City puts limits on use of eminent domain: Simi Valley (CA) Acorn, 5/19/06

By Michelle Knight

The city of Simi Valley will not take homes and hand them over to developers.

The city council approved a resolution last week that prohibits Simi Valley from using eminent domain against residential property owners, except when widening streets and providing public facilities and infrastructure.

A public agency must pay the owner a just price for the property when using eminent domain.

"I want to thank Glen (Becerra) for pushing that issue," Mayor Paul Miller said. "I think it puts people at ease."

Earlier this year, Councilmember Becerra asked that the city establish a clear policy that protected homeowners' rights. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Connecticut case that local governments could take property through eminent domain and hand it over to developers for the purpose of economic development.

The ruling sent chills down the backs of homeowners and some legislators. Several states and cities responded by limiting their use of the policy. California has yet to pass any significant legislation to modify its use of eminent domain.

Simi Valley has exercised its power on rare occasions but never to acquire residential property that resulted in a home being demolished or left unlivable.

Brian Gabler, the city's economic development director, said the last time the city seized property was in 2003 after negotiating with the owner of a "blighted" parcel at Tapo and Eileen streets for more than two years.

Redevelopment plans for the old Sears and Pic N Save property include building townhomes, senior apartments and office and retail space.

The city also acquired industrial property through eminent domain for the construction of the Madera Road and 118 Freeway interchange and residential land for the widening of Alamo and Cochran streets through eminent domain.

The policy, which goes into effect immediately, doesn't affect the city's right to use eminent domain in acquiring commercial and industrial property, however, and in acquiring residential parcels for street widening projects.

The Acorn: http://www.simivalleyacorn.com