US Supreme Court desecrates Fifth Amendment
Court on Thursday ruled that
local governments may seize people's homes and
businesses -- even
against their will -- for private economic development. --
1960s era apartment house refuses to
move off Mirage grounds while offering $550 per month rates
by Steve Miller
July 4, 2005
Location! Location! Location!
How would you like to have a year round one bedroom apartment on the
grounds of the posh Mirage
Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip for $550 per month which breaks down to
only $18.33 per night? Well now's your
chance to live affordably only steps away from the lavish casino,
buffets, shows, etc. -- that's unless the Clark County government
exercises its new,
unlimited power of eminent domain!
Just imagine how pissed off the Mirage owners have been for the past 15
years since the opulent hotel opened within spitting distance of the
Villa De Flores, and how they'd probably love to get some help from the
government to end this embarrassment.
The United States Supreme Court to the rescue!.
Private apartments are available in the middle of the Mirage grounds.
Owner had to post a sign to end the confusion.
This situation is so bizarre that the owner of the 36
unit apartment house went so far as to post signs stating, "This is not
Treasure Island or Mirage Property!" As if that's not totally
The apartment house owner would like to build a 13 story time-share on
the property. MGM/Mirage would like it to disappear. Should the
government take sides? Now they'll have the chance, and let's not
forget that MGM/Mirage is a huge political campaign contributor.
On May 12, 1997, I attended an auction at Villa De Flores. The next
day, I was quoted in the Las Vegas SUN
happy to see someone other than Steve Wynn owning this property,'
Miller said with a smile. 'I'm thrilled to see the Villa De Flores in
the middle of the Mirage parking lot. I think it's a just reward for
After that remark, my
invitation to the grand opening of the new Wynn Las Vegas Resort was
mysteriously lost in the mail.
Though the Villa De Flores story seems surreal, the fact of the matter
is that Michael Flores refused to sell his little apartment house to
the powerful Mirage folks, and up until last week, MGM/Mirage could
do nothing about it because it would violate his Fifth Amendment
(LV Mercury photo by
CHRISTINE H. WETZEL)
One week before our Independence Day celebration, the US Supreme Court
shocked Constitutionalists by ripping apart our God given Fifth
Amendment right to not "be deprived of life, liberty, or
property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be
taken for public use without just compensation."
So much for the Constitution!
Las Vegas has grown to be the poster child of illicit land grabs, two
of which made it all the way to the US Supreme Court to sadly be
declined hearings. The biggest grabs to date have happened in the
floundering Las Vegas "Downtown Redevelopment Area" once known as
Now the fate of the little Flores apartment building along with other
private holdings are in jeopardy, but this time the travesty may happen
with the blessings of five of the nine US Supreme Court Justices. No
longer is it necessary to prove the taking will be for "public use," or
that the property taken was "blighted." Now its just a case of who has
the most juice.
After last week's decision, its only necessary to prove to a city,
county, or state government that the use will be "higher and better"
than the previous, and that it will provide more jobs, pay more taxes,
or look prettier. To Hell with the little guy's property rights!
Back to the "poster child." Under the mis-direction of two fair-weather
mayors, what was once the
hub of Las Vegas' community activity, and our world renown icon, was
transformed into an armed
camp now seldom visited by locals who have all but forgotten its there.
The 1994 erection of the canopy over historic Fremont Street and its
closing to vehicular traffic including tour busses, taxis, parades, and
other reason or means for locals or visitors to go there, caused gaming
to flatten and locals to flock to neighborhood casinos.
Because the canopy blocks the view of that famous skyline, current
motion picture and TV productions opt to show the old,
uncovered Fremont Street almost every time Downtown Las Vegas makes it
TV Family" ride in Christmas parade
on historic Fremont Street, circa 1964
Closed off Fremont Street, circa 2005
(L to R) Dennis
Hunt, Ron Vitto, Steve Miller, Hank Thornley, Gus
(Steve Marcus / LAS VEGAS SUN)
Up until last week's US
Supreme Court decision, the most notable local land grab was when in
1994, the downtown casinos represented by former Mayor Jan Jones
(herself a stockholder in the downtown Golden Nugget), in the name of
"redevelopment" stole 75 year old Greek
Pappas' immaculate corner shopping plaza to build a casino parking
The project, then called a "Festival Marketplace," was touted to be the
Downtown, but soon became one of our city's biggest white elephants
after merchants and entertainment venues failed when locals began
avoiding the area.
1996 rendering of
now-failed project. Pappas' corner on far left.
2005 - Empty parking garage
sits on Pappas' corner
reportedly being told by Jones, "Mrs. Pappas, you've had
your property long enough. It's time to
give it up," Carol Pappas' elder son Harry mounted a ten-year-long
battle to try to get his family's property returned, or be fairly
compensated for something his family had nurtured for over 50 years!
Instead of giving in and accepting the $345,000 offered by the City of
Las Vegas, he put his money where his mouth is.
(LV SUN photo)
Harry Pappas bought full
page ads that appeared in the Las
Review Journal on May 20,
2003, and again in 2004
publicity campaign hit home. Locals began boycotting the casinos that
benefited from the eminent domain taking, especially after John
Kennedy's George Magazine wrote an
article on the subject that drew national attention. Ten years after
the eminent domain taking, the City gave in and paid the Pappas family
$4.5 million, but much of it was eaten up by legal fees and lost rental
With last week's Supreme Court ruling however, the City would probably
have gotten away with the $345,000.
leaving office in 1999, Jan Jones abandoned Downtown and went on to
become an executive with
Harrahs, a company with no business interests within the City of Las
Under her guidance, Harrahs recently purchased the rights to the
historic "Horseshoe Club" name, logo, and
Series of Poker," leaving the once bustling downtown
casino struggling to find a new identity. The last time that occurred,
successful Showboat on East Fremont Street sold its valuable name and
logo to out of state interests, and
soon went broke.
Horseshoe closes, then sells name to
company run by former Mayor Jones
(LV Review-Journal photo by Jeff Scheid)
In the meantime, entrepreneurs
came and went within the "redevelopment area." The first
casualties were the team of Tim Poster and Tom Breitling who recently
liquidated their interest in the once booming Golden Nugget after only
one year of highly
Tim Poster, left, and Tom
Breitling gave up Golden Nugget
one year after buying it
Then came Barrick
Gaming. The mining company bought four Downtown casinos one year
grandiose plans. Last month, they couldn't make payroll and were forced
The above troubled examples including the former Showboat
the Golden Nugget abandoned by Steve Wynn in 2000 when he sold it to
MGM, and Barrick's
failed Plaza, Las Vegas Club, Western, and Gold Spike casinos prove
that the indiscriminate misuse of eminent domain law under the guise
"redevelopment" doesn't work and discourages locals from patronizing
the businesses that
sought to benefit from someone else's loss.
Just because one company says they can enhance a city's tax base by
converting someone else's property into their "higher and better" use
is no excuse to trample all over a citizen's Fifth Amendment rights, no
matter what the US Supreme Court says.
In most cases, especially in Vegas, eminent domain in the name of
"redevelopment" offends good citizens and repels local business. It often ends
up costing the taxpayers millions in legal defense fees, and in some
cases may inspire feelings such as those expressed this week by Harry
told the Las Vegas Review-Journal,
they come to take your property, kill them!"
Type of "new businesses" that infested downtown neighborhoods in the
name of "redevelopment"
Sometimes a city or county government, as
a favor to political movers and shakers, will secretly coerce property
owners to sell out
before eminent domain is needed. This practice can save face for greedy
elected officials. The city reportedly cuts back on city services, or
harasses tenants or owners until property values fall and the aggressor
can buy out exhausted owners at bargain basement prices.
In the mid 1980s, a city councilman who owned a real estate company was
accused of stopping city services to an entire neighborhood near what
is now University Medical Center and Valley Hospital. Long time
neighbors complained that street lights stopped working, police stopped
patrolling the area, pot holes went un-repaired, and streets stopped
being swept. Then they started getting low-ball offers for their homes
from the councilman's company, Levy Realty. In this case, eminent
domain was not needed, and had I not reveled the scam during the
election in which I replaced the two term councilman, no one would have
known the illicit methods used to clear the land for the hospitals.
Recently, downtown "redevelopment" spilled over into a troubled
neighborhood called Meadows
to form, police and city services immediately diminished and properties
were allowed to deteriorate. In response to burgeoning crime
statistics, property owner Peter Christoff fueled controversy by
printing fliers telling his
neighbors how to obtain concealed
weapons permits for self protection. In the meantime, eminent domain is
rumored to be pending for his
historic neighborhood to make way for high rise condominiums.
Meadows Village residents to arm themselves Dope pushers
work Meadows Village in plain sight of police
(Photo by Peter Christoff)
Pappas in her lawsuit against the City of Las Vegas Downtown
Redevelopment Agency also complained of city harassment. She stated
that city inspectors visited
her tenants telling them that they should not renew
their leases because the city planned to use eminent domain on their
landlord. Affidavits of the tenants backed up her allegations. The city
didn't want to be forced into eminent domain in order to help elected
leaders save face, so they evidently tried to destroy her rental
income. Eventually though, the city had to use eminent domain in order
to get their hands on the elderly lady's corner property so the casinos
would have more parking spaces.
Then there's 80 year old Christina
who is being sued by Mayor Oscar Goodman's son
because she refuses
to sell her prime Las Vegas Blvd. property at the low ball price he
offered. The mayor once said he wanted Christina's property so he could
open a bar called "Oscar's
." Now, Christina is fearful
that the US Supreme Court has opened up the door for the mayor's son
and partner to take her property at their price.
Christina Von Sturm
Last but not least is Buffalo
, the owner of an auto repair business that stands in
the way of a mob owned topless bar's expansion plans. With the US
Supreme Court's decision, it could be much easier now to remove him to
make way for the expansion,
especially since the topless bar
owned by the mayor's
former criminal defense clients. In the meantime, city fire
officials, building inspectors, and parking enforcement officers wage a
continued regime of harassment
against the mechanic and his clients.
In two extreme examples, city inspectors in June told Barrier that his
"Auto Electrical Specialists" sign, standing since 1976, was against
city code and must be removed. Barrier refused. Then last week, a city
employee posted a warning on the city's computer system saying Barrier
was a "crook
," and city employees
should not patronize his auto repair business. Barrier's attorneys have
since had the missive removed from the city's computer network. Then
last Friday, Barrier arrived at his shop to find all his customer's
cars towed away. These actions caused Barrier to be even more
determined to hold his ground.
Buffalo Jim Barrier
Now thanks to the unconstitutional actions of
the US Supreme Court, people like Michael Flores, Peter Christoff,
Sturm, and Jim Barrier, along with their attorneys, must nervously wait
to learn who's to be the next victim of the abuse of the now unbridled
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY?