Eminent domain use restricted locally
Local government agencies are setting eminent domain policies in both Truckee and Eastern Placer County that sharply limit their ability to exercise the controversial means to acquire private property.
Eminent domain, the power of local governments to seize land in exchange for fair market value, was the focus of national concern after a 2005 Supreme Court decision supported its use on behalf of private developments, spawning numerous statewide initiatives across the country.
Although Proposition 90 failed in California last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law five legislative statutes. One required local governments with a redevelopment agency to adopt an ordinance by July 1 spelling out how they would apply eminent domain within their jurisdiction.
But Tahoe-area officials said this week that they do not rely on the use of eminent domain.
Neither the Town of Truckee nor Placer County’s Redevelopment Agency has ever used the power of eminent domain, officials said, and neither has any standing plans to use it in the future.
Truckee has taken a similar stance on eminent domain, and the required policy was approved by town council at its meeting last Thursday.
“The town has never exercised eminent domain and never planned to use eminent domain,” Town Attorney Dennis Crabb told the council at the meeting.
In addition to state requirements for the use of eminent domain, Crabb said town policy does not allow eminent domain for single-family occupied homes, condemnation for the same use (eminent domain exercised on retail property to bring in new retail, for example), and requires in-depth consultation between the town and property owner.
David Griffith, the town’s redevelopment and housing coordinator, said property owners have expressed worry about eminent domain use in the town’s redevelopment area.
“There were some concerns I heard along West River Street, but we addressed those concerns saying that we have no intent to acquire sites through eminent domain,” Griffith said. “All acquisitions will be voluntary.”
He said the town has a policy in place to assist willing sellers along West River Street in moving to another location.
“Our local intent towards eminent domain is basically ” we don’t use it unless there are extreme circumstances,” Griffith said. “We avoid it at any cost.” Griffith said.
North Lake Tahoe is one of three redevelopment project areas overseen by Placer County, but the agency hasn’t found the need to use eminent domain for any of its projects, said Deputy Director Rae James of the Placer County Redevelopment Agency.
“We’ve been so successful in working with property owners that it hasn’t been necessary,” James said.
Currently, county policy states that eminent domain cannot be used if a property owner is showing good faith in dealing with redevelopment, if the property is intended for a recreation area, or if the property is owned by another public agency, James said.
She said that policy, adopted in 1997, is scheduled to go before the Placer County supervisors on June 12 to meet the July 1 deadline.
Under the 1997 policy, Placer’s power of eminent domain in the Tahoe area is also set to expire in about a year, and James said staff will recommend letting it lapse.
“The board can reinstate that power if needed, but it would take about a year,” James said. “But right now we just don’t see a need for eminent domain in Tahoe.”
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