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A Tale of Eminent Domain in CA

Posted on January 20 2015 by Gabriela Ocampo

Recently, the building of the $68 billion high-speed rail system broke ground in California as the first in the United States to get underway. The railway is projected to whisk travelers and commuters between San Francisco and Los Angeles in under three hours.The Governor, Jerry Brown, sees the railway as one of the most promising ways for the most populated state in the U.S to reach his energy conservation goals.

While this project is being presented as a viable combatant to global warming, many people are concerned it is just another expensive failure. Central Valley farmers and Congress' Republican budgeters are already suing to keep these high-powered rails off of their fields. More importantly, the high-speed rail system hasn't cleared the eminent domain process and more than 400 off the necessary 500 land parcels have not been purchased. Continue reading to learn more about how California property owners could be affected by the eminent domain process and the new high-speed railway.

What is Eminent Domain?

Although the term eminent domain is commonly used, it's typically misunderstood. Eminent domain explains the right of the state to seize your private property with your consent. According to the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 19 of the California Constitution, private property can be taken through the eminent domain process only for a public use. The most common examples of 'public uses' are:

  • Police stations

  • Libraries

  • Schools

  • Roads

Throughout history it has been used by highways, public facilities, and railroads. While it has traditionally been used for gargantuan construction projects, it's being used more and more to include 'public use', but not necessarily 'public benefit.' In other words, the project doesn't have to actually be open to the public population to be classified as a public use. Some of the most recent eminent domain cases have been approved for the sole reason of increasing tax revenues even though the land may simply be transferred to a developer and never be open to the general public.

Can I Challenge the Railway from Taking My Land?

As a citizen of the United States, you have the right to challenge the government's right to take your property for a particular project. The most common challenges are based on the government's failure to follow the proper steps to seize a property. In any case, each situation must be effectively evaluated based on its own set of individual circumstances.

If My Land Is Taken Will I Be Compensated?

The 5th Amendment also says that your property can't be taken without receiving "just compensation." Similar to the U.S. Constitution, article I section 19 of the California Constitution states that private property must not be damaged or taken unless you receive "just compensation." Property owners and business can indeed seek compensation for the following items:

  1. Actual property

  2. Realty improvements, such as equipment and fixtures

  3. The goodwill of the business

The courts consider just compensation for any of these items to be based on the "fair market" value of the individual item. Instead of allowing the courts to determine the value of your property, Century Law Group can help you negotiate and get the most for your or business. If your property is facing eminent domain or inverse condemnation, Contact Century Law Group today for assistance to avoid low ball offers and receive just compensation.