Saturday, 06 June 2020

Law requires county, cities to update eminent domain language

LAKE COUNTY – Local redevelopment agencies are updating the eminent domain language in their redevelopment plans in accordance with a new law.


The Clearlake City Council took up the issue Thursday, with the Board of Supervisors' set to discuss it Tuesday as well.


Several new pieces of legislation that created stricter rules for county and city redevelopment agencies became law Jan. 1. Among them was SB 53 (Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego area), which requires redevelopment agencies to place in their redevelopment plans a description of their program for acquiring property through eminent domain.


The Legislative Counsel's Digest on SB 53 explains that the bill also requires redevelopment plans to describe prohibitions against eminent domain's use.


In addition, SB 53 sets a time limit – not exceed 12 years from the adoption of a redevelopment plan – for eminent domain proceedings to begin in a project area.


The bill allows redevelopment plans to be updated to use eminent domain. However, in order to do so, a redevelopment agency would need to make a finding – based on “substantial evidence” – that significant blight remains in the project area and can't be eliminated without using eminent domain.


Redevelopment plans adopted prior to Jan. 1, 2007 – which is the case for the county redevelopment agency, as well as those of Clearlake and Lakeport – have to update their plans by July 1 to include the required eminent domain language, according to the bill.


On Thursday, the Clearlake City Council held a public hearing and its first reading of an eminent domain language ordinance to comply with SB 53, which it voted to accept. The language will have its second reading at an upcoming council meeting.


City Administrator Dale Neiman said the city was amending the language to comply with state law, not because of any intentions to use eminent domain.


In fact, the city can't use eminent domain to acquire property, Neiman told the council. “We currently don't have the power of eminent domain in the (redevelopment) plan, because it's expired.”


City Attorney Thomas Gibson added that the ordinance is just confirming that the city doesn't have eminent domain authority unless they update their redevelopment plan according to SB 53.


Clearlake adopted its Highlands Park Redevelopment Plan on July 9, 1990, and eminent domain powers expired in 2000, according to the city ordinance updating the plan language.


County updates its own plan


On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors – sitting as the Lake County Redevelopment Agency Board of Directors – will do essentially the same thing as Clearlake by adding an explanation of its eminent domain program to the county redevelopment plan.


The county adopted the Northshore Redevelopment Project Area plan on Aug. 16, 2001, according to a report to the board for Tuesday's meeting by administrative analyst, Kathy Barnwell.


Unlike Clearlake, the county can use eminent domain if it chooses to, said County Administrative Officer Kelly Cox.


Cox explained that the county plan specifically declares that eminent domain won't be used to acquire residential properties. “There's no way that this agency would ever use eminent domain to take away somebody's house,” he said. “The redevelopment plan established from the get-go that we wouldn't do that.”


However, he emphasized that the county doesn't have any plans to use the controversial property acquisition method on any land.


“We've never had anything we've even considered using eminent domain on,” he said.


If the county did decide to use eminent domain, its redevelopment plan language update notes that it must begin using it within the project area by Aug. 16, 2013.


Lakeport puts eminent domain on back burner


Earlier this year, eminent domain became a consideration for the Lakeport Redevelopment Agency.


In January, as Lake County News previously reported, the City Council, sitting also as the Lakeport Redevelopment Agency, began to discuss adding eminent domain language to its plan.


A report by then-acting City Manager Richard Knoll – who has since returned to his duties as community development director – explained that the city had purposefully left eminent domain language out of its redevelopment plan because of its controversial nature. The city adopted its plan in 1999.


Last December Mayor Roy Parmentier initially requested the council reconsider eminent domain. Parmentier declined to state why he made the request.


However, it came at about the same time that developer Jim Burns – a man Parmentier called his “fishing buddy” – made a presentation to the council about a potential development project on the Natural High School and city-owned Dutch Harbor properties. During that presentation, Burns specifically addressed the use of eminent domain.


Incidentally, Burns also has done redevelopment counseling for Lakeport. In fact, Knoll reported it was Burns who initially counseled against eminent domain in the city redevelopment plan because of public perception.


More recently, Burns has been working with Boeger Land Development LLC of Gridley on a development proposal on the City of Lakeport Municipal Sewer District land.


The group also is interested in a hotel development in the area of Dutch Harbor and Natural High School, and acquired a first right of refusal from the city on Dutch Harbor as part of their sewer property development proposal, as Lake County News previously reported.


During the council's January discussions, Parmentier said the city doesn't plan to use eminent domain to take Natural High School away from Lakeport Unified School District, and that a more likely target of such action was the Willowpoint trailer park near Library Park.


However, reactions from citizens and fellow council members appeared to put the brakes on the plan. Councilman Jim Irwin stated at the time he wanted eminent domain “taken off the plate.” Plans for public meetings on the issue were discussed, but have not been pursued since.


Knoll said if the city wanted to use eminent domain, it would first need to amend its plan. “That can be an expensive process,” he said.


He previously had estimated the costs to pay for attorneys and consultants to conduct the work would range between $30,000 and $60,000, money which wasn't included in the 2006-07 budget.


Knoll said the city's redevelopment attorney suggested if they were to go to the cost of a plan update, they should add other amendments as well.


But the city hasn't pursued the matter, Knoll said. “We haven't taken it any further.”


He added, “It may still be something the agency wants to do,” but right now it's “on the back burner.”


Knoll said the city still needs to update its redevelopment plan to include the eminent domain language provisions dictated by SB 53 – even though they don't have eminent domain authority.


As part of that change, he said, the city can state its intention not to use eminent domain to acquire property.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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