Monday, September 20, 2010

Treading in Dangerous Waters

Today's Times-Picayune piece demonstrates just how fundamentally flawed the plans are for the proposed UMC Hospital, in what I've long called the LSU Footprint.

Mayor Landrieu, at the very least, called for changes to the UMC design, and some of those changes - adding street-level retail space, maintaining at least some of the Mid-City street grid and reducing the amount of surface parking on the 34-acre University Medical Center campus - would be positive.

But they're borderline meaningless in the big picture - the neighborhood is still being destroyed.  And I'm not using that word lightly.  When I say destroyed, I mean literally destroyed.  By the state government with the complicity of the city government.  And I know of no plan to move the houses on the LSU side, so at present, well over 50 historic homes (not just in my view, but as determined by the Programmatic Agreement for the hospitals) are headed for the landfill.  Like this one:

That brings me to the other aspect of the LSU Footprint that Bill Barrow managed to highlight as he confronted the city's Andy Kopplin and the Division of Adminstration's Michael Diresto: LSU is even now expropriating land only to have it sit or have it go to a private entity.  Not incidentally or accidentally, but purposefully.  Barrow noted the possible problem with the state's Constitutional Amendment, passed as a result of Kelo:

One challenge of creating more retail space is conforming to state laws that limit the private use of land that is expropriated for public purpose. Similar considerations could come into play if the project depends on federal mortgage insurance to back construction bonds.
The state appears to have no intention of slowing its land acquisition process, and its contractors have filed dozens of expropriation orders on parcels in the footprint. That could still leave several city blocks of empty, unused land, even if the street grid on those blocks is reopened.
Kopplin said the city believes that "auxiliary services" that are directly connected to the UMC mission -- pharmacies, medical suppliers, flower shops, restaurants -- should clear any legal obstacles.

I'm not so sure.  See Section 4 of Article 1 of the Louisiana Constitution as amended in 2006: Except as specifically authorized by Article VI, Section 21 of this Constitution property shall not be taken or damaged by the state or its political subdivisions: (a) for predominant use by any private person or entity; or (b) for transfer of ownership to any private person or entity.

There's also the added state constitutional requirement that in addition to being entailing a public purpose, the expropriation must be necessary: "(4) Property shall not be taken or damaged by any private entity authorized by law to expropriate, except for a public and necessary purpose and with just compensation paid to the owner; in such proceedings, whether the purpose is public and necessary shall be a judicial question." [bold and ital. mine]

I've noticed that the LSU expropriation petitions on file with the CDC clerk contain affidavits by some shameless figure named Kim Way from Columbus, Ohio asserting that the amount taken is appropriate for the project.

LSU should know that such actions are at the root of the nation-wide backlash against the Kelo decision, an opinion reviled by figures across the political spectrum.

Finally, why is the default in this situation an overwhelming deference to LSU?  It's evident again in the mistreatment of homeowners and operating business owners - like Cal at Broadmoor Auto Parts on Banks Street, which struggled as it was to come back after Katrina:

The Goody Clancy report also raised the idea of not expropriating land on the Claiborne side of the footprint if the parcel is now occupied by a working business. Kopplin said that issue has come up in the city-state discussions. He cited other public development projects in which a public entity agreed to a conditional purchase of private property, allowing a business or homeowner to remain on the land for a certain period of time until the parcel is actually needed. 

"I'm not saying that's going to happen in this case, but we're at least asking the questions," Kopplin said.

It should happen.  There's still so much uncertainty about whether LSU will be able to fund its proposed medical center that expropriation of properties to drive people and businesses out is truly sinister.  It's nothing short of un-American for the government to take property when it's not at all clear that the land seized will actually be used for a public purpose.

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