Many of our readers may have been following the recent Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London (Connecticut) eminent domain case. Eminent domain means using government power to acquire property for public purpose without the property owner's consent. Examples of such public purpose have traditionally included highway projects, a school, or water pipelines.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, decided taking private, non-blighted property for the purpose of economic development satisfies the "public use" requirement of the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment provides that private property may only be taken for a public use. In the City of New London case, the property owners challenged the city's condemnation of their properties under the theory that economic development of non-blighted properties violates the public use clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Over the years, many local governments have used the power of eminent domain to help economic development. In the Connecticut case, New London condemned several residential properties, including homes lived in for more than 50 years, to assemble the land for a large development project that included an upscale hotel and conference center, new residences, and retail and office space. The city stated the development would create new jobs and increase the economic base of the city.
Another famous example of economic development condemnation occurred during the 1980s in Poletown County, Mich. Detroit acquired a large portion of a neighborhood to assemble land (more than 400 acres) for a General Motors Assembly Plant.
The Kelo vs. City of New London case doesn't place any new limits on the use of eminent domain by local governments or redevelopment agencies in California. Public agencies in California may only take land for economic development purposes in blighted areas. Legislation in California doesn't grant California cities the authority to condemn property for economic development outside blighted areas.
Eminent domain is only used as a last resort in California. Public agencies usually deal directly with the property owners to ensure they are treated fairly and offered fair market value for their properties. Under all circumstances a property owner must be paid fair market value for his or her property as well as be provided relocation benefits and assistance.
The city of Fairfield has an active economic development and redevelopment program. To date, however, neither the city nor its redevelopment agency has used eminent domain to take a single-family residence. Of the city's five redevelopment project areas, only North Texas Street still has eminent domain power in effect. The North Texas Street Redevelopment Plan specifically excludes occupied single-family residences from eminent domain.
The Fairfield Redevelopment Agency is scheduled to have eminent domain authority in the North PACE area (Regional Center Project Area expansion) for decaying multi-family properties where serious blight and social problems exist. The Kelo vs. City of New London case revolved around the economic development of non-blighted properties. For Fairfield, the PACE area is not a case of economic development per se, but of solving neighborhood decay and "blight" that has resulted in serious issues of public health and safety.
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