Nearly two years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London came down, CP&DR reported that the ruling wouldn't have much impact on California. And we were right, according to Jerold Kayden, co-chairman of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The decision was no surprise because the court majority simply reiterated established constitutional principles, said Kayden. The Harvard professor delivered his thoughts on Kelo at a workshop conducted April 26 and 27 at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the course of two days, academics, smart growth advocates and journalists repeatedly returned to the Kelo decision as a touchstone. In Kelo, the court ruled that a public agency (in this case, a quasi-public community development corporation) could use eminent domain to acquire private property to accommodate an economic development project. When the decision came down, CP&DR reported that the decision would have no apparent impact in California because redevelopment agencies have had such eminent domain authority for many years and may exercise it in areas declared "blighted." (See Supreme Court Upholds Use of Eminent Domain for Development, CP&DR Economic Development, July 2005.) It is long settled that there is no constitutional difference between eminent domain for a "public use" (such as a highway or school) and eminent domain for a "public purpose" (such as economic development), said Kayden, a planner and attorney. The real story of Kelo, said Kayden, was — and still is — the public, media and political response. The popular press portrayed Kelo as a frightening expansion of eminent domain authority. Property rights advocates capitalized on the decision with a great public relations campaign that suggested every middle-class family was at risk of losing its house. And politicians on both the right and left demanded reforms. No fewer than four speakers during the two-day Lincoln Institute workshop mentioned a 2006 edition of Parade magazine. The cover of the normally fluffy Sunday newspaper insert featured a white bread family of five standing in front of a house, beside the headline: "Will The Government Take Your Home?" Ouch! What's a poor city planner to do? Kayden said, and other speakers suggested, that proponents of urban redevelopment have not made their case well. Planners have failed to convincingly explain how public-private partnerships actually serve the public. It probably doesn't help planners when the facts are not on their side. During the Lincoln Institute session, Tom Condon, a Hartford Courant reporter who is from New London, panned the development plan that he said had little public support. He noted that the city took Susette Kelo's house to make room for a marina parking lot. A planned hotel would make far more sense about a mile away in the downtown, said Condon, who noted that the community development corporation in charge of the project ignored its best planner. Of course, there's a twist to all this. While 34 states (not including California) have amended eminent domain rules since the Kelo decision, the push for eminent domain changes in Connecticut, according to Condon, petered out within two weeks. - Paul Shigley