Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Welcome: Property Rights for the People

By Carol W. LaGrasse
President, Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.
Stony Creek, N.Y.

Seventeenth Annual National Conference on
Private Property Rights
October 26, 2013
The Century House, Latham, N.Y.

Welcome to our Seventeenth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights. In 1994, when these conferences began, I would never have guessed that we could possibly achieve this. There was "not a penny in my pocket" to do it and we had to raise everything from scratch.

We had a champion: Senator Owen Johnson, of Babylon, Long Island, who delivered the opening address. The National Audubon Society tried to intimidate him and they sent out a press release warning about the danger of these wise-use groups with their fanaticism coming here from the West. He promptly faxed me that press release about all the money flowing from the West. That would have been interesting but there was no money coming from the West. But we did have Representative Richard Pombo, "Mr. Property Rights," from California to speak. So that's how we began. It was in a flurry of controversy.

Today's conference theme happened by accident. It's called "Property Rights for the People." A man who had repaired the telephone for us a few times came back after a number of years even though he was assigned to other things because he received a promotion. He was now a middle-aged man. When I opened the door he said, "You're still here! Are you still doing property rights for the people?"

So, that lifted my spirits and I was thinking it's always nice when someone mistakes your name; for instance, my name is Carol and sometimes people call me Carolyn, almost like my mother's name. Well, I consider that affectionate because they have assimilated what you are or what you're doing, like with "property rights for the people." It's really not some highfalutin organization, it's us. And so I'm very proud to be part of you.

Well, the Property Rights Foundation of America is trying to get across that point and show people how essential and basic private property rights are to the ordinary person's wellbeing. It isn't big business. Big business doesn't donate to Property Rights Foundation of America. They have their lobbyists in Washington. They look down their noses at us. At best we're radical. What they would say in other terms, I don't know, but they have no interest in Property Rights Foundation of America.

In all our work from the beginning when we started out in the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area effort and the Adirondacks we face this issue of people being a sacrificed population. That's a new term I ran into in a book entitled Conservation Refugees (Mark Dowie, MIT Press, 2011). And I said, "Holy Hannah! That's the type of thing I've been trying to express." No one would say it that way when they make the regulations harder, and you know that rich son of a gun, he'll pay for it. I don't mean the rich people any harm but they can pay. But the ordinary person, they can't.

And so gradually over a period of years the population makes a big shift. And the ordinary people — the people who work with their hands, they all have the jobs that do things, right down to Earth — they're forced out and a different population takes their place. And the land becomes gentrified, in sense parallel to being de-urbanized away from the nitty-gritty smokestacks and worker houses, becomes sort of ruralized, and estates become bigger, homes become more expensive, land taxes rise, and so these ordinary people are sacrificed.

The way to prevent that is to have private property rights. That's why we have such a pure dogma against zoning: Because zoning can never be contained. And in the end it hits the little guy. I usually tell people, "Well, you want zoning in your town. That's just dandy. It will protect the farm and the places next to it until a bigger guy comes along and then zoning gets changed lickety-split— like they're doing right now in Lake George."

So that's what all our work has been. And it's been some sort of journey, ending up at the beginning: from these rural areas like the Adirondacks where Pete and I are still newcomers since 1973 and back to my home town in Queens County, near where Willets Point people are facing that same sort of squeeze because somebody bigger wants the property. And the way to defend it is with private property rights

There's even a man here today from Westchester, Bill Cullen. Could you stand up for a second? He's been in the New York Daily News because there's a line drawn through his house. And he's sort of a reverse victim of adverse possession. He should have the right to quiet his title. The classical law of adverse possession provided for him to quiet his title but somebody for some reason got one particular member of the New York State Legislature in each of both houses to shepherd through a terrible bill, which I opposed, to "reform" the adverse possession law so that a person would have to abide by the precise wording in the deed in almost every instance. You could never quiet your title if by accident or even by design — because some later owner wouldn't have known it was by design — you went over the property line. That was one of the main ideas of adverse possession. The deed is fine but occupation is key to property ownership, as any surveyor knows by stone walls. It actually supersedes property ownership by the deed. So they screwed up the law.

The Legislature changed the law of adverse possession so that it goes back to the deed. In addition, now a judge even misinterpreted the timeframe of the law, failing to consider that the old law still provides for ten years to cause adverse possession under its terms. The new law would only go into effect from the time the law was passed. You can't make a law retroactive and this property's been occupied for many decades before the new law was passed.

So, that's an example. You get the little guy because some big guy didn't want that law. And the members of the legislature didn't bother, perhaps because they don't have the aides or specialists in that field. And who opposed it? Carol LaGrasse, Property Rights Foundation of America—you, and the New York Bar Association Real Estate Committee. Governor Spitzer vetoed it the first time, at the request of these two organizations. But a year later, the second time around, it got through under a different governor. The Bar Association gave up, too, after helping to rewrite the bill three times in the legislature to no avail. You just couldn't fight it. There was some big interest. We never could be sure why. So, today I think we're going to show this commonality of the trends of property rights for the people.

James Burling, the Director of Litigation at Pacific Legal Foundation, for instance, probably will mention the Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District decision. That's a wetlands case. And it's very important as a wetlands case, but I that the paramount aspect is something that hits so many people with zoning and land use regulation. You can't go through the process to get to the point of litigation because in agencies like the Adirondack Park Agency, you could go seven, ten—and even twenty years down in Westchester, attorney John Marwell was telling us, to go through the process. How can you do that? You get old. You actually die or your corporation dissolves. So the court ruled that the government couldn't do that to someone. Afterwards, the opposition to the decision said, well, this will make it really easy to do things nowadays. Yeah, sure. I mean, isn't that the idea?

Irene Prestigiacomo, Robert LoScalzo, and Joseph Ardizzone have traveled from New York City again to update us on the long, hard battle to save the unique industrial community of auto repair and parts places in Willets Point from the avariciousness and injustice of the New York City Administration and select developers.

Tom Miller will be describing the plight of the traditional oil producers in the Bradford Oil Field in northwestern Pennsylvania, which extends from Pennsylvania into New York and Ohio. Those producers are being persecuted by the state. You read about the shale oil — the big interests — but you don't read about these small producers.

Then we'll hear Eric Francis Coppolino. He'll be talking about his research into the land trusts involved with the Mohonk Preserve in Ulster County, New York, and how they use the skilled manipulation of deeds, the basic property document, to take the land away from the legitimate owner.

Right after lunch, Martha Boneta from Virginia will speak about how the land trust that holds a conservation easement on her small farm and the local municipality make it almost impossible to operate and sell the products from her land and animals.

And then Heidi Peterson. I think that Heidi's will be the most extraordinary talk that's to take place today. She'll be describing how a movement that claims to be promoting "human rights" —in this case the human right to housing — is being used by gangs of lawless people to occupy other people's homes and private property, while the Detroit city las enforcement won't arrest them and remove them for trespass. To restore the exclusive use of her own home, she has to bring a civil action, which can be expensive and difficult.

Finally, of course, we will hear the famed Roger Pilon, Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at Cato Institute, discussing the foundation of property rights in the United States Constitution and how it's been sullied by the Progressives over the past century.

At the very end we're going to do something which I hope will be fruitful for the upcoming year, have a round table discussion about these issues and any that you want to bring up.

So, I really, really welcome you. I'm so happy you're all here. It's the first time we had to worry about having enough seating and had to get another table. And the table's filled. I thank you all and I thank especially people like Pam O'Dell and the people in Washington County and Argyle who got the word out and increased the attendance. I hope you have a wonderful day.

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