The specter of eminent domain strikes again

January 09, 2014 | By JENNIFER THOMPSON

As my colleague, Principal Attorney Timothy Sandefur wrote earlier this week, various groups and politicians within California are pushing to give government more generous (read evil) eminent domain powers.  And lest you think this issue is merely a matter of esoteric legal debate, here’s yet another vexing example of a city abusing what eminent domain powers it already possesses to hamstring and destroy small business.

As this Reason TV clip shows, the City of Santa Ana needs property to widen a major road, which most people accept is a legitimate use of eminent domain.  But the City is trying to take more footage than it actually needs in order to plant trees.  The City claims it needs an additional 30 feet for “landscaping,” which means the businesses have to go.

Included among them is karate legend Fumio Demura’s “dojo” or studio which has been there for decades.  Demura rose to fame playing Mr. Miyagi’s stunt double in the Karate Kid movies and has since trained stars like Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal at his studio.  In spite of his celebrity, Demura’s story is not unlike a lot of small business owners who suffer the brunt of eminent domain abuse.  He relates how he came to America from Japan 47 years ago with no money.  He built his reputation, his carreer and his business from scratch—a model of the American Dream.  And now the City where he has lived and paid taxes for 47 years is threatening to destroy his studio—the emblem of his accomplishments and the place where he continues to train people day in and day out.

Demura’s story reminds us of San Diego cigar-shop owner Ahmad Mesdaq, whose family fled communism in Afghanistan, only to have the government here take away their business and turn into a parking lot.  Demura, and his fellow business owners are currently fighting the City of Santa Ana to keep their properties; let’s hope their story has a happier ending.