Friday, November 10, 2006

Understanding California Eminent Domain Law

The Following Is Quoted Directly Out Of The California Constitution


SEC. 19. Private property may be taken or damaged for public use only when just compensation, ascertained by a jury unless waived, has first been paid to, or into court for, the owner. The Legislature may provide for possession by the condemnor following commencement of eminent domain proceedings upon deposit in court and prompt release to the owner of money determined by the court to be the probable amount of just compensation.

The main difference between what is in the California Constitution now and the newer language was this one added sentence: "Private property may not be taken or damaged for private use."

In essence it was the same added language but specifically said no to private party takings and damages. Maybe the language in subsequent areas could have clarified that general zoning changes were not ruled as damages even though (my reading of it) was specifically addressing the zoning changes involved with eminent domain takeovers.

This just goes to show that the writing of laws need to be as tight as possible in order to leave out any ambiguities.

As our California Constitution is currently written in this area, there are a lot of ambiguities, because the argument could be made by a Lawyer that since the California Constitution already says, "Private property may be taken or damaged for public use only when just compensation," which infers that private property may not be taken or damaged for private use. However, I suspect that since it does not specifically say, "private property may not be taken or damaged for private use," that other Lawyers have interpreted this to mean that cities can use it for private property gain. This has opened the spigot for cities to have Eminent Domain on their books as a tool for Redevelopment Zones to use in a "last case resort"

However, as we have said before, having an eminent domain hammer over a redevelopment zone imposes a very aggressive stance against any owner of property in the redevelopment zones. Plus, redevelopment zones can be expanded or include other areas of the community. Intimidation is definitely a force, in which an aggressive developer comes in to the city and proposes a major change for the property. With visions of dollar signs in the head of City Council Members (an increased tax base for the city), is it any wonder why most property owners really have an aversion to having Eminent Domain on the books? Likewise, as the city tries to meet their low cost housing goals, the pressure is on for them to really forget the rights of the individual property owners and do what will Net them the most value. If that means having Eminent Domain on the books, then the city will take advantage of this by having it as Council Member David E. Hudson, stated, "Eminent Domain is just another tool in our quiver, we do not intend to use it." That was the reason that the City Council passed Eminent Domain for private gain to be a tool in their quiver.

Market forces are steered by laws, zoning, and other ordinances. Eminent Domain on the books of San Ramon steers market forces. Once again we have the case of the "law of unintended consequences."

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