Eminent Domain’s Impact

I just attended a screening of a documentary film about the impact of Eminent Domain laws on individual citizens. It is called “Greetings from Asbury Park” and was made by someone whose family has for generations resided in my old home town of Asbury Park, New Jersey USA (the formerhome ornear-home of Stephen Crane, Cesar Romero, Bud Abbott, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Springsteen and Danny DeVito, and a formerly elegant and amusement-filled resort town).

The movie focuses on Eminent Domain’s impact on one woman, the 91-year-old Angie, who had spent half her life in her small home in Asbury Park,since arrivingas an immigrant. We see her making phone calls, hiring a lawyerand”storming city hall” to fight for her rights.

When I heard that Christina Eliopouloswas making a film about our shared home town, Ioffered to contribute my home-movie footage that I had filmed beforeAsbury had disintegrated.

Due to corrupt politicians like former Mayor Ray Kramer, whose in-laws were in the demolition businessand were hired to demolish Asbury’s landmarks, and after the city decided to house New Jersey’s mentally ill and welfare-dependent population, andtorarely enforce laws against violent crime and vandalism,yet raise property taxes, most (but not all) of the remaining sane, non-criminal people left town, and vacationers chose other seaside resorts to visit.

This made possible thedemolition of irreplaceable buildings like the gorgeous Mayfair Theatre, which could no longer draw an audience and pay the high property taxes. My brief home movies of its demolition are shown in the documentary.

However, the film is not primarily about the last thirty years of decay and demolition andtheft oftax moneys.It is about the current government efforts to rebuild the townby its use of Eminent Domain laws to drive out the remaining residents by force, and demolish their homes and businesses.

The town had owned the Boardwalk and most of the landmarks and the land under them, whether because former owners couldn’t pay the taxes and left town, or because they were traditionally city-owned structures. Now, a city with no money, it has sold everything to a single developer for “peanuts” and is allowing the use of Eminent Domain laws to force current homeowners and businesses to move out, includingthe famousStone Pony night club. This will make room for a series of million-dollar condominiums that don’t capture any of the flavor of the history of Asbury Park and ignores the potential profitability ofsummer vacationers.

I was surprised and delighted to discover that Dana Berliner, of the anti-eminent-domain Institute for Justice, is featured in the film. (She is the daughter of the former Ayn Rand Institute chairman and writer Michael Berliner). Although there are somecomments by individuals criticizing the city’s redevelopment plan as “Trickle Down Reaganomics” and someone calls for government-funded low-income housing, overall the movie is clearly focused on the injustice of a government taking over private property, in a moving way.

If you’d like to screen the film or donate money to assist in the film’s final editing, distribution and promotion, please contact Kerry Margaret Butch by emailing her atkerrymbutch@yahoo.com. You may also email Christina Eliopoulos at celiop99@mac.com . Say Greg Zeigerson sent you!

Therewill bea screening featuring guest speaker Dana Berliner at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove, NJ on June 22nd, 2007.

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