P.O. Box 75, Stony Creek, New York 12878 - 518/696-5748
The right to own private property is a fundamental American freedom that
guarantees personal liberty and promotes economic prosperity.
Greetings, as we continue into another year with our quest
to preserve private property rights!
On the local and regional front throughout the United States, individual PRFA participants and their organizations have been defending private property owners from rails-to-trails projects, controlling and stopping local zoning, holding back some of the National Park Service's National Heritage Areas, and blocking other regulatory schemes and land grabs.
While property owners are being dogged by unjust eminent domain for economic development, PRFA participants have been organizing to fight eminent domain on the local battlefront. Our work has branched out in such far-flung ways that now PRFA participants have been using their skills to help other local people with land-use problems.
Last year, PRFA's strength was multiplied over and over by strategizing with inspired individuals working for private property rights in their localities and regions.
On a key area of the national front, PRFA worked for worthwhile reform of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with other influential, principled property rights organizations, especially Stewards of the Range in Meridian, Idaho; American Land Foundation in Taylor, Texas; and The National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C. As the fall began, Representative Richard Pombo, the Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, tossed aside defective portions of a 73-page draft ESA reauthorization and reform bill that would have done more harm than good and instead introduced an excellent bill that would provide genuine property rights protections modeled after Oregon's Measure 37 for regulatory takings compensation.
This new ESA bill is written to protect the small landowner, as opposed to large industrial owners who can afford the expensive mitigations and habitat conservation plans that would drive an ordinary landowner into bankruptcy. The bill, which passed the House of Representatives, requires that the Secretary of the Interior tell a landowner exactly where he has to restrict his land on behalf endangered species and it requires that the landowner be expeditiously compensated if the value of his land is driven down by the restrictions.
If the U.S. Senate approves "The Endangered Species Act Reform Act," such a victory for private property rights will also be a big incentive to protect endangered species, by greatly reducing the fear that landowners have about protected species being found on the property.
Here in New York, as in other states, the area where citizens can have the most influence right now is in reform of eminent domain law. A two-pronged approach promises to do the most to protect private property rights while keeping up the momentum created by the explosion of outrage and commitment to private property rights resulting from the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo v. New London decision.
Interest groups are trying to put off all legislative action to help small property owners against eminent domain. These interests are arguing that state and local governments are not abusing their power to make declarations of blight or their use of eminent domain for economic development. They are arguing that we should not allow the "emotionalistic reaction," as they call it, to the Kelo v. New London decision to influence the legislature to rush to pass laws that would be "unworkable" for the state and localities. These self-serving arguments by the corporation counsel from New York City, and the executives and legal experts of the New York State Association of Towns and the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, at the major hearings in New York were well-matched by opposing testimony by the Steven Anderson of the Institute for Justice, the New York Farm Bureau's grassroots speakers, and, some observers said, by my own testimony.
We must not allow the "no action" alternative on eminent domain to triumph. That is why I am advocating a two-pronged approach.
While we work toward restoring the definition of "public use" in the Fifth Amendment to the pre-1950's historic meaning of government buildings, highways, bridges, reservoirs, and the like, we must also work for immediate reforms to the eminent domain "process" that cannot be rationally opposed.
For instance, here in New York, after our successful Ninth Annual Conference on Private Property Rights, where Craig Call, the Utah Property Rights Ombudsman, spoke about Senator Orrin Hatch's federal legislation just submitted to establish this position at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Jim Malatras, Legislative Director for Assemblyman Brodsky, spoke about the new reforms to the eminent domain process that Mr. Brodsky has put before the legislature, the Assemblyman submitted an additional bill to establish a New York Eminent Domain Ombudsman.
What rational legislator can oppose a bill modeled after the Utah law that has been proven to help the property owner to receive the full protections under the current law and that has helped the state save money by reducing litigation?
Our fundamental battle, however, is the focus of the second part of the two-pronged approach. This is a battle between ideologies. On the one side is the assumption that government knows best for the community and the individual, that individual property rights are subservient to the state. On the other side is the belief that property rights are essential to the stability and wellbeing of the community and the individual, and that one of government's primary purposes is to protect private property rights.
This battle must be waged in virtually every state, and perhaps in Congress and someday even in the U.S. Supreme Court, to restore the definition of "public use" under eminent domain, so that a declaration of "blight" or one of its surrogates, such as a decision that a neighborhood's condition "endangers the public health or safety," can never be used to apply eminent domain.
With all the property rights fronts where we have been working, you can well understand how grateful I have been for your financial support and civic participation in the work of the Property Rights Foundation of America.
All of our efforts for justice hinge on your generosity. As we look forward to this year and all that it may bring, and to our Tenth Annual National Conference on Property Rights slated for October 14, I hope that you will continue to stand with us with your generous support.
With best regards,