Little appears to have happened since local government organizations and their supporters rolled out an eminent domain reform package that they said would protect homeowners and small businesses from government abuse. The May 21 announcement from the California Redevelopment Association and the League of California Cities got extensive press coverage, and the proposed legislation won plaudits from several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. A number of business and environmental groups said they would support the measures.
However, the two bills, ACA 8 and AB 887, both of which are being carried by Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), are not scheduled to receive their first committee hearings until July. Still, De La Torre said that he intends to move the legislation this year so voters will have the opportunity to decide on the reforms next year. Because it is a constitutional amendment, ACA 8 needs support from two-thirds of lawmakers to reach the ballot. That means the measure will need at least some Republican votes. De La Torre said he's been negotiating with GOP members.
While conceding that he has not talked to the Schwarzenegger administration about the legislation, De La Torre said about one-third of Republican lawmakers are "very receptive" and have asked for only minor amendments.
"Their requests have been completely reasonable. Some of their requests have been only clarifications," said De La Torre.
As currently proposed, ACA 8 would prohibit the government from taking an owner-occupied house by eminent domain and then conveying the property to another private entity — essentially, an economic development project. A small business could be taken for an economic development project only after the small business owner was given the opportunity to participate in the redevelopment project. In addition, a property owner whose home or small business is taken would have the right to repurchase the property if the government does not use the property for its originally stated purpose. Assembly Bill 887, meanwhile, would make procedural changes to increase the amount that the government — redevelopment agencies, mostly — would have to pay small business owners whose property is taken by eminent domain.
The homeowner protections are also contained in a proposed initiative backed by the League of California Cities. At the same time, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association continues to refine its own, broader eminent domain initiative, which would also apparently prohibit rent control. The attorney general's office is reviewing the latest version.
All of this activity is the direct result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision two years ago in Kelo v. City of New London, in which the court upheld the use of eminent domain for an economic development project. Actually, all of these proposals are the result of reaction to Kelo, as the court ruling itself had no effect in California.
"There is a fear in the public that the government could abuse eminent domain," De La Torre said. "I believe it is something that needs to be addressed."