Today in sunny Saint Paul, the National Trust Board of Advisors and a large group of fellow preservationists gathered to talk about "Property Rights Battles: Views from the Front Lines."
For those not familiar with the structure of the National Trust, the Board of Advisors is not the National Trust for Historic Preservation's governing board—that's the Board of Trustees. Instead, the Board of Advisors is a group of more than 100 volunteers who act as eyes and ears in places where the National Trust has no permanent staff presence and who complement and augment the knowledge, skills, and contacts of staff, offering always needed and frequently heeded counsel on emerging issues and trends.
Given their record of dynamism, it might seem odd that the advisors chose the theme of property rights for their sponsored session for the third year running. What's up with that? Hasn't this drum been beaten long enough? Judging from the sellout crowd, the answer is a resounding "no."
Of course, if, like me, you hail from the West, these battles are hard to ignore. A bit of background: In 2004, Oregon voters approved Measure 37, which essentially gutted Oregon's groundbreaking land-use protections that have been in place since 1973. Close on the heels of the Oregon fiasco, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Kelo v. New London in 2005.
At today's session, Dwight Merriam of Connecticut was able to add some local color to the Kelo story, including the stranger-than-fiction Christmas card that Mrs. Kelo sent out (cue scary movie music). As Mr. Merriam outlined, this case quickly became a cause celebre among private property rights advocates, who saw in Kelo the long arm of the law stretching way too close for comfort. They also saw an opportunity to push a much broader property-rights agenda.
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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.