On Thursday morning, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in City of Perris v. Stamper. See our brief in the case here and our previous blog posts on the case here and here for background information on the case. The oral arguments appeared to show that the California Supreme Court may share some of the concerns that motivated us to support the property owners.
Justice Liu was by far the most active questioner on the bench. His first question to counsel for the city referred to the potential for manipulation and abuse that might result from this use of dedication requirements. It didn’t appear to me that counsel for the city assuaged those concerns. In fact, they were only exacerbated when the property owners’ counsel pointed out that the city said they could and would independently use fees to prevent property owners from ever receiving a compensation windfall.
Many of Justice Liu’s subsequent questions were plainly intended to address the Court’s need to write a rule for the case. Some of the other justices joined him in focusing their questions on how to draw a line between what would be a neutral dedication requirement and thus considered in the compensation calculation and what dedication requirements should be considered part of the condemnation project and thus ignored in the compensation calculation.
By the end of arguments, a few of the Justices seemed somewhat receptive to the suggestion from counsel for the property owners that when an eminent domain project is a “substantial cause” of a dedication requirement, the dedication should be considered part of the project. Justice Liu seemed receptive to the need to scrutinize the causal relationship between dedications and eminent domain projects but remained concerned that a rule might also end up being overly-inclusive as to what might be considered “project-influenced.”
By my count, counsel for the city did not offer a strong counter proposal when asked in her rebuttal to draw such a line. The justices seemed skeptical of the city counsel’s assertion that dedication requirements in a general plan can never be considered part of an eminent domain project, even if enacted contemporaneously.
Justice Corrigan was not among the more active questioners, but she did deliver a highlight when she let counsel for the city know how much it bothered her to hear the repeated recitations of how the city “should get this land for free.” To anyone who believes in property rights, at least, it was indeed a bother. Kudos to Justice Corrigan for standing up for property rights.
Although it came up, the Justices did not spend a great deal of time discussing how Nollan and Dolan would apply to the dedication requirement’s hypothetical exaction. That might be good news for the property owners, because Nollan and Dolan would likely need to be looked at in depth only if the justices found the dedication requirement was not to be considered part of the eminent domain project. As I mentioned in my last post, it’s hard to imagine that a land exaction can pass Nollan and Dolan when it takes all of the land that is proposed to be developed, for free, to accommodate an unrelated roadway planned before the hypothetical development was even conceived.
I am cautiously optimistic that this might turn out well for the property owners, but we’ll find out for sure within the next couple months.