Friday, June 24, 2005

We took a bridge to where we didn't want to go.

The news is full of articles and opinions on the latest Supreme Court decision Kelo, et. al. v. New London, CT, et. al. The opinion essentially says that your property can be taken from you by the government for the use of for-profit companies that will provide the government with more tax income that you have been. It's an outrageous decision. But considering how often this has been done in Nashville, it's not real surprise. It's just that you put your hope and trust in the Supreme Court actually consulting the highest authority in our land--the Constitution. Obviously, I'm a literalist and don't understand that the meaning of plain words don't mean what they used to.

You can read the Kelo story, and those of her neighbors and others across the county, in the Heritage Foundation's Insider Winter 2005 edition. The story starts on 24 of their .pdf document. It didn't seem right then, it doesn't seem right now.

The folks at the Tennessee Center for Public Research can do a much better job of explaining the legalities via their Friend of the Court Brief. And Blake's Nashville Files has many more details and links to other information.

The first time I spoke to a city council it was about this issue. I was about 21 and had just returned to my home town after military service. It was a small town of 29,000 and change and was dominated by the shipping port and railroads all moving iron ore and grain on to the rest of the world. Our neighborhood was mostly isolated from the rest of the town by either water or the railroad tracks. We had two very long viaducts that connected us to the rest of the city and I spent my junior high years walking across one of them on my way back and forth from school. It was the replacement of that viaduct that introduced me to my own city council and eminent domain.

Also in that neighborhood was a sweet old woman who had lived about two blocks from the foot of that viaduct. She and her chickens (and a rooster we all heard in the morning) had lived there for years and we all expected that she'd live out the remainder of her life there. Well, the city decided that the viaduct needed to be replaced and having seen it first hand/foot for many years I couldn't have agreed more. It's unsettling to put your feet one foot in front of the other only to discover that the weight of the semi-tractor passing has caused the wooden sidewalk that was supposed to be there to have been displaced and you stumble a bit regaining your sense of balance. It also interrupted the reading I usually did on those one and a half mile walks.

So the plans for the new bridge and approach were drawn up and unfortunately our elderly neighbor's property was required. Folks were astonished that so much land would be needed and balked and tried to defend this woman's property to no avail. She and her chickens were relocated. I never knew where.

So the bridge is built. It's obviously a great improvement over wood wood/asphalt original and we return to the rhythms of our life until a small notice appears in the paper announcing a zoning variance to let a liquor store put in a drive through. It seems the city hadn't really needed the elderly lady's land after all and had sold it to someone who intended to set up a liquor store. The neighbors were outraged. Not only had their dear friend been unnecessarily displaced but replaced by a liquor store! We gathered together and attended the meeting. For my part I told the council that this was our neighborhood and the folks across town had no right to vote against what we wanted in our own backyard. The council was not persuaded by any of us and the liquor store got their permit and promptly installed a drive-thru window...the only one I've even seen.

I've seen too much of this sort of thing in Nashville. People displaced because bigger economic entities than they want what they have. They've got the lawyers and money to pretty much get their way. And when the government is more concerned about their own financial circumstances instead of safekeeping our rights it's an even bigger problem. And now, they've got the Supremes on their side. I may actually want that bigger entity moving in and improving the place, but we've run headlong into trouble when we don't honor the individual rights. But I guess that's what our Native American citizens have been telling us for a good long time.

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