Sunday, March 30, 2008

Told you so

Today's Picayune:
Constitutional amendments passed by voters in 2006 could thwart New Orleans' ability to transfer blighted properties to new owners who would likely repair the sites.
Habitat for Humanity wants to buy the Burgess family's two vacant lots and fill them with tidy houses, of the same sort it has built along Clouet Street and in nearby Musicians Village. The transaction, a seemingly elegant way to cure the long history of blight, has been waylaid by a set of arcane laws Louisiana voters approved in 2006 to protect private property rights.

Moldy City 9/28/06:
If it's not obvious, the point is that property rights are not under siege. They simply aren't; no matter what some people would have you think. The fact is, John Stossel was railing against eminent domain long before Kelo. I won't go into a long-winded account of Richard Epstein and the concept of "hidden takings" (you can read an admittedly biased account from the Nation), however, a well-financed effort to exploit concerns over property rights was underway long before Kelo.
That's a reactionary liberal's conspiracy theory-based reasoning for why you should not make a knee-jerk decision to vote for amendments 5 and 6. Gambit Weekly, the BGR, and the Times Picayune all give more respectable reasons why you should vote against the amendments:

The Bureau of Governmental Research, Council for a Better Louisiana and Public Affairs Research Council have raised valid concerns about the amendment's complexity and potential for the unintended consequence of prohibiting the redevelopment of storm-ravaged South Louisiana. Critics also argue that there is no evidence of abuse of eminent domain laws in Louisiana and that the amendment is unnecessary. With the potential for thousands of blighted properties to fester in greater New Orleans post-Katrina, an amendment that could limit the expropriation and restoration or replacement of badly damaged buildings is ill advised.

Never thought I'd say this, but Gambit, the Picayune and the BGR are all right on this issue.

Unfortunately, the link to a Nation article in the 2006 post no longer works. Those amendments could prove to be an even bigger problem for wetlands restoration efforts.

I wasn't aware slumlords had a right to a pblicly appointe lawyer.

From the TP
"the New Orleans attorney appointed by the court to represent Burgess and his possible heirs, declined to comment because the case had not gone to trial. Burgess is deceased, but his wife, Kittoria Johnson, is still alive. It did not appear from the court record that she had her own attorney."

I'm not a big fan of the Nagin administrations efforts to expropriate all of the land in the city. I'd prefer an alternative which was suggested by the article, auctioning the property off to the highest bidder.

Getting the cold dead hand of the City out of the transaction is a very positive development. One of the problems with blighted property efforts in the city has long been the city attempting to do things other than cure blight.
Everyone expected opportunists to exploit the new amendment, but that doesn't mean it wasn't prudent or isn't valuable.

First of all, I would hope this case doesn't succeed. There are factual differences here -- numerous health violations and so forth that clearly justify the use of eminent domain. Moreover, the private entity happens to be a nonprofit that will make productive use of the land. It's factually distinguishable from those cases that caused so much fear following the ruling in Kelo.

Secondly, even if the plaintiffs do succeed in this case, it shouldn't change anything. The city should still be able to seize the land an auction it off to no specific entity for continuing violations. The new law does nothing to prevent that.
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