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Real Estate & Property Law

: Kelo and Beyond

Are You Really Surprised?

By Greg Alvarez

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I have to admit, in my jaded state, not much shocks me these days. No, I'm not made of stone, but I think I'm built so that if jarring news does come my way, it's almost as if I have calculated the possibility of such events occurring, and stowed it away for the potential eventuality that they may come to pass. Of course, being in this unfortunate state I also get annoyed when people don't see certain things coming -- almost as a way to convince myself that I knew it all the time. Take for instance the recent unfortunate case of Congressman Rick Renzi, a Republican from Arizona, who has been indicted for a crooked land deal involving a parcel in Kingman, a delightful place not too far from the Grand Canyon that happens to have the nearest Cracker Barrel to Los Angeles. Apparently the fulcrum for the scheme was Renzi's support for land-exchange legislation making its way through the House. To top it off, Renzi has also allegedly embezzled funds from his family-owned insurance company. In a story with an age-old plot, are we really surprised that another questionable land deal has been committed by a public official?

In another case of "Are You Really Surprised?", land located near the famous Hollywood sign, and once owned by Howard Hughes, who planned to build a hideaway for his then-babe Ginger Rogers, is on the market. Prime lots for residential construction are located on the ridge to the west of the sign, and are available for the taking. One city councilman is seeking to preserve the pristine parcel. "That mountain should not be cluttered. . . . It's good for the psyche of Los Angeles." But considering the sign was originally constructed to tout a nearby housing development, is it really shocking that it may be slightly upstaged by the use it was intended to promote? The whole thing drips with irony -- and, inevitability.

How about the recent news that Long Island Rail Road ridership has reached a high not seen in nearly sixty years. Eighty nine million riders braved the commuter rail line leading to New York City in 2007, a figure which hasn't been reached since 1949, when over 91 million fannies filled the seats, and stood in the aisles. Of course, the LIRR saw the opportunity to toot its own horn. "Our research shows customer satisfaction is directly tied to on-time performance, and the LIRR is continuing to deliver in that important category," argued the president of the railroad. Of course, the more obvious answers lie in the growing desire to reduce one's reliance on the automobile, something the suburban area has found out sixty years too late. Of course it took this long to realize how brutal a long driving commute can be, but hey, I'm not going to say I told you so. In that vein, a recent New York Times article reported on the seemingly obvious fact that suburbanites have to do more to address the issue of carbon emissions, particularly since they are such a big part of the problem. (I can't exactly hide from shame, as I drive to work out to the suburbs from the city). Places like Levittown, the quintessential post-World War II suburb, are rising to the call, committing officially to meet the carbon emission standards set forth in the seminal Kyoto Protocol. This piece may be a bit surprising.

And finally, how about that crazed gunman who shot his way through the Kirkwood, Missouri, City Council meeting a few weeks back. No, I'm not going to be so callous as to say that they should have known, but anyone who finds themselves at local government meetings on a regular basis, as I count myself as one, it is not surprising how the anger can bubble up and explode with such a tragedy as occurred in that St. Louis suburb. Local government choices, including land use decisions, rile the ire of citizens every day. In every municipality around the country, you could probably point to "the guy who always shows up to the meetings" and wonder what gets him or her angry enough to come all the time. It's very simple, and not surprising, to point to issues that affect these folks on a fundamental level, and force them into desperation.

Full post as published by Kelo and Beyond on February 26, 2008 (boomark / email).

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