Published in the Star-Ledger, Wednesday, May 30, 2007
New Jersey must end eminent domain abuse
Eminent domain is being abused in New Jersey. Not all the time. Not in every situation. But it is happening, and that is because the state's loosely written eminent domain laws have created an atmosphere ripe for abuse.
In a report released yesterday, Public Advocate Ronald Chen, who a year ago called for reforms in this area, makes a stronger case by laying out the abuses and urging the Legislature, once again, to act.
The report makes a compelling case for legislative action and should be taken seriously. Specifically, it points to four key areas of abuse:
The first is what is described as "bogus blight," municipalities declaring a property blighted on "scant or superficial evidence, such as chipping paint."
The second is "due process deprivations," a reference to towns failing to give property owners adequate notice and information so they can challenge an eminent domain decision. Under the law, municipalities -- astonishingly -- can take someone's property without sending a single letter to the property owner.
Third, in many instances residents are inadequately compensated for their property or for their relocation costs.
Finally, Chen's report highlights evidence of public officials benefiting from redevelopment in ways that suggest a conflict of interest.
The solution is not to eliminate eminent domain. That wouldn't make sense in a small, densely populated state like New Jersey.
What's needed is a law such as A-3257, introduced by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a South Jersey Democrat, which we have previously endorsed. The bill has passed the Assembly but not the Senate.
We recognize that some of the proposed changes may slow development, but they may also have the salutary of effect of making the process less litigious. That's because the looseness of the law now almost guarantees court fights. A cleanly defined law would make the process a lot smoother.
Since 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Kelo vs. New London ruling, nearly half the states have adopted legislation aimed at curbing eminent domain abuses.
New Jersey -- perhaps more than any other state -- needs to join those ranks.
Link to online story.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.