What’s the most valuable thing you own? Maybe it’s the home you saved and sacrificed for, or a small business you’ve grown on evenings and weekends after working full time at your day job. Whatever it is, the true value of that which you own — your property, whether physical or intellectual — isn’t just how much money it’s worth, it’s in the fact that your right to ownership is the basis for all the other rights you enjoy. To paraphrase James Madison, you “own” your rights, in the same way that you own your property. And if the government chooses to take your property under circumstances that aren’t supported by the Constitution, they’re subverting your very freedom.
Now, imagine waking up one day and finding out that your property — the time and money, sweat and sacrifice you’ve invested in obtaining it — will be taken from you by the government. For me, this scenario is all too real. On Monday, the Eagle Urban Renewal Agency, whose voting members wholly comprise the members of the Eagle City Council, voted to sue in order to take my property, seizing it via eminent domain. And while this issue affects only me today, the city of Eagle’s pattern of conduct with regard to eminent domain law indicates that it’s likely to be someone else tomorrow.
The Idaho Constitution prohibits seizure of private property via eminent domain for property development purposes. The city has intimated that if they succeed in seizing the property, they plan to use it for a parking lot in the immediate future, and for development later. Given that neither my property nor the city’s intentions for it meet the very narrow criteria they’ve cited for a legitimate eminent domain seizure, it’s unlikely the city will succeed in court, but they’re willing to spend your tax dollars trying.
Twice in less than a year, the city of Eagle has determined that they are willing to undermine the most fundamental of our rights in pursuit of their own agenda. The city failed in their previous attempt to wrest land from homeowners in the Laguna Pointe neighborhood, wasting thousands of our tax dollars on legal fees in the process.
I share the city’s desire to improve our community, and it is my intention to use my property to that end. Recently, we made improvements to the property and the structure on it. We’ve hired architects and had discussions with developers who would plan to use the property. And now that the Great Recession has ended and property values have begun to recover, when I have the opportunity to capitalize on 30 years of investment in this land, the city has determined that it is better suited to own the property. I don’t expect you to feel bad for me, but I do ask that you consider what this action says about the beliefs of the individuals you’ve elected to represent you.
The city of Eagle’s bullying attitude demonstrates a complete disregard for its citizens’ rights and a willingness to waste precious tax dollars on lawsuits in which they’re clearly in the wrong. Most important, the city’s failure to understand eminent domain law betrays a lack of respect for not only our rights as property owners, but as free individuals.
Thankfully, leaders in the Idaho Legislature are slamming the breaks on the action the Eagle URA is trying to take. A bill that passed the House last Thursday on a 57-6 vote would protect property owners from capricious decisions like the one the Eagle URA is attempting. Please ask your senators to support the bill and your property rights.