How eminent domain?

I read with some trepidation in the June 23 Seattle Post-Intelligencer that a divided Supreme Court ruled local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will for private development. Not for the development of parks or other public facilities, but for private enterprise.

As a card-carrying liberal, I understand the need for some form of government, given our apparent inability to govern ourselves - our breaking one rule or law after another, running red lights, speeding, cheating on our taxes, etc.

But this decision causes me no end of angst.

I agree, there is some validity in the Supreme Court's argument that the nation's courts do not have the wherewithal to make good judgments about city planning. When you consider the hundreds of cities in this country, along with the complexity of planning issues, the courts appear ill equipped to address these problems.

However, when government and big developers sit down to plan our future - deciding which of us may keep homes that are in the way of a profitable commercial development - the cynic in me comes to the surface.

As concerned citizens, we need to let our elected officials know in no uncertain terms that we expect this process to be wide open to public review, and subject to an effective appeal process.

I'm not opposed to development and expansion. In fact, I like the direction Seattle is going as a city.

But when millions of dollars in profits and tax revenue for the city coffers are at stake, I tend to distrust the decision makers. I find it hard to believe they will keep the best interests of the little people at the forefront of their thinking processes.

Speaking at the 1787 Constitutional Congress, Benjamin Franklin sounded an alarm for the citizens of a democracy. The English language of Franklin's time may seem a bit awkward to our contemporary ears, but the sentiment remains fresh and timely:

"Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power and the love of money. Separately, each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but, when united in view of the same object, they have, in many minds, the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall, at the same time, be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it."

Franklin went on to say that "There is scarce a king in a hundred who would not, if he could, follow the example of Pharaoh - get first all the people's money, then all their lands, and then make them and their children servants forever. It will be said that we do not propose to establish kings. I know it. But there is a natural inclination in mankind to kingly government."

As citizens, we need to keep aware of what our government is doing. And we need to remind our elected officials that we are watching their actions - thus making sure that ambition and avarice do not carry the day.

Mike Davis lives in Magnolia.

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