Anyone involved in the right-of-way industry understands that communication is key. Whether you are on the side of a property owner or a public agency, a forced acquisition of property is never comfortable. But being straightforward and opening an honest dialogue usually goes a long way. Public agencies and their agents should be prepared to explain the need for the public project, the details of the take, the potential impacts, and how the value of the property was determined.
A perfect example of what happens when there is miscommunication is highlighted in a Redding.com article by Ryan Sabalow, "Eminent domain suit filed for bike path; last holdout fights Shasta County offer." The article reports that for the last three years, Shasta County has been trying to acquire a tiny "sliver" piece of property to widen an existing road in order to complete a bike path connecting Shasta College with Redding neighborhoods. While the agency has been successful in reaching deals with 14 of the impacted owners, there is one last "holdout" property owner, and Shasta County has finally filed an eminent domain action.
In response to the lawsuit, the property owner's attorney claims that there had only been "minimal contact" with the agency. He claims that the owner has not agreed to sell due to numerous unanswered questions, such as what the bike path will look like and whether it would impact access to the owner's remaining property: "I think maybe if they'd been better at working with [the owner] on this [the agency] wouldn't have had to take this route."
In response, Shasta County claims it has been trying to reach the owner since at least 2008 when the agency sent him a letter discussing the acquisition. It has also hired consultants to attempt to negotiate in good faith. However, now that the lawsuit has been filed, communications are finally taking place.
There are always two sides to a story, but it is apparent there has at least been some miscommunication between the public agency and the property owner. Regardless of whose fault it was, the eminent domain action may have been avoided if there was an open line of communication.
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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