Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs Mealy-Mouthed Property Rights Protection (Part 1 of 5)

September 29, 2006 | By PACIFIC LEGAL FOUNDATION

by Timothy Sandefur

Today, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed five bills into law, which purport to protect Californians against the abuse of eminent domain. While any new protection for California’s abused property owners is certainly welcome, these bills merely add minor technical details to procedural rules surrounding eminent domain. As a practical matter, these new laws do virtually nothing to secure the property rights of Californians.

The first, SB 53 (by Senator Christine Kehoe of San Diego) requires that redevelopment plans contain time limits of less than 20 years with regard to the loans or other financing used in support of those plans. But even the 20 year time limit can be extended by a redevelopment agency whenever it wants to.

It also puts a time limit of 30 years "on the effectiveness of the redevelopment plan," after which the redevelopment agency will lose some of its to condemn property. It also requires a redevelopment agency to condemn property within 12 years of the adoption of a redevelopment plan–but, again, this time limit can be extended whenever the redevelopment agency wants.

A good indication of the meaninglessness of this law as a practical matter is in section 3 of the new bill (adding section 33342.5(b) to the Health and Safety Code). It requires the state's redevelopment agencies to adopt plans that "describe the agency's program to acquire property by eminent domain…. The plan may prohibit the agency from acquiring by eminent domain specified types of real property, including, but not limited to, owner-occupied residences, single-family residences, or any residential property. The plan may prohibit the agency from acquiring by eminent domain real property in specified locations within the project area."

Notice that may. The agency may, if it chooses, choose not to take certain types of property. Or, maybe it'll go ahead and take it after all.