The city of Las Vegas has a sorry history of eminent domain debacles dating back more than three decades and primarily involving downtown “redevelopment” efforts. In recent years, however, city officials have properly used a more judicious hand when it comes to taking private property.
On Wednesday, the City Council tabled for 60 days a proposal to use its seizure powers to expropriate private land for the expansion of its Courtyard Homeless Resource Center near Main Street and Owens Avenue. City officials hope to build a “health and wellness center” and parking lot that would be part of the courtyard. “It is in the best interest of the public,” said Kathi Thomas, director of the city’s Office of Community Services, “that the land be available to increase the services in and around the courtyard.”
Here’s the kicker: The land the city seeks for the parking lot is home to the CARE Complex, a nonprofit that helps homeless Las Vegans acquire housing, driver’s licenses, bus passes, clothing and the like. It served more than 3,000 people last year.
So, in essence, Ms. Thomas wants the council to use eminent domain to tear down a private homeless assistance station in order to spend taxpayer money to build a parking lot for a government-run homeless “wellness center.” And this is in the “best interest” of … whom?
The city has offered $1 million for the land, but CARE Complex officials say that isn’t enough for their operation to relocate. If the council moves ahead with its eminent domain threat, the nonprofit will have to accept the offer or challenge the matter in court, which would be prohibitively expensive.
This is woefully misguided.
Eminent domain is intended to allow governments to take property for “public use” — such as roads, schools, police stations and parks — as long as the owner receives “just compensation.” It should be used only in extreme or unavoidable circumstances — and this isn’t such a case. A homeless wellness center is hardly an interstate highway project or military base.
In addition, city officials should be looking to tap private resources such as the CARE Complex rather than attempting to bulldoze them out of business. Condemnation proceedings, an attorney for the CARE Complex told the Council, “will severely impact those working homeless” whom the group helps every day. What’s the point of that?
The City Council must put this ridiculous eminent domain plan out of its misery. If city officials so covet the land, find out how much the nonprofit wants for it and meet the price, as buyers must do in any private transaction. Otherwise, city officials should sit down with the folks from the CARE Complex to determine how their project can move forward while also incorporating the nonprofit’s resources to the benefit of both taxpayers and the homeless.