Sugar Creek tells homeowners it wants their land for new development: Kansas City MO Star, 7/7/07

By Megan Rolland

Charles and Cindy Webber have lived in the same house in Sugar Creek for 51 years, raising four boys and sticking through hard times in the town of 3,800 people.

This spring, the Webbers received a letter informing them that the city wanted to purchase their home at 515 Harris Ave. and sell the land for a 40-acre retail and housing project, Sugarland Center. If the project is approved, the developer will obtain 57 houses and 15 commercial buildings.

“They’ve known about this for 10 years, and we get a couple months of notification before they take our homes,” Cindy Webber said, expressing frustration over losing her house — as well as the $30,000 in home improvements made in the past three years.

Although the retired couple have fears of the unknown — primarily how much the city will pay for their house and where they will move — the Webbers agree that if it is for the public good, they will leave.

And that is where the Sugar Creek couple run smack into a continuing national debate, touched off in 2005 by a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the use of eminent domain for private developments that could provide greater economic benefits to a city. The opinion in Kelo v. City of New London explicitly leaves the regulation of such takings to individual states.

Within a year of the Kelo decision, 34 states — including Missouri and Kansas — had responded by passing legislation or ballot measures that in some way regulated eminent domain laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

This past year, five more states passed bills regulating the use of eminent domain, but the strength and scope of the reforms vary.

Many states included an exception to their statutes that allowed cities to turn private property over to a private entity if the property is considered blighted.

Missouri and Kansas included a “blight loophole,” but with key differences — and those differences in Missouri, critics say, open the way for cities to abuse the eminent domain process.

Kansas’ statute, which took effect last Sunday, requires blight determinations to be made on a property-by-property basis, and defines blight as “unsafe for occupation by humans.” Missouri’s exception allows for an entire neighborhood to be declared blighted if a “preponderance” of properties meets the definition.

A property is blighted in Missouri if by “age, obsolescence, inadequate or outmoded design, or physical deterioration have become economic and social liabilities, and that such conditions are conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, crime or inability to pay reasonable taxes.”

Which is why the Webbers and others are scratching their heads over the blight designations for homes that they think have been well kept.

States have tried to close the loophole by narrowing the definition of blight in two ways: by eliminating blight declarations by area or neighborhood and forcing cities to consider each property individually, or by redefining blight to mean an actual danger to the health or safety of people, said Larry Morandi, state policy research director for the National Conference of State Legislators.

For Mayor Stan Salva of Sugar Creek, the definition is clear: Sugarland would increase tax revenue and reinvigorate an ailing city. To him, it’s a clear-cut public use.

Homeowner Eleanor Miller, though, sees the plan as an infringement on her rights.

“There’s not a word to describe how you feel that they can take your home away from you,” said Miller, 70, who has owned her house in Sugar Creek for 48 years. She and a few other residents have said they wouldn’t sell their homes at any price — a stance that may trigger the city’s use of eminent domain.

Sugarland Center developer Jeff Peterson said he is confident that the city won’t need to resort to such a drastic step.

“I think we’re going to be able to work things out with these people,” he said, citing his previous experiences with reluctant homeowners.

Even if a city hasn’t filed any condemnations, the threat of eminent domain by itself is sometimes enough to force people out of their homes, said Jenifer Zeigler, an attorney for the Castle Coalition, a nonprofit organization that lobbies against the use of eminent domain for private development.

Such seizures, Zeigler said, violate Fifth Amendment property rights by misinterpreting the Constitution’s takings clause.

The institute worked, unsuccessfully, for a more explicit definition of blight under Missouri’s new law. With Missouri’s new standards, “the definition of blight has been so poorly written that almost any neighborhood qualifies,” she said.

Rep. Steve Hobbs, a Mexico, Mo., Republican, sponsored the eminent domain bill and said there was lengthy discussion about the blight inclusion. The law was deliberately written so that local communities could interpret blight at their own discretion, he said.

“Cities are very reluctant to use a broad definition of blight when dealing with economic issues,” Hobbs said, adding he thinks the law is working well.

Many residents in the Sugarland redevelopment area were surprised that their houses were defined as blighted in a study approved in April by Sugar Creek’s Tax Increment Financing Commission. The study was conducted to make the Sugarland project eligible for an estimated $13 million in TIF bond money, but could also apply to eminent domain proceedings.

The Webbers said their house was considered blighted because of a large pothole next to their driveway, where their son parks his truck.

“We tried to get the city to even it out,” Charles Webber said. “I blame Sugar Creek for it just as much as anyone.”

The blight study included images of junk and debris piles in the area, as well as photos of poor road conditions, cracked sidewalks, overgrown weeds and a clogged drainage ditch. It categorized 12 of the 57 residential units as sound, 23 as having minor deficiencies, 21 as deteriorating and one house as dilapidated. Of the 15 commercial structures, three were sound, eight had minor deficiencies and four were deteriorating. None was classified as dilapidated.

“This really, truly is blight in an area that is underutilized and underdeveloped,” Peterson said.

Without tax increment financing and eminent domain, he said, many areas would never be redeveloped and cities would miss out on opportunities to grow and improve.

Residents in the area of the Sugarland proposal are still waiting for appraisals conducted by realty professionals selected by the city.

The Sugar Creek Board of Aldermen is expected to vote on the Sugarland proposal this month. It calls for purchase of the land in August, demolition and site preparation through 2008 and the opening of the first retail store — an Associated Wholesale Grocers store — in April 2009.

“I think it’s really going to improve Sugar Creek,” Charles Webber said of the $42.3 million project. “I think it’d be foolish to fight it.”

Kansas City MO Star: http://www.kansascity.com

Judge hears city’s case for land access: West Central Tribune, Willmar MN, 7/7/07

By David Little

Attorneys argued Friday about such topics as eminent domain, legislative intent and the order in which certain procedures must be done during a hearing about the city of Willmar’s access to private land.

The city is requesting court approval for access to private land to establish the route for the new wastewater treatment plant’s interceptor sewer line and for Jennie-O Turkey Store force mains.

A portion of the proposed route crosses private land between County Road 5 and County Road 116 where landowners have denied access to perform preliminary soil studies.

The landowners prefer a route that avoids their property. They want the route to follow County Road 5 north to Highway 40, then west to County Road 116, and then south to the site of the new treatment plant.

Treatment plant consultants Donohue and Associates estimate the route preferred by the landowners would add about $7.75 million to the plant’s $70 million estimated cost.

The city of Willmar is seeking court approval for access to the private land for preliminary sewer work. The landowners are asking the court to deny the city access.

Attorneys for both presented their arguments during a 45-minute hearing Friday afternoon before Judge Michael J. Thompson in Kandiyohi County District Court. Thompson said he’ll take the case under advisement and rule as quickly as possible.

Representing Willmar were Robert Lindall and John LeFevre of Minneapolis. Lindall said the city wishes to have its appraisers inspect the properties for appraisal purposes, to survey the properties, to begin activities to delineate wetlands, and to conduct soil boring activities.

The city said it needs the court order to allow appraisal of the property interests. Although the city could first begin eminent domain proceedings before seeking the court order to enter the properties, state law requires a condemning authority to obtain an appraisal and make offers of compensation to landowners before eminent domain proceedings are filed, according to Lindall.

The city has been unable to finally determine the property interests to be acquired and complete the appraisal because access to the properties has been denied, said Lindall.

Further delays in gaining access may cause project costs to increase and may cause the city to breach its obligations to provide adequate wastewater treatment and disposal, he said.

The landowners, represented by William Smoley and Igor Lenzner of St. Cloud, asked the court to deny the city the right to enter their properties. The landowners said state law does not apply because the city has not yet filed eminent domain proceedings.

Smoley said a subdivision of state law does allow certain environmental testing before eminent domain proceeds. If the Legislature intended that subdivision to allow for surveys and examination before eminent proceedings, the city would have used that language but did not, said Smoley.

He said his clients have legitimate reasons to keep the city off their property, such as concerns about the spread of crop diseases and “inevitable’’ intermingling of sterile soil with top soil.

Smoley said farm fields are crisscrossed with drainage tile, some of which are uncharted. Damage to any line, but especially uncharted lines, will cause devastating harm, he said.

Lindall cited state law that would allow the city to enter private land to make surveys while doing no unnecessary damage. The city said if the Legislature wanted to restrict such entries, it would have stated that entries would be allowed after eminent domain proceedings are filed, he said.

In response to a question from the judge, Smoley said the city could enter the properties to perform surveys and exams if the city first files a petition for eminent domain.

Smoley said if the city files a petition for eminent domain, the landowners will have the right to challenge the sewer line route on the basis of purpose and necessity.

“Then we will have a venue to argue the damage and harm they have caused,’’ Smoley said.

Lindall asked the judge to quickly deny the city’s motion, if the judge was so inclined, so that the city could file a petition to begin eminent domain proceedings.

West Central Tribune, Willmar MN: http://www.wctrib.com

Railroad says it'll negotiate: Caspar WY Star-Tribune, 7/7/07

By Dustin Bleizeffer

Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern [DM&E] Railroad President Kevin Schieffer on Friday denied allegations that his company intentionally filed condemnation proceedings just days before new state laws took effect regarding eminent domain.

"The timing of filing is based on what we told landowners a year ago - that we were down to the wire on having to do this," Schieffer said. "These negotiations were going on long before the law was changed."

DM&E wants to build 278 miles of new rail line into northeast Wyoming to access the Powder River Basin coal mining district. Currently, the mines are served by two rail companies.

DM&E was denied a $2.3 billion government loan this year. Though the DM&E expansion has received permitting, the project still does not have financing.

DM&E filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne on June 28 against about 19 Wyoming landowners seeking condemnation of some 1,200 linear acres. Changes to Wyoming's eminent domain laws went into effect July 1.

Statutory changes include giving property owners the right to sue for legal costs if the court determines that a project doesn't meet the state's test for eminent domain.

"By filing on the 28th, DM&E isn't responsible for that. That creates a huge burden for those Wyoming families," said Laurie Goodman, president of the Landowners Association of Wyoming.

The association lobbied for eminent domain reform last year and got only some of what it asked for in the 2007 legislative session. Goodman said the changes represented a political compromise to carefully balance private property rights and the ability to allow business to move forward.

"We made compromises to pass (reform) as overwhelming as they did, to allow legitimate business projects move ahead in Wyoming and protect property rights in Wyoming," Goodman said. "DM&E, by filing two days in advance, totally ignores that political process."

Gillette attorney Tad Daly, who represents about 15 of the landowners, said he and his clients didn't receive detailed proposals until April, and they needed time to digest the offers. Both parties agree that a meeting was tentatively set in the latter part of June, but Daly had to cancel due to a jury trial and tried to reschedule. Still, Daly said it was unfortunate that DM&E filed suit before July 1.

"Clearly, and they articulated this, the reason they sued (before July 1) is so they could proceed under old condemnation statutes," Daly told the Star-Tribune on Thursday.

In a June 22 letter to Daly Law Associates, Elizabeth Hollmann of DM&E wrote that, "given legal uncertainties about the change in the law they were forced to file a condemnation action immediately."

On Friday, Schieffer stressed that DM&E has never turned down a meeting with any landowner or stakeholder in the project. But, he said, attempts to schedule a meeting with DM&E representatives just days before the July 1 changes could have been a delay tactic by landowners opposed to the railroad.

Schieffer said the timing of the filing had more to do with plans to begin construction this year.

"We're playing by the same rules that existed when we started this process," Schieffer said. "We wanted to start construction this year. We would still like to be able to do that."

Despite filing suit against the landowners, Schieffer said DM&E remains open to negotiating with them.

"Just because a paper is filed doesn't mean we can't get it worked out tomorrow and drop the claim," Schieffer said. "I hope that's what happens with a good number of these."

Daly said he considers that a disingenuous offer.

"It puts the landowner at a tremendous disadvantage to try to negotiate after they've been sued," Daly said.

Goodman said she believes that because DM&E does not have financing, it will not meet the state's test for invoking eminent domain. DM&E and its opponents have long debated whether there is a national need for a third rail line and third rail company to serve the Powder River Basin coal market.

Much of the legal argument is sure to deal with Wyoming's test of whether a project would result in the greatest public benefit at the least private injury, which is intended to prevent abuse of eminent domain powers.

That's what concerns Goodman and other skeptics of the DM&E rail expansion. By condemning property in Wyoming, DM&E could actually gain its only asset here, which the company could then sell off.

"Eminent domain should not be used just to build an asset base to make money on," Goodman said.

Schieffer said he struggles with that logic. Despite being denied a $2.3 billion loan, DM&E has maintained that its Powder River Basin expansion project is very much alive. In June, DM&E did decline to confirm or deny a report that it was taking bids for the $6 billion project from outside investors, including other railroads.

On Friday, Schieffer said regardless of how the project is financed, he believes it will move forward.

"We have acquired rights of way independently of this on a voluntary basis," Schieffer said. "We are dealing with a minority group here that has made it clear they are going to do everything they can to delay the project."

In fact, several Wyoming landowners have reached satisfactory agreements with DM&E.

Weston County rancher Tom Bruce said he doesn't like the idea of a railroad splitting his property in two. He had numerous concerns about DM&E's original plans for his property, but he worked them out with Schieffer and other DM&E representatives.

"I did come up with an agreement that I was happy with, and they were happy with, and I signed that agreement about 10 years ago," Bruce said. "I don't like the idea of a railroad splitting my property in two, but you can't stop progress. If there is a need to get this coal back to where Kevin has got buyers, if there's a real energy need to get it there, who am I to stand in the way of progress?"

Caspar WY Star-Tribune: http://www.casperstartribune.net

Saddleback Hills Roadblock: MyMotherLode.com, Sonora CA, 7/6/07

By Bill Johnson

That proposed 130 home Saddleback Hills subdivision in San Andreas ran into a stumbling block Thursday.

According to the Stockton Record neither the country or the project developers believe they have the right to secure the public right of way for the road the developer must build to connect Calaveritas Rd. with Hwy 49.

The property owners are Robert and Debbie Newlon and they have retained the services of an attorney to block any effort on the part of the county and the developer to claim a right of public access.

Saddleback Hills engineer and surveyor Roger Pitto reached an agreement with the county that eminent domain would allow the county to take control of the land, but Community Development Agency Director Stepahnie Moreno says she will not recommend approval of the project if eminent domain is utilized because the Board of Supervisors must o.k. such a deal and historically the Board has opposed taking such action.

MyMotherLode.com, Sonora CA: http://www.mymotherlode.com

Railroad seeks land condemnation: Jackson Hole WY Star-Tribune, 7/6/07

By Dustin Bleizeffer

The Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern [DM&E] Railroad has filed lawsuits against several landowners in northeast Wyoming seeking condemnation of some 1,200 linear acres.

It is the first time DM&E has taken eminent domain action in Wyoming for its proposed rail expansion into the state. The company wants to build 278 miles of new rail line into Wyoming to access the Powder River Basin coal mining district, which currently is served by two rail companies.

According to filings in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne last week, DM&E wants to use eminent domain power to gain "permanent easements/rights-of-way across the property to allow them to locate, construct, operate, repair, and maintain the railroad."

"Public interest and necessity require this project," DM&E stated in court filings. "The project creates additional capacity to transport one of Wyoming's key natural resources, coal, to market."

DM&E wants to take land from some 19 landowners in Converse, Weston, Campbell and Niobrara counties for its proposed railroad expansion, which has been approved by the federal Surface Transportation Board.

DM&E declined to comment this week. DM&E's attorneys with the firm of Holland & Hart didn't return calls for comment.

Under Wyoming's current set of eminent domain laws, a private company, municipality, railroad, utility or telecommunications company can take private property - and not just for major power lines, roads and other things that can be construed as a benefit to the general public.

Jackson Hole WY Star-Tribune: http://www.jacksonholestartrib.com

Eminent domain authority opposed: San Diego CA Union-Tribune, 7/5/07

Law institute wants to prevent extension

By Tanya Sierra

National City officials, battling to extend their eminent domain authority, are facing a new foe – the law firm that represented Connecticut homeowners in a case that landed in the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago.

Lawyers from the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit civil liberties law firm based in Washington, D.C., have filed with the city clerk a 34-page letter opposing the city's plan to extend its authority six to 12 years. The current authority to declare eminent domain expires in August.

Eminent domain allows government to take so-called blighted private land to make way for new development. Landowners are paid market rate for the properties.

The institute's letter outlines 14 objections to National City's plan and is supplemented with its own voluminous research of the city's redevelopment area. The group filed the letter June 19, the same day the city held a public hearing to discuss extending its eminent domain authority. The council will vote on the extension this month.

The institute is fighting the city on behalf of the Community Youth Athletic Center, whose building sits in the path of a proposed condominium project. The center is a longtime community fixture, known for transforming troubled youths into skilled boxers and good students.

The building on National City Boulevard is in a redevelopment zone. City officials say the building's owners knew about the redevelopment zone when they moved in and that it should have come as no surprise when a developer stepped forward two years ago with a proposal.

Carlos Barragan Jr., who founded the club with his father, said they didn't know the building was in a redevelopment zone.

“I was just looking for a place,” Barragan said.

City officials say they don't want to shut down the youth center and have been trying to find the group a new home.

The developer who wants the property, Jim Beauchamp, would not talk about his 24-story condo project for this story.

Institute for Justice lawyers said they are representing the youth center because the case epitomizes how government caters to rich developers.

“What is happening in National City is one of the worst cases of eminent domain abuse in the country,” said Dana Berliner, a Washington-based attorney who represented homeowners in the Kelo vs. New London, Conn., eminent domain dispute.

In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that governments could force private property owners to sell their land to spur economic development.

An auto-shop owner, whose business is being condemned under National City's eminent domain, told the Institute for Justice about the youth center's fight.

“California is one of the states that has been using eminent domain very aggressively for private development,” Berliner said. “We think it's ripe for the California Supreme Court. The last time they even looked at an eminent domain case for private development was in the 1970s.”

The use of eminent domain has angered property owners around the country, prompting ballot initiatives and protests aimed at curtailing the power.

California voters last year defeated Proposition 90, which would have stopped government from taking private land for commercial ventures. Proposition opponents said it would have resulted in huge payouts to landowners who would claim their property's value was being threatened by eminent domain. They also said it would have hampered government's ability to protect the environment.

In San Diego, a Gaslamp Quarter cigar shop was condemned three years ago to make way for a hotel. Excavation for the hotel has not begun, and the land where the Gran Havana cigar shop stood is now used as a parking lot.

The hotel developer has asked for more time to finish the project, which was supposed to be built by September 2008. The cigar shop is gone, but the owner's appeal of the eminent domain action still is pending in court.

In National City, officials used eminent domain to improve part of National City Boulevard, which once was referred to as the “Mile of Bars.” The city cleared out prostitutes, dilapidated buildings and X-rated theaters and replaced them with an education village.

“These groups go around and throw out all this rhetoric all over the place,” Mayor Ron Morrison said. “This group is coming all the way from Arlington, Virginia, to throw hand grenades and then go home and write it up in their national newsletter.

“Show the example of abuse, don't just use the term abuse.”

Berliner, the Institute for Justice lawyer, said the method the city uses to designate an area blighted is a “sham.”

The city hired a consultant to analyze the city's redevelopment area and describe blighted conditions. The report does not list addresses but includes photos of rusting metal roofs, damaged exteriors and broken windows.

It was released June 14.

“The blight study is ridiculous,” Berliner said. “It doesn't list any properties. The idea that they think they could come out with that three business days before the hearing is absolutely astonishing.”

Morrison said the city was merely petitioning to retain its authority and not expand it to other areas, so there was no need to rush the consultant's report to the public. In fact, he said, officials strengthened the language to make it clear that residential property was not subject to condemnation.

“They should be standing up and applauding us,” Morrison said. “Their mantra is they're against eminent domain no matter how much sense it makes.”

Berliner said that if the city renews its authority, which it is expected to do, the institute might sue.

“What we're hoping we can do for the (Community Youth Athletic Center) is enable them to stay in their building,” Berliner said.

San Diego CA Union-Tribune: http://www.signonsandiego.com

Shedding Blight - Condemning Condemnation: Brooklyn NY Downtown Star, 7/5/07

By Shane Miller

Several groups fighting the use of eminent domain joined together for a rally on the steps of City Hall last week, charging that the seizure of private land in New York City is no longer an extraordinary step to further public projects, but rather a matter of public policy meant to further large private development.

The rally was organized primarily by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), which is fighting the use of eminent domain in the Forest City Ratner arena project in Prospect Heights. It also brought together residents facing the loss of their homes in Harlem due to a planned expansion of Columbia University, as well as entrepreneurs from Willets Point in Queens, who are facing a similar fate with regard to their businesses. The rally officially marked the debut of the citywide coalition New Yorkers Against Eminent Domain Abuse.

"The mayor is fond of saying, 'we can't let one guy stand in the way of development,'" said Dan Goldstein of DDDB, whose home is in the proposed arena's footprint. "Well, we're not one guy."

Goldstein argued that the city is increasingly using eminent domain to advance large, for-profit private developments.

"The city should only use eminent domain as a last resort," he said. "Continually, however, it is their first resort when assembling land for well-connected developers."

He added that whether or not the city actually uses eminent domain to seize land, it was using the possibility of that process to scare landowners.

"The possibility that their land could be seized compels property owners to sell," he said.

Simeon Bankhoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, agreed. "It isn't just the use of eminent domain," he said. "It is the threat of eminent domain hanging over us like some mythical beast waiting to swoop in."

At the heart of the issue is the definition of "blight," a subjective term that has become the primary justification for the use of eminent domain.

"What's the definition of blight?" deadpanned Goldstein. "Yours."

Neighborhoods where the seizure of private property through eminent domain is being considered have all been declared blighted, or in a state of extreme disrepair and an economic drain on the city coffers. Despite Brooklyn's booming real estate resurgence, the area around the proposed arena has been declared blighted, as has Willets Point in Queens, where the term blight has been most readily applied.

"For 30 years we have been telling the city how valuable Willets Point is," said Dan Scully of the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association. "For 30 years they have ignored us, because they have always had a better plan.

Willets Point, or the Iron Triangle as it is sometimes informally known, is a gritty 40-plus acre tract of land that sits just across the street from where a new stadium is rising for the New York Mets. It is home to over 200 businesses - most of which are related to the auto repair industry, but not all - and one resident.

The city hopes to transform Willets Point into a mixed-use community, complete with housing, office and retail space, and a convention center. It will be a tall order considering the area is in a state of environmental disrepair, in part because of the industry it houses, but primarily because the city has failed to pave streets and install basic sewer infrastructure in Willets Point.

"We're not blighted, we are neglected by the city," Scully told last week's rally. "If we're blighted, it's because that has been the city's plan for 30 years."

Councilman Tony Avella, who represents the district just east and north of Willets Point, said that it was the business owners who, despite paying taxes, have paid out-of-pocket for the necessary improvements to keep the area in a state that is minimally viable for business, a job he says should have been done by the city.

"Now we are telling them, 'sell us your land or we are going to give you a swift kick in the butt,'" said Avella.

The councilman who actually represents Willets Point said last week that he has told the Bloomberg administration that any development in the area must proceed without the use of eminent domain, which he said was "off the table."

"Nobody's property should be taken away to create corporate wealth for other," said Councilman Hiram Monserrate.

In the case of Downtown Brooklyn, blight has been much harder to prove. The area's councilwoman, Letitia James, charged last week that it was Forest City Ratner's purchase of several properties in the area and subsequent neglect thereof, that is the only reason a case could be made to declare the area blighted.

"FCR has created blight in Downtown Brooklyn, and they should not be rewarded," said James. "We are stealing property to give to rich developers who have friends in high places."

The Atlantic Yards arena project isn't the only place in Brooklyn where the city is employing eminent domain. A row of houses on Duffield Street will also be seized as part of a comprehensive economic development plan for Downtown Brooklyn. In addition to the controversy surrounding seizing private property, the homes' owners believe there is strong evidence that the houses were an integral part of the Underground Railroad, and at one time hid escaped slaves.

"They want to bulldoze our homes to make way for an underground parking lot - like we don't have enough of those," said Joy Chatel, a Duffield Street resident, before issuing a warning to homeowners throughout the city. "Buy your house and live in it at your own risk."

The rally took place just after a significant anniversary. The Saturday prior marked two years to the day that the Supreme Court ruled on the Kelo v. New London case, which set a legal precedent for the seizure of private property for the possibility of increased tax revenue and jobs.

"That decision was so reviled by Americans that 38 states have since passed some sort of legislation targeting eminent domain reform," said Lumi Rolley, who runs NoLandGrab.org, a website that follows developments surrounding the Atlantic Yards fight and other examples of eminent domain throughout the city.

Three bills have been introduced at the state level that would limit and restrict the use of eminent domain in New York State, but they have floundered. A 2003 study conducted by the Institute of Justice declared the state one of the top abusers of eminent domain.

Brooklyn NY Downtown Star: http://www.brooklyndowntownstar.com

Newhall Fears Eminent Domain: Santa Clarita CA Signal, 7/5/07

By Reina V. Slutske

The concept of eminent domain is a scary one - especially to businesses and residents near public projects.

Eminent domain is the practice of a government taking a private property, whether business or residential, for public use.

Public projects such as roads and schools sometimes require the use of eminent domain in order to be built, said A.J. Hazarabedian, managing partner of the California Eminent Domain Law Group.

When it comes to redevelopment - like what is planned in downtown Newhall - eminent domain can get a little trickier.

"When it comes to redeveloping, it takes private property and turns it over to a public development," Hazarabedian said.

The Santa Clarita Redevelopment Agency, which handles all potential redevelopment, was granted the power of eminent domain in November 1989, said Christopher Price, assistant city engineer in community development.

However, although Price said that eminent domain has so far not been used by the city, it could be if negotiations for a property fails.

In response to Newhall property owners' fears and concerns about their property being seized to make way for a revitalized community, city officials have repeatedly said eminent domain would be a last-resort option.

The question of redevelopment, however, is also tied to the question of blight in a community.

Hazarabedian said that this type of eminent domain has been around for the past 50 years, but the term "blight" can be very general.

If a redevelopment project's purpose is to eliminate blight and all the laws are in place, it is possibly legal for a city to do so.

He added that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision regarding redevelopment and eminent domain through the case of Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., decided that transferring land from one private owner to another for economic development was a valid reason for redevelopment.

There was public outcry regarding that case, and many states including California, have been trying to pass laws governing eminent domain.

Eminent domain by a government is usually difficult for an owner to challenge.

"If the redevelopment agency has done it right, it might be difficult to challenge their use of eminent domain," he said.

However, in order for a city to perform eminent domain, the city is required to compensate the business at a minimum.

The business can challenge the city regarding how much compensation they earn during their relocation.

Price said the city would help businesses with relocation and advertising when moving from one area to another.

In addition to compensating for property value, the tenants could also get financial assistance from the city of Santa Clarita for "loss of good will."

Santa Clarita CA Signal: http://www.the-signal.com

Eminent domain battle resurfaces in Assembly : San Diego CA Times-Union, 7/1/07

By Steve Lawrence, Associated Press

The debate over how much to restrict government's use of its eminent domain powers to obtain private property for shopping malls and other developments resumes this week in the [California] state Assembly.

The Judiciary Committee will consider rival constitutional amendments on Tuesday, one by Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate, and the other by Assemblywoman Mimi Walters, R-Mission Viejo.

The Walters legislation would, with a couple of exceptions, allow government agencies to use eminent domain to buy private property only for public projects. The exemptions cover property for use by utilities and for redevelopment projects to promote economic development near closed military bases in San Bernardino County.

De La Torre's proposal would ban use of eminent domain proceedings to acquire owner-occupied homes for private developments.

It also would prohibit using eminent domain to transfer property owned by small businesses – those with no more than 25 full-time employees – to other private owners unless it was part of a comprehensive program to eliminate blight.

Small business owners could avoid selling their property through eminent domain proceedings by agreeing to make improvements as part of the blight-elimination project. Or they could receive compensation to cover a move to a different location.

Both measures are a response to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the right of the city New London, Conn., to use its eminent domain powers to force the sale of homes for a redevelopment project.

But the ruling also allowed several states to pass laws limiting eminent domain for nonpublic uses.

The De La Torre amendment is supported by a number of groups that opposed Proposition 90, an unsuccessful 2006 California ballot measure that attempted to impose broad limits on the use of eminent domain.

Those Proposition 90 opponents describe the De La Torre legislation as a “carefully crafted compromise.”

“We didn't try to reinvent the wheel,” De La Torre said. “We're trying to keep this as simple as possible to address the issue at hand and not bring in extraneous issues.

“This is tailored to the main concern of people, which is protection of their owner-occupied homes and extending some protections to small business, as well.”

But opponents complain the De La Torre legislation would not protect farms, churches, rental housing, second homes, investment property and businesses with more than 25 employees, although De La Torre said he is trying draft language to protect churches.

The critics also contend that the protections De La Torre's legislation would provide small businesses would be undercut by a vague definition of blight.

“There are so many loopholes and exceptions. At the end of the day, it provides meaningless reform,” said Marko Mlikotin, president of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, which is trying to put an initiative similar to Walters' legislation on the June 2008 ballot.

Walters could not be reached for comment.

San Diego CA Times-Union: http://www.signonsandiego.com

Council considers eminent domain: Amador Ledger-Dispatch, Jackson CA, 7/4/07

By Kelly Enos

A pipeline that will carry treated drinking water from Tanner Reservoir to the city of Plymouth was the subject of heavy discussion at the Plymouth City Council meeting held June 28.

The project, which will be owned and operated by the Amador Water Agency, is intended to ensure a reliable source of drinking water as the city develops, as well as an adequate supply for fire fighting purposes. According to a 2005 preliminary engineering report on the pipeline project, the city's current sources for its water supply don't meet summer demands or maximum day needs.

To complete the project, the city would need to acquire property interests for the easement of the pipeline. Property owners Ronald and Linda Matulich and Russell and Doris Evitt currently own the land the city needs to acquire for the project.

With no other land within or outside the easement to locate the project, council members on Thursday considered eminent domain proceedings for the Matulich and Evitt easements.

Kevin Rodman, a Jackson attorney representing the Matulich family, told the council his clients were surprised at this action, as they believed they had an understanding with the city that was agreeable to both parties.

"Mr. Matulich asked me to speak to council tonight on his behalf, because you are being asked to file a lawsuit against an agreement that he has already agreed to," Rodman said. He added that the Matulich family was under the belief that the negotiations were successful and were waiting on the paperwork that would finalize the deal made between the city and the Matulichs.

Interim City Administrator Gene Albaugh asked the council to table the Matulich matter until the next meeting scheduled for July 12. "As of 4:12 p.m. this afternoon, we believe an agreement has been reached on the Matulich resolution," he said.

The Evitt family was not present at the meeting, nor were their representatives present to speak on its behalf. In a motion made by Councilman Greg Baldwin and seconded by Councilwoman Pat Fordyce, the council voted 5-0 to proceed with the eminent domain action against the Evitts. "This does not stop the negotiations with the Evitts," Albaugh noted. "We are still proceeding in good faith with them and hope to continue until an agreement is reached."

Amador Ledger-Dispatch, Jackson CA: http://www.ledger-dispatch.com