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The ‘Public Use’ Requirement in Eminent Domain Cases

By Peterson Law Group on April 15, 2024

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Eminent domain allows the government to take private land to build roads, schools, or other infrastructure projects that serve the greater good of the public. In California, it is not acceptable for the government to take away your private property to benefit a private entity.

You have the legal right to challenge the public domain and negotiate for fair compensation. It’s important to have an experienced Los Angeles eminent domain lawyer by your side to protect your property rights and help you get the best compensation for your property.

What Are Eminent Domain and Public Use?

Eminent domain is the power held by the state to seize private property for public use while providing fair compensation to the owner. This authority is rooted in both the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment and California state law. The Fifth Amendment stipulates that private property cannot be taken for public use without just compensation. This principle is also echoed in the California Constitution and detailed further in statutes that govern the state’s specific processes and requirements for eminent domain actions.

In California, clearly defining the term public use is pivotal when protecting your property rights. The law requires that the government’s action must benefit the public. This requirement is a safeguard against the misuse of eminent domain powers. Historically, public use was understood to mean projects like highways, parks, or public buildings. More recently, the definition has broadened, leading to controversies and court battles.

California’s Interpretation of Public Use

California’s interpretation of public use in eminent domain cases has evolved to encompass a broad range of uses. While traditional public uses remain clear (roads, schools, and public utilities), the state recognizes that “public benefit” can also be derived from economic development. This may include projects that primarily serve private interests but are argued to have significant public economic benefits, such as job creation or increased tax revenue.

In 2005, the controversial Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London profoundly influenced California’s eminent domain landscape. This High Court decision affirmed the right of a city in Connecticut to sell land that was taken away from private citizens and given to a private real estate developer under the guise of public use.

In response to Kelo v. City of New London, California passed Proposition 99 in 2008. This new law tightened restrictions on eminent domain to protect homeowners. Proposition 99 and later amendments to the law have aimed to limit the use of eminent domain for economic development, especially when it comes to taking owner-occupied residences.

One of California’s most pivotal eminent domain cases was the City of Oakland v. Oakland Raiders, which set a precedent on how eminent domain could be used for private business purposes. The court ultimately ruled against the city’s attempt to take the football team through eminent domain.

What Are Your Options When Facing Eminent Domain

When a California property owner is confronted with eminent domain, you have options. The first step is to thoroughly review the notice of intent to seize the property so you can understand the basis of the action. Owners have the right to negotiate with the condemning authority for compensation based on the property’s fair market value.

If negotiations don’t yield satisfactory results, property owners can challenge the eminent domain action in court. This legal challenge may question whether the intended use is truly public or the compensation offered is just.

There are important steps to take to safeguard your interests when facing eminent domain:

  • Consult with an attorney who specializes in eminent domain in California.
  • Gather detailed documentation about your property, including its current market value, which will be central to ensuring you receive just compensation.
  • Seek an independent appraisal to provide a basis for challenging the government’s valuation of your property.
  • Engage with the community and local government to stay informed about the public project and its implications.
  • Prepare for a potential court case by collecting evidence that supports your contestation of the public use claim or the compensation offered.

Our Los Angeles Eminent Domain Lawyers Know How to Take on the Government and Win

Peterson Law Group PC has been fighting for the rights of Los Angeles property owners for over 35 years, and we’ve won substantial settlements for our clients. Our founder, John Peterson, is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Peterson Law Group PC has been recognized by Super Lawyers for providing our clients with outstanding service based on peer reviews and independent research.

Call our eminent domain attorneys in Los Angeles today at (213) 319-4993 to learn more.

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