The Redevelopers Strike Back


by Timothy Sandefur

This Salt Lake Tribune article demonstrates that the redevelopment industry simply refuses to take individual rights seriously. The Utah League of Cities and Towns wants their eminent domain power back, only they want it in a new form: they want to change the redevelopment laws so that if a majority of the property owners in a certain neighborhood agree to sell their land to a developer, then the city would be allowed to condemn the property owners who vote no.

In other words, your property rights will depend on your neighbors' permission. That is absurd. The whole point of individual rights is that you should not have to ask your neighbors to let you keep your property. This proposal would turn people's property rights into a privilege depending on the whims of a majority of their neighbors.

In 1878, a similar proposal was suggested at the California Constitutional Convention, and was turned down. The words of one delegate in opposing the idea seem particularly apt here:

What is the power of eminent domain? It is that power by which the State puts into exercise that sovereignty for the public weal, and nothing else. Now you will dwindle it down and drive out all the interests of one private person, and take all the interests of another private person, and put every man's and against that of his neighbor? All will be driven asunder by the provisions you propose to insert here. It makes every man an Ishmaelite as against his neighbor; his hand is against every man's hand and his interest against every man's interests. You set at war every private interest that is in the community…and every man's interest will be sought to be enhanced by the use of this power of eminent domain to acquire and filch his neighbor's interest; and not upon the plea of any public benefit that will result, but solely for private use. Can you do it?  Dare you do it?

E.B. Willis & P.K. Stockton, Debates And Proceedings of The Constitutional Convention of the State of California 296 (1878) (Speech of Mr. Herrington).