EDITORIAL: Property rights under assault
Arizona case has national ramifications

by Vin Suprynowicz

May 06, 2002
Las Vegas Review-Journal

An Arizona judge ruled last week that the city of Mesa can seize Randy
Bailey's brake repair shop and transfer the property to his larger and more
powerful neighbor -- an Ace Hardware store looking to expand.

The Washington-based Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm
which is handling the case for Mr. Bailey, said it would appeal the ruling.
The judge stayed his order pending the appeal.

The reason this case matters far beyond the Phoenix suburb, where the Bailey
family has operated its profitable little business for 31 years, is that
cities all across the country "are using the power of eminent domain to take
homes and businesses from one set of owners to transfer to more politically
powerful ones," explains attorney Clint Bolick, who's handling the case for
the institute. "It's corporate welfare at its most brazen."

Those who owned the profitable downtown Las Vegas businesses that once stood
where the defunct Race Rock cafe and the Neonopolis project and the
half-empty parking lot of the Fremont Street Experience might agree.

It's important to note that Mesa wants to take the property "not to build a
road, a school, or a hospital, but to sell to an Ace Hardware Store," Mr.
Bolick explains.

The brake shop has been family owned at this location for 31 years. And even
if Mr. Bailey gets full market value for his property, he may still be forced
out of business because of the high cost of relocating, driven primarily by
environmental regulations.

The excuse Mesa uses is that the city may seize property for redevelopment if
it's blighted. "If you didn't use (the power of eminent domain in this way),
you would have downtowns in a mess," argues Tom Verploegen, executive
director of the Mesa Town Center Corp.

Yet heavy-handed government "improvement" schemes don't eliminate blight.
Rather, by interrupting the natural cycle of free-market investment --
private speculators waiting for land prices in a given area to drop before
buying up and consolidating parcels -- they cause blight.

But while Arizona Superior Court Judge Robert Myers hasn't grasped the
corrosive effect of such cynical land-grabs, some public officials do appear
to "get it."

"How secure do you feel in your property rights?" asks Arizona State
Treasurer Carol Springer in a posting at her official Web site.

"If you've been following the story of Bailey's Brake Service, you might be a
little frightened by an emerging trend. ... The developer asked the city of
Mesa to condemn the brake shop under eminent domain and enable him to acquire
the property. ... This is a far cry from the original intent of eminent
domain laws. ..."

Not only are our private property rights guaranteed by the Fifth and 14th
amendments, Arizona's own state constitution stipulates that "Private
property shall not be taken for private use," Ms. Springer points out.

"Property rights are not a partisan issue, they are an American issue," she
concludes. "The power of America is in its citizens' right to secure their
future through property ownership. This is bedrock on which the wealth of
this country is built."

A Republican lawmaker who plans to introduce legislation to curb such uses of
eminent domain agrees.

"This should frighten everybody in the state," Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert,
told Arizona's East Valley Tribune. "One of the fundamental rights we have,
and what separates us from socialism, is private property rights. To me,
freedom and property ownership are inseparable. If you lose one, you lose the



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