Tag Archives: Eminent domain

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita’s blatant waste, Transforming Wichita, and how you can help

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Let’s ask that Wichita trim its blatant waste of tax dollars before asking for more. We’ll look back at a program called Transforming Wichita. Then: We need to hold campaigns accountable. I’ll give you examples why, and tell how you can help. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 57, broadcast September 7, 2014.

Wichita City Council chambers

Wichita planning results in delay, waste

Wichita plans an ambitious road project that turns out to be too expensive, resulting in continued delays for Wichita drivers and purchases of land that may not be needed.

A major road construction project in east Wichita is deferred after the design is too expensive, reports the Wichita Eagle. (East Kellogg interchange plan getting major reboot, August 30, 2014)

It’s bad news that Wichita drivers will suffer through more years of delay as they travel through east Wichita. The value of the lost hours sitting in traffic? It’s impossible to say.

But here’s something that will probably be easy to appraise: The waste of taxpayer dollars due to the actions of government planners. From the Eagle story:

It’s unclear how the redesign would affect the ongoing lawsuit between the city of Wichita and 10 property owners whose land was taken by eminent domain for the project. The city also has acquired another 30 parcels in the area.

A court-appointed panel of three appraisers awarded the owners of the 10 parcels a collective $19.6 million for their properties in November.

The Wichita City Council approved the award, as required by the court, but the amount far exceeded an internal estimate in the $4 million to $5 million range.

In December, the city sued the landowners to see if a court would reduce the valuations.

Some of that land probably would not be needed if the interchange is redesigned.

Did you catch that? The city spent nearly five times as much as original estimates to seize property through eminent domain, and also purchased other property. Buildings with remaining useful life have been razed. Now, we learn that this land may not be needed.

As Wichita city hall asks citizens to trust the plans for the proceeds of a new sales tax, remember lessons like this.

Government planning, itself, is dangerous

The very existence of a government plan is dangerous, as its construction creates powerful constituencies that have shaped it to fit their needs and are highly motivated to see it implemented.

Planning

In Sunday’s Wichita Eagle, Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton defended the regional community planning initiative underway in south-central Kansas. (Tim Norton: Planning effort helps shape region’s future)

Much of the Commissioner’s article simply described the program and the need for it in vague generalities that are neither correct or incorrect, and which do little to advance understanding of what is really likely to happen.

But Norton did write something useful when he attempted to deflect the fact that this is a government plan, backed by the ability of government to compel compliance (or make it very expensive to avoid). He wrote: “This is not about any one governing body or level of government imposing or mandating what we should do. It is about what we decide collectively is best for our region and then choosing to make it happen.”

When the Sedgwick County Commission voted to participate in this HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant, some commissioners justified their votes in favor of the plan because “it’s only a plan.” If we develop a plan, and then we find we don’t like it, we can shelve it. Problem solved.

This meme of “it’s only a plan” that can be shelved is likely to be repeated. Watch for it.

Except: By shelving time, millions will have been invested in the plan. Reputations like Norton’s will depend on adopting the plan. Bureaucratic jobs will be at stake (See Sedgwick County considers a planning grant for an explanation of how planning help make work for bureaucrats and academics.)

Besides boosting the interests of politicians and bureaucrats, the government planning process started in south-central Kansas will likely be captured by special interest groups that see ways to benefit from the plan. The public choice school of economics and political science has taught us how special interest groups seek favors from government at enormous costs to society, and we will see this at play again over the next years.

Once the planning process begins, special interests plot to benefit themselves at the expense of the general public. We saw this at work in the first project to emerge after the Wichita downtown planning process (Project Downtown), where public policy was shaped on the fly to meet the needs of politically-connected special interests, at detriment to the public.

Most importantly: The very existence of a government plan is dangerous, as the plan itself becomes a reason to proceed, contrary to reason and harm to liberty and economic freedom.

An example of how much reverence is given to government plans comes right from the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision Kelo v. New London, in which the Court decided that government could use the power of eminent domain to take one person’s property and transfer it to someone else for the purposes of economic development. In his opinion for the Court, Justice Stevens cited the plan: “The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community.” Here we see the importance of the plan and due reverence given to it.

Stevens followed up, giving even more weight to the plan: “To effectuate this plan, the City has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the comprehensive character of the plan, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of our review, it is appropriate for us, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.”

To Stevens, the fact that the plan was comprehensive was a factor in favor of its upholding. The sustainable communities plan, likewise, is nothing but comprehensive, as described by county manager Bill Buchanan in a letter to commissioners: “[the plan will] consist of multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic prosperity, social equity, energy use and climate change, and public health and environmental impact.”

That pretty much covers it all. When you’re charged with promoting economic prosperity, defending earth against climate change, and promoting public health, there is no limit to the types of laws you might consider. This likely to be the argument to follow whatever emerges from Commissioner Norton’s planning process.

Special interests will capture south-central Kansas planning

Special interest groups are likely to co-opt the government planning process started in south-central Kansas as these groups see ways to benefit from the plan. The public choice school of economics and political science has taught us how special interest groups seek favors from government at enormous costs to society, and we will see this at play over the next few years.

Sedgwick County has voted to participate in a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. While some justified their votes in favor of the plan because “it’s only a plan,” once the planning process begins, special interests plot to benefit themselves at the expense of the general public. Once the plan is formed, it’s nearly impossible to revise it, no matter how evident the need.

An example of how much reverence is given to government plans comes right from the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision Kelo v. New London, in which the Court decided that government could use the power of eminent domain to take one person’s property and transfer it to someone else for the purposes of economic development. In his opinion for the Court, Justice Stevens cited the plan: “The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community.” Here we see the importance of the plan and due reverence given to it.

Stevens followed up, giving even more weight to the plan: “To effectuate this plan, the City has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the comprehensive character of the plan, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of our review, it is appropriate for us, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.”

To Stevens, the fact that the plan was comprehensive was a factor in favor of its upholding. The sustainable communities plan, likewise, is nothing but comprehensive, as described by county manager Bill Buchanan in a letter to commissioners: “[the plan will] consist of multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic prosperity, social equity, energy use and climate change, and public health and environmental impact.”

That pretty much covers it all. When you’re charged with promoting economic prosperity, defending earth against climate change, and promoting public health, there is no limit to the types of laws you might consider.

Who will plan?

The American Planning Association praised the Court’s notice of the importance of a plan, writing “This decision underscores the importance for a community to have a comprehensive development plan formulated through a democratic planning process with meaningful public participation by everyone.”

But these plans are rarely by and for the public. Almost always the government planning process is taken over and captured by special interests. We see this in public schools, where the planning and campaigning for new facilities is taken over by architectural and construction firms that see school building as a way to profit. It does not matter to them whether the schools are needed.

Our highway planning is hijacked by construction firms that stand to benefit, whether or not new roads are actually needed.

Our planning process for downtown Wichita is run by special interest groups that believe that downtown has a special moral imperative, and another group that sees downtown as just another way to profit at taxpayer expense. Both believe that taxpayers across Wichita, Kansas, and even the entire country must pay to implement their vision. As shown in Kansas and Wichita need pay-to-play laws the special interests that benefit from public spending on downtown make heavy political campaign contributions to nearly all members of the Wichita City Council. They don’t have a political ideology. They contribute only because they know council members will be voting to give them money.

In Wichita’s last school bond election, 72 percent of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, was given by contractors, architects, engineering firms and others who directly stand to benefit from new school construction, no matter whether schools are actually needed. The firm of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture led the way in making these contributions. It’s not surprising that this firm was awarded a no-bid contract for plan management services for the bond issue valued at $3.7 million. This firm will undoubtedly earn millions more for those projects on which it serves as architect.

The special interest groups that benefit from highway construction: They formed a group called Economic Lifelines. It says it was formed to “provide the grassroots support for Comprehensive Transportation Programs in Kansas.” Its motto is “Stimulating economic vitality through leadership in infrastructure development.”

A look at the membership role, however, lets us know whose economic roots are being stimulated. Membership is stocked with names like AFL-CIO, Foley Equipment Company, Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City, Kansas Aggregate & Concrete Associations, Kansas Asphalt Pavement Association, Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Society of Professional Engineers, and PCA South Central Cement Promotion Association. Groups and companies like these have an economic interest in building more roads and highways, whether or not the state actually needs them.

The planners themselves are a special interest group, too. They need jobs. Like most government bureaucrats, they “profit” from increasing their power and sphere of influence, and by expansion of their budgets and staffs. So when Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton asks a professional planner questions about the desirability of planning, what answer does he think he will get? It’s not that the planners are not honest people. But they have a vested economic and professional interest in seeing that we have more government planning, not less.

And we have evidence that planners watch out for themselves. It is not disputed that this planning grant benefits Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP). Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau says that John Schlegel, Wichita’s Director of Planning, told him that “acceptance of this grant will take REAP to another level, because right now they are struggling, and this will help plot the course for REAP.” He said that REAP, which is housed at the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University, needs to expand its role and authority in order to give it “something to do.”

We see that REAP is another special interest group seeking to benefit itself. In this case, our best hope is that REAP engages in merely make-work, that the plan it produces is put on a shelf and ignored, and that the only harm to us is the $1.5 million cost of the plan.

By the way, did you know that Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh, who voted in favor of the plan that benefits REAP, is now chairman of REAP? Special interest groups know how to play the political game.

In Kansas, planning will be captured by special interests

The government planning process started in south-central Kansas will likely be captured by special interest groups that see ways to benefit from the plan. The public choice school of economics and political science has taught us how special interest groups seek favors from government at enormous costs to society, and we will see this at play again over the next few years.

This week the Sedgwick County Commission voted to participate in a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. While some justified their votes in favor of the plan because “it’s only a plan,” once the planning process begins, special interests plot how to benefit themselves at the expense of the general public. Then once the plan is formed, it’s nearly impossible to revise it, no matter how evident the need.

An example of how much reverence is given to government plans comes right from the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision Kelo v. New London, in which the Court decided that government could use the power of eminent domain to take one person’s property and transfer it to someone else for the purposes of economic development. In his opinion for the Court, Justice Stevens cited the plan: “The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community.” Here we see the importance of the plan and due reverence given to it.

Stevens followed up, giving even more weight to the plan: “To effectuate this plan, the City has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the comprehensive character of the plan, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of our review, it is appropriate for us, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.”

To Stevens, the fact that the plan was comprehensive was a factor in favor of its upholding. The sustainable communities plan, likewise, is nothing but comprehensive, as described by county manager Bill Buchanan in a letter to commissioners: “[the plan will] consist of multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic prosperity, social equity, energy use and climate change, and public health and environmental impact.”

That pretty much covers it all. When you’re charged with promoting economic prosperity, defending earth against climate change, and promoting public health, there is no limit to the types of laws you might consider.

Who will plan?

The American Planning Association praised the Court’s notice of the importance of a plan, writing “This decision underscores the importance for a community to have a comprehensive development plan formulated through a democratic planning process with meaningful public participation by everyone.”

But these plans are rarely by and for the public. Almost always the government planning process is taken over and captured by special interests. We see this in public schools, where the planning and campaigning for new facilities is taken over by architectural and construction firms that see school building as a way to profit. It does not matter to them whether the schools are needed.

Our highway planning is hijacked by construction firms that stand to benefit, whether or not new roads are actually needed.

Our planning process for downtown Wichita is run by special interest groups that believe that downtown has a special moral imperative, and another group that sees downtown as just another way to profit at taxpayer expense. Both believe that taxpayers across Wichita, Kansas, and even the entire country must pay to implement their vision. As shown in Kansas and Wichita need pay-to-play laws the special interests that benefit from public spending on downtown make heavy political campaign contributions to nearly all members of the Wichita City Council. They don’t have a political ideology. They contribute only because they know council members will be voting to give them money.

In Wichita’s last school bond election, 72 percent of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, was given by contractors, architects, engineering firms and others who directly stand to benefit from new school construction, no matter whether schools are actually needed. The firm of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture led the way in making these contributions. It’s not surprising that this firm was awarded a no-bid contract for plan management services for the bond issue valued at $3.7 million. This firm will undoubtedly earn millions more for those projects on which it serves as architect.

The special interest groups that benefit from highway construction: They formed a group called Economic Lifelines. It says it was formed to “provide the grassroots support for Comprehensive Transportation Programs in Kansas.” Its motto is “Stimulating economic vitality through leadership in infrastructure development.”

A look at the membership role, however, lets us know whose economic roots are being stimulated. Membership is stocked with names like AFL-CIO, Foley Equipment Company, Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City, Kansas Aggregate & Concrete Associations, Kansas Asphalt Pavement Association, Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Society of Professional Engineers, and PCA South Central Cement Promotion Association. Groups and companies like these have an economic interest in building more roads and highways, whether or not the state actually needs them.

The planners themselves are a special interest group, too. They need jobs. Like most government bureaucrats, they “profit” from increasing their power and influence, and by expansion of their budgets and staffs. So when Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton asks a professional planner questions about the desirability of planning, what answer does he think he will get? It’s not that the planners are not honest people. But they have a vested economic and professional interest in seeing that we have more government planning, not less.

And we have evidence that planners watch out for themselves. It is not disputed that this planning grant benefits Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP). Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau says that John Schlegel, Wichita’s Director of Planning, told him that “acceptance of this grant will take REAP to another level, because right now they are struggling, and this will help plot the course for REAP.” He said that REAP, which is housed at the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University, needs to expand its role and authority in order to give it “something to do.”

We see that REAP is another special interest group seeking to benefit itself. In this case, our best hope is that REAP engages in merely make-work, that the plan it produces is put on a shelf and ignored, and that the only harm to us is the $1.5 million cost of the plan.

By the way, did you know that Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh, who voted in favor of the plan that benefits REAP, is a board member of REAP, and may become the next chairman? Special interest groups know how to play the political game, that’s for sure.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday December 14, 2011

Property rights in Wichita. At yesterday’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, the city approved its legislative agenda. The city incorporates the agenda of the League of Kansas Municipalities. One plank: “We support increased flexibility for local governments to use eminent domain for economic development purposes, including blight remediation, without seeking legislative approval.” Susan Estes of Americans for Prosperity appeared before the council, asking members to strike this provision, as the taking of property by eminent domain for the purposes of giving it to someone else is one of the worse violations of property rights and freedom. No council member was moved to make such a motion.

Importance of open records. In a press release from 2008, the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government noted the problems with open and transparent government in Kansas: “Kansas recently failed an open government test by the Better Government Association, an independent non-partisan government watchdog group based in Chicago. Among other things, the BGA researches solutions that promote transparency and accountability in government. ‘The threat today is real,’ said Randy Brown, executive director of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government. ‘We are seeing closed government problems popping up around the state. Some local governments are doing well. But for Kansans who understand that open government at all levels is essential to democracy, things are getting worse, not better.'” … Yesterday the Wichita City Council provided another example in how open and transparent government is not valued.

Wichita city news. The communications staff of the City of Wichita maintains a city news and announcements page. Staff has ample time (and a half-million dollar budget) to write articles covering — in detail — when carolers will be at the airport. But substantive news that the city is opposed to — say the successful filing of a petition challenging a Wichita city ordinance — doesn’t make it on this page.

Cronyism in America. The harm of crony capitalism is explained in a short video from Economic Freedom Project. Susan Dudley says this in the video: “Crony capitalism means that your success as an entrepreneur depends less on how well you meet your customers’, and more on how well you curry favor from the government. It’s a problem because it means that valuable resources — including the best and brightest minds — are diverted from productive uses towards unproductive seeking government favors.” … In its conclusion, the video sates: “Without special protections that can only be provided by an increasingly powerful government, big businesses would have to compete to earn their profits, instead of taking them straight from taxpayers. We all agree: Businesses should succeed or fail based on the value they provide to their consumers, not based on their ability to influence the political system. And that’s what happens in a free market.” … It should be noted that the economic development policies of Wichita are firmly rooted in crony capitalism.

Eminent domain reserved for use in Wichita

As part of the plan for the future of downtown Wichita, the city council was asked to formally disavow the use of eminent domain to take private property for the purpose of economic development. The council would not agree to this restriction.

Susan Estes noted that the legislative agenda that the city council passed earlier in the meeting supported “home rule and local control as the most valid solution for recurring legislative issues.” High on the list of these issues is eminent domain.

Estes asked that the city adopt a statement that the city will not use eminent domain to take property for someone else’s use.

Answering her, Mayor Carl Brewer said it is the council’s record not to use eminent domain. “But,” he said, the city needs that opportunity and flexibility. He said that the city has been asked by developers to use eminent domain, but they’ve resisted. Nonetheless, he described it as one of the tools that is available to the city.

Council member Janet Miller said that the Kansas legislature has placed restrictions on eminent domain, which she characterized as a prohibition.

While Miller is correct — the Kansas legislature would have to pass a statute authorizing specific use of eminent domain, and the law is now more in favor of property owners than in the past — that protection, in my opinion, is weak.

We can easily imagine a scenario where a developer — promising a grand development — wants a large tract of land, perhaps a city block or more. The mayor and others will travel to Topeka and testify that the city desperately needs the jobs and tax revenue the development will create. (Forgetting the fact that the development will probably be in a tax increment financing district and therefore not contributing increased tax revenue to the city’s general government.) The city’s lobbyist will work the halls, a case of a taxpayer-paid lobbyist working against the interest of taxpayers. The case will be made to other lawmakers that if they ever want to use eminent domain in their home towns, they’d better vote for Wichita’s request. Other forms of legislative logrolling will be in full behind-the-scenes use.

So now property owners, instead of having to contest the city’s lawyers before a judge, have to lobby the entire legislature. The case — instead of being heard in a forum where the rule of law is respected — will be contested in a political body which in many cases has shown us that it cares little for private property rights.

This was a moment in time where the city council could have taken leadership in protecting property owners from eminent domain abuse. The city — particularly Mayor Brewer and Council Member Miller — failed to grasp the importance of protecting this form of liberty and economic freedom.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday December 7, 2010

Political pretense vs. market performance. What is the difference between markets and politics or government? “There is a large gap between the performance of markets and the public’s approval of markets. Despite the clear superiority of free markets over other economic arrangements at protecting liberty, promoting social cooperation and creating general prosperity, they have always been subject to pervasive doubts and, often, outright hostility. Of course, many people are also skeptical about government. Yet when problems arise that can even remotely be blamed on markets, the strong tendency is to ‘correct’ the ‘market failures’ by substituting more government control for market incentives.” The article is The Political Economy of Morality: Political Pretense vs. Market Performance by Dwight R. Lee. Lee explains the difference between “magnanimous morality” (helping people) and “mundane morality” (obeying the generally accepted rules or norms of conduct). Markets operate under mundane morality, which is not as emotionally appealing as as magnanimous morality. But it’s important, as it is markets — not government — that have provided economic progress. There’s much more to appreciate in this article, which ends this way: “The rhetoric dominating the public statements of politicians and their special-interest supplicants is successful at convincing people that magnanimous morality requires substituting political action for market incentives, even though the former generates outcomes that are less efficient and moral than does the latter. The reality is that political behavior is as motivated by self-interest as market behavior is. … As long as there are people who cannot resist the appeal of morality on the cheap, the political process will continue to serve up cheap morality. And the result will continue to be neither moral nor cheap.”

Begging for Billionaires. The documentary film Begging for Billionaires will be shown in Wichita next week. The film’s synopsis is this: “In 2005, a divided U.S. Supreme Court gave city governments the authority to take private homes and businesses by eminent domain and transfer ownership to private developers for the purpose of building things like shopping centers, corporate office towers and professional sports arenas. According to the court, the community economic development benefits of such private projects qualified them as being for ‘public use’ under the 5th Amendment’s ‘takings clause.’ The Court’s ruling immediately sparked public outrage and was broadly criticized as a gross misinterpretation of the constitution. Through a mix of guerrilla journalism, expert interviews, and the stories of victims; Begging For Billionaires reveals the fallout of the Kelo case, exposing how city governments brazenly seize property after property from the powerless and give it to the powerful for the pettiest of non-essential ‘economic development’ projects, many of which are subsidized with taxpayer money. Meanwhile, poor and disadvantaged families are forced from their homes. Everyday citizens watch helplessly as their family histories are bulldozed to smithereens. In some cases, homeowners scramble to save their life’s possessions as demolition crews pulverize the walls around them, and Centuries-old neighborhoods are wiped from existence despite rich histories and beautifully maintained homes. Begging for Billionaires begs the question: are we losing sight of the balance between individual property rights and those of the community?” The movie, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, will be shown on Monday, December 13 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

O’Toole on urban planning. As Wichita considers approving a plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita, we should consider the wisdom of Randal O’Toole: “Urban planners want to shape our cities. And they want our cities to shape you. That’s the conclusion of Cato Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole. He argues that the rationales for most urban planning collapses upon examination.” O’Toole visited Wichita earlier this year. Click here to view a short video of him speaking on urban planning.

Kansas House of Representatives leaders elected. “House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson and Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe, will hold pivotal leadership positions in the Kansas House after voting Monday among GOP members who re-elected O’Neal to the chamber’s top job and selected Siegfreid as the new House majority leader.” More from Tim Carpenter in the Topeka Capital-Journal.

School lessons learned. Joel Klein, Chancellor of New York City public schools, writing in the Wall Street Journal: “Over the past eight years, I’ve been privileged to serve as chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, the nation’s largest school district. Working with a mayor who courageously took responsibility for our schools, our department has made significant changes and progress. Along the way, I’ve learned some important lessons about what works in public education, what doesn’t, and what (and who) are the biggest obstacles to the transformative changes we still need. … Traditional proposals for improving education — more money, better curriculum, smaller classes, etc. — aren’t going to get the job done. … Bureaucrats, unions and politicians had their way, and they blamed poor results on students and their families. … The people with the loudest and best-funded voices are committed to maintaining a status quo that protects their needs even if it doesn’t work for children. … As I leave the best job I’ve ever had, I know that more progress is possible despite the inevitable resistance to change. To prevail, the public and, most importantly, parents must insist on a single standard: Every school has to be one to which we’d send our own kids. We are not remotely close to that today. We know how to fix public education. The question is whether we have the political will to do it.” This is more evidence of how far behind the rest of the states is Kansas.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday October 14, 2010

Wichita mayor to lead LKM. City press release: “Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer was elected as the 81st president of the League of Kansas Municipalities (LKM) during the organization’s annual conference Tuesday morning in Overland Park. … He also urged his fellow local leaders to restore the public’s confidence in government. ‘We need to have our citizens recognize the value of competent government, and why our freedoms and security depend on it,’ he said.” As noted a few days ago on these pages, the League of Kansas Municipalities is a special interest group working in favor not of the citizens who live in Kansas towns and cities, but the politicians and bureaucrats that run them — and their cronies — who benefit from the LKM’s advocacy of things like TIF districts, STAR bonds, tax abatements, and eminent domain for economic development. So I don’t know if we should be proud that our mayor is the president of this group.

Goody Clancy in Topeka, too. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Goody Clancy, the planning firm working for Wichita is also working in Topeka.

FactFinder 12: Pompeo campaign ad. Analysis of an advertisement by Kansas fourth Congressional district candidate Republican Mike Pompeo by Michael Schwanke of KWCH 12 Eyewitness News concludes that Pompeo used some of the techniques that he and Republicans strongly criticized Democrat Raj Goyle for using. Schwanke concludes: “Goyle made those statements, but the ad doesn’t provide complete context.” This is the same issue that got Republicans riled up a few weeks ago.

Pompeo poll released. The Pompeo campaign has released a poll that was commissioned and paid for by the campaign. The results are Pompeo with 58 percent of the vote, and Goyle with 31 percent. Two minor party candidates get three percent each, and undecided voters are at 16 percent. In its analysis the polling firm notes “the confrontational attacks by Goyle have backfired and have resulted in Goyle’s negative rating increasing substantially.” Candidate-produced polls need to be considered carefully. Goyle’s campaign has released their own polls in August and September which showed a smaller Pompeo lead than public polls. FiveThirtyEight indicates it flags polls which meet its definition of a partisan poll, which it defines as a poll conducted [on behalf of] any current candidate for office. It also says “Nevertheless, they are included in the ratings. If a pollster releases a poll into the public domain, we assume that they are interested in doing their best and most accurate work, regardless of whom the poll is conducted for.” The firm that conducted this poll for Pompeo conducted a poll for the same campaign July 6th through 8th, about a month before the August primary election, with results of Pompeo leading Wink Hartman 27 percent to 21 percent. The actual results were Pompeo 39 percent, Jean Schodorf 24 percent, and Hartman 23 percent. Public polls underestimated Pompeo’s actual vote total, too.

Kansas legislator Merrick honored. American Legislative Exchange Council, described as a “nonpartisan individual membership organization of state legislators which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions” has recognized Kansas Representative and Majority Leader Ray Merrick with its highest award. “The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is pleased to announce that Representative Ray Merrick of the Kansas House of Representatives recently received the highest honor that a setting legislator can receive from the organization — Legislator of the Year. Rep. Merrick received the award at ALEC’s 37th Annual Meeting, held in San Diego, Cal., August 5 — 8, 2010. Nearly 1,500 state legislators, policy experts, and private-sector leaders from across the United States attended three days of intensive discussions on the critical issues facing the states and our nation. This award is given to state legislators who are ALEC members in good standing and have distinguished themselves by advancing, introducing, and/or enacting policies based on the fundamental Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.”

Education reform setback. Wall Street Journal Review & Outlook: “Michelle Rhee described her decision yesterday to step down as Washington, D.C., schools chancellor after 3½ years as ‘heartbreaking.’ We share the sentiment. That one of the nation’s most talented school reformers was forced out does not bode well for students … Ms. Rhee’s resignation ‘won immediate support from the Washington Teachers’ Union,’ a strong signal that her departure is a victory for the adults who run public education, not the kids in failing schools. … One reason education reform is so difficult is because unions believe their political influence and money will outlast even the bravest reformers in the end — which is why they’re cheering today in the District of Columbia.”

Wichita Eagle voter guide available. Click here. You can get a list of the candidates, along with their responses to questions, customized for your address. The first advance voter ballots were mailed yesterday.

Kansas Jackass blogger guilty. Kansas Watchdog reports: “Former blogger Jason Croucher entered a plea of guilty to 3 counts of child pornography on Wednesday morning at the U.S. Court House. Croucher’s progressive ‘Kansas Jackass’ blog was widely read by members of the Kansas Legislature and others in Kansas in 2009. The blog is no longer online.” Croucher operated anonymously until “outed” by Earl Glynn and myself, although he planned to become known on his own at some time. His style was to poke fun at his opponents, using anything negative about them as material for his attacks. Rarely was public policy discussed in a meaningful and serious way.

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line. “Gov. Mark Parkinson: I have six employees. I need to expand my business or quit. Please loan me $1 million to be paid back with my employees’ income tax. Thank you.” A fine example of government intervention crowding out private investment and initiative.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday October 12, 2010

Wichita Visioneers in Louisville. The Wichita Business Journal’s Emily Behlmann reports on a trip by Wichitans to Louisville to get ideas on transforming Wichita’s downtown. Hopefully they won’t get this idea, as reported yesterday by the Louisville Courier-Journal: “The heavily subsidized 4th Street Live entertainment district has come under criticism from locally owned businesses for receiving millions of dollars in tax breaks and government subsidies — including a controversial, $950,000 city loan that won’t necessarily have to be repaid.” According to Wichita planner Goody Clancy, heavy subsidy isn’t supposed to be necessary in Wichita. And, I hope all the planners read Jack Cashill’s take on Louisville’s planning: Good intentions, and planners, can sap a city’s soul.

Lynn Jenkins: Don’t try to make Koch Industries a scapegoat. From today’s Wichita Eagle: “Koch management is dedicated to keeping the company growing. It reinvests 90 percent of company profits back into the businesses, allowing them to expand product lines and hire more employees. That is good for consumers and for workers. However, the company has come under fire because its owners support free-market principles inconsistent with the current Democrat leadership.”

Should candidates bother to debate? Rasmussen finds that nearly half of likely voters have watched at least one debate, and about half find them informative.

Costly approach to Kansas economic development — or defense. “Insiders were still not talking Wednesday about the potential cost of saving 6,000 aircraft workers’ jobs in Wichita. Outsiders say that some circumstances at their employer, Hawker Beechcraft, are so different from other companies Kansas has fought to keep that it may be impossible to gauge what it might cost to help prevent the 80-year-old Wichita firm from moving lock, stock and avionics to Baton Rouge, La., and cashing in on Louisiana incentive packages rumored to be worth as much as $400 million.” From Kansas Reporter.

FiveThirtyEight. More about the political site FiveThirtyEight, which I took a look at on Sunday, especially its coverage of Kansas races. Here, James Taranto discusses FiveThirtyEight, concluding: “The recent acquisition of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com makes for a striking contrast with the paper’s uneven news reporting and dreadful op-ed columnists.”

No Wichita city council today. It’s the League of Kansas Municipalities conference in Overland Park this week. LKM is a special interest group working in favor not of the citizens who live in Kansas towns and cities, but the politicians and bureaucrats that run them — and their cronies — who benefit from the LKM’s advocacy of things like TIF districts, STAR bonds, tax abatements, and eminent domain for economic development.

County commissioner forum tonight. Tonight at 7:00 pm at Gloria dei Lutheran Church, 1101 N. River Blvd. Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Richard Ranzau will appear.

Parkinson is moderate — he says again. Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson — yet again — engages in self-congratulation over “how Kansas has weathered the economic recession by setting politics aside and working together to find moderate, common-sense solutions.” He’s done this several times since the legislative session was over — so many times that I’ve lost count. Evidence of a guilty conscience, perhaps? Parkinson’s abandonment of the Kansas Democratic Party by not choosing to run for reelection has put that party at a tremendous disadvantage in this year’s elections.

Bureaucracy vs. Bureaucracy? “Andrew Gray, Libertarian Candidate for Kansas Governor, says that simplifying or repealing unnecessary statutes and regulations is a key part of his administration’s plan to empower the private sector to create jobs and prosperity in Kansas. He also says he’s pleased that Senator Brownback is at least talking about similar actions. However, Gray finds it ridiculous that Senator Brownback is actually planning to create more bureaucracy in order to cut bureaucracy.” I think he’s got a point. But anything that is necessary to reduce the size of government is what we need to do.

The impossibility of an informed electorate. D.W. MacKenzie writing for Mises Daily, reacting to a John Stossel suggestion that uninformed people have a duty not to vote: “The problem with voting in modern America is that we have a politicized society, and modern society is extraordinarily complex. Stossel suggests that only people who follow politics should vote. However, even those who follow politics very closely do not understand the implications of changes in public policy. The lesson here is that efforts to incrementally reform government policies and programs through the democratic process are futile. To the extent that we vote at all, rational people should vote to depoliticize the economy. … What this means is that we need to reintroduce the price system as the primary method of economic communication, and the profit-and-loss sorting mechanism as the primary method of social reform.”

Gallup: Americans negative towards federal government. “More than 7 in 10 Americans use a word or phrase that is clearly negative when providing a top-of-mind reaction to the federal government.” Details here: Americans’ Image of “Federal Government” Mostly Negative.

A minority opinion, or a delusion? Paul Krugman in the New York Times: “Here’s the narrative you hear everywhere: President Obama has presided over a huge expansion of government, but unemployment has remained high. And this proves that government spending can’t create jobs. Here’s what you need to know: The whole story is a myth. There never was a big expansion of government spending. In fact, that has been the key problem with economic policy in the Obama years: we never had the kind of fiscal expansion that might have created the millions of jobs we need.”

Goody Clancy: public subsidy required for Wichita downtown plan

The recent presentation of the draft master plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita gave Wichitans a preview of the forms of public assistance that Goody Clancy recommends the city use. The plan may be viewed at the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation website.

It is a given, according to Goody Clancy, that downtown development will require public subsidy. Here’s an example as to why it is necessary: One of the issues with downtown development, especially in Wichita according to Goody Clancy, is “land acquisition & land lease issues.” It is contended that land ownership is fragmented, and assembling parcels for development is difficult. Therefore, public assistance is required.

The shakiness of this argument can be seen by examining recent events in Wichita. Earlier this year, a developer wanted to build a hotel in the downtown WaterWalk area. There are no land acquisition issues there. The city assembled that property — using eminent domain as a tool — some years ago. There is one owner. Yet, the hotel still required massive subsidy to make it economically feasible, according to the developer and Wichita city staff.

In a Wednesday morning workshop on the issue of public funding, a Goody Clancy consultant hinted at a legislative solution to the land acquisition problem. No more details were given, but solutions to problems like this usually involve the use of eminent domain.

Public assistance is proposed to be used only for those items that have a public purpose. The primary use is likely to be public parking. According to the logic of Goody Clancy consultants, if public funds pay for a parking garage located between an apartment building and an office building, that really doesn’t benefit just those two properties. Instead, it benefits everyone. It’s a public amenity. It’s infrastructure.

Nevermind that anywhere but downtown, people have to pay for their own parking. Homeowners build garages and driveways at their own expense. Developers build parking lots on their own.

While “structured parking” — that’s planner-speak for multi-story parking garages — is more expensive to build per parking spot than surface lots, that’s no reason for the public to pay.

The forms of public assistance mentioned as available for use include, at the state and national level: historic preservation tax credits, low income housing tax credits, new market tax credits, STAR bonds, brownfield grants, livable city grants, and transportation funds.

At the local level, programs mentioned include capital investment, tax increment financing (TIF), community improvement districts (CID), facade loans/grants, low interest loan pools, and land.

The last item refers to the fact that Goody Clancy considers it an advantage that the City of Wichita owns a lot of land downtown, as it can control the timing and features of development.

Missing from this list is any mention of a direct tax to fund downtown redevelopment. But downtown leaders admire the city sales tax used to fund development in downtown Oklahoma City, and some have privately told me that a sales tax would be good for downtown Wichita. I expect to see a sales tax proposed in Wichita, as I don’t believe there is enough funding available through the sources mentioned above to do all that downtown boosters will want to do.

Supporters of a sales tax for downtown subsidies will use the Intrust Bank Arena as an example of a successful project funded through a sales tax. They’ll say, as did Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson this year, that people didn’t even notice the one cent per dollar sales tax. It’s harmless, they will contend, despite evidence to the contrary. Not to mention that pronouncement of the arena as a sustainable success story is premature.

Goody Clancy proposes that projects qualify for public assistance through a point system, which is reported on in a Wichita Business Journal article. By meeting established criteria, developers would earn — or not earn — points. Earning a certain level of points would be necessary for the city to consider the application for public assistance, and the number of points earned would help the city justify pouring public assistance into a project. Presumably the point system could help the city rank and prioritize projects that are competing for limited funds.

Further considerations the city would use in deciding which projects to subsidize include, according to the presentation: team experience, financial qualifications, references, project economics, and public/private leverage ratio.

The problem is that any point system the city would use would be a system that meets political criteria, not market criteria. We must realize that the incentives and motivations of politicians and city hall bureaucrats are very different from the incentives and constraints that control behavior in markets. As Gene Callahan explains:

The Public Choice School has pointed out another force … Strong incentives exist for politicians to favor special-interest groups at the expense of the general public. Those upon whom benefits are concentrated are motivated to campaign hard for those benefits.

Specifically, for downtown redevelopment to be successful, we need to have development that is profitable for the private sector, considering all costs. By subsidizing certain developers according to political criteria the city ignores and distorts the dictates of markets, and capital is misapplied. People make decisions for wrong reasons using incorrect information.

While some city council members openly speak of the “free market” with disdain and other members pay it lip service only, we must remember that the free market consists of, in Wichita’s case, hundreds of thousands of consumers making decisions every day about where they want to live, work, and play. These decisions are made based on the individual preferences of each person, supplemented by the information the price system supplies.

The price system is the best way we have to communicate the relative value of things. Hayek explains its importance:

Fundamentally, in a system in which the knowledge of the relevant facts is dispersed among many people, prices can act to coordinate the separate actions of different people in the same way as subjective values help the individual to coordinate the parts of his plan.

The price system is a wonderful, almost miraculous system that, as Hayek writes, coordinates the actions of millions. It allows for the process of economic calculation which is at the heart of capitalism. The lack of economic calculation based on a price system is the reason why socialism fails everywhere it is tried. Callahan summarizes what Mises showed the world:

Mises showed that socialism is incapable of achieving an efficient use of society’s resources, because its economic planners have no means by which to perform economic calculation.

The point system that Goody Clancy proposes to dish out subsidy is a bypass of the price system and economic calculation. It substitutes the judgment of central planners for free people coordinating activities through the price system. Wichitans should reject this idea.

Letters on Wichita Bowllagio

Letters recently appeared in the Wichita Eagle regarding the proposed Bowllagio project, a west side entertainment destination. Bowllagio is planned to have a bowling and entertainment center, a boutique hotel, and a restaurant owned by a celebrity television chef.

The developers of this project propose to make use of $13 million in STAR bond financing. STAR bonds are issued for the immediate benefit of the developers, with the sales tax collected in the district used to pay off the bonds. The project also proposes to be a Community Improvement District, which allows an additional two cents per dollar to be collected in sales tax, again for the benefit of the district.

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Property rights

Imagine paying your mortgage and taxes for many years, only to get a knock on your door one day. A real estate developer tells you he wants your land.

That’s what happened to a couple on South Maize Road in the boundaries of the proposed Bowllagio sales-tax-and-revenue (STAR) bonds district. They were offered the county-appraised value, plus 10 percent, for their home. But they don’t want to move, as they couldn’t find a comparable property for what the developer offered.

Now the homeowners are concerned they may be forced out of their home through the process of eminent domain. This forceful taking of property by government is one of the worst possible violations of private property rights.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said that the city does not intend to use eminent domain for the proposed Bowllagio entertainment complex.

That’s good news. The city can and should affirm this promise by writing it into the Bowllagio authorizing ordinance. Supporting private property rights is essential; the use of public funds for private projects is bad policy.

Susan Oliver Estes
Wichita

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Let developer fill funding gap

Bowllagio’s representative told the Wichita City Council last week that the developer needed $13 million in public money to fill the projected funding shortfall for the project to be economically feasible. I believe the developer needs to dig deeper into his own pocket to fill this funding gap, or seek private venture capital.

As an experienced real estate practitioner, I am aggrieved that the Wichita mayor and City Council members lack the necessary experience to properly evaluate these projects. They have proved to be little match in protecting the public treasury against sophisticated developers accustomed to using the public purse as part of their real estate funding formulas.

The investment of public money in bowling alleys, restaurants, shops and hotels that compete with existing businesses that offer the same services is not a proper role for government to play and is wrong. It creates an unlevel playing field for those businesses that compete in the same market using their own money.

If the Bowllagio development venture is an economically feasible project, the private developer will find the private money he needs to fund it.

John R. Todd
Wichita

Jeff Fluhr updates status of downtown Wichita

Last Friday, Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, addressed members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. His topic was the future of downtown Wichita and its revitalization.

“It’s very important that we have a downtown that is very clear and very concise on where it wants to go,” he said. He likened the development of downtown to the planning of an automobile trip, so that we don’t make major investments that we later regret.

The potential of increased private investment is an important goal for downtown. Predictability will help the private sector invest, he said.

As to the importance of downtown, he said that is where the distinctive quality of a city is found — its history, cultural arts, and other institutions that represent the community. Tourism is another goal of a revitalized downtown Wichita, along with an improved perception in the global market as a great place to do business.

Old Town is an example of success in Wichita, he said, an example of what can be done when people are creative and purposeful. He said that Wichita’s transit center, being located near the new Intrust Bank Arena, provides the potential to use mass transit.

As to the economics of downtown Wichita redevelopment, he showed a chart, nearly a year old, that compares public and private investment in downtown over the past ten years. The two amounts are nearly equal to each other. Fluhr said that Goody Clancy, the firm hired to to plan the revitalization of downtown Wichita, has offered the opinion that the way Wichita has measured investment in downtown — using capital investment only — is not an accurate picture. We should also take into account companies that may have moved into the downtown area because of the improvements that have been made. What types of jobs have been created, and what is the spin-off from them?

Addressing the WaterWalk project, he said that an important event took place last November, when people started moving in to the residential building. Now we see human activity in the development. The landscaping is being installed at this time.

Along Douglas, Fluhr said that gaps in the buildings are a problem. We need to bring storefronts back to downtown. This creates an atmosphere of walkability, which helps to bring residential back to downtown, an important thing he said we must continue to work on.

Mentioning the Q-Line, the free trolley bus service, Fluhr said that “we’ll literally have a couple thousand people that can be on this thing in a given night.”

Besides downtown, Fluhr said that they’re also looking at “first-ring” neighborhoods, the areas that surround downtown. In response to a question, he said we need a healthy city throughout. The first-ring neighborhoods may provide housing that is more affordable than in downtown proper.

Analysis

In comparing the planning of downtown Wichita to a car trip, Fluhr made the same presumption that Wichita city council member Lavonta Williams made when she compared downtown planning to planning her lessons as a schoolteacher. The planning of even a small portion of a city is an immensely more complicated task. That these two figures make such comparisons leads me to believe that we don’t understand the monumental scope of the task we’ve decided to undertake.

Regarding predictability being important to private sector investors: the planning process right now has created huge uncertainty as to the future of downtown. Who is likely to invest in downtown at this time, when so much is up in the air?

Further, the potential use of eminent domain to take property creates uncertainty, too. This is why it is important for the city to swear off the use of eminent domain, and even the threat of its use.

There’s also this concern I have about the predictability Fluhr said is needed for private investment to flourish: For the future to be certain, someone has to enforce the plans that have been made. All the methods that government has to enforce or encourage human behavior lead to loss of economic freedom: incentives, grants, tax abatements, subsidies, regulation, zoning, eminent domain, preferred treatment. All are contrary to economic freedom.

It’s also troubling that now we’re going to be measuring the economic impact of public investment in a new way, using — if I can read between the lines a bit — things like “multipliers” and other economic development jargon and devices to exaggerate the impact of public investment. It’s important to remember that when left to their own devices, Wichitans have made investments that have produced tremendous economic impact with their own multiplier effects. These investments, however, have not always been made in the politically-favored downtown area. Instead, they’re been made where people wanted them to be made, so their economic impact, in terms of creating wealth and things that people really want, has been greater than if directed by government planners.

As to the Q-Line claim of thousands of riders in a night, I hope Fluhr meant the potential capacity of the Q-Line system, as its actual ridership is much less and very expensive on a per-rider basis. See Wichita’s Q-Line an expensive ride for ridership numbers, which have been less than 1,500 per month.

It’s impossible not to appreciate Mr. Fluhr’s enthusiasm for his work and his genuine concern and vision for the future of downtown Wichita. I’m concerned, however, that Fluhr and the downtown Wichita revitalization boosters — let’s call them the “planners” — have fallen victim to what Randal O’Toole and others call the design fallacy.

O’Toole explains in his book The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future:

These planners are guilty of believing the design fallacy, the notion that architectural design is a major determinant in shaping human behavior. While design does play a role at the margins of certain things — for example, certain patterns can make housing more vulnerable to crime — the effects that planners project are often highly exaggerated.

Later O’Toole writes:

The worst thing about having a vision is that it confers upon the visionary a moral absolutism: only highly prescriptive regulation can ensure that the vision overcomes an uncaring populace responding to a free market that planners do not really trust. But the more prescriptive the plan, the more likely it is that the plan will be wrong, and such errors will prove extremely costly for the city or region that tries to implement the plan. … Problems such as these stem from the design fallacy that is shared by so many planners and the architects who inspire them.

Do the Wichita planners suffer from the design fallacy? Fluhr mentioned “engagement of the river” as he has in past talks. Referring to a conversion of an old school building into residential use, he used language like “a dynamic living space in a renovated school,” “each of the units is unique,” and “taking distinctive architecture to us and bringing it to new use.”

Referring to our Carnegie Library, he said that its architecture is unique to Wichita, and wouldn’t be found in other cities. Projects like this, along with the Broadview Hotel and Union Station, should “remain in our fabric” as part of the “distinctive qualities that make us who we are.”

This focus on the architecture of buildings in a city is characteristic of past talks by Fluhr. So yes, I believe that he and the planners are influenced by the design fallacy. It’s something we’ll have to watch out for as we proceed with the planning process.

Kelo abandonment holds lesson for Wichita

In New London, Connecticut, developers wanted to build a new business complex on land owned by a number of homeowners, including Suzette Kelo. She didn’t want to sell, and the case eventually wound its way to the United States Supreme Court. In the decision, the court ruled in favor of the ability of cities to use eminent domain to take property from one party and give to another private party for economic development.

Locally, at least one Wichita bureaucrat was relieved. According to Wichita Eagle reporting:

City economic development director Allen Bell lauded the Supreme Court decision.

“I’m relieved to know that we’ll continue to have an important tool for implementing economic development and urban redevelopment projects here in Wichita,” Bell said. “But this is a tool we do not use lightly. The city of Wichita has never sought to use eminent domain except in very rare cases when there is no alternative to keep a project alive and further the overall needs of the city.”

So what has happened in New London? Nothing. In fact, worse than nothing, as the planned development has been abandoned. Paul Jacob of the Citizens on Charge Foundation gives an excellent wrap-up of the situation in The politics of government usurpation, post-Kelo.

Eminent domain was used to assemble the property where the WaterWalk development stands in downtown Wichita. This development is emblematic of the failures of public-private partnerships. Is its failure the result of its foundation built on eminent domain?

As Wichita prepares its plans for downtown revitalization, freedom-loving citizens need to insist that the city forgo the use of eminent domain, especially the threat of its use. On its face, it appears that Kansas has a strong law prohibiting the type of eminent domain takings that the Supreme Court authorized in the Kelo decision. Kansas law says that the legislature must pass a law allowing the use of eminent domain on a specific parcel of property, if the purpose is to give it to another private party.

But it is the threat of the use of eminent domain that remains the real problem. We can easily imagine a scenario where the City of Wichita decides it needs a parcel of property for some public-private use. Mayor Carl Brewer may make the case that the property is needed so that Wichita can create hundreds, perhaps thousands of jobs. The economic future of our city hangs in the balance, he’ll say. Dale Goter, Wichita Governmental Relations Manager, will make the case to legislators that Wichita really needs the property. By the way, legislator from Overland Park, won’t your city also want to use eminent domain someday?

The poor property owner, who in the past would have been faced with a small battle in the Kansas district court, now has to lobby the entire Kansas legislature to protect his property.

This is why it is important for Wichitans to insist the the plans for downtown Wichita revitalization specifically state that eminent domain — not even its threat — will be used.

This summer I traveled to Anaheim, California to learn about a redevelopment district where the city decided not to use eminent domain. The article Anaheim’s mayor wrote about this planning effort is titled “Development Without Eminent Domain: Foundation of Freedom Inspires Urban Growth.” It’s very informative.

Wichita planning puts freedom, prosperity at risk

Remarks to be delivered to the October 13, 2009 meeting of the Wichita City Council.

Mr. Mayor, members of the council,

I’m here today to ask this council to put aside consideration of this proposal. My reasons are not particular to this proposal or planning firm, but rather I am concerned that we believe we have the ability to successfully plan at all.

Here’s just one reason why I’m concerned: Wichita’s favorite method of financing developments is the TIF district. Recognizing this, the Goody Clancy proposal under the heading “Opportunities” mentions “Continue to employ established TIF funding mechanisms.”

But as documented by the Wichita Eagle last year, our city has a poor record of financial performance with TIF districts.

Another reason I’m concerned is that our attempts at downtown redevelopment so far have produced mixed results. In particular, the WaterWalk project in downtown Wichita has so far consumed $41 million in public subsidy, and we have very little to show for it. Shouldn’t we see if we can nurture this project to success before we take on projects that are much larger?

Then there’s the presumption expressed by city leaders that downtown must be revitalized for the sake of our entire city. Several months ago I asked Mr. Williams to supply me with references that provide evidence for the claimed benefit of downtown redevelopment. At first he referred me to the mayor’s vision statement. But with all due respect, Mr. Mayor, your visions and dreams aren’t evidence.

We do have a document that describes what’s been built in several cities. But the mere fact that buildings were built or renovated is not evidence of success. In these descriptions there’s no discussion of the cost, or the public subsidy needed to redevelop these downtowns, and importantly, no discussion of the effect on the entire city.

When we look at the effect of things like TIF districts on an entire city, we find evidence like economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman found. They concluded that yes, development happens in the subsidized TIF district. But it’s often at detriment to the entire city.

Besides TIF districts, I’m also concerned about the use of other public subsidy, including a sales tax that some are talking about. I’m also concerned about the potential for eminent domain abuse. This summer I traveled to Anaheim, California to learn about a redevelopment district where the city decided not to use these techniques. The article Anaheim’s mayor wrote about this planning effort is subtitled “Foundation of Freedom Inspires Urban Growth.”

That’s what I’m really concerned about: freedom.

Why aren’t we satisfied with letting people live where they want to live? Why aren’t we satisfied with letting developers’ capital flow to where they think it finds its most valued use? Why do we think that centralized government planning can do a better job of making decisions and allocating resources than the dispersed knowledge of all the people of Wichita?

Randal O’Toole has written about the impossibility of the planning task. In his book The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future, he writes this about urban planners: “Because they can build a house, planners think they can design an entire urban area.”

He expands on the difficulty of the planning task at length in his book.

These difficulties can be summed up like this: If we think that we can plan the revitalization of downtown Wichita, we ought to heed this quote from Friedrich Hayek’s book The Fatal Conceit: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

Mr. Mayor and members of the council, our efforts at downtown redevelopment have produced mixed results at best. Yet we have a lot of development — commercial and residential — taking place in Wichita. It’s just not happening downtown. Instead, it’s happening where people want it to happen. It’s happening without TIF districts, public subsidy, or the use of eminent domain.

Why can’t we be happy with that?

Wichita city council: more travel on tap

At tomorrow’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, approval of more travel is on the agenda.

Tomorrow’s agenda item is this: “Approval of travel expenses for Mayor Brewer, Council Member Schlapp, Council Member Gray, and Council Member Williams to attend the NLC Congress of Cities in San Antonio, Texas, November 10-15, 2009.” This is all the information that is available.

The reaction of citizens to council member Janet Miller’s junketeering to France has been overwhelmingly against this type of wasteful travel. Now we have four members of the council traveling for five days to a National League of Cities event.

What is the value of this conference? Citizens might be excused for assuming that an organization with such a lofty name acts only in the interest of citizens. In reality, the NLC is a special interest group, and its interests are not always in line with citizen concerns. For example, this position paper outlines its stance on the use of eminent domain for economic development. It’s a position, as you can imagine, in favor of cities’ rights to take property for economic development.

Wichita downtown revitalization discussed on Kansas Week

Bob Weeks discusses planning for downtown Wichita revitalization and what he learned on his trip to the Platinum Triangle in Anaheim, California. Host Tim Brown and guest Randy Brown also appear. From the KPTS Television show Kansas Week, August 14, 2009.

The article referred to is Wichita’s getting ready to plan.

Wichita’s getting ready to plan

As the City of Wichita develops a grand plan for downtown revitalization, can we have a process that is freedom-friendly and respects property rights? I went to Anaheim to find out.

Leaders in Wichita — both private and public sector — believe that Wichita needs a plan for downtown. To support this, the city is seeking to develop a Downtown Revitalization Master Plan, a “a twenty-year vision for its thriving downtown.” Right away I want to ask: if downtown is thriving, why does it need revitalization?

The document Wichita used to lure planning firms to apply for the planning job is full of ambitious and colorful language: “a community synergy that is contagious,” “casting a grand vision to realize our potential,” “the bold vision the community is seeking.”

The danger we face is that Wichita’s plan will end up like almost all other urban plans — a top-down effort micromanaged by politicians and bureaucrats, people whose incentives are all wrong. We already have the structure in place, with our mayor promoting the plan for downtown as his signature achievement, and a tax-supported downtown development organization headed by a young and energetic planning professional.

There is a different way to go about redevelopment, a way that respects freedom and property rights, while at the same time promising a better chance of success.

Last month I visited Anaheim, California, to learn more about the Platinum Triangle. This is an area of low-rise warehouses and industry that the city thought would be a good place for redevelopment. (Anaheim’s old downtown was redeveloped starting in the 1970s, is fairly nondescript, and has not met expectations.)

What Anaheim decided to do with the Platinum Triangle is to employ “freedom-friendly” principles in the district’s development. Or, as the subtitle to an article written by Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle states, a “Foundation of Freedom Inspires Urban Growth.”

Here are the important things that Anaheim has done that are out of the ordinary:

No use of eminent domain to take property. The forceful taking of property by government for the purposes of giving it to someone else is one of the worst violations of property rights and liberty that we can imagine. But it’s a prime tool of redevelopment, one that the planning profession says is essential to their efforts to reshape cities.

In Kansas, we have a relatively new eminent domain law that, on its face, should provide strong protection to property owners. It’s unknown whether this protection will be effective when a city such as Wichita asks the legislature to allow the use of eminent domain, which is what the law requires. If a city makes the case that the success of Wichita and thousands of jobs depend on the use of eminent domain, will legislators go along?

Overlay zoning that respects existing land use. Instead of replacing existing zoning, the city added an “overlay zone.” This meant that while the land had new permissible uses and restrictions, existing rights were protected. It’s only if existing property owners wanted to pursue new development that they would have to conform to the new development standards contained in the overlay zoning.

No public subsidies or incentives. In California, they’re called redevelopment districts. In Kansas, we call them tax increment financing or TIF districts. In either case, this mechanism allows property owners to, in effect, retain their own increased property taxes for the benefit of their developments, something that the average taxpayer — or real estate developer not working in a politically-favored area — can’t do.

The City of Wichita views TIF districts as a powerful tool for development. The city has many existing TIF districts, and we can expect that others will be created to support downtown revitalization. While many people recognize and agree that the taking of land through eminent domain for economic development is bad, the taking of tax revenues through TIF is subtle. Most citizens don’t know this is happening.

Anaheim did a few other things: it streamlined the permitting process, reduced parking regulation, developed a broad-based environment impact report, and relaxed requirements for balancing commercial and residential uses.

It also used a “first-come, first served” housing permit allocation process. Instead of allocating housing permits to each parcel, permits were allocated to a much larger district. Developers could claim them through a competitive process and use them flexibly.

What’s been the result in the Platinum Triangle? After the district was formed in 2004, development started at a fast pace. But the housing crisis in California has definitely put a damper on the pace of development. An illustration: In a loft project in the Platinum Triangle, condos originally priced at $400,000 are now offered at $250,000. It’s expected that as the housing crisis eases, developers will go ahead with their plans.

The Platinum Triangle offers a distinctly different model for redevelopment than that practiced in most cities. A few other cities in California have noticed and are adopting Platinum Triangle-style, freedom-friendly, principles.

The question we in Wichita now face is this: Will Wichita adopt a freedom-friendly approach to downtown revitalization?

Sedgwick County needs to slow down, deliberate land purchase

Sedgwick County seems to be in a rush to make a huge decision that will have far-reaching and long-lasting effects on our county. We don’t have, however, anywhere near all the information we need to make this decision. We need to slow down and decide what role we want to have county government play in economic development.

The stated goal of Sedgwick County’s purchase of the Bel Aire industrial park is to have a site ready for companies of 1,000 or more employees. The Wichita Eagle article Sedgwick County seeks to attract industry with land plan tells us, though, that there are just five or six deals like this each year. Research by the Eagle reporter found more than 100 sites already exist, from all across the country, that meet the necessary criteria. So we’re entering a contest with pretty long odds.

On top of that, according to Sedgwick County, the goal of the industrial park is “to welcome only companies in the composites and alternative-energy fields.” This limits the companies the county would pursue to a number smaller than the five or six deals each year mentioned above.

(It’s worth noting that alternative-energy companies, such as wind turbine companies, exist only because of government subsidy aimed at curing a problem that can’t be fixed. Last year, as the production credit for wind power was about to expire, Congress was told that no further wind power would be developed unless the subsidy was restored.)

If the county asks “do you need rail access?” and it is provided for free, why wouldn’t any company say they need it? I’ve been told, however, that it’s not uncommon for companies to list rail access as part of their requirements, but then never need any rail cars once the facility opens. Some of the industries that composites may be used in are industries like medical devices. These products aren’t shipped by rail.

The issue of needing water and sewer utilities in place before the park can be marketed doesn’t make sense. These utilities could, if government wanted to, be installed very quickly, much faster than a building can be built.

That brings up another point — what about electricity and natural gas service? Depending on the type of industry, these utilities are vitally important. We don’t hear about the lack of these utilities being a problem. The likely reason for this is that electricity and gas are provided by private sector companies (even though most are highly regulated).

If a private utility can provide complicated and expensive electrical service infrastructure quickly to a building, why can’t a government quickly provide water and sewer?

It’s also claimed that the reason Wichita didn’t get the Target Distribution Center a few years ago was the lack of land ready to go. “Shovel ready,” so to speak. But according to reporting in the Topeka Capital-Journal, that city had to use eminent domain to forcibly acquire some of the land needed to assemble the tract.

Topeka used purchase options to secure the availability of land, too. I am told that when this strategy was presented to county staff, they had no idea of what this meant. This is evidence that Sedgwick County is not experienced and equipped to be in the land development business.

If Sedgwick County is determined to proceed and acquire the industrial park, we need to find some way to mitigate the damage to existing real estate developers in the Wichita area. That’s because when government can give away land, when it can dish out tax exemptions and other perks, the private sector is at a severe disadvantage.

Some ideas that have surfaced are these:

  • Limit the industrial park to large — very large — buildings only. Don’t allow smaller buildings that compete with what the private sector already has made available.

  • Restrict tenants to companies from outside the Wichita metropolitan area.
  • When existing Wichita-area companies see the perks — free land, etc. — lavished upon companies that move to the industrial park, they will want the same incentives. These incentives could be made available to companies in all industrial parks in the county. After all, we need to retain existing jobs.

There seems to be a great deal of haste towards making a decision on purchasing this land and the county being in the industrial park development business. This decision process is moving much too quickly. Finding a stable set of facts from which to conduct debate is a problem too, as some of the details in the Sunday Wichita Eagle story are different from what was presented at the commission meeting less than one week before.

A project of this scope would take from four to six months for experienced land developers to consider and perform due diligence. Sedgwick County has been considering this deal for about two weeks. As we’ve seen, the county is in no way experienced in this type of business.

Eminent domain abuse, then economic failure

The Cato Institute has a new video that details the history of Kelo v. City of New London, in which Suzette Kelo’s house was taken from her using eminent domain and given to a private developer for purposes of economic development.

“As it happens, the space where Kelo’s house and others once stood is still an empty dustbowl generating zero economic impact for the town.”

View the video by clicking here.

Urban Renewal: A Flawed Idea That Failed 50 Years Ago

Thank you to Karl Peterjohn for this excellent, well-researched article.

Urban Renewal: A Flawed Idea That Failed 50 Years Ago
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

1) Urban renewal failed across the United States in the 20th century. The urban renewal efforts from the 20th century that are the foundation for the newly proposed redevelopment agency in Wichita rely upon these old Kansas laws that require an increase in local government’s powers. There are no clearly defined steps that will avoid repeating these past mistakes in the public hearing discussions so far.

2) The financing mechanism for this new redevelopment agency is not clear. Other communities might have agencies with this label and operate their Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) money through them, but integrating the current CDBG programs into this new agency have not been made clear. The revenue need to fund this agency is unspecified. The city has property, sales, and fee revenues that can be raised to provide the substantial funding needed for this proposed new agency.

3) No efforts have been clearly defined to avoid repeating the mistakes that occurred in the 20th century urban renewal redevelopment process. If the city is going to make mistakes, let’s not repeat the errors of the past.

4) Current city activities will be impacted by this redevelopment agency. This includes and is not limited to central inspection, zoning, and planning.

5) The city will need to restore the eminent domain powers that the 2006 legislature removed from state law for many of the proposed redevelopment efforts to work. While the eminent domain reform enacted in 2006 does not take effect until July 1, 2007, the city needs a plan that will fit within the boundaries of state law.

6) A disproportionate amount of the burden created by urban renewal fell upon low income and largely minority groups. Urban renewal programs provided disproportionate benefits to high income, developers, and citizens with close ties to these programs at city hall.

INTRODUCTION ON WICHITA

The Wichita City Manager is promoting a new city redevelopment agency and using the existing urban renewal statutes that exist in Kansas law for this community. Sedgwick County officials have joined both appointed and elected city officials in discussing this concept.

Urban renewal was an important post World War II program that tried to rehabilitate and improve cities all over the United States. Unfortunately, urban renewal and the government dominated and controlled redevelopment process that was the essence of urban renewal in the 20th century failed. It was also a very expensive failure.

Wichita has gone through two rounds of urban renewal. The first effort was in parallel with the national efforts that ran from 1949 to 1974.(1) Downtown Wichita changed significantly when urban renewal programs used their eminent domain powers to acquire large chunks of property in Wichita. The City of Wichita has been one of the largest property owners in this community since this program began. Century II was one of the major redevelopment projects in downtown Wichita during this period of time.

Fortunately, the troubled history of urban renewal is one that is readily available. This is particularly critical for a city like Wichita that went through a second stage that it has been following with a city directed special redevelopment program since the late 1980’s.

Developer Jack DeBoer issued his “DeBoer Plan” for downtown redevelopment in Wichita almost 20 years ago. DeBoer’s vision was for the construction and development of a large number of new and enhanced existing facilities in downtown Wichita. The focus would be in turning the downtown area into an entertainment/tourist destination with a variety of primarily enhanced public facilities. The DeBoer plan was largely implemented in stages with the “crown jewel” being the recently approved downtown arena. This private-public partnership was expected to transform and revitalize downtown Wichita. A large amount of public and private funds were expected to be spent to turn this vision into a reality.

The centerpiece for this revitalization proposal was three major projects downtown: a 500 foot keeper of the Plains that would be for Wichita what the space needle is for Seattle; a new downtown hotel; a new downtown arena. In addition a variety of other attractions would be built to attract people, particularly tourists, to downtown Wichita. The Wichita ice arena and Childrens Museum were two of the other significant attractions that were built.

The irony of the DeBoer proposal, was the fact that almost 20 years later, DeBoer is most prominently attached to the East Bank/Waterwalk development proposal and was NOT specifically part of his 1980’s era proposal. This redevelopment project, which included a large amount of city owned parcels, included land that had originally become city property back in the urban renewal era.

The DeBoer redevelopment proposal went well beyond the arena and a 500 foot Keeper of the Plains statue. Downtown Wichita was supposed to become an urban tourist destination location with a variety of attractions to get both residents and out-of-town tourists to flock to see. Naturally, accommodations like a new hotel would be needed to go with the recent expansion of the Bob Brown convention center complex attached to Century II.

The expansion of museums on and by the river, a new ice rink, remodeled Lawrence-Dumont stadium (roughly 20 years ago) and other improvements were all supposed to stimulate a new form of local development that went beyond the traditional businesses and industries existing in Wichita. The City of Wichita and Sedgwick County spent huge sums to build, expand, or remodel facilities in and around downtown. Meanwhile, the private sector that was already downtown quietly continued to shrink and diminish.

A new local bus station was built downtown in the 1990’s. Macy’s retail store disappeared to be replaced by the Finney State Office Building that the city helped arrange by providing a nearby parking facility.

The initial reaction to the DeBoer revitalization plan was mixed. The family of the late Black Bear Bosin quickly sank the idea of inflating his statue into a 500 foot city landmark. That was the only idea that was not substantially implemented, and by raising the base, a good argument can be made that the intent of the DeBoer plan to increase the height of the keeper has been partially met.

The city has just finished spending a large amount of tax funds raising the pedestal for the Keeper of the Plains statue so that the original statue is more visible to the public. However, it is not clear to what degree this statue is attracting either local or outside the Wichita area visitors into downtown. The city supported Indian Museum that is adjacent to the Keeper of the Plains statue has continued to struggle and this facility continues to have a variety of operational problems that continue to appear in the news from time-to-time.

Both the city’s ice arena as well as the Children’s Museum have struggled over financial operating costs and budget problems at several points since these facilities were opened. Downtown Wichita’s Old Towne area has seen an influx of restaurants and nightclubs. Many of the private projects have required a variety of taxpayer funded support that included but is not limited to parking. The high amount of turnover in the ownership and operation of many of these private facilities raised performance questions. Similar firms outside of the downtown area did not receive the same benefits that many of the downtown firms received. This situation raised equity issues for similar businesses. Is local government capable to step in? The sizable financial losses from the operations of the now city owned Hyatt Hotel during its first few years of operation raises questions about the effectiveness of the public-private redevelopment efforts that occurred in the last few years of the 20th century in Wichita.

Wichita has struggled both with the explicit urban renewal along with the rest of the country in the middle of the 20th century. Follow up redevelopment programs during the last 20 years have created a number of changes downtown but the growth in this community had largely eluded the downtown area. This Wichita history is important for city council and other local officials to keep in mind when examining the redevelopment agency proposal and resurrecting urban renewal.

I. NATIONAL URBAN RENEWAL: A BRIEF HISTORY

Urban renewal failed. Even before the federal urban renewal efforts ended in the 1970’s the academic critics were pointing out major problems. The goals were not being met and costs far exceeded initial projections.

In my September 6, 2006 letter to city leaders discussing urban renewal I pointed out the wide range of literature discussing urban renewal and redevelopment that dated back over 40 years ago. This history was wide ranging and featured prominent scholars from that era who included several who went on to national prominence in other public realms like the late Senator Patrick Moynihan who was also a White House staffer for several presidents, and White House staffer to former President Reagan, Martin Anderson. In addition, major urban scholars like Jane Jacobs, Harvard professors Edward Banfield, and Nathan Glazer who focused upon city improvements and trying to reduce and ameliorate the urban poverty problem had a major impact at looking at city issues.

Now a case can be made that urban renewal has never totally ended. That is a certainly a reasonable position in light of the existence in some states of the urban renewal statutes in state law that were enacted roughly 50 years ago. The late Ronald Reagan jokingly commented that there was nothing as eternal as a government program. The echoes of urban renewal and similar redevelopment efforts continue like a governmental version of the scientists “Big Bang” echoes detected by the Bell Laboratory scientists who won Nobel Prize in Physics for their effort.

As far back as 1963 then professors Glazer and Moynihan wrote in their classic “Beyond the Melting Pot” described urban renewal and its ethnic and sociological impact this way, “There have been difficult (sociological) problems, but not different from those in other great American cities. The major attempt to deal with these problems has been through urban renewal—the rebuilding of the area so as to reduce the low-income and increase the middle- and high-income population. This movement has been supported by all the middle-class groups and institutions in the area, who of course would like to see less crime and disorder and crowding and dirt around them.” (2)

Urban renewal had impacted the natural evolution of the neighborhoods that were in transition in New York City in the 1950’s as the Irish, Jews, and Germans moved out to be replaced back then what Glazer and Moynihan referred to as “Negroes” and Puerto Ricans. Glazer and Moynihan comment on the paucity of Puerto Rican community organizations and attribute this in part to the impact of urban renewal, “Aside from the storefront churches, organizational life is not strong among the Puerto Ricans….but Puerto Rico, just as the rest of Latin America, has always been weak in spontaneous grass-roots organization. Probably the rise of organization has been inhibited too by the factors that have dispersed the population and prevented the development of a great center for the Puerto Rican population—housing shortage, slum clearance, and the availability of public housing….The demolition of the houses that affront the neighborhood means precisely the demolition of those that house vast numbers of Puerto Ricans—families living in single rooms, families taking in migrant relatives, displaced children, and temporarily homeless friends. Ironically, ‘improving a neighborhood’ means moving out those who are most crowded, have the least room, and whose resettlement offers the most difficult problem for themselves and city agencies.”(3)

Slum clearance is just a synonym for urban renewal. Slum clearance is the argument being put forth by the advocates for new city redevelopment agency. Glazer and Moynihan identified over 40 years ago simply bulldozing buildings does not address the underlying problems. These are problems of crime that result in the dilapidation that is being used to justify a new city agency.

What will be done differently in 2006 than what was done in 1956? If local officials are going to make build a new city bureaucracy and expand the city’s role in controlling property within the city limits, Wichitans need to know why the local officials should repeat the same mistakes that were exposed over 40 years ago?

Aesthetically, urban renewal was a failure creating a monotonous diversity that the leading urban scholar of her day Jane Jacobs described, “Anything looks ugly if it is done badly. But this belief implies something else. It implies that city diversity of uses is inherently messy in appearance; and it also implies that places stamped with homogeneity of uses look better, or at any rate are more amenable to pleasant or orderly esthetic treatment. But homogeneity or close similarity among uses, in real life poses very puzzling esthetic problems. If the sameness of use is shown candidly for what it is—sameness—it looks monotonous.”(4)

In fact, the converse according to Jacob is true for cities, “Intricate minglings of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos. On the contrary, they represent a complex and highly developed form of order…Nevertheless, even though intricate mixtures of buildings, uses and scenes are necessary for successful city districts, does diversity carry, too, the disadvantages of ugliness, warring uses and congestion that are conventionally attributed to it by planning lore and literature? These supposed disadvantages are based on images of unsuccessful districts which have not too much, but too little diversity. They call up visions of garish, sprawling, unremitting commerce. None of these conditions, however, represent flourishing city diversity. On the contrary, these represent precisely the senility that befalls city neighborhoods in which exuberant diversity has either failed to grow or has died off with time…. Flourishing city diversity, of the kind that is catalyzed by the combination of mixed primary uses, frequent streets, mixture of building ages and overheads, and dense concentration of users does not carry with it the disadvantages of diversity conventionally assumed by planning pseudoscience.(5) Jacob then proceeds to criticize the urban planners and urban renewal advocates of her day for their failures to understand the intricacies or the spontaneous order created by the marketplace operating under a rule of law.

The problems outlined in a practical sense by Jacob are examined in much greater detail that extends well beyond urban renewal and municipal revitalization and into a broader discussion of the role of urban experts, government planners, city residents trying to live their lives and how this exists in an America where the role of the government has been expanding during the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century.(6)(7)

The most recent national explosion of this issue is the eminent domain battles that lead up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent and highly controversial, Kelo decision ratifying forced land acquisition powers for private developers at the expense of current landowners when exercised by local units of government. That has led some Wichita city leaders to put this city behind an effort to have broad based powers to condemn private land using eminent domain and then be able to turn that property over to other private hands. This led the 2006 Kansas legislature to pass legislation that will limit municipal eminent domain powers for redevelopment beginning July 1, 2007.

These failures go far beyond the sociological analysis offered by Glazer, Jacob, Anderson, and Moynihan. Hoover Institute scholar Martin Anderson identified a number of problems with urban renewal.

In addition, liberty and control over property by citizens was diminished for all and in some cases eradicated for the people living in the targeted “redevelopment” areas. “Who wants urban renewal? Certainly not the lower income groups—they get displaced from their homes to make way for the modern apartments they cannot afford to rent. It is hard to know whether the middle class is much concerned with the changes that have occurred in the cities…Then who is behind the tremendous push for urban renewal? Raymond Vernon, former Director of the New York Metropolitan Region Study, has speculated that the main stimulus for urban renewal comes from two elite groups—the wealthy elite and the intellectual elite. Both groups have strong economic and social attachments to the central city.”(8)

In a book examining eminent domain abuse and its ties to urban renewal, Steven Greenhut looked at Anderson’s analysis and warned: “Nothing much has changed today.”(9)

Greenhut also pointed out, “Without eminent domain, very little of the destruction could have taken place. But once the government had the right to take whatever it pleased in the name of the ‘higher good’ then the sky was the limit.”(10)

Urban renewal did do massive amounts of damage. Let’s look at one well examined and very costly case: Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis that was described: “Few people could have missed the demolition of St. Lous’ Pruitt-Igoe and other hideous housing projects that came to epitomize wht the urban-renewal program was all about: creating high-rise, crime-ridden slums that eventually had to be dynamited before any real urban progress could be made.”(11)(12)

Von Hoffman’s Harvard University study went on to describe this redevelopment tragedy this way, “St. Louis’s Pruitt-Igoe housing project is arguable the most infamous public-housing project ever built in the U.S. A product of the postwar federal public-housing program, this mammoth high-rise development was completed in 1956…Only a few years later, disrepair, vandalism, and crime plagued Pruitt-Igoe. The project’s recreational galleries and skip-stop elevators, once heralded as architectural innovations, had become nuisances and danger zones. Large number of vacancies indicated that even poor people preferred to live anywhere but Pruitt-Igoe. In 1972, after spending more than $5 million in vain to cure the problems at Pruitt-Igoe, the St. Louis Housing Authority, in a highly publicized event, demolished three of the high-rise buildings. A year later, in concert with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, it declared Pruitt-Igoe unsalvageable and razed the remaining buildings.”(13)

If the city of Wichita is going to resurrect the urban renewal that led in it worst cases to problems like the one listed above, a specific program is needed to make sure that these past mistakes are not repeated. In addition, it must be clear where the public funding sources will come from to provide for this redevelopment.

Avoiding the government redevelopment/urban renewal model is needed. This problem remains a national challenge for communities across the country. In Abuse of Power, Steven Greenhut describes the 21st century challenge this way: “For as bad as the old urban renewal was—and almost everyone from every political perspective has criticized the outcome of this massive federal program—at least it was done to remedy what its proponents saw a genuine urban problems of substandard housing and rundown neighborhoods. Since at least the early 1980s, urban renewal has morphed into something known mainly as redevelopment. Advocates of modern redevelopment projects often use the same language of blight to justify their efforts, but the purpose has changed dramatically.”

“Whereas the old urban renewal was designed largely to wipe away areas that unquestionably were down on their heels, the new urban renewal is basically about filling city coffers with money. It’s about building tax bases. It’s about luring new commercial retailers into older areas to bring in additional property and sales taxes. Just because these financial motives are sometimes (but not always) dressed up in the language of the New Urbanism or downtown revitalization or blight removal should not fool one into thinking that the new urban renewal is about anything more than money.”(14)

For local government to proceed, it must have eminent domain powers to remove the wrong people from the targeted property. This has led to condemnations of property across the country and destroyed the property rights for homeowners in many cases. Lakewood, Ohio is one example but books have been written outlining a large number of cases that cross the country.

“As there were no structural problems with the houses, the City (Lakewood, OH) relied upon terms like ‘economic and functional obsolescence’ to find blight. Translation: The houses lack two-car attached garages and second bathtubs and their yards are too small. No modern family could possibly want a historic, well maintained house without a two-car attached garage.”(15)

The author of this study “Public Power, Private Gain,” issued by the Institute for Justice in 2003 provided numerous abuses similar to Lakewood’s that are occurring throughout the country. Dana Berliner’s book is filled with outrages to individuals, a variety of businesses, churches, farmers, and others in the name of eradicating “blight” or “neglect” or “distressed” properties.

Many of these outrages occurred in Kansas. “Unfortunately, for the citizens of Kansas, their state is one of the worst abusers of eminent domain, especially in comparison to other states with similar population size.”(16) Problems with redevelopment in the context of eminent domain abuses were specifically cited in Kansas City, the infamous Gross case out of Merriam, and Topeka. Kansas was ranked second worst out of the 50 states behind only California in this national study.

In the Gross case a small businessman operating a used car lot lost his property because the city of Merriam condemned it so a neighboring BMW dealership could acquire the property.(17)

These abuses were part of the foundation for the effort to reform Kansas eminent domain laws in the wake of the Kelo decision on eminent domain by the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition, there is also a similar and even more anti-property owner case coming out of the Kansas Supreme Court recently. Unlike Kelo that has been extensively covered in the news media, the Kansas case has received almost no local news coverage.

“A good example is the Kansas Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in the case of General Building Contractors and Robert Tolberg v. Board of Shawnee County Commissioners. The justices not only affirm the county’s right to take virtually any property they chose in the name of economic development, but they also show open disdain for the property owners who are challenging the taking of their properties. Throughout the ruling, one sees an emphasis on process rather than on rights. As long as the government followed the letter of the law and the proper redevelopment process, then the court couldn’t see what the controversy was about. Yet, courts are supposed to serve as a check on the government’s edicts, holding them up to timeless constitutional principles rather than the planning ideologies of the day.”(18)

This was the perspective of a California eminent domain author in looking at the problems in Kansas recently. The Kansas events where eminent domain was used to favor private parties helped set the stage in 2006 for the legislature’s efforts to limit eminent domain takings for non public purposes. This is primarily for economic development efforts but in some other states even the traditional eminent domain powers for public purposes are now being questioned or even limited. In other states, the voters have been specifically asked to decide the proper role for eminent domain powers in the case of redevelopment.

November 7, 2006 the voters in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, and South Carolina all passed initiatives that would restrain the government’s power to seize private property. If Kansas powers would receive a similar opportunity, a similar outcome by voters speaking out to defend their property rights is likely.

Naturally, for an elite few who are at the center of local government power, this is not an outcome that they approve of in their vision to improve their communities. The genius of the founders in providing a system where power was supposed to be spread widely among the people also puts a crimp in the utopian planners. “As in all utopias, the right to have plans of any significance belonged only to the planners in charge.”(19)

In the wake of the Berman, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 1950’s that provided the foundation for the expanded eminent domain powers for government became the foundation for the loss of private property rights and a sizable expansion in government’s ability to modify property ownership into the hands that the state prefers.(20)

Lower court decisions had problems with this concept but their argument, “One man’s land cannot be seized by the Governmnt and sold to another man merely in order that the purchaser may buildupon it a better house or a house which better meets the Government’s idea of what is appropriate or well designed.”(21)

II. CONCLUSION

Urban renewal failed nationally over 35 years ago across this country. Wichita’s effort to redevelopment within the national urban renewal and outside it have at best a record that is incomplete and continues to require significant public support even for nominally private, albeit many are not-for-profit entities.

The city should not proceed precipitously in once again proceeding down the “urban renewal/redevelopment” path. The experiences in the last 20 years should make city leaders sanguine in proceeding down the proposal coming out of the city manager’s office.

All possible avenues should be examined. “By the end of the federal urban-renewal program in 1974, cities that refused Title I funds and let the market hold sway over downtown redevelopment projects generally had more more impressive downtown revitalizations than those that relied so heavily on federal power and that abused property rights so egregiously.”(22)

Wichita needs to avoid repeating past mistakes. Providing a strong level of property rights actually enhances development. A stable system of government that is not excessively large and expensive is a stronger incentive to growth than a new governmental body promoting “redevelopment.”

Individual states are engaging in a number of experiments: on November 7, 2006, the voters in the city of Nashville, TN approved an ordinance requiring that the city get voter approval before any and all taxes could be raised. This question arose in light of that community’s high property tax rates.

FOOTNOTES

1) Abuse of Power, Greenhut, 2004, page 107
2) Beyond the Melting Pot, Glazer & Moynihan, page 179.
3) Ibid, page 107-8.
4) The Death and Life of Great American Cities, J. Jacobs, 1961, page 223.
5) Ibid, page 223.
6) Constitution of Liberty, F.A. Hayek.
7) Vision of the Anointed, T. Sowell.
8) The Federal Bulldozer: A Critical Analysis of Urban Renewal, 1949-1962, page 218.
9) Abuse of Power, Greenhut, page 111.
10) Ibid, page 110.
11) Ibid, page 111.
12) “Why They Built Pruitt-Igoe,” A. Von Hoffman, Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard U., 2000, http://www.soc.iastate.edu/sapp/PruittIgoe.html.
13) Ibid.
14) Abuse of Power, page 114.
15) Public Power, Private Gain, D. Berliner, Institute for Justice, Washington, D.C., 2003, page 166
16) Ibid, page 78.
17) “Condemnation Is Used to Hand One Business Property to Another,” D. Starkman, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 2, 1998, page A1.
18) Abuse of Power, page 150.
19) The Death and Life of Great American Cities, J. Jacobs, 1961, page 17.
20) Takings Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain, R. Epstein, 1985, page 178.
21) Ibid, page 178-9.
22) “Urban Renewal and Its Aftermath,” J.C. Teaford, page 458 cited in Greenhut.

A downtown Wichita urban renewal success story … not

This history lesson from Karl Peterjohn of the Kansas Taxpayers Network tells the story of what might have been for downtown Wichita, and shows how close Wichita came to losing a company very important to our local economy, even if they’re not located downtown.

In the 1960’s the urban renewal redevelopment project that became Century II used eminent domain and forced a medium sized, private company in the petroleum business out of their office building and corporate headquarters on the south side of W. Douglas just east of the river.

This business was in transition with the founder handing off control to a young relative who had been living and working out-of-state. This firm’s two major business assets were outside of Kansas so the firm’s geographic ties to Wichita were not strong either. At that time, I’ve been told that this business had gross sales around $250 million a year and possessed their own multi-story office building downtown. That sales figure is understated and would be a lot more if measured in the inflated 2007 dollars.

Local leaders in Wichita had decided that they knew what was best for downtown and using the urban renewal redevelopment program’s eminent domain powers, acquired a large chunk of downtown (as well as many other parcels across this community — see Wichita Business Journal’s most recent list of biggest local taxpayers that still prominently includes the City of Wichita).

The medium sized petroleum company left Wichita after losing their building. This company relocated a couple of miles north of the Wichita city limits back then (they were eventually annexed back into the city many years later) but could have easily relocated elsewhere. Conversely, imagine what downtown Wichita would be like if this firm had remained there. You may have guessed that I’m referring to Koch Industries and their 1,800 local employees.

Bill Davitt on blight

Bill Davitt makes some excellent points about the dangers of giving politicians power to control blight through eminent domain. He also explains why it is best to vote for Carlos Mayans for mayor of Wichita.

Bill warns us that your home or business may be declared blighted even though it is in good and desirable condition. He is referring to cases all over the country where local officials abuse their power to declare property blighted so that it can be taken from its owners. The Castle Coalition has examples of property that is being declared blighted. You be the judge as to the condition of these properties:
www.castlecoalition.org/CastleWatch/bogusblight
.

Testimony of William T. Davitt before Senate Judiciary Committee of Kansas Legislature at 9:00 A.M. on Thursday, March 1, 2007 AGAINST amending BLIGHT into Kansas Statutes as an excuse for EMINENT DOMAIN.

My name is William T. Davitt from Wichita. Everything I say is my opinion, belief and understanding.

Last August I went to a meeting called by Wichita City Manager. 250 people in the room. Fancy buffet with salmon sandwiches along the wall.

Up on the stage two members of Wichita City Council show color slides on large screen. “Oh, look at the beautiful swimming pool, manicured lawn, attractive apartments! It is so wonderful that we are going to have all this in Wichita REDEVELOPMENT!”

Standing at the microphone, big developer from St. Louis explains that he will continue owning these new apartments and collecting the rent. Says he is going to KNIT together churches and schools, city and county government, taxpayers and philanthropists.

Question from audience: “What if we don’t want to sell our land to you?” Answer of developer: “We’ll TAKE IT with EMINENT DOMAIN … clean up Wichita’s BLIGHT!”

And BLIGHT is why we are here today. They want the legislature to nail BLIGHT in Kansas Statutes so they can use BLIGHT as an excuse to destroy our homes and places of business with a bulldozer, take our land away from us, turn our land over to big developer from St. Louis so he can build rental apartments and scoop in millions of dollars in profits for himself.

Well, you say your home is so beautiful that they can never declare your home BLIGHTED. Don’t kid yourself.

BLIGHT is going to be whatever the Kansas Supreme Court says it is following the argument of BIG LAW FIRMS representing BIG DEVELOPERS . . . because every judge on Kansas Supreme Court owes his job to a handful of BIG LAW FIRMS.

That is why we desperately need an amendment to our Kansas Constitution taking selection of these judges away from BIG LAW FIRMS and requiring these judges to be confirmed by Kansas Senate as is done in the federal.

We also desperately need an amendment to our Kansas Constitution that will protect our homes and places of business from EMINENT DOMAIN.

What more can I say?

LIBERABUS DOMINE.

William T. Davitt
Wichita, Kansas

Note that Wichita City Council member Carl Brewer IS in favor of creating a REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY.

Wichita Mayor Carlos Mayans IS NOT in favor of creating a REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY.

The taking of private property

Written by John D’Aloia Jr.

“…. nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” – – U.S. Constitution, Amendment V. The taking of property by eminent domain for reasons that do not meet the historic definition of “public use” has been much in the news since the Supreme Court handed down its infamous Kelo decision.

Eminent domain is not the only way that private property can be acquired by government. Placing restrictions on the land by law or regulation can also be a taking that warrants just compensation.

The Pottawatomie County Commission has adopted a change to the county’s zoning rules that restrict the use of land that is within the inundation boundaries down stream of watershed dams, that is within the boundaries of the area which would be inundated if the dam was breeched. Two of the stated purposes are to (1) protect life safety and the general public welfare, and (2) to prohibit dwelling units in the inundation area. While existing land uses as of the effective date of the amendment are grandfathered and declared to be conforming, if a person has a residence in an inundation area that is destroyed beyond 51 percent of its real value, by any cause, the home cannot be rebuilt in the inundation area.

Imposing a restriction on property which limits the ability of a landowner to use the land is, for all intents and purposes, a taking of the property. That this is so was recognized in the county commission’s discussions. As reported in the January 31, 2007 Smoke Signal, County Planner John Keller told the commissioners that for dams already in place, the amendment was a compromise on the part of the planning commission and taking the property rights was a necessary measure of that compromise.

A principle that bears on the matter is that when government takes an action “for the general public welfare,” the cost of that action should be borne by all citizens, not just a few. This is the principle behind the Vth Amendment. In this case, the zoning ordinance amendment has taken property rights from everyone who owns property that lies within an inundation area, limiting them as to what they can do in the future with their property. For this, they should not be forced to bear the full cost of what is being done “for the general public welfare.” They should be compensated using general tax revenues, transferring at least part of the cost to all citizens.

The article also stated that the restrictions were needed to “save” the watershed districts from having to upgrade dams, upgrades that would be cost prohibitive. This in itself is a shifting of the financial burden required “for the general public welfare” from all citizens to individual landowners.

The citizens of the State of Oregon recognized the justice involved in these situations when they adopted by referendum Measure 37. Measure 37 requires agencies enforcing a newly imposed land use regulation to either pay just compensation, equal to the reduction of the fair market value caused by the regulation, or to modify or not apply the regulation so the property owner can use their land as allowed at the time they acquired the property. Measure 37 was upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court. (The text of Measure 37 can be read at www.oia.org/SonOf7text.htm.

I know not how many people are affected by the county’s action, or to what extent the value of their land has been lessened, but with 26 watershed dams in the county, and plans for constructing 56 more, I suspect that there are those who will be impacted and will have reason to initiate a request for “just compensation.”

Eminent Doman and the Downtown Wichita Arena

Thank you to John Todd for this excellent material.


Testimony in Opposition to the County’s use of Eminent Domain for the Arena Project.

Dear Commissioners:

My name is John Todd. I am a real estate broker and developer and I come before you in opposition to the County’s proposed use of eminent domain for the downtown arena footprint.

On August 25, 2004 and prior to the arena vote in November of that year, I presented testimony before this Commission questioning the wisdom of building a downtown arena without knowing the exact location of the parcel(s) of land the project would be located on. I asked the questions, does the Commission know the exact location of the arena project? Is the needed land for sale? Are the property owners willing to selling their land? And, most importantly, has the County secured a contract option to purchase the needed land with an exact purchase price? I believed then and now that the taxpaying public needed to know the answers to those questions before making a decision on a $184.5 million dollar project in the voting booth. From what I have been reading in the news recently, it seems apparent to me now that County officials failed in their “due diligence” responsibility to the citizens of this county by not securing the land for the arena in advance, and should now be willing to authorize another “non-binding” or perhaps a “binding” and final public vote on the arena project.

There is precedence for another vote since a “non-binding” no vote in 1992 was ignored by local officials, and perhaps a third and perhaps this time a “binding” vote could be used to settle this matter for good, with the express stipulation that any sales tax money collected for the arena to date be used to reduce property taxes in the county through a reduced mil levy over the next 2 or 3 years. As you will recall, the fear of higher property taxes was the primary argument proponents for the arena used in securing their thin 48% to 52% yes vote in 2004. Perhaps the prospect of property tax reduction would appeal to the voters. And another vote on an arena could give the county commission an opportunity to avoid the confrontational use of their eminent domain power to involuntarily strip 22 property owners of their land and in some cases businesses.

I oppose the County’s use of their eminent domain power to correct the due diligence responsibilities to the citizens of Sedgwick County they missed when they failed to secure the arena footprint land in advance of any public vote for funding on the project.

Secure private property rights are the bedrock for all of our other rights. Eminent domain abuse damages people’s faith in their own government, and people who are not secure in their own possessions cannot plan for their own future. A healthy economy is best achieved when individuals are free to use their own resources as they see fit. When government decides how the individual uses his property, the resultant system works poorly because it necessitates the use of coercion. The protection of private property rights is therefore essential to a healthy economy.

Nobel Prize winning economists Milton Friedman says, “In an economically free society, the fundamental function of government is the protection of private property and the provision of a stable infrastructure for a voluntary exchange system. When a government fails to protect private property, takes property itself without full compensation, or establishes restrictions (and follows policies) that limit voluntary exchange, it violates the economic freedom of its citizens.”

Eminent domain testimony

Thank you to John Todd for this testimony on this threat to liberty, and for traveling to Topeka to deliver it.

To: Members of the House Federal and State Committee, March 6, 2006 hearing.
Subject: Testimony in Support for the passage of House Concurrent Resolution No. 5025;
conditional Support for the passage of House Concurrent Resolution No. 5040;
and unconditional Support for the passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1616;
all involving Eminent Domain reform.

I am a real estate broker and land developer in Sedgwick County, and a Volunteer Coordinator for Americans For Prosperity, and a member of the Wichita Independent Business Association. I am not here to speak for these groups, but as a real estate practitioner and private citizen.

You should not allow cities, counties and state agencies the power through eminent domain to force someone to involuntarily sell their home, their business, or their farm so they can give it to other private owners for their own private use. Under redevelopment law, city councils can essentially become the agent for the powerful, politically connected developers that tell city councils, “condemn this persons home, business, or farm, and through our development process, the tax revenue for the city will go up, and in the process you can look like visionaries.” (See attached testimony presented by Tim Sandefur, attorney for the “Pacific Legal Foundation” to a California legislative committee) Until the recent Kelo decision, the Fifth Amendment to our Constitution has allowed government to take private property for “public use” only, but now “public use” means anything a governmental unit decides will “benefit” the public, including increased tax revenues. That is why Steven Greenhut in his book, “Abuse of Power: How Government Misuses Eminent Domain” explains why cities in some parts of the country are taking non-taxed church properties through the eminent domain process and turning them over to tax-paying private developers in order to increase tax revenues. A chapter in his book entitled, “God Doesn’t Pay Taxes” explains that abuse in detail.

“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort,” wrote James Madison, and for this reason, “that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”

Our opponents argue that eminent domain is used only as a last resort, and that it isn’t used very often. Tell that to the small business owner who now has local government involved in his business as an “unwanted” partner with no financial interest in the business demanding that he vacate the location he has spent a lifetime building up to a larger competitor. Is there really any amount of money that will satisfy the “just compensation” argument for such a forced involuntary move that it has taken this business owner decades to build?
Another argument we hear is that eminent domain is a valuable tool for economic development. I believe just the opposite is true. Eminent domain abuse damages people’s faith in their own government, and people who are not secure in their own possessions cannot plan for their own future. A healthy economy is best achieved when individuals are free to use their own resources as they see fit. When government decides how the individual uses his property, the resultant system works poorly because it necessitates the use of coercion. The protection of private property rights is therefore essential to a healthy economy.

Nobel Prize winning economists Milton Friedman says, “In an economically free society, the fundamental function of government is the protection of private property and the provision of a stable infrastructure for a voluntary exchange system. When a government fails to protect private property, takes property itself without full compensation, or establishes restrictions (and follows policies) that limit voluntary exchange, it violates the economic freedom of its citizens.”

We need a Constitutional amendment in Kansas to protect private property rights from eminent domain abuse. I support the eminent domain reform contained in House Concurrent Resolution No. 5025, with conditional support for House Concurrent Resolution No. 5040. However, I believe you can best serve the citizens and property owners of this state by setting the goal for eminent domain reform higher through the passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1616. A poll commissioned by Americans For Prosperity shows that a resounding 90% of the Kansans polled favored eminent domain reform. I would ask you to give the people what they want!

John Todd on Eminent Domain in Kansas

To: The Kansas House/Senate Joint Committee on Economic Development.

Subject: Testimony Regarding Eminent Domain at the October 11, 2005 hearing.

My name is John Todd. I am a real estate broker and land developer from Wichita.

I support the proposition to amend article 15 of the constitution of the state of Kansas by adding a new section thereto, concerning eminent domain as follows:

“Private property shall not be taken except for public use, and private property shall not be taken without just compensation. The taking of private property with the intent to or in anticipation of selling, leasing or otherwise transferring any interest in the property to any private entity is not a valid public use and is prohibited.”

I also support the immediate passage of legislation that would codify into law the exact meaning of the above amendment language. This would replace existing statutes.

I do not support any additional language in the amendment or in any immediately passed legislation that would in any way mitigate the private property rights protection contained therein.

The keys to the economic freedoms we enjoy in this country are “individual liberty”, “private property rights” and the “free market system”. Examples of failed economic systems like the former Soviet Union emphasized the “collective good”, “state owned property” and “state controlled markets”. Allowing governments the power to take privately owned homes and businesses from individuals and turn them over to private developers for potentially more profitable, higher-tax uses, is a good example of eminent domain abuse done for the “collective” benefit of a community. Using eminent domain to seize property for private/public partnerships projects is the rage today, privatizing profits for the inside group, and reserving losses for public taxpayers. The governments participation in the process of taking private property from one private group for the benefit of another private group, and placing governments in a position to choose which business groups wins and which fails, flies in the face of private property rights, freedom, and free market economics.

A quote by Nobel Prize winning economists Milton Friedman, and Gary Becker as well as economics history Professor Douglass North in Tom Bethell’s book “The Noblest Triumph, Property and Prosperity Through The Ages” is appropriate here. “In an economically free society, the fundamental function of government is the protection of private property and the provision of a stable infrastructure for a voluntary exchange system. When a government fails to protect private property, takes property itself without full compensation, or establishes restrictions (and follows policies) that limit voluntary exchange, it violates the economic freedom of its citizens.”

Please support the eminent domain reforms I have suggested.