Even when the overbearing state wins, it is important to fight. Susette Kelo proved the point when she resisted the attempt by the city of New London, Connecticut to take her property in order to turn it over to developers who would create more “productive”–that is, generate more tax revenue–uses for the land. Kelo lost before the Supreme Court, but New London eventually lost in the marketplace.
“Never, ever delegate the powers of eminent domain,” Beth Sabilia, the mayor at the time of the property-rights battle, told attendees at a panel discussing the controversy and its aftermath. Sabilia referred to the city’s role in assigning eminent domain powers to the New London Development Corp., a move that failed to distance city officials from the subsequent land grab even as it limited their decision-making power in the process.
Sabilia added, “My lesson is, if the state offers you $70 million, say ‘no thank you’. Yes, the city won, but no one in the City of New London really won. In New London we are all connected. I don’t care if you live in a lean-to or a 4,000-square-foot house. It’s where we all take our babies home.”
Sabilia has much to regret. She revealed that she personally received 4,000 email death threats and that New London still suffers bad feelings from the successful campaign to force some residents from their homes to make way for a project that was intended to generate higher tax revenues. The battle led to the Kelo v. New London decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court essentially said that governments have the legal power to displace property owners for economic development — that is, people can be booted from their homes and businesses if anybody else can be found who would pay higher taxes at the site.
New London never actually received those taxes. The case’s notoriety dampened interest in doing business at the stolen property, and then the economic downturn killed the project. Journalists visiting the scene have found the land to be “barren.”
That means the city lost money on the deal: the cost of the legal battle plus the potential tax revenues from homes and businesses forced out and never replaced.
It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of government thieves!
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