Article Evidences Continued Confusion Over Eminent Domain, Proposition 99

A January 27 article in California Watch, "Eminent domain battles rage on despite Prop. 99," reflects the ongoing confusion that surrounds the efforts to reform eminent domain in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo decision

The article's premise is that Proposition 99, approved by California's voters in 2008, did not stop what the author describes as "eminent domain abuse."  But the case example that underlies the article reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about what Proposition 99 does (or does not do), and what people typically mean when they talk of "eminent domain abuse." 

Proposition 99 was one of many responses to the Kelo decision, which involved a redevelopment effort by the City of New London, Connecticut, in which the city sought to condemn some single-family homes in order to redevelop them into a commercial use that would generate more tax revenue. 

What really outraged people was that the city did not even pretend that it was acting to eliminate blight (a traditional justification for condemning property for redevelopment purposes).  Instead, the city simply felt like it could generate more taxes by tearing down the houses for a more profitable use - a plan the Supreme Court said qualified as a public purpose sufficient to justify the condemnation.

Proposition 99 targeted this specific type of "abuse," limiting eminent domain authority involving (1) redevelopment, and (2) residential properties.  I've written in the past about Proposition 99's narrow scope, but the fact is that it was intended to address a Kelo-type situation - not to stop all eminent domain. 

The "abuse" example in the California Watch article misses both of the Kelo/Proposition 99 prongs:  it is not an eminent domain use involving redevelopment; and it is not a condemnation of residential property.  Instead, the City of Laguna Woods condemned a commercial property to use for its own government offices (a space the city had already been leasing for that use for years). 

Sure, the parties had a substantial dispute over the property's value, and in that case, the jury's conclusion of value was much higher than the city thought it would be.  But I have trouble seeing valuation disputes like this as "eminent domain abuse," and nobody should be surprised that Proposition 99 fails to protect against such things.   

  • Rick E. Rayl

    Rick Rayl is an experienced litigator on a broad range of complex civil litigation issues.  His practice is concentrated primarily on eminent domain, inverse condemnation, and other real-estate-valuation disputes.  His public ...

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