Though most people will never directly feel the effects of eminent domain, it has a persistent impact on property taxes, growth rates, and personal security. In theory, eminent domain allows land to be seized under three conditions: If the project 1) serves public interest, 2) is placed for the greatest public good and least private injury, and 3) requires the land to be completed. This enables projects such as sidewalks, road improvements, schools, and fire stations. Though this seems simple enough, there are certainly abuse cases that need to be fixed.
For a specific case, take the Montebello Project, an underpass construction project in the San Gabriel Valley whose goal is to reduce traffic and increase the reliability of the train system, which would also have the effect of reducing carbon emissions and improving the property value of nearby homes. Not all homes would benefit from this, however, since the project would require the land from some of these homes. The project started in 2007, and is currently in limbo as the involved parties are unable to come to any sort of consensus. Meanwhile the homeowners don’t know whether they can continue to live there or not, but also can’t get tenants or sell, putting a strain on either their sense of security, their budget, or both.
There are ways to fix this. One possibility is to limit the length of negotiation for eminent domain proceedings. Currently, homeowners must be advised in writing at least 90 days before the project is scheduled to begin, but there is no limit on how long the project can be in limbo after starting. Another is to redefine what is considered a “blighted” property. Ultimately, seizure via eminent domain only needs to prove that a property is blighted. Homeowners would consider this to be one that is unattractive, unsafe, or uninhabitable, but the legal definition is much more broad, which can lead to unexpected seizure of perfectly livable property in order to build more expensive property. It all comes down to money. Fortunately, it is possible to fight against abuse cases and win.