Supreme Food Court

Jim Washburn fits Triangle Square into a conservative black hole

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The ruling that did get plenty of attention was the one on eminent domain, which affirmed the government's right to seize your property, not just if there was a compelling public need—like to build a school or highway—but if some private entity has a plan for your land that the government likes.

Which brings us to Triangle Square, even if nothing else will.

You probably haven't been to Costa Mesa's $62 million ghost town recently. If tenants were teeth, Triangle Square would be gumming the cars passing by. It's had a vacancy problem since it opened in 1992, and now it's dropping anchor stores like they were anchors: Whole Foods Market—a rousing success at some 155 other locations—failed and bailed there three years ago. This January, Niketown laced up its shoes and ran. The Virgin Mega-Store announced last week that it's getting the mega-hell out on Sept. 22. Even with those stores, the center was only producing one-fifth of the $1 million in tax revenue it was expected to generate.

This wasn't the plan when Costa Mesa city officials used eminent domain to force the land's mom-and-pop owners to sell because developers had a "better" idea. Though a city-created center across the street was riddled with vacancies, Triangle Square, they said, would be like a European city-state, drawing people to it and reinvigorating Costa Mesa's downtown.

The high court's decision to rubber-stamp government's right to create such municipal monstrosities had to be a tough one: on the one hand, they want to limit government's power; on the other hand, that power was being used to benefit the whims of rich developers.

Chalk one up for rich developers, though the court's decision is being reviled on the right as a liberal power grab. The court's more liberal members did indeed vote aye, while O'Connor wrote a strong dissent, noting "all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner . . . the beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

A wild card like O'Connor—who would unexpectedly sometimes put the public good first—may be a thing of the past. The consensus is that Bush's first choice to replace her is Alberto Gonzales. Does absolutely everybody in this administration fall up?Wolfowitz, Tenet, Negroponte, et al. do something idiotic or scandalous, and they're either rewarded or promoted—or both. After it was revealed that Gonzales had penned the policy paper asserting the president's authority to hold prisoners without trial, that the Geneva Conventions are "quaint" and that torture is just ducky, you wouldn't expect them to hide him in plain sight. But they made him attorney general—and now potentially a justice on the very court that rejected his reasoning on Bush's extrajudicial authority.

And the really creepy thing is that even though Gonzales has been at Bush's side for more than a decade, ardently supports the death penalty, did the bidding of the energy industry and took Grandma's weed away, conservative groups are up in arms because Gonzales isn't conservative enoughfor them. They may have to look in a cave to find someone less progressive, and then feed him Bible pages and raw meat and have a guy in a Ted Kennedy mask beat him with a rolled-up copy of the Bill of Rights. Then we'll see some real justice meted out.

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