Justifying Eminent Domain

Published in the Hollister Free Lance, September 13, 1996
Dear Editor:

As a believer in property rights, I'm no fan of eminent domain, but Steve Gordon's September 2nd editorial seemed to offer only complaints and accusations without even the suggestion of a solution.

I believe eminent domain has a place in a "free, civilizied society," although it should be used only as a last resort. Without eminent domain, the owners of property could drive up the costs of important public projects beyond reason, or, in the worst case, prevent their completion at all.

In a society that WASN'T free, the state would just TAKE the property. In our society, eminent domain requires compensating the property owner (although whether the compensation is adequate is certainly open to debate).

Mr. Gordon mentions Anzar Hills High School, so let's look at that. Suppose NOBODY in the county wanted to sell their land for the high school. Does Mr. Gordon suggest the students keep getting bussed to San Benito High or Gavilan? Or, even if the property owners were willing to sell, without eminent domain, what would prevent them from asking for an exorbitant price for the land -- basically holding the county over a barrel?

Consider the gerrymandering road design might have to go through without eminent domain. Weren't a couple of property owners last year complaining about a road construction project that crossed their land? Imagine the added expense of either upping the offer to where they would be willing to sell, or the expense of replanning and rerouting the road (assuming the land the new route was on could be bought).

THAT is what is meant by the "greater public good" -- a concept Mr. Gordon describes as "laughable". I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that calling greater public good laughable only refers to eminent domain -- otherwise, all laws would be laughable, and anarchy would be the only possible result.

Eminent domain keeps the "greater public" -- the taxpayers -- from being held hostage by those who are either greedy or resistent to progress. Not all landowners who refuse to sell fall into those categories, I know -- some have sentimental attachments to the land, for exmaple -- but human nature being what it is, without eminent domain, how many people would see a public project as a chance to get THEIR piece of the government pie?

Lastly, when Mr. Gordon refers to "those who conspire to seize another's property" as "a gang of thieves," I have to ask who he's referring to. If he's referring to the parents who have children who will attend the high school, I find that accusation unconscionable.

First, I seriously doubt they are "conspiring" about anything. Second, since eminent domain is LEGAL, they aren't thieves any more than capital punishment is murder. And third, without eminent domain, you could argue that the property owners could end up "stealing" from all of us by denying important public projects or driving their cost up.

In the final analysis, who is REALLY paying for these projects? The "greater public" is. Shouldn't we have some way to protect our interests?

Want to comment on this? E-mail me at stevem@svpocketpc.com.