Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Minnesota suburb off-limits to public

When I read about the town of North Oaks, Minnesota, I couldn't believe I was reading about a place in America and not some dictatorship somewhere. Wait, America is a dictatorship now. No wonder.

North Oaks is an extremely wealthy suburb north of St. Paul. It's not just rich. It's snooty. So much so that it threatened to charge Google's Street View with trespassing for photographing the town's roads - even though Street View has photographed the streets of countless other American communities without incident.

When the Constitution talks about the right to privacy, it means you have the right to be secure in your person and possessions. But you don't get privacy in a public place. North Oaks city officials' complaint is no different from the Kids Helping Kids supporters complaining about us videotaping a public protest.

The suburb's excuse is that all of the town's roads are actually owned by the homeowners: According to city officials, a homeowners' property line doesn't stop at the public right-of-way. It includes the street too - all the way to the road's center line, where the roadway becomes property of the neighbors across the street.

In an attempt to exercise this specious claim, North Oaks City Clowncil sent a letter to Google demanding that they destroy all their images from the town or be charged with trespassing. Google did comply.

The concept of giving wealthy homeowners ownership of part of the street is another form of the suburban land run that gives free land to wealthy suburbanites. But instead of receiving previously public land behind their houses, now they're getting the land in front of their houses too.

It's also a great deal for them like the efforts of wealthy Lake Huron landowners trying to get free beachfront land.

Under common law, North Oaks can't just shut off access to the public by extending homeowners' property to include the roads. That suburb must not ever need police protection or utilities if it doesn't want public access to its roads.

If I ever visit Minnesota again, I may just decide to see how private North Oaks really is. If city officials want to be a bunch of petty dictators, that's their problem.


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