By Reina V. Slutske
The concept of eminent domain is a scary one – especially to businesses and residents near public projects.
Eminent domain is the practice of a government taking a private property, whether business or residential, for public use.
Public projects such as roads and schools sometimes require the use of eminent domain in order to be built, said A.J. Hazarabedian, managing partner of the California Eminent Domain Law Group.
When it comes to redevelopment – like what is planned in downtown Newhall – eminent domain can get a little trickier.
“When it comes to redeveloping, it takes private property and turns it over to a public development,” Hazarabedian said.
The Santa Clarita Redevelopment Agency, which handles all potential redevelopment, was granted the power of eminent domain in November 1989, said Christopher Price, assistant city engineer in community development.
However, although Price said that eminent domain has so far not been used by the city, it could be if negotiations for a property fails.
In response to Newhall property owners’ fears and concerns about their property being seized to make way for a revitalized community, city officials have repeatedly said eminent domain would be a last-resort option.
The question of redevelopment, however, is also tied to the question of blight in a community.
Hazarabedian said that this type of eminent domain has been around for the past 50 years, but the term “blight” can be very general.
If a redevelopment project’s purpose is to eliminate blight and all the laws are in place, it is possibly legal for a city to do so.
He added that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding redevelopment and eminent domain through the case of Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., decided that transferring land from one private owner to another for economic development was a valid reason for redevelopment.
There was public outcry regarding that case, and many states including California, have been trying to pass laws governing eminent domain.
Eminent domain by a government is usually difficult for an owner to challenge.
“If the redevelopment agency has done it right, it might be difficult to challenge their use of eminent domain,” he said.
However, in order for a city to perform eminent domain, the city is required to compensate the business at a minimum.
The business can challenge the city regarding how much compensation they earn during their relocation.
Price said the city would help businesses with relocation and advertising when moving from one area to another.
In addition to compensating for property value, the tenants could also get financial assistance from the city of Santa Clarita for “loss of good will.”
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