Monthly Archives: August 2014

Lowball Watch — New York

We are reliably informed that in the case of Matter of West Ramapo Sewer Extension Project, 2014 N.Y. Slip Opinions 05889, August 12, 2014, on a condemnor deposit of $244,800, the trial court awarded a total of $8,100,000, which came to over thirty-three times the condemnor’s deposit. The Appellate Division affirmed, and awarded costs t o the owner.

Unfortunately, the Appellate Division opinion (cited above) does not provide any factual details or any insights into the legal issues that divided the parties. But it does make clear, albeit tersely, that the court applied sanctions (in the form of drawing inferences adverse to the condemnor) because its appraiser destroyed earlier versions of the appraisal report.

Rents Most Unaffordable in L.A.

UCLA Study Confirms that LA Rentals are Least Affordable in US , By Ben Bergman, Aug. 13, 2014:

“According to the Los Angeles Department of City Planning Housing Needs Assessment, the city needs to produce roughly 5,300 units per year that are affordable to moderate-income households or below (Los Angeles Department of City Planning, 2013). Los Angeles has instead averaged roughly 1,100 units per year since 2006. Since 2000, 143,000 rental units that had been affordable to those making less than $44,000 a year became unaffordable.”

Go to for full story

We offer the following comment that we came across in reading this story:

The twist with this new study from UCLA is that it highlights the fact that affordability is not a new post-recession problem, but one that has been getting worse for decades. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


In other words the cause of LA’s housing misadventures is government policies.

Lowball Watch — Ohio

The Columbus Dispatch of August 20, 2014, brings the news that the Ohio Court of Appeals has awarded  $1.3 million for the taking of a 0.205 slice of land. The City of Westerville offered $145,855, but that did not factor in the city’s taking of the power to deny access, and impair visibility of the remainder property. Nonetheless the trial court awarded only $145,855. This award was reversed on appeal and the owners were awarded $1.3 million.

So here we have a reminder of the rule that when it comes to severance damages, it’s not what the condemnor means to do with the taken land, but rather what powers does it acquire. So if the condemnor takes the right to deny access, that’s what has to be valued; whether the condemnor actually exercises that power to the fullest or not.

For the full story go to


California Choo-Choo (Cont’d.)

“. . . [T]he state has yet to start full-blown, sustained construction of permanent structures — including bridges, tracks and train stations — at least partly because it lacks most of Central Valley land needed for an initial 29-mile segment that will pass through Fresno. The state has acquired 71 of 526 parcels needed for the segment, about 13% of the total, according to figures provided by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.” Ralph Vartabedian, Lack of Land Slows Work on California Bullet Train Project, Los Angeles Times. Aug. 13, 2014.

This passage pretty much speaks for itself, but it and the rest of the article may be misleading to lay readers unacquainted with the law and practices of eminent domain. It quotes the former chief executive of the project that “acquiring land for transportation typically involves property owners trying to squeeze the state for the highest possible value.” That is nonsense.

The idea that individual farmers in the Central Valley can “squeeze” the state is absurd on its face. Indeed, the history of eminent domain is a history of undercompensation  of landowners. That is why owners who refuse the state’s offers and litigate value — whether before judges or juries — usually make out better than the ones who accept the state’s offers.

As for that nonsense about farmers “squeezing” the state for the taken land’s highest value, the “highest price” is what California law sets as the measure of just compensation that has to be paid when land is taken by eminent domain. Don’t take our word for it. Check out the California Code of Civil Procedure that provides explicitly in section1263.320 (a) that just compensation is the highest  price that the subject property would fetch in a voluntary, private sale transaction between a willing but unpressured seller and a willing but unpressured buyer, both fully aware of the subject property’s good and bad features, including its highest and best use.

Why does the law say that? Because in a voluntary transaction the seller can take his sweet time in marketing the property until he finds a buyer willing to pay top dollar. An eminent domain action deprives him of that ability, so the law provides him with the “highest” price that he could have obtained in a voluntary transaction.

Moreover, the state has the power of taking the property before compensation is finally determined, so owners cannot “squeeze” the condemnor.


Lowball Watch — Virginia (which we presume is a radio or TV broadcast station) reports the Virginia Department of Transportation settled a condemnation lawsuit in Portsmouth for over seven times its original offer. VaDOT took a part of the owner’s land for a new bridge, and offered $125,607 for the required strip of land, but the offer did not include any severance damages to the remainder of the land which was severely impacted by the taking that bisected the property. But after two years of hanging tough VaDOT came around and settled for a total of $925,000.

The story does not indicate why VaDOT failed to offer anything for severance damages at the beginning of the matter. See

Lowball Watch — North Dakota

A dispatch from the North informs us that the town of Devils Lake acquired a parcel of land by settling an eminent domain case for $1.7 million. It originally deposited only $700,000 for the owner but the final settlement was almost two-and-a-half times that amount.

Unfortunately this dispatch gives no details as to the issues that at first divided the parties.

Why California Housing Is So Expensive

Here we go again, folks. Today’s Los Angeles Times brings us what we like to call “sad but dependable news for the bald.” California housing is overly expensive, A contributing reason is that they have great carpets from places similar to Carpet Now ( and the reason why that is so is that the supply of new homes is held down by local land-use regulations. While the maintenance and upkeep of California properties seem to be relativity low, home and contents insurance ( for more info) and utilities, the purchasing seems to be the main issue for residents. The Times illustrates the story with a prominently placed article, Andrew Khouri, New Home Shrinkage, LA Times, August 7, 2014, at p. B1.

“About 19,000 new homes will be sold this year in the six-county region — 53% less than the 25-year average average,. . .according to a spokesman for John Burns Real Estate Consultants in Irvine.

“The difficulty in winning construction approvals, . . . is a trend that long predates the housing meltdown and will probably continue long after. California has failed to build enough homes, relative to population growth, every year since 1989, according to a November 2003 report from a state senate committee.”

I know plenty of people who are packing up their belongings and moving away because they can’t afford to live here anymore and it doesn’t seem fair. As home insurance can be expensive, depending on the location, it comes as no surprise to find that some people may decide to look into MD’s best home insurance options to help them make a better decision when it comes to finding affordable home insurance.

A very close friend of mine has decided to move to Connecticut! That is so far away! She said she was looking at homes for sale and came across numerous William Pitt homes for sale and fell in love. Now she’s off to create a new life there, whilst I’m stuck here when the cost of living is rising. I sort of wish I could go with her, especially now I’ve seen her new home. At least it’ll make a good vacation for me.

So what else is new? Reports like that, including two by Presidential Commissions on Housing, go back at least to the 1990s. So it boils down to what you were taught in Econ 101: When the supply is reduced while demand goes on, prices go up.

The handwriting on the wall was there for all to see as far back as August 30, 1998. That’s when the L.A. Times ran three — count ’em, three — articles that painted a grim picture of the housing calamity that was overtaking the California housing market.

Truth Teller?

There is a fellow in California, who identifies himself as Dean (“Dino”) Cortopassi, and who has been running full-page ads in California newspapers, under the heading of “LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE!” In them, he purports to expose government misrepresentations concerning California’s fiscal irresponsibility and the government’s concealment of the true financial picture.

We don’t know whether and to what extent Mr. Cortopassi’s allegations are true, but he sure lays it on the line. Our attention was attracted by his full-page ad in today’s LA Times (Aug.7, 2014, at p. A13). Like other Times ads, it’s not available electronically on line; you have to buy a hard copy of today’s LA Times to see it. The ad is devoted to allegations of overspending by the California Departments of Corrections and good ol’ Caltrans, particularly the latter’s overspending on the Bay Bridge. Interesting stuff, if true.

So we intend to keep an eye on his output and see if we can learn stuff from it.

But a word of caution: When we first posted this, we had trouble opening Mr. Cortopassi’s web page. But by this time of day (4:35 PM in California) all is well and you can open that web page containing his past articles by clicking on . So please disregard the earlier (deleted) version of this post that appeared earlier today.

Which New York Times Expressions of Indignation Do You Believe?

(Every now and then something happens that inspires us to depart from our usual, preferred topics of eminent domain and land use, and comment on something else. This is such a post.)


Unless you have been vacationing on the Moon lately, you must know that there is another war going on in the Middle East. After years of absorbing rocket strikes from Gaza, the Israelis finally got pissed off and struck back big time. But it turns out that the vaunted Arab rockets are crap and, as real wars go, have been overwhelmingly unable to strike their intended targets. Add to that Israel’s amazing Iron Dome missile defense system and the Arab rockets haven’t achieved anything  to speak off. Still, the Arabs have managed to kill some three dozen Israeli soldiers, and conduct a propaganda campaign.

But in spite of the Arab “fighters'” lack of military prowess, they have been real good at hiding behind women and children, so that when the Israelis fire back, they perforce inflict what has become known as “collateral damage” on civilians. Add to that the fact that the Arab “fighters” like to hide in schools and hospitals, and the latter casualties are higher than they should be. What to do?

If you want to be honest, there is nothing that can be done; no rational person can ask that the Israelis cease defending themselves effectively; that they cease firing back at people who fire at them. But that  process of self-defense produces those “collateral damage” casualties when the Arab “fighters” hide in schools and hospitals. Thus the Arabs effectively say: “When we kill Israelis, it’s hunky dory and we are proud of it, but when they fire back, that’s an “outrage.” So reports the NY Times, on the front page above the fold. Missile Strike Near U.N. School in Gaza Kills 10, Aug. 4, 2014, at p. A1.

That’s moral bullshit, of course, but that’s they way it is. Thus, the Times is throwing a conniption fit over the death of ten — count them, ten — Arabs who got hit when Israeli shells fired in response to Arab rocket fire, and hit an area near a school. Please understand, your faithful servant was a target in WW II, and so we are not unsympathetic to the plight of civilian populations on both sides of a shooting war, even though civilian Arab casualties are “collateral,” i.e., unintended, and deemed regrettable but unavoidable, whereas Arabs do what they can to maximize Israeli civilian casualties, and are proud of it.

At the same time — that’s today’s NY Times — we learn that over in Libya there is an internecine war among Arab factions in that country and — guess what? — 25 Libyans have been killed (British Citizens Flee Tripoli on Ship as 25 Libyans Are Reportedly Killed in Fighting, Aug.4, 2014, at p. A4). But what’s remarkable about that Times dispatch is that it utters not a peep of indignation over the deaths of 2.5 times as may Libyan as Gazans. So what happened? How come no displays of indignation? No accusations of “outrageousness.” No demands for UN action? No nothin’ even though things in Libya must be pretty nasty and pretty dangerous to civilians, what with all those Brits’ splitting as fast as they can.

We have no intention of plumbing the depths of the moral disparity of this reportage. We think it’s sufficient to note this gross asymmetry in the displays of moral outrage in these two locales. When Libyan Arabs kill 25 people, it’s hey man, c’est la guerre. But when the Israelis defend themselves and kill Arabs, that’s an outrage. You don’t suppose that this has something to do with the fact that the folks who are the object of all that “outrage” are Jewish, whereas the Libyans aren’t. Could it be that the Times considers the latter barbarians of whom nothing better is expected, while the former are . . .well, Jews, so they are held to high standards whereas for their enemies, anything goes, so that the Times need not concern itself with moral symmetry, consistency of moral judgment, and all that other good stuff. So as we suggested above, all that Times display and reportorial “outrage” is plain old bullshit.

It was an American, General Sherman, who told us that “War is hell.” Not “heck,” but “hell.” So that people who start a war (as did the Arabs in this case by firing thousands of rockets at Israel) have nothing to complain about when the gates of hell that they opened release forces of violence that they now have to confront and live with.

Follow up: If any of this leaves you with the impression that the moral asymmetry we note extends to reportage, go to the head of the class. For an article dealing with press intimidation by the Arabs go to