Friday, June 24, 2005

Eminent domain and The Riverwalk

Would San Antonio have a Riverwalk if cities did not have the power of eminent domain that allows them to take private property (after providing just compensation) for “public use”?
It’s possible that it would because I’m not aware of any big disputes along those lines during its development. But what if one of the property owners back then had stubbornly refused to go along with the city’s plans to transform the San Antonio River into a national tourist destination? Might they have halted the development?

The folks in New London, Conn. are trying to do something that is not terribly different from what San Antonio did many years ago. Here is how the New York Times describes the proposed development:

“...a large-scale plan to replace a faded residential neighborhood with office space for research and development, a conference hotel, new residences and a pedestrian "riverwalk" along the Thames River.”

One defender of the project even cites San Antonio’s Riverwalk as an example of what they are trying to do:

”This is similar to how San Antonio developed the Riverwalk and revitalized the downtown area. The only difference is the city itself used the power of eminent domain rather than delegating to a non-profit. San Antonio only kept a very narrow strip of land along the river while selling the rest, mainly to hotels.”

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in favor of the New London city officials has excited much consternation from both the right and left halve of the blogosphere - JammerBlog: Letter to Sens. Cornyn and Hutchison; All Things Conservative: Don't Get Too Attached; Ranten Raven: Five boobs in black robes; and Off the Kuff: We need a mall where your house is.

But I think alot of their anger is misdirected. As P.M. Bryant of B and B aptly points out, governments have long had the power under the Constitution to seize property for public use. The question before the courts was who gets to decide what “public use” is. Should it be locally elected city officials or the federal courts?
And before you decide who it should be, stop and think that they could be the ones deciding whether or not San Antonio gets to have a Riverwalk.
Personally, I kind of like the Riverwalk and I don’t think there is any question that it has been a tremendous benefit to the entire city even if a large chunk of it was sold off to private developers.
So think about that before you start condemning this particular court decision.

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