By Karen Holzmeister
Initiative would limit eminent domain, but Alameda County agencies say policy already excludes it for private development

Alameda County agencies approach eminent domain differently, but it’s unlikely that at least one of two measures proposed for the June ballot would have any effect on their method of land acquisition.

The eminent domain initiative, proposed by the League of California Cities, would prohibit a public agency from using eminent domain to acquire an owner-occupied residence with the intention of conveying the property to a private developer.

This change in the law, if approved by voters, generally would affect redevelopment agencies that assemble properties for redevelopment by private developers.

Eileen Dalton, who heads the county Redevelopment Agency, said the county’s redevelopment plans already exclude residential properties from eminent domain authority.

The agency deals with land and economic development issues in urbanized unincorporated areas such as Ashland, Castro Valley, Cherryland and San Lorenzo.

“We would never use or threaten eminent domain,” she said. “Our M.O. is to acquire land through the negotiation process.”

The agency has accumulated about $8 million in a land-assembly fund for housing in unincorporated areas.

Acquisition of commercial or industrial properties on major thoroughfares in Ashland, Castro Valley and San Lorenzo could be an eminent domain option if the negotiating process isn’t successful.

Rory MacNeil of the county Public Works Agency said eminent domain is used only for public projects, such as road widening and flood-control improvements.

He cited 2006 eminent domain filings on Vasco Road in Livermore as part of a joint road improvement project between Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Sale agreements with property owners were reached before the disputes went to court, he said.

During the summer, the public works agency filed 44 eminent domain suits for residential and commercial properties on Lewelling Boulevard in San Lorenzo. The county plans to widen and landscape the thoroughfare in the next few years.

Of the 44, all but 12 have settled. MacNeil said he expects six property owners to settle soon.

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