Voters get say in eminent domain: Desert Dispatch (Barstow CA), 7/12/06


Californians may have the opportunity this fall to right a massive wrong the Supreme Court perpetrated last year when it ruled that local governments can abuse its power of eminent domain to take private property and sell it to private developers.

The California Protect Our Homes Coalition has gathered enough signatures for the November ballot for an initiative to restrict the use of eminent domain.

Last year, the Supreme Court, in the Kelo v. New London decision, authorized governments to take private property and sell it to private developers as long as a public benefit could be shown. This serious misinterpretation of the intent of eminent domain shocked property rights advocates across the political spectrum.

The Protect Our Homes Act would restrict the use of eminent domain in California to actual public works — roads, public schools and the like. Local government would no longer be able to force a small business owner to sell his property to the city and then turn around and sell the land back to some national business chain in the hopes of getting more tax revenue.

Eminent domain may not seem like a serious issue in Barstow right now, but if you've followed the city's growth trajectory over the past couple of years, we could see problems down the line if government authority in this area isn't reined in.

A large chunk of Barstow real estate was named an Enterprise Zone by the state last year. This designation provides for tax credits and benefits for companies that locate within the zone.

While most of the attention has been bringing business into the large undeveloped areas within the zone, such as the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center in the Lenwood area, it's important to note that the zone includes much of the Main Street area in Barstow, including a number of homes and small businesses.

Under last year's Supreme Court ruling, Barstow City Council could use eminent domain to take ownership of a number of Main Street businesses and then turn around and sell the land to Circuit City to develop (just as an example), all in the name of increasing Barstow's tax revenue and allegedly serving the public good.

We don't foresee the current City Council doing something so radical, but this example wasn't developed in a vacuum. Stories like this are taking place across the state.

If a city's growth requires that personal liberties be violated by the government, we would take that as a lesson that the economy of the area wouldn't support the growth on its own. Eminent domain should only be used for public projects, not as a plum deal between city governments and big developers.

Desert Dispatch: http://www.desertdispatch.com