In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in case of Kelo v. New London, that the U.S. Constitution is no bar to cities seizing property from one private landowner and giving it to another. Following that decision, a number of states changed their laws to restrict the powers of eminent domain.

Minnesota was one of those states, though it allowed existing projects to proceed. One of those was the Cedar Grove project in the south metro suburb of Eagan.

In the words of mayor Mike Maguire, who recently wrote an op-ed on the subject,

“The area went into a steady decline over two decades. Restaurants became engine repair shops, a gas station became a truck rental facility, a grocery store became a paintball range and the old mall housed fewer and fewer shops.”

My first thought upon reading this was “what’s wrong with engine repair shops?” In recent years, some members of the city council have complained that the city’s northern section has “too many” trucking companies and not enough “quality” development.

City government has invested seven years in an effort to redo the area. It used its power of eminent domain to forcibly acquire properties in the area. Together with a commercial developer and community activists, it developed grand plans. In other words, it substituted the political process for the free market.

During these seven years, the city has incurred carrying costs for the project, which it had hoped would someday pay off. But now, thanks to the tanking of the economy, those plans are had to be altered, once again.

Some city residents have recently complained about these changes, which cut back on green space. (Arguing against greens space is like arguing against every American having a 50-inch TV. The question, in both cases, is “Who’s going to pay for it?”) They don’t like the mix of land use in the current plan, and want the city to hold back on its current development plans until the economy improves.

Mayor Maguire argues that the city should go forward with its revised plans, citing further costs to the city from delay.

It’s certainly not an easy situation for Eagan officals or taxpayers. But the seven wasted years, and the costs incurred during that time, could have been saved had the city stayed out of the business of land speculation. After all, that’s what the free market is for.

PARKING LOT FAVORITISM
The Dakota County Regional Rail Authority has been busy with several new transit stations going up in recent years. The first “Bus Rapid Transit” station in the state was opened in Apple Valley this month, though required modification of the road system won’t begin until 2012.

There are a lot of things to be said about the service, including the effects of federalism (local officials have gone, hat-in-hand, to Washington) and whether the system will actually improve personal mobility.

But I was struck by the following description from a local newspaper:

“The primarily glass structures will have wave-like roofs and level boarding platforms for smooth entry onto buses. Other features include six hybrid vehicle-only parking stalls in the ramp, 10 bike lockers and three bike racks.”

Did you catch that symbolism? Six “hybrid vehicle-only parking stalls.”

Some people call the Toyota Prius the “Toyota Pius,” for the alleged good feeling that you get from driving a “green” car. That’s a little harsh. I say, if you want to spend more on a car for whatever reason, go for it; it’s your money.

Reserving spots for the handicapped is all and good. But reserving them for specific cars based on their method of propulsion? Gimme a break.

TAX THOSE PEOPLE!
My column last week on the morality (or lack thereof) of whacking the rich with punitive marginal tax rates drew some angry responses.

Here’s one:

“At what point, Mr. LaPlante did you stop doing what is best for this country and the people of this country? At what point did you become a syncophant of a small minority group of people who are driving this country into the ground just because they can’t stop their massive greed?”

Nothing like a little character assassination to advance your argument, right? And by the way, have you checked out the growth of government (and government-fueled non-profits) lately? Who’s being greedy?