Supervisors agree to clarify policy on eminent domain: San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, 11/10/05

By Leslie Wolf Branscomb

Because of the recent nationwide outcry over the prospect of homes being seized by the government, the Board of Supervisors decided it was time to review the county's policy on eminent domain.

The review found San Diego County already gives private property owners strong protection against the abuse of eminent domain.

However, the supervisors agreed that some of the county's policies could be changed to further strengthen them.

The supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to clarify the county's policy to specifically protect nonblighted, owner-occupied residential structures from being taken and given to another private property owner for economic gain.

"Eminent domain has been very much in the news lately," said Supervisor Ron Roberts, referring to a Connecticut case in which homes were condemned to make way for commercial development, and a more recent San Diego case in which houses might have been taken for other housing.

"It's true that unchecked government may abuse its powers," Roberts said, adding that's why he and Supervisor Bill Horn initiated the review of the county's policy in July.

"The county's policy already strongly favors property rights," Roberts said. "Eminent domain is not a power that this board takes lightly, because we place a high value on property rights."

Horn said: "It makes sense to use eminent domain when it comes to roads and public facilities. But it doesn't make sense to use it to take private property and give it to another.

"I would just like the public to know that we're taking a strong stand on protecting private property," Horn added.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June affirmed the powers of the city of New London, Conn., to take property for economic development.

The ruling caused a backlash at the federal and state levels.

Last week, the [US] House of Representatives approved a bill that would withhold federal money from state and local governments that used eminent domain to force businesses and homeowners to give up their property for commercial use.

The state Senate has introduced legislation to impose a two-year moratorium on taking homes for private projects, giving the state time to study whether to impose new limits on eminent domain.

San Diego Union-Tribune: www.signonsandiego.com