Bullet train dead in water — yet state to proceed with eminent domain

Bullet train dead in water — yet state to proceed with eminent domain

eminentEminent domain is one of the greatest government assaults on individual rights that one sees on a regular basis in the United States. Even in its purer form, in which land is seized for projects with broad general public benefit, such as a freeway or reservoir, it is often abused.

But what appears to be the most common form of eminent domain in the U.S. is typically an appalling assault on liberty. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argued in her dissent in 2005’s Kelo vs. New London, it’s commonly used for reverse Robin Hood purposes — taking land from the poor (or poorly connected) and giving it to wealthy, connected developers.

Now we may be on the brink of eminent domain takings in California that would be uniquely odious. I wrote about it in U-T San Diego in reaction to Judge Michael Kenny’s finding that the state didn’t have a legal business plan, sufficient environmental reviews or authority to issue any more bonds for its high-speed rail project:

“These are immense obstacles. Yet instead of acknowledging their seriousness, rail authority board Chairman Dan Richard depicted them as predictable ‘challenges,’ and a spokeswoman said the authority would proceed with its plans to seize land for the project in the Central Valley via eminent domain.

“This is in keeping with Richard’s full-speed-ahead bravado. But is also unconscionable — disrupting the lives and livelihoods of Central Valley residents for a project that is now an extreme long shot solely to create an apparition of progress.

“Before this happens, it’s time for a ‘have you no shame?’ intervention in Sacramento. If Jerry Brown won’t take Richard to the woodshed, then it’s time for some senior Democratic leader to take Brown to the woodshed.

“A decade ago, when he was attorney general, Treasurer Bill Lockyer ripped the ‘puke politics’ of Gov. Gray Davis. Taking away folks’ homes and farms for political theater is politics at its pukiest. In coming days and weeks, we hope Lockyer, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein or some Democrat of stature has the decency to make this point.”

As with Kelo ruling, backlash could be huge

valley_farmsIn 2005, principled believers in property rights were very pleasantly surprised at the sharp backlash against eminent domain triggered by the 5-4 high court Kelo vote to continue to allow land grabs to help local governments increase tax revenue.

I think there’s a chance that if the rail authority starts seizing productive ag lands and neighborhoods of middle-class homes in the Central Valley for a project that appears dead, there would be another backlash, and not just in California.

It wouldn’t just be an obnoxious assault on the property owners facing land grabs. It would be a hateful assault on American norms of fairness and honesty.

We’ll see.

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