Monday, December 14, 2009

LSU Board: Expropriation is fine by us

The LSU Board voted to allow the state to proceed with expropriation (the Louisiana civil law term for eminent domain) of properties in the proposed LSU medical center footprint in Lower Mid-City.

The resolution allows state officials working on the projects to seek a court order to seize private property if the owners refuse to sell. A judge would decide the purchase price the state must pay.

While government takings of private property are permitted for a very loosely defined "public purpose" (no longer a public use, as we saw in the notorious Kelo case in Connecticut) under the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution, property owners must be given "just compensation" for the taking to be permissible.

And, although the U.S. Constitution authorizes a state or local goverment to exercise their power through takings, it must be remembered that even when something is authorized doesn't mean it's the right way forward or the best policy.  Just because it's authorized doesn't mean the state should do it.  Employing expropriation for a project that does not entail a crucial, necessary, "this is the only way we can possibly do this" justification is highly reprehensible.  I think we have precisely that unfortuante situation in the case of Lower Mid-City - an argument that locating the hospitals there is the only way forward when it most clearly is not.

Bringing in the heavy hand of government to drive someone from - and destroy - his or her home is a power that should only be used as an absolute last resort.  This sort of government power over individuals fits squarely within the basket of grievances that led us initially, as a nation, to declare independence.  Its use, especially on a large scale, beyond the rarest of instances undermines the legitimacy of government, no matter how much process is involved.

In the article linked above, a state official notes that "nobody has outright refused to sell their land for the hospital projects yet." And while it's clear that some individuals inside the footprint are not going to go without a fight (only eight out of 450 parcels in the two footprints have even been acquired at this time through regular buyouts), I find it interesting that LSU is opening the door to expropriation before it has even contemplated paying out higher amounts to some individual property owners who hold out longer.  Expropriation is clearly not a last resort here in the minds of the LSU board members.  Instead, it's a proactive tool being used unscrupulously to force a project forward, damage to unwilling property owners be damned.

And the truly sad part of this move is the end result.  So many of the properties that may ultimately be subject to expropriation (including those that contribute to the tax rolls, that aren't harming anyone else, that aren't blighted, that rebuilt post-K in reliance on government statements and policies), especially in the LSU footprint, will be used not for a nice, dense, beneficial hospital building, but for...acres of ground level parking lot. 

No comments: