June 1, 2012
The practice by local governments of using the power of eminent domain has a long and storied history in America. Indeed, it’s written into the constitution that governments can seize private property, provided they use it for a public good and pay the owners “just compensation.”
The first of these requirements has been eroded down to nothingness since the case of Kelo v. City of New London. However, the second one has remained in force, and been an effective deterrent against governments taking away property willy nilly, since all the costs would add up in theory.
Unfortunately, Ventura County in California has found a way around this limit by using zoning regulations to make it so prohibitively difficult for businesses to exist that the owners just pack up and leave of their own volition. This video from Reason Magazine explains the extremely sleazy approach involved:
(…) The inn was forced to close down in 2002 when the owner, Tom Wolf, had a heart attack. Yet now it’s being stopped from reopening because, according to the county, this building has numerous zoning violations, including an unauthorized chicken coop.