Last year the Supreme Court issued a wildly unpopular decision that enabled governments to seize property for no other reason than economic development. A recent New York Times article says that almost every state legislature in the country is advancing bills or constitutional amendments to limit the spread of this ruling. Despite the tenuous legal state that the ruling (Kelo v. New London) is in, a Long Beach, Calif., government is using it to replace a church with an apartment complex. Sigh. The Long Beach Redevelopment Agency voted 6-0 March 13 to condemn the Filipino Baptist Fellowship's church building, ostensibly because it does not produce enough economic benefit for the city.
Because the Filipino Baptist Fellowship is just one of eight churches that governments are currently using eminent domain against, I wish that reporters were all over this. Unfortunately, it seems that print coverage has been more or less limited. Let's look at how the Associated Press characterized the issue which, I'll note, was very similar to the way the Long Beach Press-Telegram put it:
"We are a church. We are helpless. We have no place to go," church pastor Roem Agustin said.
But redevelopment agency bureau manager Barbara Kaiser said the church was offered 13 alternative sites and the agency offered to pay for moving costs.
Well, if you're like me and think that private property owners should have the right to keep their land no matter how much the government wants it for a baseball stadium or condominium developments, it doesn't matter if the church doesn't like the government's offer. And if you're like me and think this goes double for houses of worship, it really doesn't matter if the church doesn't like the government's offer. But most people would see this and think the church was being unreasonable. Is that the end of the story? Is there any other information readers should have? Baptist Press, which has covered this story well, spoke with the church's attorney, John Eastman:
"Well, let me tell you about the properties they've offered. Most of them were vacant lots," he told BP. "It's a little hard to hold a church service in a vacant lot. Several of them were leases, not buildings to own. [The church members] own this one, and they want to have a church that they own so they're not at the whim of a landlord.
"So you take all those off the table. Almost all of the others were in other parts of the redevelopment area, where they could be forced to move out a couple of years down the road when the city gets around to developing that block," he added. . . .
Some of the alternative sites the city offered the church included a bar and two gas stations. Most of the properties had no parking or less parking than the church has at its current location, and there was no guarantee that the city would give the church a conditional use permit without ensuring the parking was up to code, Eastman said.
"None of these were suitable alternatives because they wouldn't have been able to have their church," he said. "Giving you 13 different addresses doesn't mean they've given you 13 different suitable alternatives."
This level of explanation should be available in the wire or local news reports. But, more importantly, this broader story should be getting more coverage.