Supervisors back eminent domain ordinance: Mt Shasta (CA) News, 8/17/05

By John Diehm

The Siskiyou County Supervisors overwhelmingly adopted the Greenhorn Grange proposed "Homeowners and Property Protection Ordinance" Tuesday of last week with a 5-0 voice vote, bringing it back for a first reading in September as is and providing letters of support for state amendments to protect property owners.

Approval was given following a session of public comment that included a visit from Assembly member Doug LaMalfa and Senator Sam Aanestad's aid, Nadine Bailey, who both spoke in support of the ordinance.

LaMalfa also had a breakfast meeting in Yreka with supporters of the protective ordinance prior to the supervisors' 10 a.m. public meeting. LaMalfa is the author of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 22, an amendment to the state constitution to limit eminent domain takings in the state.

The proposed county ordinance is in response to the United States Supreme Court Kelo v. City of New London decision that allowed the eminent domain seizure of private property for private profit.

Called "The Homeowners and Property Protection Ordinance," the proposed county ordinance is intended to restrict the eminent domain seizure of private property to public use only, require judicial review, provide just compensation for such seizure, and give the property owners or heirs the right to reclaim the property if it ever ceases as public use.

Greenhorn Grange 384 Master Leo Bergeron reviewed the proposed ordinance, saying the "public benefit" interpretation is too broad and violates the intent of the U.S. Constitution.

"This ordinance is a duplication of the state constitutional amendment," Bergeron said. "We need a county ordinance because amending the state constitution is a lengthy process and this will avoid abuse while the state constitutional amendment is in process."

Siskiyou County counsel Frank DeMarco said the New London case gave the decision to the local government of the city and tried to maintain public scrutiny. He said the intent of the decision was to say that local government has the right to set its own limits on eminent domain.

"The city had a redevelopment plan that went through the public process and the federal judges said it was valid," DeMarco said. "This ordinance is not most appropriate in Siskiyou County, but it is a step you have the right to take."

LaMalfa said the Supreme Court decision caused outrage across the country, expanding the scope of eminent domain from what the original founders of the U.S. Constitution intended.

"Thank you that Siskiyou County is taking a lead role in the state with this amendment," LaMalfa said. "We have received the endorsement of Orange County, showing the diversity of thought behind this effort."

Talking about the mechanics of getting ACA 22 passed, LaMalfa said it requires a two-thirds vote of both houses to place an initiative on the ballot for a voter simple majority approval.

"We hope for the November special election ballot but it is a long shot," LaMalfa said. "We have a four day window from August 14 to 19 to get that approval. It is more likely we will see it on the June 2006 ballot."

LaMalfa said the amendment is needed because the state has already seen some abuses in eminent domain seizures.

"We are seeing many examples of abuse of this where developers are using the public benefit excuse to seize property," LaMalfa said. "In the city of Cypress a church was under the gun so a large box retailer could come in and generate more sales tax dollars. The lesson is, we need to have a willing seller in the process."

Nadine Bailey, on behalf of Senator Aanestad, thanked the county for supporting private property rights. "If we allow this to stand unchecked, every property owner is at risk of government's power," she said.

The proposed county ordinance received bipartisan support with numerous speakers, including Eric Ziller, president of the Democratic Central committee.

Voicing Democratic support for the ordinance, Ziller said eminent domain abuse actually started in 1964 with the giving of permission for its use to eliminate "blight" in cities.

"This shift will always benefit the wealthy," Ziller said. "But the court is unwilling to violate local control so it is important to exercise it."

Jim McDaniel of Mount Shasta, a deputy for the California State Grange, said he never saw an issue that united everyone like this one.

"We are urging all local granges to have an ordinance such as this one," McDaniel said. "This goes way beyond politics; this unites us all."

Supervisor Bill Overman said he once lived in New London and feels this is an abuse of power.

"I see a steady erosion of private property rights," Overman said. "It is time we say this is enough folks. Although it is not what we ordinarily do, these are unusual circumstances. Today we are all on the same page and I endorse it."

Supervisor Marcia Armstrong said government is a delegation of authority from the people, and she strongly favors putting this into law.

Supervisor Bill Hoy said the issue is old news to him.

"In 1972 a government agency person sat in my parents' living room saying we are crazy to think we own the ranch, that the government actually owns it and we pay rent in property tax," Hoy said. "I agree that eminent domain is out of line in some cases, but we must not lose sight of the fact that when used properly with consideration it can benefit the landowner and general public."

Supervisor Jim Cook said he worked at a development group that once considered eminent domain.

Mt Shasta News: www.mtshastanews.com