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Property rights measures offer 2 degrees of limits

State eminent-domain proposition seeks sweeping changes; local plan is less restricting.

October 24, 2006|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

San Bernardino County voters will have two choices Nov. 7 if they want to limit the use of eminent domain, the legal power governmental agencies use to take over private property.

One is Proposition 90, a sweeping statewide measure that would forbid governments to take land unless it is put to public use; it would also require potentially significant increases in government compensation to property owners.

The second choice is Measure O, a local alternative that would also prohibit the county from using eminent domain to take private land and transfer it to a private developer or other entity but would not alter the rules on compensation.

The state initiative would change the current formula for determining payment to those whose land is seized by requiring the state to put the property owner in the "same position monetarily as if the property had never been taken," as opposed to simply offering the owner fair market value. It would also require landowners to be compensated for "government actions that result in substantial economic loss to private property" -- which could including rezoning or environmental protection restrictions.

Supervisors have said they are concerned that the state proposition may be too broad and could raise the price of land taken by eminent domain, so they offered a local alternative.

"It's a better approach than Proposition 90 because it doesn't create some of the same limitations," said Supervisor Dennis Hansberger.

If both measures pass, the statewide proposition would supersede the local one.

James Mulvihill, a professor of urban planning at Cal State San Bernardino, said the eminent-domain issue was covered sufficiently by the statewide proposition.

He said the San Bernardino County measure had received little support or opposition, largely because the county had no history of abusing eminent domain in unincorporated areas.

"Measure Os across the country are simply a firestorm that was created by a lot of people who want to get their names out on a hot issue," he said. "There's really no reason for San Bernardino County to have its own eminent-domain law."

Eminent domain is often used in efforts to revitalize blighted areas and has become a hotter issue since last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a Connecticut city could use it to acquire private land and turn it over to a developer if the transfer resulted in a public benefit.

In the Inland Empire, the Riverside City Council recently used eminent domain in a land purchase near downtown to allow a private developer to construct condominiums.

Residents in Grand Terrace, a city between San Bernardino and Riverside, mounted a failed recall attempt this year against two council members in an effort, among other issues, to curb eminent-domain use.

And San Bernardino officials want to raze several hundred homes and buildings in a blighted neighborhood near downtown to build a scenic lake. But resident DeAnna Adams, who owns a chapel in the area, has sued to keep the city from taking her property.

"They need to keep their hands off the property," said Adams, who owns Victory Chapel. "You can't just take somebody's property and hand it over to somebody else."

In Orange County, Anaheim, Dana Point and Newport Beach, voters are also being asked to restrict local government's use of eminent domain through private transfers on next month's ballot.

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