A moratorium on eminent domain is needed, not an overhaul: Hollister (CA) Free Lance, 9/3/05

By Simon Salinas

It is a compelling image: bulldozers smashing the white picket fence surrounding grandma’s cottage, leveling her home for a new auto mall. All for the sake of the almighty buck, a city’s redevelopment agency destroys the sanctity of your home. Compelling, but an overstatement of what happens in California.

But what about graffiti-covered buildings, boarded-up windows and crack houses owned by absentee slumlords?

Those conditions are a blight both to the physical and economic health of a community. This is the real story of redevelopment in most California communities.

Redevelopment is a positive tool in those cases, not only improving neighborhoods, but also building clean, safe and affordable homes and apartments for local residents.

Much has been made of the recent United States Supreme Court decision that let a Connecticut town take peoples’ homes (after paying them full market value and moving expenses) in the name of economic development. In essence, the decision confirmed earlier rulings that defer to the states on the issue of the police power of local governments.

The California Legislature must be very cautious about changing our private property rights. Legislators should also not act rashly to cut local governments’ power to fix problems with run-down properties that create nuisances and serious public safety hazards.

This issue is not as simple as it seems. If we alter the State Constitution, as some suggest, there will be serious unintended consequences.

One recently-introduced proposal would stop state and local government from using their constitutional powers to correct problems on properties that become public nuisances. We urge caution before reducing the power of government to act in the public interest.

To this end, and recognizing Californian’s concern about the Connecticut decision, Senator Christine Kehoe, Assembly Member Gene Mullin, and I will be introducing legislation that puts a two-year moratorium on any eminent domain actions for private use against owner-occupied homes in California.

This “cooling-off” period allows state legislators to study existing state law and make appropriate adjustments.

American courts have long held that state governments can write their own rules and limitations on eminent domain through the political process. California’s state laws require that there be both physical and economic blight before the use of eminent domain can even be considered for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of rundown areas. A long process that protects homeowners’ rights must be initiated before any condemnation begins.

For more than 50 years, California cities and residents have benefited from revitalization efforts financed by redevelopment.

Let us not lose sight of all the positive accomplishments that have been achieved under that authority.

Thousands of new and affordable residences in California have been created through the mechanism of redevelopment.

Let us work rationally to see where abuses may be occurring and seek to address real and specific problems.

Let us not “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Hollister Free Lance: www.freelancenews.com

Assemblyman Simon Salinas, D-Salinas, represents California’s 28th Assembly District, which includes San Benito county