Economist Peter Gordon reflects on a recent tour of San Jose, California -- where the so-called "revitalized" downtown is dead and nearly one-third of the city is blighted.
"The tour was led by Lorraine Wallace Rowe (Coalition for Redevelopment Reform) who shared many eminent domain horror stories, some involving her own property near downtown San Jose. She grew up there and wants to stay. We also met some of the victims, 'Mom and Pop' business people who are running businesses that real people actually patronize but who are being bullied so that San Jose can get a Neiman-Marcus (!) among other things."
"Ms. Rowe's 'Not for sale by owner' story was especially jarring. The group had made 'for sale'-type signs to stick into their front lawns that read: 'Not for sale by owner but call xxx if you think you qualify to take our property.' The phone number posted was that of the redevelopment authority and, as expected, their phones rang off the hooks."
"The agency wanted the police to remove the signs -- from private property. If you can trample on the Fifth Amendment, why not the First too? The police chief wisely demurred. But the agency sent out city staff to take the signs. Ms. Rowe had expected this and urged her fellow owners to be alert and take descriptions and license plates."
"The agency was eventually embarrassed into returning the signs."