El Paso: Wal Mart Part of Plan to Raze Poor Neighborhood

In El Paso Texas, the neighborhood of Segundo Barrio is being targeted for some "urban renewal" or "community redevelopment", aka, razing the poor part of the city to put up a Wal-Mart shopping center. The big plan is to destroy over 100 homes to make way for a big strip mall.

This is one of the big cases where eminent domain is being used to seize homes from poor people. So, there's a somewhat unusual coalition of conservative anti-ED activists, and Chicanos and poverty activists opposing this.*

The anti-ED** folks are the landlords who are going to have their apartments taken, and the others being the people who rent from these landlords, but *are* the neighborhood. Usually, they're not on the same side of the fight, but when a giant comes stomping into town, old enemies become friends. Nothing unifies like a common enemy.

If you want to know more about the El Paso situation: Paso Del Sur

* Unusual, but not unheard of. I believe a similar coalition in Rosemead in the 1970s helped put Gary Taylor and Jay Imperial into office. Then 25 years later, they would be working a deal to get taxpayers to fund a sign for Wal-Mart.

** The anti-ED folks are opposing the Kelo decision, where the Supreme Court ruled that it is acceptable for a city to use eminent domain to seize property for purposes of "economic development."

Kelo isn't actually all that new

I'm actually a little surprised by the heat that the Kelo decision has sparked, because the use of eminent domain to "take" private property for economic development is hardly new.  Local governments have been doing this for decades.  It may have something to do with the fact that, in this case, at least, the properties being taken were owned by middle class people rather than impoverished people.


In California, the rules are a little different.  The private property must be "blighted" before the government can exercise eminent domain, so the Kelo property could not be taken if it was in California.  And, of course, anywhere in the U.S., it is a little misleading to talk about government "seizing" or "taking" private property.  The Fifth Amendment requires paying of just compensation whenever private property is taken.


Nonetheless, Kelo has definitely motivated the so-called property rights folks.  They have gone after a great deal.  In some cases, they clearly went too far.  A particularly obvious example of overreaching was when the so-called property rights folks qualified that initiative on the state ballot last November.  The way they wrote it, private property owners would be entitled to compensation whenever government regulations reduced the value of their property.  Under a "plain language" reading, that would mean any sort of zoning would require payment of compensation.  Any mandate for pollution or runoff mitigation would also require compensation.  I'm glad that initiative was defeated, but I'm sure they'll be coming back, again.


Now, I don't know anything about this particular case you mention above.  With Wal-Mart involved, I would not be surprised if things are as egregious as you suggest.  But, often times, the "property rights" people are really slumlords who aren't doing the poor any great favor by deigning to allow people to live in abject squalor.

Worse than I thought

Here's a link to the nitty gritty.


They're squandering a lot of local history to build a mega mall. They are totally missing out on the potential of lower-impact development that leverages the cool old buildings.