Happy Thanksgiving!

Not much to say, except to re-emphasize, if any additional emphasis were needed, that we have much to be thankful for, and even if you are one of those folks who think that the just past election was a calamity, it was a free election of a free people choosing their leadership. Don’t forget that!

And if you have any foolish doubts on that score, remember that all the truly unhappy people in the world want to abandon wherever they are and come here — not the other way around.

So enjoy your turkey and have a very happy Thanksgiving

And Now, For a Word From the Prophet

It’s been a few months since we ventured out of our eminent domain/land use law corner of the legal world, and into the never-never land of politics. We did not support or oppose either candidate, but we did try our best to confront the tidal wave of ideological bullshit sweeping over us, and to explain why Trump was doing so well. Our intention was to clarify why the people were so strongly — and as it turned out, overwhelmingly — in favor of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. Whether you like him or not, it was clear to us that in his angry rhetoric railing against the political establishment on both sides, he was on to something and whatever that “something” was — it resonated mightily with the people who were getting sick and tired of (a) getting screwed by the political establishment, and (b) being lied to about it.

We endorsed no one in that article, but we did our best to explain — correctly, as it turned out — why Trump’s crude, in-your-face, aggressively hostile electioneering rhetoric was resonating with the non-establishment people.

So if you missed our article, here it is, and if you read it already, it won’t hurt you to read it again in light of yesterday’s presidential election results. Go to http://gideonstrumpet.info/2016/03/our-latest-column-the-trump-candidacy/


City to the Times: Do We Really Own All that Land? Gosh. Who Knew?

Here we go again, folks. Way back in the 1960s, the California Supreme Court gave its blessings to condemnors engaging in “excess condemnation” — i.e., the takings of more land than the condemnor’s own project plans called for. See People v. Superior Court (Rodoni) (1968). There the court concluded by a 5 to 2 majority that it was OK for the state to take over 50 acres of land out of Roy Rodoni’s farm for what its own plans required as a 5-acre right-of-way segment. Why would the state do a damn fool thing like that, you ask? Because, as they told the California Supreme Court, it would save money. How? Their explanation was that by taking the entire farm they wouldn’t have to pay severance damages for the taking of only those 5 acres. This was, of course, ridiculous, because the taking of the entire 50-plus acre larger parcel would require payment of 100% of its value — the maximum. So how could the state save money by paying the maximum? But hey man, it was California in the heyday of its supreme court’s belief that a condemnor could do no wrong, so the court largely went along with the gag, and allowed the state to proceed.

Why the majority of the California Supreme Court bought that absurdity, remains a mystery.

To their credit, Justices Mosk and Peters dissented, pointing out not only the arithmetical absurdity inherent in the state’s position, but also taking note of the fact that the state conceded that it had been using threats of excess condemnation to extort favorable settlements.

However, we learned some time later that the California Little Hoover Commission examined the state’s “excess land” program and revealed that far from saving money on excess land, the state had acquired and was sitting on millions of dollars worth of land that it could neither use nor sell.

Now, we learn from the Los Angeles Times that a similar caper is going on in Los Angeles. Alice Walton and Ben Poston, L.A. Learns It Owns 9,000 Parcels, Oct. 28, 2016, at p. B1. According to the Times, the City Controller has done an investigation of the city’s land holdings and — surprise, surprise — discovered that the City holds some 9600 parcels of land (no indication of how that land was acquired) using a tracking system that is “incomplete, inadequate, outdated, in some cases incorrect.”

One of those “parcels” is a 17,500-acre tract of land that the city acquired back in the 1970s for a grandly named, but eventually failed “Intercontinental Airport” out in the boondocks in the high desert, near Palmdale, for which it paid over $100,000,000 — and that’s in 1970s dollars. (http://gideonstrumpet.info/2008/11/update-on-palmdale-airport/)

And for a comic touch — in case you aren’t snickering already — in the latest caper, the city was surprised to learn that it owned inter alia a producing orange grove in Franklin Canyon, that is “surrounded by multimillion dollar homes.” Said a city functionary quoted by the Times: “I don’t know why the city is in the orange growing business,  but apparently we are.” However, we bet that those homeowners aren’t complaining. It isn’t every day that someone surrounds your multimillion dollar home in a posh neighborhood with a fragrant orange grove.

What is to happen to all that unused land for which the city paid a pretty penny out of your tax dollars, the Times tells us not. But be patient. Maybe some time in the future the city will think of something. Then again, it may not. So as we are fond of concluding some of our posts that deal with similarly daft government capers, your tax money at work.


Lowball Watch — Arkansas

ArkansasOnline.com/news of October 21, 2016, reports that the State Highway and Transportation Department, having deposited $639,000 into court, but having been confronted with the owners’ appraisal of $1,600,000, thought better of it and settled via a consent judgment for $1,525,000.

The initial bone of contention was that the State’s initial deposit failed to take into account the substantial impairment of access to the remainder caused by the partial taking, and the loss of parking on the remaining land, after the partial taking.


California Choo-Choo (Cont’d.)

We haven’t had much to say about our aborning “Bullet Train” and the plans therefor because there hasn’t been much news in that department lately. But the Los Angeles Times of October 21, 2016, at p. B1, Bullet Train’s Capacity Could be Downsized, informs us that we are about to get less bang for our buck. Quoting:

The California bullet train authority has told its design engineers that the future [railroad] system would have shorter trains and smaller station platforms reducing the capacity of individual trains by roughly 50% and potentially the capacity of the entire Los Angeles-to-San Francisco route.

This dispatch says nothing about the — to us — obvious consequence that smaller trains means smaller passenger capacity and therefore lower revenues. Yes?

To borrow Kurt Vonnegut’s favorite line, “and so it goes.”

Words Without Comment

A quote from Matthew Hennessey, Hartford’s Big Dig, Oct. 1, 2016:

“In Connecticut as in the rest of the country, massive interstate construction projects followed President Dwight Eisenhower’s signing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Cities like Hartford were then suffering massive traffic congestion problems, as rising postwar incomes spurred a boom in individual car ownership. In 1949, several major insurance companies asked the engineering firm Andrews and Clark to compile an “Arterial Plan for Hartford” under the direction of New Haven native Robert Moses. “Doctors, we are told, bury their mistakes, planners by the same token embalm theirs, and engineers inflict them on their children’s children,” wrote Moses in a cover letter. It was an oddly prophetic warning from a man blamed by many for ruining New York City with his car-dependent infrastructure projects.”

For the entire article go to http://www.city-journal.org/html/hartfords-big-dig-14779.html

We might add, however, for the benefit of readers who are too young to remember these things, that the official justification for constructing the interstate highway network was defense: to facilitate military transportation in case of need. Tue, we have never seen (or heard of) Abrams tanks clanking down an Interstate, but, hey man, who are we to argues with our betters?

More Redevelopment Bad News — Washington, DC

If you keep track of takings for redevelopment, you may have come across news of Skyland, a major redevelopment project in Washington, DC, in the Southeast part thereof. It was supposed to be a big hotsy-totsy project anchored by Walmart, with the usual projections of a rosy future. Something like this:

The Skyland Town Center property is now in the hands of the development team.

But as is so often the case, things didn’t work out as hoped. Long story short, Walmart pulled out of the deal, and the project has so far, produced another one of those urban deserts that looks more like this:


And this is the good part. Much (most?) of the project area looks more like an urban desert; like this:


To be fair, the project promoters claim that they will build another, smaller project but whether and how they will actually do it remains to be seen, particularly since the economy appears something less than robust at the moment. This project has been pending for over 10 years, and if these pictures are any indication, there is not much to brag about here.

We will try to follow up on this story, but for some reason, it has not been covered to speak of in the major newspapers. And so it goes.

Another Not-So-Hot Redevelopment Project — Brooklyn

Remember the hulabaloo over the Atlantic Yards project? How it would revive Brooklyn, etc.? The latest dispatch from that front from the New York Times, no less, indicates that it hasn’t been beer and skittles. We will quote from the Times, and let its words speak for themselves,

“[A local] pizzeria sits in the shadow of the $4.9 billion megadevelopment once known as Atlantic Yards, which has promised to deliver thousands of new residents and visitors to the area since it was proposed in 2003. But so far, the biggest change . . . Vanderbilt Avenue merchants have seen is rising rent.”

“The project has been troubled by delays, financial setbacks, lawsuits, and political wrangling. And the opening of the Barclays Center, the centerpiece of the development, in 2012, did not deliver substantial new business to Vanderbilt despite expectations that it would.” Rhonda Kaysen, A Long Wait for New Neighbors on a Brooklyn Street, N.Y. Times, Aug. 31, 2016, at p. B5.

And so it goes. Predictably. As California Court of Appeal Justice, Macklin Fleming  once put it: redevelopment project promoters promise they’ll bake a bigger economic pie, with bigger slices for all. But what they often tend to produce is pie in the sky. Of course, the NY Times does the same by duly reporting that in the sweet bye and bye good things will happen. We will await the event and see how it turns out if we are still around then.

For the full NY Times article go to http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/31/realestate/merchants-wait-for-the-promise-of-vanderbilt-avenue-and-wait.html?ref=business

Lowball Watch — Virginia

The Roanoke Times reports the settlement of an eminent domain case. Couple, City of Radford Settle Eminent Domain Case, Aug. 28, 2016. http://www.roanoke.com/news/local/radford/couple-city-of-radford-settle-eminent-domain-case/article_8172b94f-39a5-5a5d-b5be-07827446fafc.html

The city originally disregarded severance damages, even though the taking moved a driveway off the owners’ property.

The city’s offer was $2128, but the settlement, entered into on the eve of trial, was $21,000 — about 10 times the offer.

Steven Hill, “Law and Order’s” Adam Schiff, R.I.P.

Every lawyer we know, and lots of non-lawyers, just loved the TV show “Law and Order” — it captured the lawyers’ decision-making process and the flavor of the courtroom, including the doings of both brilliant and wacky judges, like no other TV show ever did, with a generous soupcon of New York thrown in. The casting was brilliant and our favorite character of all time was the fictional Adam Schiff (actually named Steven Hill) playing the District Attorney of New York city. He was eventually replaced in that role, but none of his replacements succeeded in capturing the flavor, the geschmack that he brought to it. Fred Thompson, one of his replacements and another favorite of ours, came close but his earthy Southern charm (and drawl) somehow did not ring quite right in the context of his role as a successful New York politician/lawyer/legal strategist.

We just learned that Mr. Hill has passed away at the age of 94 — not bad.

We do not claim being a Feinschmecker of acting, but we know a little something about what goes on in courtrooms, and are of the opinion that Mr. Hill entertained us royally, and enriched our professional lives. We are unlikely to see his likes again.

R.I.P. Steve