Eminent domain basics

Americans in California and across the country are entitled to certain protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, among other laws. Under the "Takings Clause" of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and its California counterpart under Article I section 19(a) of the California Constitution, the government may "take," or initiate a forced sale of private property to the government for a public purpose or use, as long as the government pays the landowner "just compensation." The process in which this occurs is referred to as eminent domain, which is complex, multi-layered, and often intimidating to landowners and business owners facing this powerful aspect of government rights.

Situations in which eminent domain is initiated includes projects related to transportation, such as a freeway expansion or interchange realignment, water supply or retention structures, large scale flood control projects, such as dams and levees, or public building projects, such as city halls. Eminent domain can be initiated by various municipal and local entities, such as cities and county's, and also by the state of California and its various branches, such as the Department of Transportation or Public Works Board.

Once the government determines that a specific piece of property is needed for its public use, condemnation proceedings begin. An appraisal of the property will be completed, and the government will attempt to purchase the property from the current owner. If a deal is reached, the matter can be settled. However, if the government and property owner are unable to negotiate a settlement, it may be necessary to take the matter to court.

While eminent domain proceedings do not occur on a daily basis, there are times when they are necessary. If the California property owner is agreeable to the terms, he or she will still want to have legal counsel review the terms to make sure that the owner's best interest is met. Additionally, if the property owner disputes the terms of the offer, legal counsel can assist in reviewing the matter and guiding the owner in the best way to address the concerns.

Source:, "Eminent Domain Overview", Oct. 18, 2017

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