Eminent domain limits sought: San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, 7/10/05

Plan would protect owners, Stocks says
By James Steinberg

The [Encinitas] City Council this week will consider one member's proposal to limit the city's power to take private property.

Councilman Jerome Stocks said he will ask the council Wednesday to direct its staff to draft an ordinance that would so severely restrict the city's use of eminent domain that it would be nearly impossible to use it.

Stocks raised the issue in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that expanded the right of government to condemn private property so a private developer could upgrade a "distressed" neighborhood to enlarge the municipal tax roll.

Eminent domain is the law by which government takes private property for public use, with just compensation for the owner. The Supreme Court expanded the law to allow condemnation to foster economic development.

The case involved 15 homeowners in New London, Conn., who challenged the condemnation of their homes to make way for office space, a hotel, new homes and a pedestrian walk along the Thames River.

In upholding a Connecticut State Supreme Court ruling against the plaintiffs, the U.S. high court's majority said that "public use" was more properly defined as "public purpose," which broadened the law.

"It used to be that taking property by eminent domain was for roads and schools and military bases," Stocks said Friday. "The court's decision expands that right, and we can design a mechanism by which that right cannot be exercised."

Stocks will recommend an ordinance requiring a "greater than two-thirds" public vote in a regularly scheduled election before private property can be condemned and given to another private party to develop.

"In my opinion, it will never happen. Voters will say, if we let them do this (to someone else), it can happen to me," the councilman said.

He said California homeowners are protected against sharp increases in property taxes in a hot real estate market by Proposition 13, which flattens the tax rolls and crimps government revenue, and that, in turn, could spur the condemnation of private property.

"Government doesn't get a pay raise unless a transaction occurs," when the new owner pays a higher property tax, Stocks said.

The only remedy, he said, is to make the eminent domain process "so onerous that it can never go forward."

Stocks said he has received e-mails and telephone calls since he proposed the ordinance two weeks ago, and all have backed his position.

Wednesday's council meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the council chambers at the Encinitas Civic Center, 505 S. Vulcan Ave.

Members of the public who wish to speak on this or any other issue should submit a speakers slip to the city clerk before the item is discussed.

Union-Tribune: www.signonsandiego.com