Eminent Domain – Political Issues

Ok, assume we are in agreement that, in California, local government eminent domain powers can be used to acquire a mobile home park for the benefit of the resident group.

But, we also agree that the devil is in the details, starting with the practical political issues.

EXAMPLE:

Let’s say the local town council wants to widen a section of Main Street to beautify and clean up the town – a laudable public purpose.  Since the city doesn’t already own the property they need to widen the street, they go through public hearings, engineering studies, environmental studies, the local Chamber of Commerce and anything else that might come up.  If everything is OK, they act to condemn the required property and start their project.  The city probably gets the property immediately.

However, the folks who are required to give up their property may have some problems with the deal. 

First of all, they may not want to sell their property at all. 

Secondly, they may secretly want to sell their property, but they may think that if they kick and scream about deal, they might get a better price. 

In either case, unless the city and the owners can come to some negotiated agreement as to the price, they sue each other and head for the courthouse for a trial.  (Meanwhile, the actual project continues.)

The trial involves ‘dueling appraisers’ This means that the appraiser representing the city does his thing and says ‘The value of the property is, say, $50,000.’  However, the appraiser for the property owner says, ‘Not so fast, I think the value is $100,000.’  The court may get some other appraiser to give his opinion on the first two appraisals.  Finally, either by further negotiation or court ruling, the “Fair Market Value” is determined, say $75,000.  When everyone agrees on the FMV, money changes hands, and the property owner goes on vacation. (Meanwhile, the actual project continues.)

But, here’s the important part: The City Fathers then congratulate themselves for a job well done, take lots of photos, give newspaper interviews about how the town is moving forward, and cut lots of ribbons as new portions of the project come on line.  Then they run for reelection as a ‘Community Leader’.

THE POLITICAL PROBLEM

The basic political problem for your resident group is that you have to convince the City Fathers that they should take a huge political risk for your benefit, with lots of unknown factors and only vague future benefit to the City Fathers.

The City Fathers have to use their eminent domain powers against an unwilling park owner to help your group, with the only potential reward for the City Fathers being the chance to cut a ribbon, if and when you acquire the park.   

It is very hard (but not impossible) to get them to do that.  

Soooo, you have to study your own situation.  You have to figure out your local government jurisdiction (and there probably is more than one, since they overlap) and determine which jurisdiction has to power of eminent domain.  Then you have to study the leadership of the jurisdiction to determine what it might take to get them to help you.

I will discuss how you organize and position your park and your neighbors to accomplish this task in future BLOGS.

I’ll be in touch,

Deane

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