Eminent domain dust-ups

Brookline says it needs a new elementary school to accommodate its bulging population of school-age children. Waltham says it needs a new high school.

Both seem like perfectly worthy pursuits. But both cases are casting a harsh spotlight on a government right enshrined in the Constitution, but one that frequently stirs disention and protest. In both instances, municipal government leaders are considering exercising eminent domain rights to unilaterally seize private property for the school projects.

Under the “takings clause” of the Fifth Amendment, government authorities may seize private property for a public purpose without the owner’s consent and are obligated only to provide fair compensation to them. Without eminent domain powers, countless road projects, transit lines, and other projects serving a public purpose would never get done.

The Brookline and Waltham cases, however, are raising hackles because of the current use of the parcels in question. In Brookline, the affluent town is eyeing seven acres of land on the campus of Pine Manor College, a small school that serves a population of mostly minority, low-income students who are the first in their family to attend college. The college is not happy.

“I’ll take your front yard and I’m going to plop a whole monstrous structure right there and I’m not going to talk to you about it, I’m not going to ask whether it affects you, I’m just going to do it,” Pine Manor president Tom O’Reilly said at a public meeting last week, describing the town’s approach to the issue.

In Waltham, the parcel being eyed for a new high school is home to a Catholic order that operates a retreat center on the 47-acre site and a retirement facility that is home to six elderly priests. The eminent domain move is on hold because it does not have the support of the city council, though Waltham’s mayor is in favor of a taking. (She suggests the Stigmatine Fathers & Brothers may have been eyeing a sale anyway to a private developer, which would violate an agreement with the city, something the Stigmatines deny.)

In Lowell, meanwhile, residents are at odds over competing locations for a new high school, but both would require “controversial eminent domain proposals,” writes the Globe’s Laura Krantz.

In 2005, the eminent domain issue landed at the Supreme Court, which issued a highly controversial ruling in a case involving a homeowner named Susette Kelo and city government in New London, Connecticut. The court ruled, 5-4, that New London could seize Kelo’s home as part of development project planned by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer because there would be a broad public benefit — in jobs and economic growth — from the planned facility. The decision outraged those on the left and right who said the Kelo ruling was a huge overreach of eminent domain authority by allowing a taking for a private company under the public purpose guise. (Ironically, the Pfizer deal ended up falling through, so the seizing of Kelo’s small pink house was all for naught.)

There is no similar questioning of the public purpose being contemplated in the local controversies brewing in Brookline, Waltham, and Lowell. But it’s hardly surprising that there is considerable blowback to the idea of going after the land of a college serving low-income minority students or a retirement home for elderly priests.

There is, after all, always both the court of law and the court of public opinion. Two years ago, on the 10th anniversary of the Kelo decision, Richard Epstein took stock of the ruling for The National Review. “The public-use clause looks only at the purpose for which property is taken,” he wrote, “but ordinary people also look at the other side of the equation and ask about the purpose that is deprived.”

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The Massachusetts House voted 151-3 to ban bump-stock devices or any other mechanisms that could increase the discharge rate of firearms. (State House News) A Salem News editorial said the bump-stock ban is laudable but a distraction from the real problem.

MassLive provides a good summary of the changing political attitudes toward mandatory minimum prison sentences.

A North End organization gave former House speaker — and convicted felon — Sal DiMasi a public service award this week, and that’s complicated, says Joan Vennochi, who seems ultimately to thinking it was a bad idea. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Supporters of renaming the auditorium at Oliver Ames High School in Easton in honor of retiring music department chairman Charlene Dalrymple are upset that selectmen set a price tag of $125,000 for the naming rights honor. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump will sign an executive order Thursday allowing small businesses to band together to buy cheap health insurance plans that do not meet Obamacare mandates, a move advocates say will destabilize the market and make insurance unattainable for those who need it most. (New York Times)

A Herald editorial says Trump is getting a taste of his own attack-dog medicine from Sen. Bob Corker, and the paper can’t believe the president is firing back at a committee chairman from his own party whose vote he needs on tax reform and other key measures.

The rival Palestinian political factions Hamas and Fatah sign an agreement allowing joint administration of the Gaza borders. (New York Times)

In a historic change, the Boy Scouts decide to admit girls to some programs. (Associated Press) Some at the conservative American Spectator say it’s one more capitulation in the male institutions.

Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson assails Lindsay Lohan, Donna Karan, and Whoopi Goldberg as sexual enablers who betray their gender.

ELECTIONS

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and his challenger, Tito Jackson, spar in the first of two scheduled debates in what has so far been a sleepy contest for the top job in the state’s capital city. (Boston Globe) Walsh said afterwards of Jackson’s sharp criticisms during the tilt that he doesn’t want to “stoop” to Washington-level “name calling” — an easy stance for a guy who ran up a 30 point margin in the September preliminary. (Boston Herald)

William Lantigua finished second to Daniel Rivera in the preliminary mayoral election, but nevertheless he’s refusing to debate the incumbent mayor. (Eagle-Tribune)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A federal judge has ordered Carlos Rafael, the New Bedford “Codfather,” to forfeit four of his 28 fishing boats and the accompanying permits, all valued at more than $2.2 million, as a result of his conviction for money smuggling and violating fishing quotas. The order, though, triggered a number of questions, including what impact it will have on a potential sale of Rafael’s fleet and nearly 40 permits for $93 million. (Standard-Times)

The Panera Cares in downtown Boston is still in business with its unorthodox approach to hunger, but for how long? (CommonWealth)

Gov. Charlie Baker said he expects there will be 10 to 20 proposals from Massachusetts communities hoping to woo Amazon to locate its second headquarters here. (Boston Herald)

Globe columnist Hiawatha Bray says a merger of cellphone companies Sprint and T-Mobile would be bad for consumers.

EDUCATION

Bridgewater-Raynham school officials have installed security cameras on about half the district’s school buses after some parents complained about bullying incidents and unauthorized people getting on the buses. (The Enterprise)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Quincy police say fatal drug overdoses are down so far this year but the number of total overdoses has increased dramatically with officials saying the use of Narcan has saved at least half of those who likely would have died. (Patriot Ledger)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA commuter rail system logged more breakdowns last year than any commuter rail system in the country, including those in New York and New Jersey that clock two to three times as many miles per year. (Boston Herald)

Andover residents say cars, trucks, and buses are being hit by malfunctioning safety gates at a railroad crossing in town. (Eagle-Tribune)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A report posted on the website of the Environmental Defense Fund said Eversource Energy and Avangrid Inc. artificially constrained natural gas pipeline capacity and drove up electricity prices by $3.6 billion over a three-year period. Eversource said the report is a “complete fabrication.” (CommonWealth)

Eversource Energy and National Grid are sitting on both sides of the bargaining table in the negotiations for multibillion-dollar clean energy contracts. (CommonWealth)

Indoor farming that uses no sunlight or pesticides but relies on technology is on the rise in the Boston area. (Greater Boston)

A magistrate dismissed an appeal by the town of Brewster and a resident seeking to stop Eversource from spraying herbicide beneath power lines running through a right of way in town that they say would have a negative impact on groundwater supplies. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Homicides in New Bedford have hit the highest level in eight years with two and a half months remaining in the year. City officials are placing some of the blame on judges’ bail decisions, even though there are no suspects identified in the latest double murder. (Standard-Times)

Hellen Kiago of Sturbridge is charged with bilking the state’s Medicaid program out of $2.7 million through false billing practices for home health services. (Telegram & Gazette)

The New York Times has a lengthy and damning look into the South Carolina municipal court system where poor defendants rarely get constitutionally mandated legal representation and are often given the choice to wait in jail until a lawyer becomes available or have their case decided on the spot by an elected municipal judge, who is not required to possess a college degree, let alone a law degree.

MEDIA

President Trump threatens NBC’s license — even though they don’t have one — for reporting details of a meeting where sources say he advocated increasing the country’s nuclear arsenal, which he called “fake news.” (New York Times)

NBC News took a pass on the Ronan Farrow story on Harvey Weinstein that ultimately ran in the The New Yorker. (Huffington Post)

Jessica Heslam reviews some of the possible suitors who could scoop of the group of Boston radio stations that are going on the block. (Boston Herald)