Instances exist in which eminent domain can serve as a necessary evil. As the Department of Justice points out, some uses of eminent domain include facilitating transportation, supplying water, constructing public buildings, and aiding in defense readiness. But in a country that has 3.8 million square miles, using eminent domain to construct professional sports stadiums is a terrible abuse of power.
Dodger Stadium sits in a neighborhood known as Chavez Ravine. It was a largely Mexican American neighborhood in the early 1950s. Then the government acquired the land via eminent domain, forcing the residents to sell their houses for below market rate. The city claimed that it was so it could build public housing. The battle between residents and Los Angeles lasted for a decade, from 1951 to 1961. By 1958, the city had changed its mind. It decided that instead of public housing, it would offer the land to the Brooklyn Dodgers to try to persuade the team to relocate to Los Angeles. It worked, and the city forcefully removed the remaining residents of the neighborhood in 1959.
Forcibly removing people from their homes so the government can steal their property with low-ball compensation so that some multimillionaire can build a baseball stadium is an abuse of government power. Sadly, it wasn’t the last time a city abused eminent domain power, as the Institute for Justice points out.
Arlington, Texas, is another example of this abuse.
The city used eminent domain to seize 13 acres of private property for a taxpayer-funded stadium for the Texas Rangers, of which George W. Bush was a part owner, in 1991. And the city took over 100 acres of land in 2005 to make room for a new Dallas Cowboys facility: AT&T Stadium. The city took people’s homes and small businesses in the process.
Wyandotte County, Kansas, is also guilty of this egregious abuse. The county seized the property of 165 different owners to create the 1,200-acre Kansas Speedway property. This land included many Victorian-era houses and small businesses. The facility, which opened in 2001, hosts NASCAR races two weekends per year.
And unsurprisingly, this type of corruption has also happened in our nation’s capital.
To construct Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., took property from 16 owners, including small businesses.
Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura has the best quotes about government involvement in building professional sports stadiums. When then-Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs came to him in 1999 to ask for a new taxpayer-funded stadium, Ventura played dumb with him. “Well, Red, what do you need to see me for?” Ventura said, according to Al Jazeera. “I’m sure there’s a landowner out there. You can buy some land and build a stadium. Go ahead. You don’t need my approval.”
That should be the government’s approach to professional sports stadiums. If someone wants a sports stadium, he or she should find some land, purchase it, and build a stadium. The government doesn’t need to waste hundreds of millions of dollars or push people out of their homes and small businesses to make it happen.
Tom Joyce (@TomJoyceSports) is a political reporter for the New Boston Post in Massachusetts.