The Left Would Rather Bargain with the Redevelopment Monster

I had the fortune to discover a little piece written by one Alyssa Katz in American Prospect Online, after the Kelo decision. The AARP and the NAACP, not organizations of the right, had joined Cato and Reason, of libertarian leanings, in filing briefs for Kelo, which would have restricted the use of eminent domain to true public use, not private urban improvements. But Ms. Katz worries that the commitments of such as Cato and Reason, and Pacific States Legal Foundation and Mountain States Legal Foundation, are for a slightly broader political agenda, one that is aimed at environmental laws and other state controls on land.

What she seems to say is, instead of outlawing eminent domain for “urban redevelopment,” that leftist activist organizations should approach each redevelopment on a case-by-case basis. And they should make noise and extract specific concessions, like “affordable” (often subsidized) housing, “living wage” jobs for locals, and community centers to be thrown in. This, of course, puts a premium on people who can do like ACORN and organize. Smaller organizations, like rescue missions and other church social services, might not be able to make such a fuss. In my opinion, political power is a form of “wealth.” It often coincides with economic wealth, though not always. And I believe that the function of justice is to protect the poor and powerless, including the politically poor and powerless.

The left has enough clout that, if it wished, it could forward initiatives overturning Kelo and banning the use of eminent domain for private purposes, without adding any other agenda items to the initiative. But they seem not to do so. In California, we attempted twice to overturn Kelo by initiative from the right: both times the major funder for the qualifying phase insisted on piggybacking something else onto the initiative that might have been OK with me personally, but was not acceptable to the people of California. The second time we did pass something called Proposition 99. Proposition 99 protects only what Robert Cruickshank calls the “homeowner aristocracy,” not renters, small businesses, or non-profit social services. And the irony is that Cruickshank, though definitely a man of the Left with all the wingnuttery that involves, has written beautifully and effectively about the “homeowner aristocracy” and how it has intervened to impede opportunity for those following. If the Left wonders why a lot of people think it would rather cut deals and do power trips than operate on principle, they could take a good look at this Alyssa Katz article!

Related: Masters of Eminent Domain (The American Prospect)

More Posts