According to this Washington Post
article, "D.C. Seizes 16 Owners' Property For Stadium: Move Gives Tenants 90 Days to Vacate," the District of Columbia has invoked eminent domain in order to seize private property for the construction and operation of a publicly owned baseball stadium:
"The District government filed court papers yesterday to seize $84 million worth of property from 16 owners in Southeast, giving them 90 days to leave and make way for a baseball stadium.
"By invoking eminent domain, city officials said last week, they hope to keep construction of the Washington Nationals' ballpark on schedule to open in March 2008. The city exercised its 'quick take' authority, in which it takes immediate control of the titles to the properties...."
The area for this proposed baseball-stadium complex is Anacostia, synonymous with drug dealers, a high crime rate, and unrelenting poverty. No doubt a baseball stadium would improve the area and, most important to the D.C. government, would substantially increase tax revenues. But many of those who live in Anacostia are longtime residents; some are home owners, some are rental tenants, some are small-business owners. Where are they going to go? Housing and retail space in most of the Metro area is outrageously expensive. Furthermore, disenfranchising these residents will result in further breakup of their sense of community, as did Great Society projects of the 1960's.
I know the Anacostia area from some first-hand contact. From the 1950's through the 1970's, my father worked at D.C. Transit's Southeast Garage. I watched the area deteriorate until it finally reached the point where most of us hesitated even to drive through that section of our nation's capital, despite the fact that the route through Anacostia provided a shortcut to the National Mall. In fact, my father took early retirement in part because the problems with vehicle theft in Anacostia had resulted in his vehicle's theft in September, 1970, even though Dad's beat-up 1958 Chevy had been chained to a tree; the theft insurance on the car didn't pay much, and Dad had to buy another vehicle just to go back and forth to work.
Just two years ago during a microburst rainstorm, my husband's truck had two flat tires on the route through Anacostia, and I again got an up-close look when I drove there to deliver the needed tools and a second spare tire. Not pretty! We had to fend off crack dealers and small-time criminals as we tried to get the tires changed; one fellow brought us a tire--which he bragged that he had just boosted from another stranded vehicle. The police drove by on patrols, but stayed in their patrol units; businesses--including garages which might have helped us with the untenable situation we were in--closed and locked down because the power was out. Tow-truck companies we phoned turned down our requests for picking up my husband's truck. If not for my cousin's car club, we might have had to abandon the truck! Needless to say, after that bad several hours broken at the side of the road, we have never tried to cut through Anacostia again. (For more information on Anacostia, click here
Returning now to the article
"In all, 23 property owners control 14 acres at the stadium site near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard along the Anacostia River.
"City officials said they have agreed to buy land from seven owners, who were not named in the court filing. The city had offered them a total of $13 million, but it is not known whether that was the final sale price.
"The other 16 property owners have not agreed to sell, and their holdings include some of the largest and most expensive properties: an asphalt plant, a trash transfer station and adult-oriented businesses."
Among the properties now is question is that owned by Trans-Waste, which has hired legal representation:
"...M. Roy Goldberg, an attorney for Eastern Trans-Waste, the trash transfer station that the city valued at $8.7 million, said yesterday that the company intends to fight.
"The company's owners have told the city their property is worth $14.3 million, plus $18 million if they cannot find another site.
"'We're going to fight the amount of the taking and the way they've gone about doing it,' Goldberg said. 'I don't think they've been negotiating in good faith since Day One.'"
The city doesn't have to negotiate in good faith, especially since the Supreme Court's Kelo
As of now, the $84 million dollars sits in a court-monitored trust. Those of us who live in the D.C. area tend to snicker at the phrase "court-monitored trust," as funds are forever inexplicably disappearing from various city-affiliated accounts.
According to the article
"Property owners have 20 days to challenge the constitutionality of the takeover. As long as the District can show that the land was taken for a legitimate public purpose, the court probably will have no objections, land-use lawyers said.
"Some activists have argued that the stadium is a private project for Major League Baseball, but District leaders say the $535 million project will create significant tax revenue. Developers have snatched up land just outside the stadium plot in anticipation of a waterfront revival, and the city is planning to create a 'ballpark district' featuring restaurants and retail.
"If the court does not block the city's action, property owners can continue to negotiate with the city, but in lieu of an agreement, a jury would ultimately decide the sale prices. But that could happen months, even years, after the owners are forced to leave, land-use lawyers said."
Are the property owners in Anacostia getting a fair price? Is being forced to leave within such a short period of time, without having more extensive due process, truly Constitutional? Since the Kelo
decision, apparently what's happening is perfectly legal.
Again, according to the article
"The city's offers for the land are about 2 1/2 times as high as the amounts that it had assessed the properties to be worth for tax purposes last year. But some owners said they want more money because owners of property just outside the stadium land have received higher offers from developers.
"Patricia Ghiglino, who owns an art studio assessed by the city at $1.7 million, said yesterday that she is meeting with city officials Nov. 14 to discuss the offer. She said she has hired an appraiser to conduct an independent analysis of how much money her property is worth.
"'I don't know if the city will want to avoid litigation and just come up clean,' Ghiglino said. 'But if they decide they don't want to agree with our appraiser, then I guess I don't have too much recourse' but to let the court decide.
"Ghiglino, who has been in her property 15 years, said she felt strange that the city now controls the title to her land.
"'I've cried so many days since this first came up' last year, she said. 'It was very, very personal to me. We created the center. I worked 60 to 90 hours a week here, on Saturdays and Sundays. This became not just a business but also my home. . . . At end, this just becomes a business issue. I have to look for ways that are best for me personally. But we will continue the center regardless of where we go. That's our mission.'"
Ms. Ghiglino may have some options, but others do not. I keep thinking about the individuals, both business owners and residents, who are losing their properties. Where are these people going to go? Assessments from a year ago aren't valid now, in my opinion, as property values through the Metro area have skyrocketed since that time. Furthermore, I think about this matter on a personal level. Were I to be offered two and one-half times my last assessment, I would find it impossible to replace my modest 1940 home in the hot real-estate market of Northern Virginia because homes with the same small amount of square footage are simply unavailable; thus I'd be forced into trying to purchase a home at least $500,000 more.
Another thought keeps running through my mind. If these 16 had sold to developers, would the city still be seizing the properties? At the same dollar figure? In a more recent article
from the Washington Post
, the headline "Stadium Cutbacks Considered" appears:
"The rising price of construction materials has significantly increased the projected cost of the District's baseball stadium complex, prompting officials to begin discussing what to eliminate from the project, city leaders said yesterday.
"Officials declined to say how much more the $535 million project would cost under their most recent analysis, which was conducted by the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. But they said potential cutbacks could come from features inside or outside the ballpark, such as reducing the size of concourses, suites and other amenities or moving parking above ground and reducing the number of retail stores at the site.
"'We'll have to reduce some things and not be able to do a Cadillac stadium, but we could do a Buick or a Ford,' D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said at the council's monthly legislative meeting.
"Her warning came shortly before the council voted 10 to 2 to give preliminary approval to three technical amendments to the stadium financing package, which relies heavily on public money.
"The amendments, which deal with tax issues, were sought by city financial officials who said Wall Street bond raters would not grant the project an investment-grade rating unless the changes are made. Such a rating would give the city a lower interest rate and reduce its payments.
"A final vote on the amendments is scheduled for Dec. 6. City financial officials said they need to issue bonds before the end of the year to secure the funds to begin construction....
"[T]he federal government owns a small parcel on the stadium site and that a congressional committee is considering legislation that would sell the plot to the District for 'fair market value.' That could add an unexpected $11 million to the city's tab, Catania said.
"But a spokesman for the House Committee on Government Reform, headed by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), said that committee is considering drafting legislation that would give the District the land for free."
So, an act of Congress can hand over $11 million dollars' worth of land, but the owners of private property must take a lower offer? Just how did a baseball park become this important?
According to Leon Trotsky (The Revolution Betrayed
, New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1937, 76),
"Where there is no private ownership, individuals can be bent to the will of the state, under threat of starvation."
(Hat tip to Felis
, who regularly contributes to this site
, for the above quotation from Trotsky)Note: For information about H.R.4128, the new Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005, click here. You can contact your Congressional Representative here.