Friday, September 8, 2006
EMINENT DOMAIN. You might as well rake your nails across a blackboard instead of uttering those two words to me. Either way, my back stiffens, I shudder uncontrollably and a stern grimace takes hold of my face.
I know, I know. Without the government having the power of eminent domain we wouldn't have roads and streets and highways in this country. Progress is progress, after all...the stubborn will of the few should not impede the fortunes and luxuries of the masses.
Still, whenever I hear the words-EMINENT DOMAIN -the first thought that comes to mind is legalized thievery.
I've just returned from a two and a half week vacation, and one of the first stories I read in trying to catch up on what's been happening around here details how the Sunnyside City Council approved a measure which authorizes city staff to go ahead with condemnation proceedings against South First Street property owner Tom Paul. Apparently, if the outcome of the Superior Court case involving Mr. Paul and the city goes the property owner's way, the city of Sunnyside will move forward with eminent domain proceedings. In a nutshell, the city needs the 15-foot strip of land that Paul contends is his property to continue on with the multi-million dollar South First Street improvement project. Both sides have been arguing for some time that they are the legal owners of the 15-foot strip of land in question.
I am not a Tom Paul fan, although I am a staunch believer in freedom of speech. I do defend his right to post the signs he has erected on his property (most of which have blasted certain city officials, although the Daily Sun News hasn't entirely escaped his brush). I do NOT defend the actions of Mr. Paul. His choice to make Sunnyside the laughing stock of the Valley with his childish, derogatory signs...well, I find his actions to be deplorable, akin to the post-Civil War carpet-baggers who cared nothing about community but only about their own personal gain.
Yet, here I am railing against the probable eminent domain proceedings the city will initiate against Mr. Paul.
Admittedly, I don't like the idea that a governmental body has the right to help itself to someone's property. Also, there have been far too many instances in which the power of eminent domain have been abused. The recent East Coast case where a municipality "stole" someone's property to accommodate a shopping center developer comes to mind, as does the recent case in Seattle where a couple lost their property to make way for a transportation project, only to see the project cancelled and their property sold off to someone else.
The most damning aspect of this local takeover, however, at least in my mind, is that eminent domain proceedings should only occur as a last resort, when all other avenues to secure a piece of property have been exhausted.
To put it bluntly, this whole Tom Paul mess has been mishandled from the get-go. It's hard to believe that an agreement couldn't have been reached had cooler heads prevailed. Where was the give-and-take? Is noone at city hall trained in diplomacy or the art of negotiations? Where's the leadership been from our elected officials?
Blame Tom Paul for the embarrassment we Sunnysiders have suffered because of his signs. But while you're at it, don't forget to blame those who are responsible for allowing this mess to have continued for as long as it has.