Speakers Inspire with Practical Accomplishments and Ideas

SUCCESS! PRFAs Eighth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights

Private Property Rights — The Uniting Principle for Fairness & Justice

The people who traveled from as far as the States of Maine and Washington to PRFA’s Eighth Annual National Conference in Albany, New York, were bustling with enthusiasm. After meeting speakers and reuniting with old friends over a buffet breakfast, just before 9:00 a.m. they crowded into the conference hall at the Holiday Inn. They listened intently until 5:15 p.m. to speakers from New York City to Santa Ana, California, describe their accomplishments and directions in the defense of property rights.

Best-selling author and international affairs journalist Richard Miniter came from Belgium, where he founded the Brussels Institute, to discuss private property rights from an international perspective. His opening address focused on one thing: winning.

“I think that you guys need to get serious about winning,” he pronounced. He described the abysmal status of freedom in Europe today, with virtually everything regulated, from the very narrow hours of operation of restaurants to government’s control over whether a storekeeper can hold a sale or anniversary celebration (very rarely).

“This is what happens to a society when there are no property rights,” he declared. “No property rights means no rights. That’s what losing is like,” he said. “You haven’t lost yet. You’ve lost the battle, not the war.” He recommended ten steps to success that are essential to all movements, from recruiting a celebrity to forming a broad coalition to writing a book, that those involved in the cause of private property rights should set their minds to.

Craig Call, the Property Rights Ombudsman for the State of Utah, generated excitement by describing the operation of his office, created seven years ago by the Legislature. “The environment in which I operate is not necessarily a friendly place,” he said. However, he is an effective champion of the little guy against the state bureaucracy. “I can order any takings dispute to arbitration,” he said. Even in non-binding arbitration, the weight of his office and the fact that he is an attorney makes him an effective advocate for the property owner, at no charge. In eminent domain disputes, grassroots property owners are entitled to free appraisals by the appraisers they select.

Scott Jones, the executive vice president of the Forest Landowners Association, a national organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, gave a moral defense of private property ownership. He said that courts fail to grasp the principle of the bundle of rights. “When a use is being taken away, we communicate in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “When value is taken away, compensation is due.”

“We want more coordination,” he said, emphasizing the need for the groups to work together. “Out of today,” he said, he hopes to open up new alliances. “Yesterday,” he said, “we had a success in D.C. that took fifteen years, a modification in Congress of the Capital Gains tax law.”

“Be vigilant in visits to your Congressman,” Mr. Jones urged.

A last minute surprise at the conference was that Matthew McKeown, the Deputy Solicitor of the United States Department of Interior brought greetings from Secretary of Interior Gale Norton. He described how the Administration was pressing the implementation of the Healthy Forests Initiative. He enumerated court settlements under his direction that protected private property rights rather than carrying litigation to the bitter end. “We should not yank people’s property rights to make people comply with regulations,” he said.

Michael Shaw, the proprietor of the Liberty Garden, came from Aptos, California, to show entrancing slides of the blossoming of the 72-acre oasis he created without government aid or regulation, restoring the native flowers and other species as the undesirable invasive plants were diligently eradicated, without the use of herbicides.

A thoroughly documented and historically developed speech delivered by Dick Patten, executive director of the American Business Institute in Washington, D.C., discredited any rationale for the continuance of the estate tax. In his speech, “Repealing the Death Tax—Preserving Small Business,” Mr. Patten remarked powerfully, “The battle for death tax repeal is the battle for the soul of property rights.”

“Eco-Terrorism and Animal Rights Extremism” was the subject of the compelling speech that John Gray, intelligence analyst at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counter Terrorism Division presented to a rapt audience just before the luncheon break. He related the beginning of the radical movement in Great Britain with the enemies of fox hunts, Hunt Saboteurs and Band of Mercy. He said that ALF and ELF have committed over 1,000 recorded crimes with at least $100 million in damage. Today, the extremists are moving toward “tertiary” targets, companies that do business with the companies of which they disapprove. Their principle is “maximum damage.” He also cited documents indicating that their established principle of not planning to cause physical injury to people may be changing.

The conference was also a celebration of the individuals who attended who have made important contributions to the cause of private property rights. After many of them were personally introduced from the podium, three particular leaders were specially recognized with PRFA’s annual awards. Theodore E. Galusha of Warrensburg, New York, who is known universally as “Ted,” received PRFA’s Third Annual Grassroots Leadership Award, a plaque in recognition for his many years of creative work that has led to opening the millions of acres of wild lands owned by the State of New York to handicapped access, and in appreciation for his continuing leadership in the battle to open up state-owned lands to all sportsmen and women.

Sheila C. Powers, the president of the Albany County Farm Bureau for nearly two decades, was formally thanked for her unflinching advocacy for private property rights by Carol LaGrasse, PRFA’s president, who recalled Ms. Powers speaking out for rural people in 1984 when the State Legislature was contemplating the mandatory Uniform Building Code. Ms. Powers received PRFA’s Seventh Annual New York State Private Property Rights Defender Award, “In Recognition of Her Defense of Constitutionally Guaranteed Private Property Rights in the State of New York.”

Patricia Callahan has inspired property rights advocates throughout the country through the organization she heads, the American Association of Small Property Owners (AASPO), based in Washington, D.C. AASPO is especially known as a voice for urban property owners, while enlightening readers of its bulletins and newsletters on the full range of property rights issues. PRFA’s Eighth Annual Private Property Rights Advocate award was presented to F. Patricia Callahan “In recognition of her Dedication to the Preservation of Human Rights Guaranteed in the United States Constitution.”

Becky Norton Dunlop, vice president of the Heritage Foundation, headquartered in Washington, D.C., delivered the luncheon address on “Restoring Constitutionality and Rationality to Environmental Protection.” Ms. Dunlop is widely recognized for her effectiveness as Secretary of Natural Resources in Virginia during the tenure of Gov. George Allen, when she streamlined, decentralized, and down-sized agencies while the quality of the environment was enhanced. She began her speech with the words, “I am an optimist. Our organizing principle should be that environmental policies that emanate from liberty are the most successful.”

She compared the moral basis for the protection of private property believed by the founding fathers with the way that liberty and due process have been sacrificed lately for environmental protection. She pronounced principles for improving government. For instance, she declared, “Limit the size of government to those things enumerated in the Constitution.”

“We must advance an ownership society,” is a conviction that she promoted in her speech. “People who own property care about what local government is doing to you.”

James E. Morgan, principle attorney in Galvin and Morgan in Delmar, New York, introduced the first afternoon speakers. Mr. Morgan distributed copies of a “takings” statute that he prepared for his client Mary Alice Davis, who has gotten it on the ballot in the town of Falmouth, Maine.

Jim Malatras, the Legislative Director for New York State Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, who is the Chairman of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, delivered a speech describing the legislative course and importance of the eminent domain reform legislation that the Assemblyman shepherded through two sessions of the Legislature. The notification reform bill was finally signed into law by Gov. George E. Pataki, who had vetoed the unanimously passed bill last year. Mr. Malatras said that the passage of this statute is the beginning of eminent domain reforms demanded by basic fairness and justice.

Dr. Mindy Fullilove of New York Psychiatric Institute and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Public Health at Columbia University, in New York City, delivered a moving speech about the harmful results of urban renewal, the subject of her recently published book, Root ShockHow Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It. She said that buildings function to protect us, and that people love buildings and their near environment, their neighborhood, which biased outsiders may dismiss as “slums.” She pointed out research that shows that forcibly uprooting people affects their psychological health and correlates with earlier death. In the 2,500 projects where people were uprooted for urban renewal during the 1950’s and 1960’s, she said, 63% of the displaced were black. Jazz almost died as a result of the destruction of small businesses, which included the jazz clubs. Dr. Fullilove’s book, video, and speeches are inspiring people in today’s struggle against eminent domain for urban redevelopment.

Mark Alpert, an associate with Hart, King, and Coldren in Santa Ana, California, offered “Hope for People Fighting Rent Control.” He pointed out that after two Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions, rent control advocates must prove that rent control actually “substantially advances” a legitimate state interest, namely, that it results in lower housing costs. However, one of these cases, Chevron v. Lingle, faces U.S. Supreme Court review. Mr. Alpert also announced that, on account of the Hacienda decision, rent control foes have overcome the statute of limitations hurdle that was blocking them from going to court, considering that rent control laws were passed many years ago. Mr. Alpert announced that his elderly client Mary Yakura, was granted a fair rent increase on the mobile home park property that she and her son own. Ms. Yakura and her husband first farmed the property in 1947 after being released from internment in this nation’s Japanese concentration camps.

Mark Nix, executive director of the South Carolina Landowners Association, described some of this organization’s successful tactics in “Uniting Landowners Defending Private Property Rights” against extreme smart growth rules, including building alliances with organizations ranging from Girl Scouts to churches; contacting every individual landowner in the affected regulatory area; using language that speaks to people — such as saying that the county council is “taking away your property’s value”; speaking to every group you can; getting people to contact their legislators by publishing home telephone numbers; and going to the newspaper every month.

Robert J. Smith, the president of the Center for Private Conservation, and Senior Adjunct Scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, returned to the podium at PRFA’s national conference to discuss “Landownership in America.” He said that the federal government owns about one-third of the 2,271,343,000 acres of land in the United States. Nobody knows exactly how much land is owned by the federal government, or by state and local government, he said, but state and local government landownership is accelerating and total government land ownership is probably about 44 %, perhaps as low as 42 % or as high as 48%. A thorough study of landownership in Arizona, one of the states where there is a big push for smart growth restrictions, revealed that 87.5% of the land is already owned by government. He said, “It’s likely that the United States of America, the shining city on the hill, has the most socialist land system on the planet.”

Mr. Smith also criticized conservation easements. “The essence of a free society is choice. What you are doing with conservation easements is locking up all choice.”

Henry St. John FitzGerald of Arlington, Virginia, has brought together experienced attorneys who wish to provide affordable legal services to people around the country who seek legal representation. Their organization, dedicated to fundamental rights including private property rights, is called Legal Advocacy Group. In the closing address, Mr. FitzGerald presented a summary of the concept of “Inverse Condemnation—The Rationale for Compensation for Regulatory Takings.” In discussing the 1922 Supreme Court decision in the Pennsylvania Coal case, he explained that we are in danger of forgetting that a strong public desire to improve the condition of people does not justify going too far in taking the property of others. “In inverse condemnation, the landowner says that my rights have been restricted so far that it constitutes a taking,” he said. Mr. FitzGerald recommended the Monteray v. Del Monte Dunes case, which was brought as a civil rights suit, where the government kept asking for more requirements, not as an inverse taking. The Supreme Court affirmed the right to a jury trial. “Fighting for people’s rights is forever new,” Mr. FitzGerald said in closing the conference.

Joining the Property Rights Foundation of America to make this event possible by contributing as official Co-Sponsors were the American Association of Small Property Owners, American Land Foundation, American Land Rights Association, Civil Property Rights Associates, Forest Landowners Association, Freedom 21 Santa Cruz, Homeowners Against Rent Kontrols (HARK), LandGuard, Liberty Garden, New York Farm Bureau, SUANews.com, and The JM Foundation. LandGuard, a Texas legal services organization to which people can subscribe for legal advice about property rights, and through which they can engage attorneys in the state where they own property, co-sponsored the luncheon.

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