Monday, June 11, 2007

ACTION ALERT - Tarrant County Commissioners Court and Eminent Domain

by Faith Chatham - June 11, 2007

Tarrant County Commissioner to vote on sending letter
Urging Governor to veto HB 2006 at Regular meeting
Tarrant County Commissioners Court - 10 a.m., Tues., June 12

Linda Lancaster addressed the court last week and urged them not so sign the Letter Judge Glen (supercorridor at public expense) Whitley wants them to send to Governor Perry urging him to veto HB 2006 - the eminent domain bill.
The bill, which restores some of the protections the NASCO Corridor group pushed to get enacted. (Whitley and RTC chairwoman Cynthia White and Denton Mayor Pro-tem and RTC member Tex Kamp - serve on the NASCO Corridor Board of Directors) NASCO lobbied to get propert rights stripped from property owners through passage of legislation legalizing use of private public partnerships for construction interstate (international) super transportation corridors funded by gasoline tax money, public bonds and tolls on existing and future state and federal highways. NASCO'S MISSION STATEMENT includes:
To be a strong advocacy and lobby group for transportation and related issues and interests of the jurisdictions along the corridor.

We urge all Tarrant County Citizens to appear at the Tarrant County Commissioner's Court meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, June 12 -10:00 a.m.) and speak out against the Commissioners Court sending this letter urging Governor Perry to veto this eminent domain bill.
To gain federal, provincial/state, and municipal government support in all three NAFTA countries.

To gain and maintain tri-lateral private sector membership support for NASCO’s vision and goals.

To push for, facilitate and support any Corridor related projects or initiatives that focus on enhancing the security, safety and efficiency of transportation, trade processing and logistics systems along the corridor

All state representatives and state senators from this 16 county North Central Texas Region voted for the bill, yet Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley is pushing hard to get the Governor to veto it! Citizens of Tarrant County testified at the TxDOT hearing, expressing outrage and anger that the eminent domain laws had been changed to accomodate the special interests of big monied backers of the TTC -- many of whom are financial backers of NASCO).

Anyone who attempt to persuade the public to believe that it is necessary to veto this bill in order to acquire property at a fair price through the exercise of eminent domain is lying. This bill does not prevent the exercise of eminent domain for legitimate uses which are in the public good. This bill defines legitimate use of eminent domain:
A governmental or private entity may not take private property through the use of eminent domain if the taking:
(1) confers a private benefit on a particular private party through the use of the property;
(2) is for a public use that is merely a pretext to confer a private benefit on a particular private party; [or]
(3) is for economic development purposes, unless the economic development is a secondary purpose resulting from municipal community development or municipal urban renewal activities to eliminate an existing affirmative harm on society from slum or blighted areas under:

While restoring some protection to the citizen-property owner, this bill does not prevent exercise of eminent domain for legitimate projects for the public good.

(c) This section does not affect the authority of an entity authorized by law to take private property through the use of eminent domain for:
(1) transportation projects, including, but not limited to, railroads, airports, or public roads or highways;
(2) entities authorized under Section 59, Article XVI, Texas Constitution, including:
(A) port authorities;
(B) navigation districts; and
(C) any other conservation or reclamation districts that act as ports;
(3) water supply, wastewater, flood control, and drainage projects;
(4) public buildings, hospitals, and parks;
(5) the provision of utility services;
(6) a sports and community venue project approved by voters at an election held on or before December 1, 2005, under Chapter 334 or 335, Local Government Code;
(7) the operations of:
(A) a common carrier pipeline [subject to Chapter 111, Natural Resources Code, and Section B(3)(b), Article 2.01, Texas Business Corporation Act]; or
(B) an energy transporter, as that term is defined by Section 186.051, Utilities Code;
(8) a purpose authorized by Chapter 181, Utilities Code;
(9) underground storage operations subject to Chapter 91, Natural Resources Code;
(10) a waste disposal project; or
(11) a library, museum, or related facility and any infrastructure related to the facility.

It seeks to clarify and restore balance and fairness to the process, by stating that
the governmental entity must authorize the initiation of the condemnation proceedings at a public meeting by a record vote.

It stipulates that the public use for which the property is condemned must be stated in the motion.
If the property is not used for that use in ten years, the land owner is allowed to repurchase the land for the same amount the governmental entities paid them for it.

The bill stipulates that governmental entities seeking property through eminent domain condemnation process must negotiate with the landowner fairly.
BONA FIDE OFFER REQUIRED. An entity with eminent domain authority that wants to acquire real property for a public use must make a bona fide offer to acquire the property from the property owner voluntarily. A bona fide offer is an offer that is not arbitrary or capricious and is based on a reasonably thorough investigation and honest assessment of the amount of the just compensation due to the landowner as a result of the taking.

It stipulates that citizens must be informed of their right to repurchase the property.
DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION REQUIRED AT TIME OF ACQUISITION. A governmental entity shall disclose in writing to the property owner, at the time of acquisition of the property through eminent domain, that:
(1) the owner or the owner's heirs, successors, or assigns are entitled to repurchase the property if the public use for which the property was acquired through eminent domain is canceled before the 10th anniversary of the date of acquisition; and
(2) the repurchase price is the price paid to the owner by the governmental entity at the time the governmental entity acquired the property through eminent domain.

It requires that the governmental body must submit evidence of fair market value before the property is condemned.
EVIDENCE. (a) For the purposes of this section, market value is the price a property will bring when offered for sale by a person who desires to sell the property, but is not obliged to sell the property, and is bought by a person who desires to buy the property, but is not under a necessity to buy the property.
(b) As the basis for assessing actual damages to a property owner from a condemnation, the special commissioners shall, subject to the Texas Rules of Evidence, admit evidence on:
(1) the market value, before the condemnation, of the property being condemned;
being condemned;
(2) subject to Section 21.042, the net change to the market value of the property owner's remaining property, considering both injury and benefit to the property owner; and
(3) [(4)] the use of the property for the purpose of the condemnation.

It also attempts to address loss of value and access issues:
(e) If a portion of a tract or parcel of real property is condemned for the use, construction, operation, or maintenance of the state highway system or of a county toll project described by Chapter 284, Transportation Code, that is eligible for designation as part of the state highway system, the special commissioners shall consider any diminished access to the highway and to or from the remaining property to the extent that it affects the present market value of the real property, including any factors considered when determining actual fair market value of property for ad valorem tax purposes.

It provides some relocation compensation.
(a) A department, agency, instrumentality, or political subdivision of this state shall [may] provide a relocation advisory service for an individual, a family, a business concern, a farming or ranching operation, or a nonprofit organization that [if the service] is compatible with the Federal Uniform Relocation Assistance Advisory Program, 23 U.S.C.A. 501, et seq.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state shall [may], as a cost of acquiring real property, pay moving expenses and rental supplements, make relocation payments, provide financial assistance to acquire replacement housing, and compensate for expenses incidental to the transfer of the property if an individual, a family, the personal property of a business, a farming or ranching operation, or a nonprofit organization is displaced in connection with the acquisition.

If the courts find that govenmental entites do not make bona fide good faith offers to land owners based on fair market value, this bill stipulates that the landowner/citizens legal fees will be paid by the governmental entity.
(d) If a court hearing a suit under this chapter determines that a condemning entity did not make a bona fide offer to acquire the property from the property owner voluntarily as required by Section 21.0112, the court shall abate the suit and order the condemnor to make a bona fide offer. If the court finds that by filing a petition under Section 21.012 or by filing any other motion or pleading in the proceeding initiated by the filing of that petition the condemnor violated Chapter 10, Civil Practice and Remedies Code, the court shall order the condemnor to pay:
(1) all costs as provided by Subsection (a); and
(2) any reasonable attorney's fees incurred by the owner that are directly related to the violation.

This bill is about fairness.

Judge Whitley is not serving the good of the citizens of Texas and of Tarrant County in pushing for a veto of this bill.

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