Thursday, November 22, 2007

STOP EMINENT DOMAIN ABUSE NOW! by Steve Savage "King of the Beasts"

My hometown, Long Branch, New Jersey, was America's First Seashore Resort, boasting of the world's best beaches. The crystal clear waters and view of the Ocean's Horizon was a pleroma of beauty that had to be experienced to describe. Every Beach had its own little community of quaint, picturesque cottages that granted quick, easy access to a panorama we Long Branchers considered to be a very special gift from God to all of us.

My grandfather, Julius Lafayette Granit, World Champion 10 Mile Ocean Swimmer, was Chief Lifeguard in the 1890's and I was Chief Lifeguard through the 1960's. No matter where we Long Branchers would go in this world, our hearts would always long for the image of our beautiful seaside that was so indelibly painted on the mural of our minds.

Over the years, the municipal political machinery of Long Branch was usurped by vacationing visitors who came to stay and exploit what was God-Given for their their own greedy, personal gain. Through sheer force of their voting numbers, they took over the Administration of Long Branch and quickly began to condemn homes and businesses through the use of Eminent Domain Abuse.

Many of these homes and businesses that had stood for centuries, were "in-your-face" sold to developer friends who, seemingly overnight, turned the Beachfront into some grotesque monstrosity of cheaply constructed homogenized condominium firetraps.

The eulogy, below, eloquently written by Jeff Rowe, is the true story of Anna DeFaria, the courageous Long Branch woman, who gave her life in defense of her home and her neighbors homes. It was she who was at the forefront of the battle to stave off the greedy monsters behind the Eminent Domain Machine that continues to devour the lives and livelihoods of the victims in its Path.

Stand Strong America! Don't Let Long Branch's Story Become Your Story! STOP EMINENT DOMAIN ABUSE NOW!

Steve Savage "King of the Beasts"

by Jeff Rowes
[Jeff Rowes is an attorney with the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va., which represents the MTOTSA homeowners in Long Branch and which represented the homeowners in Kelo.]
In 1960, Anna and Antone DeFaria plunked down $6,400 for their American dream, a tiny seaside bungalow in historic Long Branch. Though small by today's standards, their home served the DeFarias well, faithfully sheltering them and their children from the cold winds of the Atlantic and the cold winds of life.

Anna DeFaria, who died last week 10 years after Antone passed away, never imagined in 1960 that her modest home would one day become a flashpoint in the nationwide fight against eminent domain abuse. She and her neighbors in the working-class Marine Terrace-Ocean Terrace-Seaview Avenue (MTOTSA) neighborhood have been locked in a closely watched legal battle to save their homes from Long Branch, which is trying to seize them so a private developer can build even more beachfront condos for the rich.

Those of us privileged to stand with DeFaria in this important struggle drew inspiration from her unwavering commitment to the principles of liberty. Although offered inducements not available to her neighbors, she was a rock. She understood that this case was about the sanctity of the home and the constitutional right of everyone, even people of modest means, to keep the property they worked so hard to own. There was no way she would sell because, as she put it, Long Branch was not trying to take just her house, but "my home, my life."

Eminent domain abuse was catapulted into the headlines in 2005 when a narrow majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., that the U.S. Constitution allows the government to transfer property from one person to another for the latter's private financial benefit so long as there is some hope that jobs and tax revenue might follow.

In a now-famous dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor warned that the decision in Kelo meant that the government now can seize any beloved home, any booming small business, any thriving church and even pastoral rural land whenever someone richer comes along promising to build something bigger. The justice also predicted that the burdens of eminent domain abuse would fall on those least able to defend themselves.

O'Connor was right on both counts. We at the Institute for Justice documented a dramatic proliferation of eminent domain abuse in the wake of Kelo as local governments, no longer concerned about pesky constitutional rights, binged on private property. We also just published a study showing, based on U.S. census data, that people subject to eminent domain for private economic development are much more likely to be poor and from minority communities.

As bleak as this seems, there is reason to hope. Courageous Americans like DeFaria have taken on greedy local governments and developers in strategic lawsuits across the country arguing that state constitutions provide more property rights protection than the Supreme Court is willing to recognize in the Constitution. So far, two such cases have reached their respective state supreme courts, where the Kelo theory of eminent domain for private economic development was soundly rejected.

State legislatures also responded to unprecedented public outrage over Kelo. Forty-two states have reformed their eminent domain laws to prevent what happened to DeFaria and her neighbors.

Although New Jersey, which is one of the worst eminent domain abusers in the country, did not enact any reform following Kelo, all of us took heart last spring when the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Paulsboro violated the state constitution by labeling harmless rural property "blighted" so it could be transferred to a big corporation. DeFaria was particularly joyous at discovering the most distinguished judges in New Jersey agreed with her that rights are for everyone, not just the rich and powerful.

DeFaria embodied the very best in all of us. Though as tiny as the proverbial David, she never shrank from Goliath. And though given much reason to be bitter, she was a woman of enduring devotion who never failed to wish God's blessings on everyone, even those in the city government out to take her cherished home.

Her personal fight may be over, but, to no one's surprise, her children have vowed to carry on. Through her family and our memory of her, she will remain with us in spirit as we continue our fight to vindicate the constitutional rights in which she so deeply believed.

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