Better notice on eminent domain: Centralia WA Chronicle, 12/27/06


Private-property owners absolutely should be given direct, personal notice by government entities about to take their property through the eminent domain procedure.

Notification by simply putting it on a Web site or through some other indirect method leaves it to chance whether an affected property owner will be informed in advance.

Yet the [Washington] state Supreme Court has ruled that Sound Transit in the Puget Sound area could use its agency Web site to satisfy the notice requirement on eminent domain. Under existing state law, the court apparently had no other choice in its ruling.

Accordingly, we welcome the bipartisan push by state Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, and Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, for legislation to require local governments to give direct notice to affected property owners when an eminent domain decision is approaching. Eminent domain is allowed by our U.S. Constitution for condemnation of private property for the greater good of a public project, such as a highway or school.

But a majority of local governments are relying on Web sites for eminent domain notice, as the court is allowing Sound Transit to do, or on notification simply in published general meeting agendas. That's not adequate notification, McKenna said.

Average persons don't scan government Web sites to determine if their property is threatened by an eminent domain taking and they shouldn't be expected to do that.

The McKenna-Gregoire legislation would require a certified letter be sent to the affected party when a governing body is about to take property. The government entity would also be required to publish in the largest area newspaper notification of the meeting to decide on the eminent domain.

McKenna promised when he ran for attorney general in 2004 that he would be a strong advocate for open government on behalf of the people. He has kept that promise not only with this proposed legislation, but also in other ways. That includes, recently, another bipartisan effort with Gregoire to push for legislation to create a "Sunshine Committee" to promote better disclosure of public records. Exemptions to disclosure approved by the Legislature have unreasonably made it increasingly more difficult for the public to obtain information on government activities.

Access to public records is hugely important to newspapers such as ours in their role as watchdog for the public.

We hope that Gregoire will use her bully pulpit as governor to influence her Democratic colleagues who control the Legislature to pass these important legislative proposals.

Centralia WA Chronicle: http://www.chronline.com