Eminent domain in California


Published Aug 2, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

I read with interest, and some incredulity, that the city of Richmond, Calif., is planning to use eminent domain to prevent bank foreclosures of residential property. (“A Novel Use of Eminent Domain,” July 30, 2013, Page C6). Before anyone dares to believe such an action is possible, they need to read the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads in part, “... nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

That means to declare eminent domain, the city first must have a “public use” and, second, be willing to pay “just compensation” for the properties belonging to some of the 104,800 people who live in Richmond. In legal circles, this is called a “taking,” which is illegal without paying fair market value.

According to the city’s current five-year financial plan, the combined residential and commercial assessed valuation is around $14.8 billion (Chevron accounts for about $4 billion of that).

General fund and non-general funds revenues total about $271 million; a mere drop in the bucket compared to $14.8 billion; actually, it’s less than 2 percent of total assessed valuation.

So how is it Richmond can use eminent domain when compensation alone — an unbudgeted expense of unknown proportions — could plunge the city into financial crisis or even bankruptcy?

By adopting this policy, will Richmond soon join the bankrupt cities of Stockton, San Bernardino or Detroit, perhaps?

Either there’s more to the story we don’t know or Richmond is driving down the wrong freeway.

Fred Couzens

Sunriver