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Eminent domain initiative qualifes for California ballot

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Tuesday, June 27th, 2006 at 1:12 pm in election 2006, eminent domain.

The “Protect Our Homes” initiative qualified today for the November general election ballot.

The measure is part of a nationwide property rights movement that gained momentum after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo vs. City of New London that a city could legally seize private property for the purposes of economic development.

Unlike Connecticut, California law prohibits public agencies from using eminent domain unless the property has been declared blighted but critics say the process has been abused.

Government leaders and legislators, however, say eminent domain is the option of last resort and usually exercised in cases where private property owners are holding land hostage in the hopes of obtaining exorbitant prices at the taxpayers’ expense.

The initiative bars the taking of property for private use, as commonly occurs in redevelopment projects. It allows the use of eminent domain only in instances where the land is necessary for public projects, such as parks and roads. Click here to access the proponents’ web site.

It’s the 13th initiative to qualify for November, virtually guaranteeing a dense ballot and a massive infusion of campaign spending in the coming months. Contra Costa County election chief Steve Weir also says a big ballot adds cost and complexity to the election.

But an end is in sight. The deadline to make the November ballot is Thursday and while an additional 30 measures are in circulation, time is running short. For a full list on the Secretary of State web site, click here.

The deadline doesn’t apply to the Legislature, however, which is contemplating the addition of a redistricting reform measure. A constitutional amendment by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, would shift the drawing of political boundaries away from lawmakers and into the hands of an independent panel.

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  • http://www.cctextra.com/blogs Amelia Aztlan

    RE: “Government leaders and legislators, however, say…private property owners are holding land hostage…”

    First, which govt leaders said that?

    Second, I’d like to know if they(govt leaders who stated this) own land that they are “holding hostage” for large sums of money upon the sale.(It’s called speculating/better known as investing in Real Estate)

    Third, It’s THEIR land. They should be able to do whatever they want with it unless it’s illegal!

  • Lisa Vorderbrueggen

    Dear Amelia,

    You have stated the very heart of the proponents’ argument in favor of this initiative. If you aren’t busy, I suspect you could land a job on the campaign!

    As to your question about who has made statements about the use of eminent domain as a last resort, several redevelopment directors in my circulation area and state legislators have made this argument to me personally and in print. I have also read versions of the argument in news stories on this subject across the country.

    In redevelopment areas, public money is often used to seed redevelopment but there’s usually very little public dollars to go around. Proponents argue that landowners should not reap excess profits at the taxpayers’ expense when the courts provide for fair market value compensation. After all, they say, if it hadn’t been for the redevelopment project in the first place, the land value wouldn’t have gone up at all.

    But as you and others have stated quite eloquently, the value of property goes up and down with demand. Many an investor has won and lost on land speculation in this country!

    The use of eminent domain has always been controversial but the Kelo v. New London case elevated it to an extradordinary level of public interest last year.

    What happened in New London could not happen as easily in California because state law says a property must be declared “blighted” in order to qualify for the use of eminent domain. The definition is further spelled out in state law, which provides an extra measure of protection for landowners. But some property owners say the definition is overused and neighboring landowners often object to a blight designation because it may impact their land values.

    I don’t know the eminent domain laws in Nevada where you live. (In the interests of full disclosure, Ms. Aztlan is a relative!)

    I worked for several Northern Nevada newspapers but it has been more than 10 years ago and I can’t remember the specifics, although I do recall that Carson City formed a redevelopment agency to revitalize its downtown.

    In some cases, banks will not loan money for redevelopment projects unless eminent domain is available because they don’t want to put out a lot of cash only to find themselves stalled indefinitely in a costly dispute with one property owner determined to hold out for a better offer.

    Congress also has a measure in the works that would strip states of federal dollars that allow the use of eminent domain where a public entity intends to transfer private land from the hands of one owner into the hands of a second owner. (I’d have to look up the author but I know that Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, one of the members of Congress that I cover, is enthusiastically in favor of it.)

    Neither the state or the national proposals would stop governments from taking land from private owners for public uses such as highways or hospitals.

    Ah, but this probably a lot more than you wanted to know. My old beat as a landuse and growth reporter has bubbled to the surface!

    Thanks for writing … Lisa v.

  • http://www.cctextra.com/blogs Amelia Aztlan

    See, this can be fun!
    Thanks for all that info.
    Back when all this started with Kelo vs. City of New London case, I did get involved with my local Association of Realtors. Being a Realtor at that time, I felt that it was my responsibilty to be sure the rights of those I was representing and the land they owned, was being protected. I wrote to my representative,which at that time was in another state. Since the move however, I haven’t given it much thought until now. I will definitely check out the website which you posted. Thanks!