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A Less than Perfect Model of a State Attorney General, Continued

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Two weeks ago, I listed some actions by California State Attorney General Kamala Harris that had brought her notoriety, but I ran out of space before I could list them all. One of the actions I omitted pertains to the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. As I explained last week, Friedrichs concerns a group of California teachers who are challenging a state law that requires them to pay fees to the CTA even though they are not members and even though they disapprove of its policies. The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, and the John Locke Foundation has joined other state policy organizations in an amicus brief supporting the petitioning teachers. Ms. Harris, on the other hand, has chosen to oppose the teachers and has filed a brief supporting the union.

Ms. Harris has also chosen to intervene in another high-profile matter. City Journal reports that:

The recent undercover videos of top Planned Parenthood executives discussing how to position and kill unborn babies in order to preserve the marketability of their body parts offer the sort of shocking revelations that typically spur California government officials to action. One might have expected state authorities to examine the substance of the issues raised by the Center for Medical Progress, the group of citizen-journalists who made the videos. Instead…

Democratic legislators blocked a Republican proposal to audit Planned Parenthood’s California operations, which receive more than $200 million a year in reimbursements from Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program…. Far more troubling [however] has been the response of Attorney General Kamala Harris…. She… agreed to investigate the investigators, and brushed aside a letter from Republican state legislators asking her to look at whether Planned Parenthood violated any laws….

Harris’s probe into the Center for Medical Progress could spell trouble for investigative journalism in general, not just these investigative journalists. Undercover efforts to expose wrongdoing are a long-running TV news tradition. Do we really want to prosecute undercover reporters for not getting their targets’ permission to record questionable conduct and misdeeds?

A third action by the California Attorney General that was omitted from my previous list pertains to civil asset forfeiture. I have written previously about this particularly odious form of predatory law enforcement and about the various efforts that have been made to reform or eliminate it at both federal and state levels. Far from favoring elimination or even reform, however, Ms. Harris has repeatedly attempted to expand the use of civil asset forfeiture in California by sponsoring bills that would make it even easier for law enforcement agencies to seize property without bothering with criminal charges. She must be pleased, therefore, that, despite overwhelming popular support, a recent attempt to reform California’s asset forfeiture laws failed to pass

They Never Learn     

Seventeen years ago, the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) embarked on an ambitious plan to revitalize New London, CT by attracting new, high-end commercial development to a site along the city’s waterfront. To help the NLDC implement its plan, the State of Connecticut gave it money and the City of New London gave it the power of eminent domain. When the NLDC attempted to use that power against citizens who owned homes within the redevelopment area, however, the homeowners fought back. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, but when it got there the homeowners lost. The NLDC took their homes and cleared the land.

Nevertheless,as I’ve explained before, for the NLDC it was a pyrrhic victory.  It spent hundreds of millions of dollars of the State’s money; it destroyed a well-maintained and well-loved neighborhood; it made New London a byword for government folly and abuse; but it didn’t attract any new development. Instead, the site where the homeowners’ homes once stood remains a barren wasteland to this day!

You might think that civic leaders in Connecticut would have learned a lesson from what happened in New London, but evidently not. The Daily Signal reports that, 50 miles up the road from New London, the City of West Haven, CT is attempting to use eminent domain to implement a waterfront redevelopment plan of its own:

[Janet] Rodriguez along with her neighbors…is fighting the city of West Haven to keep her home….

The city [is] working with a developer to build a $200-million, 425,000-square-foot waterfront project called The Haven, a high-end mall that includes 100 outlet stores and six restaurants….

The West Haven City Council approved a plan giving the city and its development authority, the West Haven Development Authority, the ability to exercise its eminent domain powers and condemn Rodriguez and her neighbors’ properties to build The Haven.

"We pay taxes. This is our home," Rodriguez said. "[Developers] don’t even know West Haven. They just look at the map and say we’re going to make a mall. They don’t even look at the people in the middle."…

Next door to Rodriguez’s home sits property owned by Bob McGinnity, who has lived in West Haven for nearly 50 years.

A lifelong Connecticut resident and retired railroad conductor, McGinnity thought his family "upgraded" when they moved from nearby New Haven to West Haven when he was just a little kid….

Like Rodriguez, McGinnity…doesn’t plan to move….

The developers, two "cowboys from Texas," McGinnity said, have offered what he calls "fear-market value" for his home. However, he has no plans to accept the developers’ offers….

In an email to The Daily Signal, Joe Riccio, the commissioner of Planning and Development for West Haven, said…

"The city hopes that the Haven will provide much needed tax revenues and jobs for its citizens…. Of equal importance is what The Haven will mean to the city of West Haven. This will be the largest investment in the city of West Haven in its history.

"It will make West Haven a destination, stimulate other development (it already has), and it will buoy the spirit of its citizens."

While Rodriguez doesn’t blame the city for wanting good things for West Haven, she doesn’t see why the city has to take her home to accomplish its goals of bringing more revenue and jobs to the city. And she plans on fighting to keep her home.

"[My youngest son] said, ‘Mommy, why are you letting these people take our home?’ I said it’s not up to me. It’s up to the people who have the power and the money," Rodriguez said. "I want him to see me fighting. I will fight to the end."

It’s a statement of fact for Rodriguez, one McGinnity echoed.

"We’re going to fight."

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Jon Guze is Senior Fellow in Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the John Locke Foundation, Jon practiced law in Durham, North Carolina for over 20 years. He received a J.D., with honors, from Duke Law School… ...

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