Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Eminent Domain: One Man's Project Is Another Woman's Conspiracy

Upon my arrival at the office this morning, I noticed a tiny frail black lady perched just outside the elevators on the stainless silver cylinder meant for cigarettes once upon a time and now just serves as a ridiculously small public trash can. I smiled at her while walking to the glass doors and she hopped up quickly like some small brown wren. She was dressed very neatly, with a cute white straw hat covering her graying curls and big hooped earrings with fake blue sapphire stones. An out-of-style dingy white beaded sweater was buttoned tightly across her bone-thin chest. Clutching a clear plastic back-pack full of papers and notebooks and other asundry items, she followed me into my office.

I inquired how I might help her and she began to question me about what my employer's business pertained to and if we participated in the monthly sale of properties from the courthouse steps. Very politely she explained that there were unscrupulous folks trying to take land that didn't belong to them. As best I could understand, her father was once a groundskeeper for the Fort Worth Cats at LaGrave Field. Because he was a valued employee and a hard worker, he was given an amount of land near the field and built a home on it. The visitor explained that she had lived there all her life (she appeared to be in her 70's) and that now big city high rollers were taking advantage of illiterate black people and stealing their properties.

Trying to be helpful, I tried suggesting different avenues of assistance for her. She said that the Legal Aid people were interested in helping at first, and then declined, citing a conflict of interest. City Hall workers just ignored her. She said, with a sad shaking of her head, that her church had even been infiltrated by money-hungry businessmen pitching pie-crust promises. My last suggestion of asking the NAACP for help won me a most wry smile from her heart-shaped face. "They're no help", she said with a look that said more than her words.

After about 45 minutes of mostly my listening and her explaining, she gathered up her things and thanked me for my kindness. I watched her walk briskly out to the hall and was rewarded with a bright smile and a wave of her hand as the elevator doors closed. Most of the business people in my building would have not given her the time of day. I felt I had just met Rosa Parks' Cowtown equivolent. I wished I had gotten her name. Even though there was not much else I could do for her, I can't help but feel I have missed an opportunity to get to know a very unique individual.

The forced acquisition of land from private citizens is one of the most heinous things a government can perform and should only be enacted when the public interest is REALLY at stake for a school or road - not for a new Cowboy stadium, a shiny new mall, or any other private business. Yes, the property owners are compensated with "fair market value" for getting the hell out of Dodge and out of the way of progress, but that seldom equates to an ability to buy another home. What "fair market values" do memories and neighborhood bonding net the displaced property owner?

I suspected my odd little morning visitor would soon be a victim to a scenic new project and fat cat ball:Trinity River Vision. This kind of bureaucratic land grab is happening with much frequency around Cowtown and ultimately means that none of us really ever own our homes, we're just borrowing it until some developer decides he can make a fast buck, and reels in his markers at City Hall.

I will be interested to see this case plays out:

Kelo v. New London, which the Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on by summer, could decide once and for all when or even whether governments have the right to use eminent domain to acquire private property for the benefit of private businesses. - courtesy of Daniel McGraw at ReasonOnline.

Time Marches On, and sometimes tromps the life out of unsuspecting folk.

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