Debra J. Saunders

As former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who dissented on Kelo, warned: "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall or any farm with a factory."

Another dissenter, Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote, "Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not."

Waters-Sensenbrenner can't help John Revelli. In February, he settled with Oakland, which paid him $615,000. Also, the project for which the city seized Revelli's business received no federal funds, according to City Attorney John Russo's office.

Russo bristles at the notion that Oakland kicked Revelli out of his property. "I believe that the Revelli case, for him, was a case of stubbornness and sentiment," Russo told me, adding that the city paid above appraisal for the property.

Russo is right, Revelli is sentimental. Revelli -- who now calls himself "forcibly retired" -- asked Oakland to put off the seizure. Instead, the city took the land -- then left his property unchanged for many months, during which Revelli could have been in business. His father started Revelli Tires in 1949. Revelli owned the property, with a prime location a block from BART, free and clear.

"I created a situation where I could compete with everyone else in the tire business," he explained, "because I worked by myself. I had no employees. Nobody treats the business like the owner treats the business."

Revelli's retirement plan had been to sell his business and lease the property -- if, that is, he felt the urge to retire. Instead, he has $615,000 -- minus legal fees and a whopping capital-gains tax bill. Even if $615,000 is above appraisal, the deal shortchanged his future.

No government should be able to take your land to give it to a corporation. As Susette Kelo noted Thursday, "Our federal tax dollars shouldn't be used to take away our homes and businesses so that developers can build shopping malls and condominiums."

Citizens have an interest in a system that allows governments to take property -- at a just price -- for public projects. But when states and cities, in search of a richer tax base, can take your land and give it to a private developer -- they have license to trample on everyone's rights. And no one, except the very rich, is safe.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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