"... nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."
-- the "takings clause" of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
This is the kind of thing that has been fueling tea party anger across the nation. Maybe now some of my Madison liberal friends will begin to understand the fear and loathing many of us have for an all-knowing, ever more-intrusive, metastasizing Big Government.
The City of Madison wants to use its eminent domain powers to condemn seven four-unit apartment buildings in the Burr Oaks neighborhood on Madison's south side, between Park Street and Fish Hatchery Road, in order to build senior citizen housing which would then be turned over to private ownership.
The four owners do not want to sell -- at least, not at the price the city is offering. Due to depressed real estate prices, the city's initial combined offers for the Burr Oaks neighborhood buildings were about $1 million below the combined $2.3 million assessed value for 2009. [Wisconsin State Journal: 01-10-10] But the landlords got independent appraisals and the city then boosted its combined offers by $640,000. Still, that forces the property owners to eat $285,000.
The property owners complain that for years they have been paying property taxes based on the higher assessed values. The city's Community Development Authority argues that its hands are tied by the formula it must follow and that in this Year 2 of the Great Recession, property values are depressed. That conundrum illustrates the fundamental disconnect of Big Government acting as mandatory real estate broker, assessor, and monopsony buyer.
Think of it this way: your individual retirement account took a hit in the economic meltdown that began in October 2008 and then you are forced to sell your stocks at the bottom in March 2009 rather than being allowed to hold until stock prices rebounded.
Therein lies the crux: the City of Madison can -- or believes it can -- use its coercive powers to take their property anyway in the service of some good that the decision-makers -- with none of their own skin in the game -- have decided. This is hubris of a first order.
Even Madame Brenda says "I don't blame the residents that were rightfully upset with the low-ball offers for their property they don't want to sell."
The race card is dealt
Here is where it gets delicious. The owners are not fat cat Daddy Warbucks but blue collar, hard-working people. Oh, and they're of minority races!
Over at The Daily Page Forum is a thread headlined City of Madison CDA Screws African Americans. You can disregard the race thing (I believe one of them is Asian), except insofar as it serves to slap a few "Yes We Can" liberals with some extra-strength Mennen's Skin Bracer. It is their wake up call.
Regardless of race, the four property owners are "little people." Like the Rev. Martin Luther King (whose day this is) they had a dream. They are working people who saved a little money and invested in rental real estate, hoping for some cash flow while they use their elbow grease to build some equity by providing much-needed affordable housing.
By all accounts these four -- one of them is a Madison firefighter -- poured in money to upgrade the properties; they screen their tenants. These are not candidates for the public nuisance ordinance; no one has alleged that these properties were crack houses or that they endanger public health.
But the Badger Road-Cypress area is one of the more crime troubled and the City of Madison and its CDA have a bias that new construction cures all ills.
Eminent domain is typically used for transportation rights of way where one holdout can wreck miles of project. Dotty Dumpling's Dowry was forced to move for construction of the Overture Center.
Wisconsin had always allowed "blighted" property to be expropriated. Then the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 ruled 5-4 that governments may take private property even if the only public use is economic development, i.e., more jobs and revenue. Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.
The following year, Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature tightened up the law prohibiting governments from seizing private property that isn't blighted and hand it over to companies for redevelopment.
Property can't be considered blighted unless it has been abandoned or converted from a single dwelling into multiple units and the crime rate in or around the property is three times higher than in the rest of the city, according to the bill, the Associated Press explained.
Shortly afterwards, the twin tower project now mostly completed at Todd Drive-South Beltline was delayed when the owners refused to sell their small building that housed a bridge card club.
The State Journal editorialized at the time:
Madison didn't lose a $22 million development because of Wisconsin's stricter law limiting government condemnation of private property. Madison lost the Landmark Gate project because the developer didn't or couldn't offer a price for certain properties that the owners would accept.
So, how is this legal?
Legally, the city seems to be standing on a one-legged stool -- the Cypress Way/Badger Road crime rate. Even Stu Levitan, a CDA commissioner, himself acknowledges "I have no problem with people challenging the economic analysis and public purpose of the project." Over on The Daily Page Forum: 01-16-10 he writes:
We're doing it to make a better neighborhood and improve the quality of life for the people who live there. The council has approved a plan for the neighborhood that includes quality affordable senior housing project at that location. Council has appropriate funds for the project, and directed us to do it. Unfortunately, the project requires the condemnation of several properties, owned and well-operated by persons of color.
("Goober McTuber" opines: "The city hasn't hesitated to tax them at that level. Did these properties suddenly drop 25-40% in value overnight?")
The CDA in this instance acted at the direction of the Common Council, to use our statutory authority to implement a policy choice the City made to continue our revitalization efforts in South Madison by instigating the development of a high-quality Senior Housing project. In doing so, we have followed state statutes in making offers based on current appraisals. Does it look bad that our offers are below the current assessments? You bet. That's because the assessments lag behind reality. But we don't control that. Any landlord who felt their assessment was too high given the depressed market had the full right and ability to challenge their assessment. Again, we don't control that, either.
We have amended our offer to reflect a reasonable balance between the public interest in this project and doing right by the landlords. Those offers will not match current assessments (because those assessments are unduly high), but will be substantially more than the purchase price. We believe they will constitute just compensation. If a landlord disagrees, they'll take us to court.
You don't like it? Take the city to court! Hire an attorney who will lock horns with the city's taxpayer-paid attorneys and take your chances. Good luck, property owners! That's what you get for investing in Madison in the Big Government-First era of Obama.
No primaries please, we're Democrats
Sure, it's only a theory. I have posited that the Obama White House placed a call to Babs Lawton instructing her to be a good Democrat, fall on her sword and pull out of the governor's race. She did so only two days after a fundraiser while picking up some early and key endorsements. Why? Credit Jim E. Doyle. Doyle can't stand his lieutenant governor, has a big "In" at the White House as an early Obama supporter, told the White House he wanted Tom Barrett but his man was reluctant, especially so if he had to slog through an intramural primary.
The imprint of the heavy hand of the Obama administration is now being felt in New York.
The Daily Beast details how the Obama White House has meddled in the U.S. Senate race in New York. First it wanted Caroline Kennedy, who imploded. Then Obama asked Gov. David Paterson not to seek re-election. Now he is siding with Senate appointee Kristen Gillibrand against an incipient challenge from former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford, now resident in New York City.
"She's an incumbent U.S. senator and I don't think the president believes that expensive primaries in states that ought to be good for us are a good use of our time, money, or energy," says one senior Obama aide.
It's the Chicago Way.
This just in: Massachusetts Dems put up last-minute attack ad claiming Scott Brown is really Bill Buckner, goat of the 1986 World Series.
The Massachusetts miracle
Radio Equalizer has the transcript from Ed Schultz's radio show last week where he proposed "voting 10 times" in Massachusetts in the Brown versus "Croak-ley" Senate race:
SCHULTZ: "I tell you what, if I lived in Massachusetts I'd try to vote 10 times. I don't know if they'd let me or not, but I'd try to. Yeah, that's right. I'd cheat to keep these bastards out. I would. 'Cause that's exactly what they are."
Now there is shenanigans afoot to delay swearing in the new Senator if the Republican wins. Scott Brown may not prevail Tuesday but he has already won, even as Gene McCarthy did in New Hampshire in 1968 by showing well.
Is Dave Obey the next big timber to fall? Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard thinks so. In the January 18 number, he posits Obey as one of the possible pickups. The Wall Street Journal did a fawning article on January 7 on former prosecutor Sean Duffy, whom the newspaper calls "a young gun." (The links are available only to paid subscribers.)
You're not getting this in the Madison news media: U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold catches flak on health-care reform Majority at listening session oppose both bills. [Green Bay Press Gazette: 01-14-10]
Pants on the Ground