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Thursday, July 28, 2005

WE'RE TAKING YOUR LAND: John Revelli's family has a run a business since 1949. On July 1, the city of Oakland, California evicted him from his own property so that a private developer could build apartments on his land. The city also evicted Tony Fung, Revelli's next-door neighbor. Deborah J. Saunders of the SF Chronicle writes:
"I am a first-generation immigrant, " Fung told me. "This is my American dream."To hell with Fung's dream -- the City of Oakland seized it, so that someone else can build on it. And without offering enough money for Fung to relocate his business, he says.The city has legions of lawyers to press its case, while Fung says he has to scrape together pennies to hire an attorney."There's no way a small guy like me is able to fight that," Fung noted. He has lost his business, his property and the belief that private property is truly private in the United States. That last item -- belief in the system - - was destroyed in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that governments can seize private property to give it to private developers. Somehow that sweetheart deal constitutes "public use" -- maybe because city government grows richer through increased tax revenue.
For a long time, conservatives put their faith in local as opposed to federal government. The time has come to rethink the assumption that municipal politicians are more likely than federal to follow the original understanding of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. But city councils and city managers can and often do act against that understanding when it suits their purpose. The Oakland City Council voted 6-1 to authorize the eminent-domain seizure against Revelli and Fung. More evidence that "judicial activism" per se is not the problem, but rather activism that runs counter to the Framers' clearly specified intent. Hopefully a reformulated Supreme Court will take the first opportunity to overturn its June decision that governments can seize private property to give it to private developers to produce optimal tax revenue. Until that happens, Congress needs to act.