"This land is your land, this land is my land From the Redwood Forest to the New York Island The Canadian mountain to the Gulf Stream waters This land is made for you and me." Woody Guthrie
This land is your land, this land is my land. Not so much any longer. Today Woody Guthrie would not be allowed to set foot in many areas claimed by the government. His song is a reminder of what We the People have lost to the infringement of a government that thinks it knows better how to manage our country than we do.
The federal government has vast acres of land that it claims and into which no American may enter. Some may be designated as certain use parcels, but the government controls how they are used. Most of the Western states are heavily controlled by either the federal, state or local government. For instance, Utah alone is 75%, Nevada is 88%, Idaho is 70%, Wyoming is 56%, New Mexico is 47%, Colorado is 43%, Montana is 38% and California is 50%.
Many lands have been set aside rather quietly and most Americans don’t realize that their country is so heavily owned and regulated by government. However, in September of 1996 the Grand-Escalante National Monument was declared by President Bill Clinton and put under the management of the Bureau of Land Management, the first national monument to be managed by the B.L.M. The monument area is 1.9 million acres. The ceremony marking the designation was heavily covered by newspaper press and shown several times on TV.
This designation was announced in the thick of the 1996 presidential election campaign and was controversial from the start. The ceremony was held at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona instead of the state of Utah, where the monument lies. Perhaps this was because the state governor and the Utah congressional delegation were notified only 24 hours in advance. As with most things Clinton did, this was seen to be a political ploy to gain votes in the contested state of Arizona. It paid off, as in November Clinton won Arizona by a margin of 2.2%, but lost Utah by 21.1%.
The President used the Antiquities Act for this land set-aside. The Antiquities Act of 1906 was passed by Congress, giving the president authority to restrict the use of designated public land which was owned by the federal government, by executive order. The act was meant to protect prehistoric Indian ruins and artifacts from those who were removing such objects and destroying ruins. The original intent was to protect relatively small areas where this activity was occurring. As with most things embraced by government, the areas became larger. Executive orders have become an unpublicized way for presidents to make law. As Clinton aide Paul Begala observed, after becoming acquainted with executive orders: “Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kind of cool”.
Even where the land is not owned outright by governmental entities, the rules and regulations set forth by them restrict the usage, sometimes to the point where landowners may not use their own land for their own use.
Besides the taking of certain lands by governments, largely by stealth, since most Americans don’t know about it, the Kelo decision by the United States Supreme Court gave permission to local governments to take property they deem more suitable to be used in another fashion. These governments have taken homes from people and allowed commercial interests to have the land. Their rationale is that the land is more valuable to be used commercially by large developers who will have to pay more taxes on it, thereby filling the tax coffers and benefiting more people.
There was no pretense that the Kelo vs. New London decision was anything else than five unelected judges telling Americans that their property was now up for grabs. In a confusing discussion of the law, the court seemed to be patting us on the head and telling us not to worry, because the local governments would administer this law fairly. If they truly believed this, it puts them in the same club that keeps seeing Elvis at the mall.
Of course, the results have been disastrous for individual land owners. They have had to fight in court for their property. The sight of an individual going up against any government, with all the taxpayer money behind that government, is ugly. Most individuals have limited funds with which to fight “city hall”.
This decision did not only affect urban dwellers. It might affect you if you have a nice little cabin in the mountains or on the beach. Some commercial developer could covet that property and claim it for a better use, such as resort units that would produce more tax money.
If you live in the city and have a nice five-bedroom home, it would be very suitable for a halfway house. That would be benefiting more people than just having you use it. These halfway houses are being put in nice residential areas, because the people who would live there need a good atmosphere in which to recover, (or so the thinking goes).
The point is, it is open season on any property you may own. Flimsy reasons for taking are given every day. To protect your property is very expensive and frustrating, as the government has all sorts of money to fight you, and lots of people to keep doing so, maybe with your own tax money.
One especially egregious case is in Oregon. Dorothy English and her husband purchased 20 acres of land, close to the city limits of Portland, in 1953. Their dream was to sell off lots for homes and to leave some lots for their children. They considered this an investment to help take care of them when they retired.
However, in 1973, Multnomah County and the State of Oregon began rezoning their property, which precluded them from developing or selling off their land. Along with the rezoning came the regulations. Dorothy English has stated that there are now 61 regulations against her property. This is another way the government “takes” property, by issuing regulations that make it impossible to use.
Dorothy English is fighting this battle without her husband, who has passed on. Mrs. English is in her nineties, but she fights on. She joined with Oregonians in Action in 2000 to help pass a constitutional amendment to end takings by way of regulatory rules. As so often happens, the will of We the People was thwarted by a court that struck it down. Not one to quit, English also helped pass a bill to end the takings by regulations. This time, Multnomah County, the largest in the state, population-wise, pressured Governor Kulongoski to get rid of the bill, which he did with a veto.
Oregon is a state with a citizens’ initiative process, whereby citizens can pass laws the government must obey. Measure 37 became the law whereby governments must compensate landowners when they render property not usable or less usable because of regulations. This initiative passed in 2004 by a 61 to 39 percent margin, making it the measure to get the most favorable votes of any initiative in Oregon history.
Although Measure 37 has withstood constitutional challenge, (maybe the lawmakers and judges paid heed to the landslide vote), there has been stiff opposition by local governments in implementing it. The reason given is that if they compensate the landowners for their land, it will be too expensive. The alternative is easy to figure out....don’t take the land and there will be no expense involved.
Dorothy English is now in her nineties and the various governments, bureaus, and land use entities are dragging their feet. They know that if they can stall long enough, this lady will pass on and they will no longer have to give her what she has fought for and what Measure 37 ensured for her. When she dies, so do her hard-won property rights.
Lars Larson, a local talk show host, put it this way: “Multnomah County lawyers know that if Dorothy dies before the case is done, then the county owes her estate nothing. The property rights expire when this sweet lady passes”.
As for Dorothy English, she refers to what many have always considered the American dream: “My God, it took us so long of scrimping and saving and working to pay for this place. And then to let someone steal it?”
The America of Woody Guthrie’s song is being taken over by government, which is always telling us it is in our best interest. The America described in Guthrie’s last stanza is not one where he would any longer be able to roam freely.
“Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking my freedom highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land is made for you and me.”
This land is made for you and me? Only if the government says so.
Barbara regularly writes for CapitolHillCoffeeHouse. She also appears in California Chronicle, Border Patrol, and Citizens Caucus. Her primary interest is illegal immigration, but she writes about other subjects as well.
Barbara lives in a large city on the West Coast. Her loyalties are with God, family, country, heritage and borders.
She enjoys music, painting, poetry and song writing.