On November 13, 2008, we added to the unhappy story of the Los Angeles “Intercontinental” Airport in Palmdale (Update on the Palmdale Airport), that set the taxpayers back some $100 million in early 1970s dollars, with nothing to show for it even though eight or nine airlines unsuccessfully tried over the years to make a go of it. We reported that the Los Angeles Department of Airports finally gave up on that airport and turned over its operations to the City of Palmdale.
Now, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has formally resolved to request an explanation from the City of Los Angeles, as to what it intends to do with the 17,000 acres acquired by it for that “Intercontinental” airport. The Board”s press release of December 16, 2008, quotes Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich: “This vital property is not being utilized as the City of Los Angeles promised when it took private property through eminent domain. It is time to build the airport or return it to the original owners.” Another Supervisor, Don Knabe, added, “For four decades, this land has been sitting vacant, not being used for the development of a critically-needed regional commercial airport, which was the the intended use of this land.”
Return it to the original owners? Gasp! We can’t wait. So stay tuned. There is bound to be more on this story even though under California law a condemnor is not required to devote taken land for the purpose for which it was taken and may put it to other uses, no use at all, or may just sell it. See Gideon Kanner, We Don’t Have to Follow Any Stinkin’ Planning — Sorry About That, Justice Stevens, 39 Urban Lawyer 529 (2007).
As an aside, we should mention that in the mid-1970s the California Law Revision Commission, acting as part of its major program of revision of the law of eminent domain, considered legislation that would require the return of condemned land to its [former] owners, unless it was actually put to the use for which it had been taken. But evidently, this idea was so sensible that it proved too much for the Commission which, after pondering needed revisions in eminent domain law for twenty years — count ’em, twenty — decided not to recomend any legislation granting the former owner a right to regain the taken land. If you are into such stuff, read Nathaniel Sterling, Former Owner’s Right to Repurchase Land Taken for Public Use, 4 Pacific L. Jour. 65 (1973). Sterling served on the Law Revision Commisssion staff at the time.