Eminent domain and water rights

Via OlyBlog, “local ownership of local resources“:

today’s paper reports that the Olympia city council took action to reclaim our water rights at the brewery.
As I understand it, the current owner is in danger of defaulting on his loan. If he does, then the water rights will go to his lender in California or to the highest bidder.”

Interesting local use of power of eminent domain. Using eminent domain to save a resource like the water rights should be applauded. This also highlights the way that eminent domain empowers local governments to work toward the greater good.

I do believe that the government should reserve the rights of eminent domain and the ability to escheat the land for the common, greater good. This ability has been steadily chipped away, so there is a value in the Kelo decision. However, the SCOTUS decision seems to implicitly link the common, greater good to economic interests, essentially extrinsic use of property. This tends to deny the intrinsic value of property, such as the value to future generations and other needs which are balanced in a triple bottom line. I have a concurring opinion on this issue. While I tend to agree with the overall decision, I do not follow the logic or reasoning that was used to get there. And, I likely don’t agree with how the decision will end up being used. Kelo does seem to lead down a road that parallels the misuse of the 14th amendment by the courts. It is a good outcome that will come to no good.

So, seeing the power of eminent domain used for the greater good, in the case of securing the water rights for the old brewery, seems to be a welcome surprise. There needs to be a tension between either individuals or governments having unbridled power. I see that as an essential check an balance: the government and the people need to watch each other.

Just as 25% of the pollution in LA on some days (NYT via Boing Boing) is from China, the decisions that a property owner makes has wide ranging effects, and without the coordination of a community, a government, there is likely an unavoidable slide into patterns of failure like the tragedy of the commons. At the same time, current events should clearly indicate the need for the people to have the right and ability to check what their government is doing. If the watched cannot check the watchers, then there’s an infinite regression of watchers that ultimately only pushes the need for supervision and oversight further behind layers of control that can be subverted and manipulated. It may be possible to limit the size of government and decrease corruption if the people are actively involved. This closes the loop on an otherwise linear hierarchy.

I’ve gone on safari here.

Landing the plane: I suspect that property rights should be a equitable negotiation between individuals and the collective, the government or else something will go wrong horribly wrong. Neither should be left unchecked by the other.

Then there are situations like this one in Tacoma, which reminds me of the surprise and frustration that Jason and Wendi had when Seattle was thinking of taking their house to build a library. Of course, Jason and Wendi were living in the house, a beautiful Seattle bungalow, where I read completely through to the final paragraph to find that the property in Tacoma is an acre with a vacant house and that the owner wasn’t really completely out of the loop. (Interesting choice to put that information in the final paragraph.)