SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS EDITORIAL - posted on MAY 26, 2002

Letters to the editor

"Beware of eminent domain"

Regarding the Burbank redevelopment plan (Page 1B, May 22), the biggest issue is the threat of eminent domain.

Government officials always say eminent domain is rarely used, but the “threat” is used constantly behind the scenes. Property owners are told to sell peacefully because eminent domain gives the government the power to take the property anyway. The property owner either gives in to the government bulldozer or must hire an attorney to save his home. Who can afford this but the government?

Kudos to the Burbank area residents who can see through this devious stunt. If the government so rarely uses eminent domain, why does it always want the power of it? The threat is the real power, not the usage.

Nick Bulaich
Watsonville


Regarding your story about San Jose residents balking at redevelopment, they should know that the assurances of bureaucrats not to take their property for redevelopment projects mean absolutely nothing. If a redevelopment area is approved that includes the power of eminent domain, nothing can stop the city from condemning homes and businesses as soon as a private developer expresses interest in the land.

Eminent domain is a “last resort” like shooting you is a “last resort” if you fail to give your money to a robber who threatens you. “Last resort” doesn’t mean that the government must try to design a project so that it does not need to use eminent domain.

If bureaucrats in San Jose honestly are committed not to using eminent domain, they should put it in writing. The city could authorize the redevelopment zone and the expenditure of redevelopment money but add a proviso that eminent domain will not be used. Or that eminent domain will not be used to take occupied homes or businesses. Or that no property taken by eminent domain can be transferred or leased to another private party.

If the city does not want to place this restriction in writing, then San Jose residents and businesses have every reason to fear.

Dana Berliner
Senior attorney, Institute for Justice
Washington, D.C.