Eminent Domain, Presidential Style

With all of the recent GOP hype about property rights, what could be more hypocritical than for the Republican president to benefit from eminent domain in the establishment of his presidential library? This may well be the case, according to The New York Sun:

The school favored to host the George W. Bush Presidential Library, Dallas’s Southern Methodist University, may encounter a snag next week in the form of a lawsuit alleging that the school has improperly seized local homes in order to secure land for the proposed library site.

Amid increasing outrage among Republicans over the use of eminent domain and other coercive measures to obtain private property for public projects, a case in Dallas County’s 134th Civil District Court, which is set to begin on Tuesday, will determine whether the university violated its legal obligations to local homeowners in an effort to secure the land currently occupied by the University Gardens condominium complex, a potential library site.

“They’re taking my home,” said Gary Vodicka, one of the litigants and a University Gardens owner and resident, yesterday.

SMU excuses their actions, stating the land deal is unrelated to the presidential library. Whether it is for the library or not, that does not excuse these allegations:

“To acquire the land to build the Bush Library they have breached numerous legal obligations, they’ve intimidated, misrepresented things, kicked old people out of their homes,” said Mr. Vodicka, who owns four units in the complex. “It’s amazing to see how ruthless a Christian university can be.”

There are four schools being considered for the presidential library, and SMU is the favored institution on the list. What really perplexes me is why they need a presidential library in the first place, since all the the material to be contained inside will likely be classified. If something does remain unclassified, one can expect the Homeland Security goons to stop any efforts to retrieve information, anyway.

The next time a Republican tells you he is opposed to eminent domain abuse, simply ask him to explain the actions of his chief elephant.

Stephen Gordon

I like tasteful cigars, private property, American whiskey, fast cars, hot women, pre-bailout Jeeps, fine dining, worthwhile literature, low taxes, original music, personal privacy and self-defense rights -- but not necessarily in this order.

  1. The Bush regime will never end!

    Even after his presidency is over, they’ll still be pushing people around, stealing people’s homes to build MONUMENTS to him. That would be the ultimate insult. “Not only are we stealing your house, we’re going to use the land to build a monument to George W. Bush!”

    What’s most ironic is that this is for a LIBRARY! This is Bush we’re talking about. Building a library to honor Bush would be like building a Kryptonite museum to honor Superman.

  2. It seems to me that the university is not using eminent domain in this case. It seems that the school strategically purchased 93% of the units over the last four years and has been using them as student housing. I have not read Mr. Vodicka’s suit, but he admits in the article that SMU has bought the units at “higher per-square-foot prices.” Since Mr. Vodicka owns four of the units, I assume that it is not he who is to be put out of his home. One must be careful when buying property with common walls- any decisions made on the sale of the property will be commonly made by the owners and SMU seems to have thought ahead.

  3. Michelle,

    If I legally own property, and don’t wish to sell it for twice (or ten times) the appraised value, then it isn’t a fair exchange. The only accurate value that can be ascribed to the sale of property is one upon which the buiyer and seller both agree.

    This said, I’ve not read the contract Vodicka signed with his condo association, so there may be something in that which negates his claim.

    This said, Bush doesn’t need to use university space to put up his library. He could do it on any reasonably available commercial property — be it by a cow field or in Harlem.

  4. As we chatted about earlier, condo owners have bylaws that govern how they can use the space purchased. Essentially, owners own the sheetrock- not the structure.

    And though I couldn’t care less about Bush’s library, SMU is a private univeristy and can do as its (board) wishes regarding the use of its resources. The key here is the condo association bylaws. Was SMU crafty? No doubt. Is this an eminent domain issue? Maybe not.

  5. MS,

    Again, a lot depends on the contract with the condo association. However, one buys a condo (like any other real property) with the assumption that it won’t be sold out from under him/her. It is likely that representation was made during Vodicka’s purchase of the condo. If it was propertly stipulated in the contract, then it is ED, IMO.

    That SMU is private makes the situation worse, not better, as well.

  6. A Wall Street Journal article dated Jan. 12, 2005 stated that the Bush Administration was considering filing a brief in support of the City of New London in Kelo v City of New London (the eminent domain case). President Bush used eminent domain to build his ballpark in Texas. Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2002 signed into law a new broad definition of “blight” which allows any property to be blighted, and thus subject to eminent domain. It is clear that George & Jeb Bush support eminent domain abuse. A good eminent domain bill passed the US House and is stuck at the Senate Judiciary. It is HR 4128 (the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005). The Republicans control the Senate and are doing nothing to advance this bill. As a conservative that voted for Jeb & George Bush, I feel betrayed. I will not vote in 2006 unless HR 4128 passes IN ITS CURRENT FORM.

  7. John,

    A lot of Libertarians have felt that way about some issue (i.e. deficit spending, assault weapon ban) or another. Instead of not voting, we’d invite you to vote Libertarian this next time.

  8. SGordon, I think what MS is saying is that they purchased the condos when they came up for sale – they’re not using governmental pressure to buy them up.

  9. NW, that was (apparently) the first 93%. It still seems to be eminent domain for the last 7%.

  10. I will not vote in 2006 unless HR 4128 passes IN ITS CURRENT FORM.

    Better yet… you have alternatives… If you are tired of the “bi-partisan” games… vote an alternative… I myself steer libertarian… but to each his/her own.

  11. As far as it stands now, no government agency has stepped in to enforce the sale of the last 7%. Again, I haven’t seen the statement of facts, but the owner holding out claims

    SMU has progressively stacked the board of University Gardens with university employees since around four years ago, and the board has since failed to perform maintenance on the complex. At the same time, the school has been purchasing units in University Gardens, and according to an SMU “fact sheet” about the land deal, the school owned 93% of the complex’s 347 units when “SMU moved that the property be declared obsolete and put up for sale.”

    Snakelike, yes. Again, the devil is in the details and those details are described in the bylaws. And we do not know how that contract reads. If the board failed to maintain the building, (my law uneducated mind thinks) the owner has a cause for a suit against the board/management. Co-op ownership is exactly what it suggests.

  12. I once fancied some cute Uptown Cityplace condos. I think I will stick to my stand alone Plano cookie cutter. I know that I own the sheetrock, brick, foundation and mud.

  13. Well, I used to be able to see SMU by walking from my front door into the side of the street. The Dallas Morning News seems to abhor libertarian perspectives; the only letter of mine they’ve ever printed was the one chewing them out for the Thug Day controversy article. It’s easier from a press viewpoint, I suppose, to think in only one dimension, so that’s why I’ve never seen it.

  14. I just love how some people feel “betrayed” by the Republicans somehow. This isn’t some aberration or betrayal. This is business as usual for the GOP. Since the mid-1800’s. Nothing new here. But why someone would knowingly endore evil with their vote and expect anything different I have no idea. You wasted your vote, John. No go do something constructive with it. The greatest triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. We can cure conservatism over here too.

    Also watch the so-called eminent domain legislation that they are writing in the states. The bills are pointless as they have HUGE allowances for “abuse”, as if eminent domain could possibly have any legitimacy at all. This faux legislation is just to get the gullible electorate to shut up and take it.

  15. I was president of the University Gardens Condominiums in 1999. I will be forever heartbroken by SMU’s ruthless conquest of this property.

    SMU ignored these units for over 20 years, and then suddenly unleashed an army of paid professionals against our volunteer board. In the end, hundreds of elderly homeowners were forced to either sell or face bankruptcy from legal fees. These units are not obsolete; they are well built condos and could have been operated economically for decades. This was a teaming, owner managed community of over 350 condos. Most owners have moved to distant suburbs, having received too little money to stay in the Park Cities. It is ironic that SMU continues to own and operate many properties that are older and far worse in every way than the University Gardens condos. SMU will now demolish this property as they pursue their original goal for the George W. Bush presidential library. Big money gets its way and always the last word.

    John Helmer, BBA, SMU 1976

  16. John, My understanding is that SMU violated the association by laws by illegally voting with more votes than the one vote they should have had. Although the assocation by laws said that one owner gets one vote no matter how many condos you own, SMU fraudulently got more than one vote per condo by pretending there were more owners than one.

    I know many who lived in those condos. You are right. THose condos were just fine. Can you give specific examples of other properties owned by smu that are far worse than University Gardens?