By A.J. Hazarabedian
As a follow up to our October 21, 2009 post regarding the closure of C Street in the city of Exeter, the Exeter City Council has decided not to support the closure. The city council has indicated, according to the Visalia Times-Delta article, “Exeter City Council: Don’t seize homes,” that they will not agree to the closure of C Street if the Public Schools District uses eminent domain to acquire 11 homes. The Exeter Public Schools District has plans to acquire 11 properties by eminent domain to expand Lincoln Elementary School which runs the risk of being out of State compliance due to space requirements.
The city council surprised school district officials by coming out against the possible use of eminent domain at its meeting on November 24, 2009.
Some council members indicated homeowners may experience increased property taxes if they were forced to move and that the number of properties for sale in the city could not support the 11 families who would be affected by the project.
This is not the end of the road for the school district, however. The district may still seek to use eminent domain for the project.
Commentary from A.J. Hazarabedian:
Schools are a classic example of an appropriate public use supporting exercise of the power of eminent domain. If the school is out of compliance, it needs to expand. And the only way it can expand is either by using eminent domain, or overpaying for the property necessary for the expansion. This is just the harsh reality. Would the City’s voters really prefer that the school district overpay for property necessary for expansion, thus taking away much needed school dollars? That is not to say the property owners should be underpaid. Property owners are entitled to fair market value for their property in an eminent domain action. If they are not satisfied with the school district’s appraised value, they are entitled to have a jury decide the value. But absent the ability to use eminent domain, the school district would be put in the position of having to pay whatever the property owners want – even if they want 10 times the fair value of their property. This hardly seems an appropriate use of school funds, and one must question whether the Exeter City Council has really thought their position all the way through.