Monday, October 10, 2005

Kelo in New Orleans?

Judy Coleman wrote in WaPo This year's story about property rights is a tale of two cities.

The first is New London, a Connecticut port town whose economy depends upon two pieces of property -- a submarine base, which it nearly lost this summer, and a planned waterfront development, which has been the subject of legal wrangling since 1998. The city seized homes to assemble land for the project, which includes a research center for the drug giant Pfizer that's already been built. One resident named Susette Kelo sued, claiming that the city had abused its powers of eminent domain by taking her property for the redevelopment project. The Supreme Court recently ruled in the city's favor in Kelo v. New London , and the result was a firestorm of public resentment that cut across party and ideological lines.

The second city is New Orleans. It will be the center of a colossal rebuilding effort costing an estimated $200 billion. Much of this funding will go to tax incentives and multimillion-dollar contracts with private corporations. Eminent domain, to clear blighted and flood-devastated areas, will no doubt be involved.

There is a significant difference. Susette Kelo and the other New London resident whose house are being taken by the city, and given to private individuals and companies, did not have their property destroyed by a hurricane and/or a flood. And the houses in the flooded portions of New Orleans that are 7 to 15 feet below sea level are not being taken and given to a private company seeking to build a planned waterfront development. In fact NOTHING should be built on that land. My preference is for the levees to be torn down and allow that land to permanently become Lake Orleans, and if levees are to protect land it should only be the French Quarter and other land that is ABOVE SEA LEVEL. If they insist on keeping the existing levees, then the land should become a huge park or something like that. NOTHING should be built on it. And if anything is built on it, there should be two or three floors of parking, with anything where people live or work starting at an elevation ABOVE SEA LEVEL.
The situation in New London is a time-extended version of the crisis in New Orleans. The lawmakers in New London observed a long trend of economic decline, which would culminate in the city's obsolescence if government did not intervene. The city benefited from having time to make a choice about its future,
With all of that time on their hands, they should have come up with a solution that did not require them to take people's houses
but has lost public support exactly because it had time to choose otherwise. Now a state moratorium on property seizures has stalled the plan yet again.

New Orleans, meanwhile, saw its demise in the course of days instead of decades. There was no choice but to create a package of initiatives that would bring in the private sector to assist in the rebuilding effort.
Actually there is a choice. The initiatives and incentives should direct new construction to be built on land that is above sea level.
Eminent domain, in some areas, may be the only answer.

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