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Re: [at-l] Eminent domain
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Subject: RE: [at-l] Eminent domain
Author: firstname.lastname@example.org (Thomas Caggiano) at ima
Date: 8/21/99 3:56 PM
Bear Bells wrote:
I can't put a value on "priceless" anymore then one can put a value to your
sick parent or a child dying of cancer. They are priceless as was that view.
Sloetoe pipes in with:
Sometimes you only need to price the alternative.
OK, you've got your house on the river, all alone on the river
bank. You're on the opposite side of the river from town, and have
the whole thing to yourself.
A letter arrives in the mail informing you that the government
wishes to build a bridge to connect to your side, and they are
condemning your property through eminent domain.(Just so it's not
an issue, they even appraise the property as if the bridge access
were already available which would raise the price.) They give you
papers to sign and a check for the appraised value. One year later,
you arrive home to find your house on fire. Your children are
upstairs. You run in the back door and phone the firemen.
Scenario One: One year ago, you had signed the papers, took the
money, and bought the property next door to the bridge landing, and
rebuilt your house and your life. The firemen scream their trucks
over the new bridge, save the kids, save the house, you're grateful
for the bridge the firemen used.
Scenario Two: One year ago, you *didn't* sign zee papers, you all
went to court, and that's where you'd been when you arrived home to
find the house on fire. The firemen remind you there is no way for
them to get across the river, there's nothing they can do. The fire
Seems pretty easy to say "Scenario One sounds better!" But what if
the property owner fighting the bridge *wasn't* you, but your next
door neighbor? If s/he sells for the bridge, you'll be afforded
protection by the now-available fire department; if not, all's lost
to the fire. Where do your neighbor's rights end, and others'
Think about it. The simplest term for what we're hashing about here
is a "public good" and the simplest definition is that a public
good is something which, if provided for one, may be provided for
all (at no extra cost). National defense, education, town squares,
highways, and yes, recreation resources like our own AT, are
different examples of "public goods." For Saddleback, the
individual's reward for experiencing the hike over is certainly
much less than the previous example's homeowner with the burning
home. However, the number of persons potentially benefiting is
increased by 235,000,000 or so. Heady numbers. Big benefits.
Eminent Domain as a subject dances around one simple issue: Do the
rights of an individual *always* supercede the rights of society?
In a democracy, the answer is "No. We come together as equals to
establish a common good, but to respect the individual first and
foremost where it does not unavoidably injure that common good."
Further, where injury to the common good is eminent, and the
society's representatives decide to enact domain over the
situation, "fairness" rules in that democracy dictate compensation
to the individual if at all possible. For property "takings" like
Saddleback, this involves establishing what the property would
bring in an independent sale (the appraisal), and providing that
value as a measure of compensation to the individual.
That's all that's going on here, folks. No great plots. No
boundless greed of government, but a weighing of individual's and
society's harms, by a representative democracy's open process. The
same prcess goes on *every time* eminent domain is considered,
whether for dams which flood, highways which obliterate, or just
trails -- which deny more intensive economic utilization of some
piece of property. And before anybody decides they don't like it,
remember we *all* benefit. Let's not be bitching about public good
resources like recreation/AT/Saddleback, unless we also want to
forego fire/police protection, education, interstate highways, the
NASA programs that brought so much to backpacking, national
Thanks for your attention.
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