Posts in Court Decisions.

As any experienced California eminent domain lawyer knows, there is a unique statutory mechanism that allows parties to bring a legal issues motion to secure a court’s ruling on a litany of issues that impact compensation. This statutory right is set forth in Code of Civil Procedure section 1260.040 and reads as follows:

"(a)          If there is a dispute between plaintiff and defendant over an evidentiary or other legal issue affecting the determination of compensation, either party may move the court for a ruling on the issue.  The motion shall be made not later than 60 days before ...

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In the vast majority of cases, when a public agency exercises eminent domain, the only issue in dispute is the amount of just compensation the agency must pay for the property being acquired.  Even in situations where a property owner challenges the agency's right to take, it is typically for procedural reasons that can ultimately be corrected.  However, where a property owner successfully challenges the agency's right to take, the consequences can be significant, as the agency is required to pay the property owner's litigation expenses -- including attorneys' fees, expert fees, and ...

Two of the more complicated issues eminent domain attorneys face are analyzing whether government conduct rises to the level of a taking, and whether the government engaged in precondemnation conduct that gives rise to damages apart from paying just compensation.

Earlier this week, an unpublished California Court of Appeal decision, Dryden Oaks v. San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, grappled with both issues. (See update below.)

In Dryden Oaks, a developer purchased property near the Palomar Airport in Carlsbad.  The property was in an area governed by the San Diego ...

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It’s a Friday afternoon and I decided to take a quick look at the advance sheets for any newly decided appellate cases involving eminent domain. My search revealed an unpublished decision that came out yesterday (September 7, 2017) called Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency v. Souza, 2017 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 6117. I’ll provide the highlights below.

Facts:

This matter involved an acquisition by the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SACFA) of approximately 2.2 acres of land for the Natomas Levee Improvement Program. The acquisition was needed to widen the levee along ...

Under inverse condemnation law in California, a public agency is generally strictly liable for physical damage to private property caused by a public improvement.  This means a public agency can be held liable even if the public improvement was properly designed, constructed and maintained.  Rarely is there a question of whether a project constitutes a "public improvement," but in Mercury Casualty Co. v. City of Pasadena (Aug. 24, 2017), the Court of Appeal recently addressed this issue and held that a tree constitutes a work of public improvement for purposes of inverse ...

The City of Oroville (City) has petitioned the California Supreme Court for review of an unpublished Court of Appeal decision, City of Oroville v. Superior Court (2017) 2017 WL 2554447 (Third District), finding the City liable in inverse condemnation for sewage backup into private property even though the owners failed to install and maintain backwater valves on their private property as required by state and local legal authority.  While no published decisions have been issued on this subject, four unpublished decisions in different jurisdictions throughout California over the ...

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The Martins Beach access dispute in San Mateo County continues to make headlines.  As a quick refresher, billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla purchased 90 acres of beachfront property south of Half Moon Bay, and subsequently proceeded to lock the gated entry to Martins Beach, effectively preventing public access to the popular beach.  We've been covering the dispute for quite some time, including the recent introduction of legislation to potentially fund the State Lands Commission's use of eminent domain to acquire an easement for access to the popular beach.

While the ...

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Last week, the United States Supreme Court in Murr v. Wisconsin issued a key regulatory takings decision which creates a new multifactor balancing test to determine whether two adjacent properties with single ownership could be considered a larger parcel.  In a 5-3 decision, the Court found that the properties were a single parcel and because the owners were not deprived of all economically viable uses of their property they could not establish a compensable regulatory taking.

The Murr Family owned two lots adjacent to a river.  A cabin was built on one of the lots, while the other lot ...

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When public agencies analyze a potential public project, they often need to gain access to private property for surveys, testing, and to otherwise investigate whether a particular property is suitable for a planned project.  Often, agencies gain access by talking with the property’s owner and reaching agreement on a right of entry.  But where the owner refuses to allow access, the agency must resort to the courts.  For decades, agencies have followed a set of rules that allow them to obtain a court-ordered right of entry with minimal notice and without most of the formality of a ...

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Public agencies own significant amounts of property throughout California and the United States.  Sometimes, those properties are not being put to a public use, and the government acts as a landlord, leasing out property to private entities.  But when the government is ready to put the property to a public use, and it terminates the lease, is there a "taking" of private property triggering the need to pay just compensation?  A recent unpublished Court of Appeal decision, California Cartage Company v. City of Los Angeles, addressed this issue and held that the government's termination ...

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In California eminent domain proceedings, a property owner is entitled to the "fair market value" of the property being acquired.  Typically, fair market value is determined by analyzing comparable sales or by utilizing an income capitalization approach.  But every once in a while, there is no relevant market data, in which case the law permits determining compensation "by any method of valuation that is just and equitable."  (Code Civ. Proc., sec. 1263.320.)  A recent court of appeal decision, Central Valley Gas Storage v. Southam, explains when this "just and equitable" valuation ...

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As we've reported in the past, temporary takings are compensable in California.  But such claims are not easy to prove, particularly when you're dealing with the federal government imposing temporary regulations preventing use of property.  A recent case, Reoforce v. United States, demonstrates some of the hurdles an impacted property owner may face.

In Reoforce, the plaintiff discovered a mineral deposit called pumicite on federal land in Kern County, California.  Believing the deposit had potential value for paint and fiberglass applications, Reoforce submitted a mining ...

When a business is taken as a result of a public improvement, the business is entitled to seek compensation for, among other things, loss of business goodwill. Typically, this loss is calculated by measuring the business’ before-condition value and comparing to its after-condition value.  This traditional methodology was the cornerstone for business goodwill appraisers to determine just compensation.  Yet late last year, the California Court of Appeal issued a ruling in People ex rel. Dep't of Transp. v. Presidio Performing Arts Found. (2016) 5 Cal. App.5th 190 which may have ...

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When the California Supreme Court issued its ruling on Property Reserve v. Superior Court, handing a substantial victory to public agencies, we were given three key takeaways:  (1) the Right of Entry statutes (CCP §1245.010 et seq.) are constitutional, (2) the activities the Department of Water Resources sought to undertake are covered by the broad scope of these statues, and (3) if the language of a statute doesn’t match your planned opinion, you can always reform it to match the claimed legislative intent of the statute.

To that last point, the Court’s opinion included its ...

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Before an eminent domain action is filed, public infrastructure projects involve years of planning, environmental approvals, design, and property negotiations.  During this time, property owners and real estate agents/brokers are often faced with deciding what to disclose about the potential condemnation to prospective tenants when attempting to lease out space.  It is a difficult position to be in, as (i) disclosing too much makes it extraordinarily difficult to find a tenant willing to pay market rents with the looming "cloud" of condemnation, and (ii) disclosing too ...

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One of the hot issues in eminent domain these days involves the government's efforts to take over privately-run utility companies.  The argument typically is that the government -- which has no profit-making motive -- can run the utility at a lower cost, saving the ratepayers money.   Not surprisingly, the utility companies feel otherwise.

In California, one of the first cases to reach trial on this issue is about to wrap up.  The City of Claremont sought to condemn the Golden State Water Company's assets, and Golden State fought the City's right to take.

In a Court trial (i.e., a trial ...

Last year, my partner Ben Rubin reported on the California Supreme Court's decision in California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose, which analyzed an inclusionary housing ordinance and held that such ordinances do not qualify as "exactions" and, consequently, are reviewed under a deferential standard that looked at whether the ordinance was "reasonably related" to the city’s interest in promoting the health, safety, and welfare of the community.

Last month, we saw the first published decision following last year's Supreme Court pronouncement ...

Last month, the California Supreme Court’s decision in Property Reserve v. Superior Court provided long-awaited certainty for public agencies after a court of appeal determined the often-used right of entry statutes failed to provide adequate Constitutional protection for pre-acquisition investigations and testing.  In summary, the Supreme Court held the right of entry process constitutional, with one reform:  the property owner is entitled to a jury trial on the amount of compensation. 

The decision preserves a significant tool for public agencies to keep their projects on ...

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Every year or so, a new appellate court decision comes out addressing the proper role of the judge versus the jury on some certain eminent domain issue. Most recently, a trial court, appellate court and the California Supreme Court all grappled with this question:  Does the judge determine whether a dedication requirement is constitutional, or does the jury?  Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its decision in City of Perris v. Stamper, No. S213468 (Aug. 15, 2016) holding that it is the role of the judge to determine whether a dedication requirement is constitutional.  The ...

We don’t often see multiple takings-related cases in one week, but last week we saw three.  The California Supreme Court’s decision in Property Reserve was obviously the most important, but the Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal in San Diego also issued two decisions in the same week.  Although both of these opinions are unpublished and cannot be cited, they act as a reminder for property owners to be mindful of some basic principles of eminent domain law.

The first case, SANDAG v. Vanta, addresses some of the limits on the principle of just compensation and, in particular ...

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For the last two-plus years, we have been waiting for guidance from the California Supreme Court on whether public agencies could utilize the statutory right of entry procedure to gain access to private property to conduct investigations and testing. Such activities are routinely part of the environmental approval process for public works projects, and if agencies are forced to go through a regular condemnation proceeding, projects could be delayed for many months or even years.  Today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Property Reserve v. Superior Court, holding the right ...

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Eminent domain fans!  Take heed: The City of Perris v. Stamper case (S213468) will finally be heard by the California Supreme Court tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. in San Francisco.  I recapped the issues that are going to be addressed in my prior post about the oral arguments.

Remember - the California Supreme Court now broadcasts its oral arguments live on the web!  Go to the CA Supreme Court's website (http://www.courts.ca.gov/supremecourt.htm) and there will be a blue box on the right that will launch the web viewer!  I hope you tune in!

 

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Today, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Property Reserve v. Superior Court case.  Today was also the day the Court began showing live webcasts of oral arguments online, so I was able to not only hear the arguments but see the Justices and attorneys in action.  If the Court provides a link to the oral arguments, I will include that in another post.

My initial reaction from the oral arguments - all of the Justices were very engaged in the arguments and the Court hammered both sides pretty soundly.  If I had to pick a winner, I think they went easier on the State.

The Court did ...

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If you are an eminent domain junkie like us, then you will appreciate knowing that the City of Perris v. Stamper case (S213468) will be heard by the California Supreme Court on May 5, 2016, at 9:00 a.m. in San Francisco. As a quick refresher, this is yet another case where the Court is trying to delineate the role of the judge versus the jury in eminent domain cases. The case considers the constitutionality of a dedication requirement imposed by the City of Perris.  The Court will be addressing two questions:

  1. Is the constitutionality of an otherwise reasonably probable dedication ...
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One of the most valuable assets many homeowners enjoy is their property’s view. If the government undertakes an activity that eliminates or obstructs that view, is an owner entitled to relief?  In Boxer v. City of Beverly Hills (April 26, 2016, B258459), the California Court of Appeal held that in an eminent domain action (where there is a direct taking of property), view impacts are compensable, but in the absence of a taking of property, a property owner is not entitled to compensation for loss of view.

Background

In Boxer v. City of Beverly Hills, a group of property owners filed an ...

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The California Supreme Court announced today that the Property Reserve case will be heard on May 3, 2016, at 9:00 a.m. in San Francisco.  (I'm assuming this is not an April Fool's joke, since eminent domain attorneys have been awaiting this for a long time now.)

The Court will decide whether California's precondemnation right of entry statutes are constitutional.  As has been discussed at length for more than a year in our industry, the decision could effect sweeping changes in how condemning agencies access properties for necessary inspections and testing.  We posted a detailed ...

Eminent domain practitioners are well versed in analyzing a property's highest and best use.  Under these principles, a property being condemned is not necessarily valued based on its current, existing use.  Where the appraiser can show that the property's actual value is based on a different use, that use can often be the foundation for the valuation (assuming that other use meets the four-part test of highest and best use, which is beyond the scope of this post; if you're really bored today, here's a link to Wikipedia's discussion of highest and best use).

In County of Santa Barbara v ...

In the last month, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear appeals on two eminent domain-related cases.  The first case, California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose, is one we discussed last year.  If you recall,  the California Supreme Court held that San Jose's inclusionary housing ordinance that required all new residential development projects of 20 or more units to sell at least 15 percent of the for-sale units at a price that is affordable to low or moderate income households did not impose an exaction on developers that constituted a taking.

The U.S ...

Public agencies are routinely facing Buy America requirements in their infrastructure projects.  Some of the most difficult situations involve how to satisfy Buy America obligations with public utility relocations.  The rules continue to evolve, making compliance an ever-moving target.  To help provide some guidance, my colleague, Ann-Therese Schmid, recently provided a Buy America update on Nossaman's InfraInsight Blog.

In her blog post, Recent Buy America Developments, Ann informs us that in late 2015 the Federal Transmit Administration (FTA) and the Federal Highway ...

Eminent domain practitioners have been waiting for nearly two years for the Supreme Court to issue its decision in Property Reserve v. Superior Court.  At issue is the constitutionality of California's "Right of Entry" statutes, which allow an agency to enter onto private property for certain inspections and testing without filing a condemnation action.  In Property Reserve, the Court of Appeal rejected an agency's efforts to conduct precondemnation testing and inspections, finding that the statutory procedure essentially amounts to allowing a taking without payment of just ...

Because billboards are typically near public transit, they are routinely impacted by public projects such as street widenings, highway and freeway expansions, and grade separation projects.  When impacted, billboard companies may make claims for (i) the value of the billboard itself (fixtures and equipment), (ii) loss of business goodwill, and (iii) relocation expenses.  Usually the first two items can be addressed through a successful billboard relocation.  But when happens when a moratorium is in place prohibiting new billboards?  Does a moratorium on new billboards ...

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When the government promises to do one thing and then does another, it usually has myriad excuses.  Sometimes it claims that its staff (the people with whom the opposing side are typically interacting) cannot bind the agency.  Other times, it claims that it cannot contractually agree to things that take away key government functions (e.g., the government cannot contract away its right to condemn property).  But every once in a while, the government gets stuck, even in the absence of a formal written agreement.

In HPT IHG-2 Properties Trust v. City of Anaheim (November 20, 2015), the Court ...

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For decades, California public agencies have utilized a statutory "right of entry" procedure to gain access to private property to conduct investigations and testing before deciding whether to move forward with acquiring the property. (See Code of Civil Procedure section 1245.010 et seq.) That process was thrown into flux in 2014 with the Court of Appeal’s decision in Property Reserve v. Superior Court, which struck down an agency’s efforts to conduct precondemnation investigation and testing, concluding that any significant physical intrusion onto private property ...

In an unpublished opinion filed this week, the California Court of Appeal confirmed two fundamental evidentiary rules related to eminent domain matters:

  1. A witness intending to testify to an opinion of value must exchange a statement of valuation data; and
  2. A witness will be precluded from testifying to a comparable sale if it is determined by the court that the comparable is not comparable and would confuse the jury.

Before we delve into the case, here’s a basic reminder of California law as it pertains to these two issues:

With respect to the court’s first finding, California Code of ...

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It's not every day you're involved in a successful eminent domain case before the California Court of Appeal.  It's even more unusual when the case deals with a number of interesting legal issues, such as the enforceability of a waiver of just compensation, the compensability of a license, the breadth of the "project influence rule" for purposes of a property's valuation, and the substantial impairment of access test.  I was fortunate enough to have dealt with all these interesting issues in a single case, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority v. KBG I Associates ...

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Generally when the United States takes property pursuant to its eminent domain authority, just compensation is based on the market value of the property on the date of the taking.  However, when acquiring a street, road or public highway, the public entity whose property is taken is entitled to compensation only to the extent that, as a result of such taking, it is compelled to construct a substitute highway.  (Washington v. United States, 214 F.2d 33, 39 (9th Cir. 1954), emphasis in original.)  Where it is unnecessary to replace or provide a substitute, the public entity is only entitled to ...

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As an eminent domain attorney, when I think about a "takings" claim, I always think about a claim involving someone's real property.  Has the government trespassed onto private property, has it imposed regulations that deny the owner an economically viable use of the property, etc.?  But every once in a while, we get a reminder that "takings" do not always involve real property.  Rather, any private "property" may be taken.

Thus, we get cases like last month's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Horne v. Dept. of Agriculture.  There, the government sought to force raisin growers to turn over a ...

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2013 was a banner year for developers under the takings clause, as both the U.S. Supreme Court and California Supreme Court issued decisions expanding the developers’ ability to challenge exactions as unconstitutional. In Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the essential nexus and rough proportionality standards that apply to government property exactions also apply to monetary exactions that are tied to a governmental approval. And in Sterling Park v. City of Palo Alto, the California Supreme Court held that when a public ...

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In California eminent domain cases, a property or business owner is entitled to recover litigation expenses (attorneys’ fees and expert costs) when the public agency’s final offer of compensation is unreasonable and the property owner’s final demand is reasonable.  (See Code Civ. Proc., § 1250.410.)  But what happens when the government agency’s offer is subject to approval of a federal agency, the City Council, or the Board of Supervisors?  Is this a reasonable offer under Section 1250.410?  This week, the California Court of Appeal in City and County of San Francisco v. PCF ...

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As the old adage goes, the three most important things to consider with real estate are location, location, and location.  But any developer who has lived through a real estate cycle, and any public agency that is under a funding deadline or working through a project’s environmental approvals, knows that timing may be even more important than location.  Indeed, timing considerations often create competing interests between public agencies and developers.  On the one hand, before commencing right of way acquisition, public agencies are required to comply with complicated ...

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One of the issues often disputed between public agencies and property owners in eminent domain actions is the assessment of severance damages, and in particular, whether damages should be based upon (i) the terms of the resolution of necessity, or (ii) construction of the project in the manner proposed.  This dispute grows from a seeming conflict between a court of appeal decision, County of San Diego v. Bressi (1986) 184 Cal.App.3d 112, and Code of Civil Procedure section 1263.420.  Specifically:

  • Bressi held that in a condemnation action, (1) the jury must determine damages caused by ...
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In California eminent domain actions, absent special circumstances (such as an abandonment, successful right to take challenge, or inverse condemnation finding), a property or business owner is typically only entitled to recover litigation expenses (attorneys' fees and expert costs) in one circumstance:  where the public agency's final offer of compensation is unreasonable and the property owner's final demand is reasonable.  In making this determination, the judge is only to consider the final offer and demand that were made at least 20 days before trial.  (See Code Civ. Proc ...

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I wanted to provide a quick update on two recent cases from the California Court of Appeal.

The first, Golden State Water Company v. Casitas Municipal Water District (April 14, 2015), involves what appears to be an issue of first impression in California:  can Mello-Roos financing be used to fund an eminent domain action to acquire a utility company's assets?  In Golden State Water Company, the Casitas Municipal Water District wanted to acquire the assets of the Golden State Water Company for the purpose of taking over the provision of water to many residents in Ojai, California ...

It depends.  A recent decision out of the Federal Circuit tackled this very issue, and the court's decision strongly suggests that a taking could arise under the right circumstances.  (Filler v. U.S. (Fed. Cir. Mar. 10, 2015) Case No. 2014-5117.)  As you probably already guessed by my use of the phrase "strongly suggests," both the lower court and the Federal Circuit in this case found that the plaintiff's challenge did not present the "right circumstances."

After sustaining a work-related injury, an employee of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service visited the ...

California’s infrastructure is aging. There have been numerous reports of water line breaks and gas line leaks, and public agencies have been moving quickly to upgrade their utilities to minimize these risks and satisfy increasing demands. When incidents do occur, when do agencies face potential liability in inverse condemnation? A recent California Court of Appeal decision, Kelly v. Contra Costa Water District (Feb. 10, 2015) 2015 Cal.App.Unpub.LEXIS 924, while unpublished, provides some guidance.

In Kelly, the owners of a self-storage facility in Pittsburg, California ...

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The burning question, is why?  While this is not the first time the U.S. Supreme Court has ever granted a petition for review in the same case, it is certainly not common.  And, it is downright uncommon for the Supreme Court to grant a second petition for review when the central issue in the case is a takings issue.  So what is the Supreme Court planning to do?  Are they going to revisit their 2013 decision and find that they made a mistake, and that the Hornes are actually required to first bring their takings claim in the Court of Federal Claims?  Or, is the Supreme Court ...

In the aftermath of last year’s Rails-to-Trails DecisionMarvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States, 572 U.S. ___ (2014), the valuation of rail corridors may become increasingly necessary.  Typically there are three approaches to valuing rail corridors:  1) Across-the-Fence approach, 2) Comparable Sales approach and 3) Income approach.

  1. The Across-the-Fence approach (ATF Method) -- the most popular approach for valuing rail corridors -- appraises land utilized as a right-of-way by assuming that its market value per square foot is equal to the value of adjacent or ...
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In September 2014, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District issued a surprising decision, finding that even if an applicant maintains that it is accepting imposed permit conditions "under protest" and expressly asserts that it plans to challenge those conditions in court, it waives any such challenge by building the approved project.  (Lynch v. California Coastal Commission (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 658.)  In reaching this conclusion, the majority found that the protest procedure provided in the Mitigation Fee Act was inapplicable because that Act does not ...

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Agencies acquiring private property for a public project conduct thorough investigations to determine whether the property has environmental contamination.  If contamination is found, the question arises whether evidence of the contamination will be admissible in the eminent domain proceeding.  In California the answer is yes, based on a single case that involved evidence of remediation costs introduced by both sides without objection.  In Redevelopment Agency of Pomona v. Thrifty Oil Company, 4 Cal.App.4th 469 (1992), the Agency sought to condemn a parcel owned by Thrifty that ...

The question now is, is the court's statement merely a bump in the road or a roadblock?  The United States filed the eminent domain action seeking to condemn certain access rights so it could increase its profitability when it sold vacant federal land in Alameda County, California.  In its complaint and declaration of taking, the United States alleged that it needed to condemn the property interest for the "continuing operations" of the Alameda Federal Center.  In support of the taking, the United States relied on the General Service Administration's general authority.  The federal ...

California Eminent Domain Report is a one-stop resource for everything new and noteworthy in eminent domain in California. We cover all aspects of eminent domain in California, including condemnation, inverse condemnation, and regulatory takings. We also keep track of current cases, project announcements, budget issues, legislative reform efforts, and report on all major California eminent domain conferences and seminars.

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