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Who actually ‘owns’ property?
Next week we will celebrate Thanksgiving once again. For some, the reason we celebrate may be lost in time. Others, however, recall it is a day to remember all of the blessings bestowed upon us by our Creator and rejoice in the liberty and freedom that is America. Perhaps that is why two recent Wall Street Journal Opinion Page items caught my attention.
The first item addressed the now-infamous City of New London vs. Kelo decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision upheld the city in its condemnation and taking of private property to permit more economically beneficial private development. The decision upheld the city because the Connecticut Constitution allowed such action. The action by the court also caused more than 40 other states to pass laws or amend their constitutions so similar actions would not be possible in those states. Of note, now several years after the condemnation and court decision, no development has occurred. The corporation research and development center that was the primary reason for and beneficiary of the action is being closed down. So much for greater economic benefit.
The second article deals with an ongoing effort in Brooklyn, New York. The city has been trying to condemn residential property to use the land for a “sports complex” being developed by private interests. The residential properties are not “low-end” blighted areas, but are redeveloped industrial and commercial buildings. The properties in question are really “poster children” for the Smart Growth infill we have all been inundated with as the wave of the future and the “green” way to go for land use. It is interesting to see what happens when the prospect of higher tax revenues conflicts with the absolutism of the Smart Growth agenda. The New York Constitution does not permit such condemnation and the state courts have ruled against the city. However, that has not deterred city government from spending tax dollars in search of a friendly court while driving the property owner into destitution. We all need to pay attention to the outcome of this case.
There is some belief those situations cannot happen in Washington because our state Constitution does not permit taking of private property for other than clear public use. That has not deterred local jurisdictions from finding ways around the constitutional guarantees and finding courts to support them. The recent condemnation of more property than required by Sound Transit with the subsequent sale of the excess property for a profit was supported by the courts. Although the state Constitution guarantees protection of private property, the legislature routinely enacts laws that allow jurisdictions to dictate use of property and effectively seize control of property without reasonable recourse for the owners and without “prior compensation” as required by law. In some instances, the courts have allowed the legislature to reduce constitutional provisions to a status that allows local jurisdictions to equalize those protections with other interests in the name of “common good.” In Kitsap County alone, under the guise of “protecting” critical areas or shoreline areas, the county and cities have dictated local jurisdictional control over all shoreline property in the county and more than 25 percent of all other property. By establishing protected areas or associated buffers, local jurisdictions have regulated the rights of property owners to use or even enter significant portions of their property. The county is now working on policies that would essentially freeze all future development in rural areas of the county and further limit the ability of property owners to actually use their property.
Most of this stuff either passes without notice in our busy lives or does not appear to have impact on us personally. After all, if I don’t know that I have lost some of my rights or that I can’t do something, what difference does it make? Think again. Each day, the government we established to protect our personal rights, is moving more steadily toward a government that places the “common good” before individual rights. Who will be there to protest and fight back when the light of personal freedom liberty is extinguished? Where will you be?