Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Linda Lancaster addresses Tarrant County Commissioners Court on Eminent Domain

County Judge Glen Whitley presented a letter for the County Commissioners to sign from Tarrant County to Gov. Perry urging him to veto the Eminent Domain bill passed by the 80th Legislature. Linda Lancaster spoke to the Commissioner's Court at their 10:30 a.m. meeting this morning (Tuesday, June. 5, 2007).

I am a resident who is very concerned with the issue of the abuse of the power to use eminent domain. Since the 2005 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, which opened the floodgates for cities and states to seize property from homeowners, business owners, farmers, and ranchers, this has become a hated and dispicable use of government power.

In her dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor argued that this decision would allow the rich to benefit at the expense of the poor, asserting that "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms." Sound familiar?

80% of Americans despise eminent domain in order to hand over private property to private development. There has been a huge public outcry and backlash by ordinary citizens who could have their homes taken and given to private companies for retail stores, Starbucks, golf courses, condos, stadiums, etc. The public has spoken very, very clearly and I assure you that this is not a Republican, Democrat, or Independent issue—it effects ALL of us.

Why on earth would judge Glen Whitley and Tarrant Co. commissioners think citizens want LESS protection from eminent domain??? After watching the city of Arlington demolish street upon street of entire neighborhoods for a private economic development stadium, watching people lose their homes for NE mall expansion, watching Gov. Perry reach out his arms in aim of 500,000 acres for his private Transcorridor Tollroad, why on earth does Tarrant Co. want a screaming headline of "WE WON”T PROTECT YOU FROM WEALTHY PRIVATE DEVELOPERS"? H.B. 2006 seeks to protect regular Texans, yet you want Gov. Perry to veto this bill? And you think this is okay to do so in a very public manner with our blessings?????

Recently North Texas flexed its muscle and persuaded the state legislature to tack on exemptions for the Tollroad Moratorium. I see a direct correlation in wanting to make sure municipalities in our region have NO barriers in seizing property for tollroads and other private projects. Eminent Domain without limitations is a disasterous policy with long-lasting consequences. People who lost their property with the SuperCollider project now look at their former land sitting empty, destroyed and without value. The most famous case in the use of eminent domain in Arlington is of Evelyn Wray, whose property was worth $2.75 million, but who was offered a $351,000 lowball figure and she had to spend tens of thousands of dollars fighting the very same government that is, …. or WAS designed to protect her.

My family has 200 acres in the path of Perry's Transcorridor. I attended the March Transportation hearing and was part of what the Dallas newspaper called the "howling mob". Guess why we're howling? Regular citizens can own land for a century, yet when officials and developers start slobbering over our land, we find out we have no protection.

The most infuriating part -- hearing Gov. Perry claim that the "Transcorridor Tollroad is the ONLY way to relieve congestion off of I35", while TxDOT leader, Ric Williamson, said that the "Transcorridor would NOT relieve congestion". It's all and only about getting the upfront money as a new and very disturbing way to fund our public roadways. To Hell with the public, who will then be saddled with excessive tolls, hidden fees, camera fees, invoice fees, and Non-Compete clauses on existing roadways. My family's land has been in our family for almost 100 years. The thought that it can be taken and turned over to Cintra-Zachary (a huge political contributor) and then used for a private tollroad, hotel, gas station, restaurant, or nothing makes me absolutely nauseous.

The term “public use” as it turns out can be a project that allows the middle-class to be thrown off property to a new set of people with money can live in mixed-use condos. Imagine that. In addition, these new private tollroad projects will depend on very limited protection of private land, esp. from people who are powerless and who don't have money to fight land grabs. We are depend on you for protection and representation.

You have a choice and it is very simple – represent the people of Tarrant County OR represent private companies who want to build private tollroads, private toll bridges, a strip mall, condos, a yacht club, etc. It's bad enough for city/county/state officials to take land with these economic development projects disguised as "roadways", "flood control", and "blight elimination" projects. I cannot imagine elected officials actively seeking the seizure of property and not fighting to protect us from having our land/homes/businesses taken for private development. I cannot fathom that this is okay. If you want to “zip a letter to Austin”, make it one that urges Gov. Perry and lawmakers to SUPPORT protection from the abuse of the power of eminent domain. Represent us, protect us, just don’t take rights away from us.

Linda Lancaster
Arlington, Texas

Linda commented:
I just delivered this message personally as I spoke at the Tarrant Co. Commissioner's meeting today. All Commissioners were there except, Gary Fickes, but his staff member came out in the hall, shook my hand, and thanked me for coming to speak on this issue. I reminded Judge and Commissioners that if they wanted to write a letter as individuals that was okay, but to write publicly and as representatives of Tarrant Co., many people would take offense. Judge Whitley did all of the talking and reminded the audience of the same rhetoric that "buying land for roadways, tollways, and our projects would be too expensive and slow down progress". He said that most people don't want to sit in congestion and want clean air -- two popular talking points that don't justify stealing people's land out from under them.

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