Posted on Freedom Advocates on December 15th 2006
By [post_author] –
Under a benign sounding program called “Pathfinder,” single-family houses in the United Kingdom are targets of the wrecking ball. The aggressive tactic of “public/private partner” redevelopment called “Smart Growth” (rails, trails and high-density housing) is occurring on both sides of the Atlantic. “Eminent domain” and “compulsory purchase order seizures” are on the rise but there is also hope in the form of successful individual resistance.
Evidence of civil rights violations and the aggressive tactics of “Smart Growth” developer partnerships are being published on both sides of the Atlantic. Although “eminent domain” and “compulsory purchase order” seizures are increasing in both the US and UK, there are signs of hope in the form of individuals’ successful resistance and litigation.
UK Indymedia’s Keith Parkins reports on the Pathfinder program: “In Liverpool and across the north of England, tens of thousands of homes are being destroyed in the name of urban regeneration. Homeowners are being offered paltry sums for their homes. If they refuse, they are served Compulsory Purchase Orders and their homes are seized. If they play ball, they are offered a housing association home. If [private tenants] refuse what they are offered, they are deemed homeless.” 3
Nationally, the proposed projects cover 700,000 homes and affect 2.5 million people.4 At a public inquiry, local Labor MP Jane Kennedy described the Pathfinder program as “social cleansing.” 5 The strong-arm tactics employed to silence public opposition seem to confirm Kennedy’s labeling of the program.
“Community activists have voiced concern at the involvement of criminal families,” Parkins reports. “A nod and a wink, at best a blind eye, is turned to their activities. Criminal families are moved in to soften up the community and their relatives sit on the boards of pro-Pathfinder agencies. No structures are in place to address these issues.”
Public-private partnerships like Pathfinder exert increasing power and influence over lives and livelihoods of citizens, so it is duly important to recognize when individuals stand up in defense of their right to private property. Individuals like Elisabeth Pascoe, a grandmother and Liverpool resident.
Parkins writes, “In preparing to not only speak out, but mount a legal challenge [against the Pathfinder program], Elisabeth Pascoe has shown herself to be a very brave lady.” Mrs. Pascoe challenged the Compulsory Purchase (and seizure) of her Liverpool home, claiming that it violated her human rights.
In the course of mounting her legal challenge, Parkins reports that Pascoe’s “house has been broken into in the early hours of the morning, she has been held at knife point, her car has been repeatedly trashed.” Additionally, “A video of her car being trashed by local criminals was conveniently ‘lost’ by the local police (who received funding from pro-Pathfinder agencies).”
On September 27, London High Court Judge Forbes ruled in Pascoe’s favor, but she calls the victory “bittersweet, because much of my community has already been destroyed as a result of this initiative.”
Elisabeth Pascoe is not the only target of Pathfinderaggressions, says Parkins. “Local campaigner and documentary filmmaker Mike Lane, who has fought hard against Pathfinder and the corrupt local council, has received death threats, had his car fire-bombed, and been forced to move for fear of his life.”
“It would cost far less to renovate the existing housing, than build new homes, and would provide better quality housing. But what that would not provide is development opportunities for developers” Parkins concludes. “And that is what Pathfinder is all about; development opportunities … and helping housing associations to rapidly expand.”
Reasoned opposition to the Pathfinderpartnership has been disregarded in legislation and partnership councils, despite the criticism’s logic. British citizen and Freedom Advocate Robert Theobald writes:
Councillor Ken Walker was expelled from Labour for opposing the ‘Pathfinder’ demolitions in the Gresham district of Middlesborough.6 He pointed out that the money allocated by the Council to compensate residents for the loss of their homes under the “Pathfinder” regeneration initiative would amount to an avererage of Â£36,000 each when the Council itself estimates that Â£53,000 is needed for the purchase plus (derisory) compensation.
Professor Anne Power of the London School of Economics agrees with Cllr. Walker and said of the Pathfinder program, “It’s cheaper to demolish because of the way the subsidy system works. To the economy as a whole, if you include all the costs it is almost certainly not true.” 7
Chartered Surveyor Professor Brian Clancy, former President of the Institute of Structural Engineers, spent many hours reviewing the survey of houses condemned under Pathfinder in Darwen. His conclusion? “The houses are not unfit. At most needing relatively inexpensive upkeep. This is much cheaper than demolishing and rebuilding.” 8
Theobald further explores the contradictory economic incentives:
A VAT [tax] is chargeable on building repairs and renovations but not on new buildings. So demolition is favored. Any change of VAT must be authorized by Brussels although the government downplays this.
The unseen elephant in the Pathfinder room is ‘UN Agenda 21 Sustainable Development’ springing from the ’92 Rio Summit. Its provisions are being incrementally put into place in all countries of the UN system. It represents a grave threat to private property and freedom. Pathfinderpartnership is the British incarnation of ‘Smart Urban Growth’ as it is known in the USA.
In Parade Magazine (08/06/06), Sean Flynn reports on the eminent domain abuses in the United States:
In Northwood, Ohio … the Gambles now live in their daughter’s basement. Their house stands vacant in a weedy field that was their neighborhood – seized by the city and transferred to a developer who wants to build shops, office, and condominiums.
In Long Branch, N.J., Denise Hoagland has an endless view of the Atlantic Ocean from the cottage she and her husband, bought 13 years ago. But Long Branch wants to take their home and about 35 other properties so a developer can build luxury condos.
“It’s theft,” Denise says. “It’s legalized theft.” 9
Legally, the removal of their private property is described as a “forced sale” because the government has to compensate owners for their homes. And currently, it is legal. In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that the state and local governments can seize homes to make way for private development. According to the Institute for Justice (IJ), in the one year since Kelo, more than 5,700 homes, businesses and churches were threatened with seizure for private development and at least 350 were condemned or authorized for condemnation.
Post-Kelo eminent domain takings represent a 200% increase in seizures from the previous four years.
Under the 5th Amendment “Takings Clause”, the federal government is granted the limited power of eminent domain to force the sale of private property for public use. But under what definition of “public use” does “solely economic benefit” emerge? Until recently, eminent domain was only used to enable civil construction and public works projects such as highways, railroads, and schools. Flynn writes, “Kelo made it clear that middle-class homes could be replaced with malls, offices, luxury homes – anything that might increase tax revenue.”
“It’s a blatant example of reverse Robin Hood” argues IJ attorney Scott Bullock, “taking homes from the poor and middle-income and giving them to the rich.” Fellow IJ attorney Dana Berliner adds, “The fact is, a shopping mall does usually produce more taxes than a house, and an office building more than a church. But if that’s the rule – that anyone’s home can be taken away from them because something else will produce more taxes – then no one’s home is safe.”
In May of 2005 on the heels of Kelo and with little or no press coverage, the Supreme Court delivered another paramount decision in Lingle v. Chervon , unanimously ruling that citizens are no longer entitled to reasonable due process requirements for property right cases. 10, 11
The dangers from the Kelo and Lingle decisions and their allowance for increased eminent domain abuse has sparked a strong public backlash. In Norwood, the Gambles and two neighbors brought their case to the Ohio Supreme Court. In Long Branch, dozens of residents working with the Institute for Justice are suing to stop their neighborhood from the bulldozer’s path.
Flynn reports on the history behind these cases:
In each city, the process unfolded almost identically: A private developer, with the government’s backing, wanted a big piece of property – cliff-side homes with valley views in Lakewood, ocean-front views in Long Branch – and tried to negotiate deals with each owner. When some refused to sell, the cities threatened to invoke eminent domain to clear the holdouts.
In order to do that, however, city officials needed to declare the neighborhoods “blighted.” But the legal designation of “blight” bears little resemblance to a commonsense definition. In Lakewood, for example, Scenic Park is a charming neighborhood of older, well-kept homes. But because they lack such modern touches as attached two-car garages and central air-conditioning, the city deemed them blighted – a standard by which more than 80 percent of Lakewood, even the former mayor’s home, would likewise be blighted. 12
Note the similar appearance of “unfit” in the UK and “blighted” in the US. Both terms are applied for the benefit of the developers’ master plans and unsubstantiated by the true condition of these targeted homes.
But many local residents, wise to the deceptive ploys of urban planners, have begun to turn the phrase on its ear. “We always bit on the word ‘blight” says Julie Wiltse. Flynn notes she, “helped neighbors distribute 20,000 fliers and sponsor a series of blight events: a Blighted Block Party, a Blighted Chili Cook-off, even a Blighted Groundhog Day (which predicted four more months of blight). TV cameras and newspaper reporters loved that stuff.” Wiltse says, “We were very successful in explaining to the community, ‘If we’re blighted, you’re blighted.’”
Under “Smart Growth” development policies, “Public Use” equates to increased government tax revenue, increased corporate developer profits, and the loss of the right to private property. Although reasonable urban renewal projects can have positive effects on economic growth, the principled compromise of historic neighborhoods with established communities and private property rights is a gross over-extension of the powers enumerated in the Bill of Rights and confirmed by the Supreme Court.
Are corporate profits alone a justification for legalized theft and the purposeful denial of Constitutional rights? What can we do to stop eminent domain abuses?
The affordable housing element of these sustainable development practices – often the marquee initiative used to broker mega-developments with planning commissions – are only financially successful through large public subsidies financed by local tax dollars. The public is the unwilling silent partner for these corporate and bureaucratic profiteering schemes: it is time our voices were heard.
These multi-year, multi-million dollar projects are marshaled by civil servants to the favor of corporate profiteering. In Santa Cruz County, more than 150 acres of vacant and “underutilized” property have been recently quietly targeted by the local Planning Commission, each parcel in danger of systematic “blighting” to enable forceful taking of property.
But you won’t see the words “eminent domain” appear in the Commission minutes, nor a reasonable standard to define “underutilized.” Instead, the coolly instituted phrases of “redevelopment” and “affordable housing” indicate the possibility of eminent domain abuses on the horizon.
An Editor’s Note from Parade:
On July 26, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the city of Norwood cannot use eminent domain to take Carl and Joy Gamble’s home solely for economic development.13 The US Supreme Court had ruled previously that there is nothing unconstitutional about a government taking private property, with just compensation, solely for economic development but left it to state courts to decide whether such takings violated their own state constitutions.
The Ohio Supreme Court further rejected Norwood’s claim that it also could use eminent domain to eliminate the Gamble’s neighborhood because it was a “deteriorating area.” The court ruled that the phrase “deteriorating area” was too vague – that it was, in effect, a standardless standard.”
While “Smart Growth” urban planning has not yet brazenly appeared on a national level as it has with the UK’s Pathfinder program, local redevelopment partnerships are equally threatening to private property rights and the foundations of personal liberty.
Local action is needed, and can succeed.
Pathfinder Parallels: UK and US “Smart Growth” by Wyatt Hull Notes: 1. www.englishpartnerships.co.uk/pathfinders.htm 2. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4312730277175242198 (Video no longer available at target site) 3. www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/liverpool/2006/09/351960.html 4. corporatewatch.wordpress.com/2006/10/04/ 5. www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/03/25/nprezza25.xml 6. labour-watch.blogspot.com/2006/06/former-labour-leader-of-middlesbrough.html 7. news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/08_03_05_regeneration.pdf 8. news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/08_03_05_regeneration.pdf 9. www.parade.com/articles/editions/2006/edition_08-06-2006/AEminent_Domain 10. http://www.freedomadvocates.org/articles/illegitimate_government/a_shocking_us_supreme_court_case_20050630150/ 11. http://www.freedomadvocates.org/option,com_docman/task,doc_details/gid,67/Itemid,20/ 12. www.parade.com/articles/editions/2006/edition_08-06-2006/AEminent_Domain 13. www.ij.org/private_property/norwood/7_26_06pr.html
This article contains links to outside sources not controlled by Freedom Advocates and therefore are subject to change.