Marysville OKs eminent domain step
(Marysville CA) Appeal-Democrat, 10/6/04

By Scott Bransford

Marysville officials moved forward Tuesday with a plan to renew the city's eminent-domain powers despite objections from a City Council member.

Councilwoman Christina Billeci proposed waiting for a pending Supreme Court decision before renewing the Marysville Community Development Agency's eminent domain rights, which expired in November 2003.

She was unsuccessful, however, as council members voted to approve the first reading of an ordinance re-establishing the agency's powers. The ordinance will be up for a final vote at the City Council's Oct. 19 meeting.

"I still think we should have waited on the eminent-domain issue," Billeci said. "I think the Supreme Court will decide it. Most of the objections that people have are constitutional issues."

Local governments have used eminent-domain powers for years to seize blighted properties for city improvement efforts.

The power, sometimes used by cities to improve their tax bases, is now under scrutiny in Kelo v. City of New London, a Supreme Court case stemming from a redevelopment plan in Connecticut. A group of property owners in New London filed a lawsuit to block the taking of their land for a hotel and conference development.

Although the Constitution's Fifth Amendment allows government to take private property for "public use" and requires "just compensation," the current Supreme Court case concerns the definition of "public use."

Critics of eminent-domain powers say the definition has been interpreted too broadly. Local governments, some observers argue, have too much power to seize property and turn it over to private developers, even when there is no clear benefit to the community as a whole.

Marysville acting Mayor Paul McNamara said Tuesday that there was no connection between the local debate over eminent domain powers and the one in the Supreme Court.

Marysville has no current plans to take over property and give it to a developer, he said.

"This is just a review of the law of eminent domain, it is not the taking of property," McNamara said.

City Councilman Bill Harris also said the city needed to move forward with protecting its eminent-domain powers, regardless of the Supreme Court's deliberations.

"I suppose reasonable minds can disagree on the Supreme Court issue," Harris said. "It still may be quite some time before it's resolved."

Billeci's objection to the ordinance required that City Clerk Billie Fangman read it in its entirety. Several minutes into the reading, Billeci decided to withdraw her objection.

Billeci said she is still opposed to Marysville renewing its eminent domain powers before the Supreme Court decides on the issue.

"I still object," Billeci said. "I waived (the reading) because I don't want to see Billie (Fangman) to have to work harder than she is."

Historical preservation activist Dan Barth also expressed concern about the vote.

"With a low property tax rate in our historical neighborhoods, eminent domain could be attractive to the city to raise the tax base," Barth said.

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