstream.”

“The Pleistocene Park is not an international scheme of the U.N.,” Mr. Smith pointed out. He explained that the Pleistocene Park project is a direct descendent of the Buffalo Commons, a plan by Rutgers University geographers, Frank and Deborah Popper, to de-privatize 20 million acres of the prairies, outlined in their 1987 article, “Planning the Great Plains from Dust to Dust.” Their rationale was that the population in many areas had dropped below the U.S. Census’s “settled” category of six people per square mile.

“The Buffalo Commons plan was first met with outrage,” he said. “Now the federal agencies think it’s cool.”

“The Pleistocene Park project is the first serious proposal for the depopulation of North America,” Mr. Smith said. “Don’t say you weren’t warned.”

R. J. Smith introduced Mark Bragg, who owns The Broadcast Group in Washington, D.C., which produces radio and television programs. After he went into private business, Mr. Bragg, who resides in Palm Springs, California, experienced the astronomical cost of complying with the Endangered Species Act. This led to his plan to form VESA, or Victims of the Endangered Species Act, to publicize documented stories of people who were hurt by the endangered species rules, to refute the environmentalist claim that the act has no human victims. He urged injured property owners to contact VESA. (Speech — “Endangered Species Act Victims”)

The Eminent Domain Battleground
James E. Morgan
, a property rights attorney in Delmar, New York, who has become familiar to attendees at the annual conferences, introduced the most anticipated panel, “The Eminent Domain Battlefield.” He and his partner Sheila Galvin, who announced the co-sponsorship of the luncheon by LandGuard, are participating attorneys in this nationwide legal service, which is affiliated with the staunch property rights group, American Land Foundation in Taylor, Texas.

Michael Cristofaro of New London, Connecticut, had the most difficult speech of the day. His topic was announced as “Local Citizen Organizing to Defeat Eminent Domain,” but his personal story overshadowed the theme of the talk and cast a heart-wrenching spell on the room.

He quietly described the patriotism of the Cristofaro family when their first home in America was taken by the City of New London in the early 1970s, supposedly for the construction of a sea wall. But afterwards, on his drive to work each day, he had to pass the private development that was built on the property instead. When the City of New London condemned their second residence for private development, the Cristofaro family refused to give up their house. The Institute for Justice took the New London property owners’ battle to the U.S. Supreme Court. People from across the country waited for the decision in Susette Kelo v. New London, which came on June 23. Outrage at the high court’s ruling swept the nation.

“That day I had the unpleasant task of telling my father that he’d lost the home his family had lived in for 35 years,” Mr. Cristofaro said.

But he did not lose hope. “We may have lost the battle at the Supreme Court, but we may have won the war against eminent domain,” he said.

Jim Malatras, Legislative Director for Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, brought the battle against unjust eminent domain in the Legislature to life with his discussion of “Eminent Domain Reform in the New York State Legislature.” Last year, Assemblyman Brodsky had successfully completed a two-year battle to pass legislation providing individual notice to property owners of eminent domain. This year, Mr. Malatras said, “What we are looking to do is to improve the eminent domain law.”

He said that they ask, “What tactical area are we overlooking to give citizens a fairer process in fighting eminent domain procedure?”

“What should be the role of public authorities in eminent domain?” is another question that they are asking, he said. Mr. Brodsky chairs the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions.

Mr. Malatras said that they want to deal with a number of problems, including technical impediments such as the shortness of the 30-day appeal period; current compensation not being sufficient to be a deterrent to unjustifiable cases; lack of transparency, such as the case of a seawall transposing into a hotel; and public authorities, whose public missions lack accountability to people.

The public authorities are a “shadow government,” Mr. Malatras said, naming the Empire State Development Authority.

“Put it back to democratic government,” he said, “so that local government can override condemnations.”

He also discussed narrowing the definition for eminent domain to “public use.” But he feared that even if eminent domain is confined to eliminating blight, eminent domain abuse will not be stopped. “Economic development will simply be called ‘blight,’” he ventured.

“This will protect affluent communities,” he said, but “what does one do to fix the system?”

“A key rule to winning the battle is to make the battle fair,” he said. “Today it is not.”

Craig M. Call, the Utah State Property Rights Ombudsman, returned to speak at the annual conference again this year about extending the state office to the federal government through “National Property Rights Ombudsman Legislation,” the subject of his talk. Much has happened since Mr. Call addressed last year’s conference.

During the eight years that the Property Rights Ombudsman has been in place in Utah, many successful examples of how property owners have been assisted have accumulated. Data demonstrating the benefit of the ombudsman to government has been gathered. Financial analysis now shows that the cost of eminent domain litigation to the State has been greatly reduced.

This year, Mr. Call’s office has published four practical booklets for the property owner, including “Your Right to Just Compensation—What to Do When the Government Wants to Acquire Your Land.” He has also written the definitive “Citizen’s Guide to Land Use Regulation.”

At a press conference in his home state of Utah two weeks after the Supreme Court’s Kelo ruling, Senator Orrin Hatch announced a bill known as the Empower Act to establish a federal property rights ombudsman to mediate disputes that arise when the federal government is using eminent domain. In October, the Senator held another press conference, this time in Washington, D.C., to herald the bill, which is modeled after the Utah ombudsman.

Mr. Call told a number of compelling tales about people whose property rights were protected because the ombudsman office worked for them.

“I’m not changing the law,” he explained. “I’m just trying to solve the problems people face.”

“The idea is to champion the dignity of the individual,” Mr. Call pointed out. “My job is to get them the same result they’d have if they went to court.”

“For some time, I’ve wished that I had a person to speak to at the federal level, a property rights ombudsman at the Department of Transportation,” Mr. Call said, endorsing the idea of a federal ombudsman.

“Every local agency using federal dollars should share appraisals with property owners, give contact information for property owners, and offer arbitration,” he said. “The reason for placing the ombudsman under DOT, is it is a funding agency, and does not condemn. They are stewards of the Uniform Act governing condemnation.”

“My support for the ombudsman is not meant to distract from the need that many perceive to change the law to accommodate Kelo,” he emphasized. “In Utah, we stripped the power of condemnation from redevelopment agencies, before Kelo.”

Steven Anderson, Coordinator for the Castle Coalition at the Institute for Justice in Washington, D.C., had the most challenging slot of the day, the closing address. He transformed that late hour with his dynamic speech on the topic of “Eminent Domain Reforms at Every Level.”

“Other than to end life by execution or incarceration, there is nothing more fearful that government can do than eminent domain,” Mr. Anderson said. “In the early days of the country it was called the ‘despotic power.’”

The Berman decision allowed “public purpose” for eminent domain, he said. “It follows a theory of urban blight that shares intellectual roots with the progressive movement.”

“These cases, Berman, Kelo, emboldened government,” he said. “They relegate the Takings Clause to a mere speed bump in the race for urban redevelopment.”

Kelo is the most significant property rights decision in half a century,” he said. “Under Kelo, every home and small business owner is insecure. Their property is up for grabs for a penny a plan.”

“From the point that the court defers to state or regional authority to interpret the Constitution, Kelo borders on lunacy,” he declared. “The courts owe no deference to the legislature on the meaning of ‘public use.’”

The claim by government agencies that eminent domain is only used as a last resort is a deception, he said. “Negotiation under threat of eminent domain is no negotiation at all.”

Leading the Institute for Justice’s campaign for grassroots action to pass eminent domain at the local, state, and federal level, Mr. Anderson travels the country to convey a clear constitutional vision of the restrictions that must be imposed on eminent domain. At a hearing held by the New York State Senate in Albany just three days before the conference, he pelted the presiding committee chairs with a barrage of concrete information about the use of eminent domain in New York, destroying the point made by several high level professionals testifying for New York City and the various associations of municipal officials that there was no need to change the state’s eminent domain law.

Steven Anderson’s speech made it clear that every citizen has the potential to play a powerful role in the battle to turn back Kelo.

Co-sponsors who generously helped to make the Ninth Annual Conference possible were the American Land Foundation, Civil Property Rights Associates, Homeowners Against Rent Kontrols (HARK), LandGuard, The National Center for Public Policy Research, New York Farm Bureau, Rent Stabilization Association of N.Y.C., The JM Foundation, and The Randolph Foundation. This was the second year where it was possible for conference participants to relax with each other for about an hour afterwards over light refreshments, while meeting the speakers.
The conference was a fantastic event, said R. J. Smith at the reception afterwards. “A thousand people should have been here.” - CWL

Full conference program

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