by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Who wins? You probably don’t have to ask, but George Leef supplies the answer in his latest Forbes column.
One of the main reasons why America was so attractive to hard-working people used to be that if you were successful, you could enjoy your rewards and use your property as you thought best. Sadly, that is less and less true. One immigrant who can testify to that is Hinga Mbogo, who is about to be forced to close his auto repair business in Dallas.
He came to the United States from Kenya in 1974 with some skill in repairing machinery and found a job working as an airplane mechanic. By 1985, he had accumulated the capital necessary to open his own auto repair shop on Ross Avenue in Dallas, where it has prospered ever since.
Mr. Mbogo thought he was set for life, but in 2005 the Dallas City Council decided to re-zone the area where his business was located, deeming it a “planned development district.” That is to say, rather than allowing the invisible hand of marketplace competition to determine what sorts of land uses would prevail, the politicians would impose their own vision.
What they had in mind was turning Ross Avenue into, as Joseph Kessler of the Institute for Justice put it, “a trendy gateway to the city’s arts district.” Since an auto repair business … is hardly hip and artsy, Hinga Mbogo’s continued use of the property for that purpose would be “non-conforming.”
The city council did not, however, use eminent domain to take title to the property away from him, which would have entailed the need to pay money for it. As I have written here before, “just compensation” under the Fifth Amendment is often woefully inadequate, but it is more than nothing, which is precisely what Dallas will pay Mr. Mbogo.
That is because the city employed a nifty legal maneuver along with the rezoning – the city allowed him a period of time to continue operating his non-conforming business so as to earn enough money to “amortize” his investment. That’s legal in the state.