Here we go again, folks. Way back in the 1960s, the California Supreme Court gave its blessings to condemnors engaging in “excess condemnation” — i.e., the takings of more land than the condemnor’s own project plans called for. See People v. Superior Court (Rodoni) (1968). There the court concluded by a 5 to 2 majority that it was OK for the state to take over 50 acres of land out of Roy Rodoni’s farm for what its own plans required as a 5-acre right-of-way segment. Why would the state do a damn fool thing like that, you ask? Because, as they told the California Supreme Court, it would save money. How? Their explanation was that by taking the entire farm they wouldn’t have to pay severance damages for the taking of only those 5 acres. This was, of course, ridiculous, because the taking of the entire 50-plus acre larger parcel would require payment of 100% of its value — the maximum. So how could the state save money by paying the maximum? But hey man, it was California in the heyday of its supreme court’s belief that a condemnor could do no wrong, so the court largely went along with the gag, and allowed the state to proceed.
Why the majority of the California Supreme Court bought that absurdity, remains a mystery.
To their credit, Justices Mosk and Peters dissented, pointing out not only the arithmetical absurdity inherent in the state’s position, but also taking note of the fact that the state conceded that it had been using threats of excess condemnation to extort favorable settlements.
However, we learned some time later that the California Little Hoover Commission examined the state’s “excess land” program and revealed that far from saving money on excess land, the state had acquired and was sitting on millions of dollars worth of land that it could neither use nor sell.
Now, we learn from the Los Angeles Times that a similar caper is going on in Los Angeles. Alice Walton and Ben Poston, L.A. Learns It Owns 9,000 Parcels, Oct. 28, 2016, at p. B1. According to the Times, the City Controller has done an investigation of the city’s land holdings and — surprise, surprise — discovered that the City holds some 9600 parcels of land (no indication of how that land was acquired) using a tracking system that is “incomplete, inadequate, outdated, in some cases incorrect.”
One of those “parcels” is a 17,500-acre tract of land that the city acquired back in the 1970s for a grandly named, but eventually failed “Intercontinental Airport” out in the boondocks in the high desert, near Palmdale, for which it paid over $100,000,000 — and that’s in 1970s dollars. (https://gideonstrumpet.info/2008/11/update-on-palmdale-airport/)
And for a comic touch — in case you aren’t snickering already — in the latest caper, the city was surprised to learn that it owned inter alia a producing orange grove in Franklin Canyon, that is “surrounded by multimillion dollar homes.” Said a city functionary quoted by the Times: “I don’t know why the city is in the orange growing business, but apparently we are.” However, we bet that those homeowners aren’t complaining. It isn’t every day that someone surrounds your multimillion dollar home in a posh neighborhood with a fragrant orange grove.
What is to happen to all that unused land for which the city paid a pretty penny out of your tax dollars, the Times tells us not. But be patient. Maybe some time in the future the city will think of something. Then again, it may not. So as we are fond of concluding some of our posts that deal with similarly daft government capers, your tax money at work.