By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Higher purpose: Here are a couple of surprising facts: First, the Texas Legislature has yet to provide property owners with adequate protection from government misusing its power to acquire private property through eminent domain. Second, when the Texas chapter of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian legal nonprofit, was looking around for examples of Texans being screwed by abuse of eminent domain, they didn't find any examples in Dallas.
The first point was surprising because Texans love their property rights almost as much as they love Jesus, and folks here and elsewhere were mighty upset when, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. In that Connecticut case, the court pretty much said that if a city wants to take your land and give it to a private developer with more money, well, that's OK. The second fact was surprising because this is Dallas. We love rapacious developers at least as much as we love Jesus. If any Texas city were ripe for post-Kelo abuse, we figured it would be here.
But a report titled "They Want to Erase Us Out" by Matt Miller, executive director of the institute's Texas chapter, cites instances in El Paso, Houston and San Antonio where, in the pursuit of a higher purpose, property owners face the loss of their homes, businesses and entire neighborhoods. Higher purpose in these cases apparently means building condos and retail for yuppies.
Seriously, doesn't that sound like something you expect to be happening in Dallas?
Miller, whose report can be found by searching at www.ij.org, says he looked for Dallas cases, but nothing cropped up. The institute gave Texas legislators a "C-" for their efforts in 2005 and 2007 to provide property owners more protection. The 2005 changes to state law were sped through a special session and didn't go far enough, and Governor Rick Perry vetoed a 2007 bill, suggesting that the matter should be considered for a state constitutional amendment.
A proposed amendment is pending before the Lege, and several bills have been filed—such as SB 533—that would close a loophole that allows state and local agencies to take property to clean up "blight" (read: build more condos!) The measures also would clearly define what a "public use" is, Miller says, and allow for more judicial review.
So, here's hoping the Legislature gets it right this time...but not before some heavy-handed Dallas developer tries to use his political clout to rob some poor, benighted resident of his or her humble home. It's not that we wish anyone ill. We just love writing those kinds of stories.