Returning Condemned Land to Its Former Owner? Not In California.

An AP story in the San Francisco Examiner of December 15, 2013, quotes one Don Grebe, a real estate poo-bah for the California high-speed rail authority as saying that “if the project were scrapped at some point and the property was no longer needed, state law gives the original owner the first option to buy it back.” We didn’t know that. Actually, what we know is the opposite.

The California Law Revision Commission studied and revised the California law of eminent domain back in the 1970s, and decided  not to recommend such a provision in the law. See Nathaniel Sterling, Return Right for Former Owners of Land Taken by Eminent Domain, 4 Pac. L. Jour. 65 (1973) recommending against enacting into law the right of repurchase of property taken by eminent domain but not devoted to the use for which it was ostensibly taken. At the time Sterling was on the staff of the Law Revision Commission. The  Commission agreed not to revise the law in this fashion.

For a broader discussion of the law governing the status of property taken by eminent domain but not put to the specified public use, see Gideon Kanner, We Don’t Have to Follow Any Stinkin’ Planning — Sorry About That, Justice Stevens, 39 Urban Lawyer 529 (2007).  For the Examiner story go to