Sorry About Trespassing! Gimme Your Land!


Here's a beaut of an Eminent Domain horror story, from Stockton, California. In 2001, San Joaquin County education bureaucrats could stands no more looking at a big empty parcel on businessman Will Eisner's 96,000-square-foot lot, so it used eminent domain to buy 36,000 square feet of it for a new school. Then, Eisner

returned from a Hawaiian vacation last summer to a message on his answering machine. An official from the San Joaquin County Office of Education had some bad news: A construction team had accidentally built part of a new school on land Eisner owns and is leasing to a car dealership on East Hammer Lane near Tam O'Shanter Drive.

It was a 10,000-square-foot mistake. So what is the county doing to make up for it? You guessed it—threatening to use Eminent Domain to seize the over-run property. Eisner, understandably, wants to tear the protruding bit down, and is asking local courts for permission. The county's reaction is classic:

"If there's somebody running around the community who wants to tear down much-needed schools," said Trent Allen, a spokesman for the county schools office, "that's their prerogative."


NEXT: Esther Victoria Blodget Need Not Apply

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Can of gasoline moonless night

  2. county’s mistake burning bright!

  3. Hit and Run mavens publically applaud…

  4. This mysterious, nocturnal act of gawd.

  5. Isn’t San Joaquin county about half the size of Nevada? They can’t find enough land there without stealing, how pathetic.

  6. Yes, but it’s to build an institution of “social promotion,” so as to better equip CA kids to take over the menial farm and janitor jobs left behind when all the immigrants are sent back to Mehico. It’s very forward thinking.

  7. All Together Now:

  8. If the county would just premptively take everyone’s land at once, we wouldn’t have these problems.

  9. At least they build a school there – that is, the government is using it for a government use – rather than selling the land to one of Mr. Eisner’s competitors. In San Leandro, the City took land from General Motors (who had stopped using it as a training site, and hadn’t yet built a dealership there), and gave it (sold, I think) to the neighboring Honda dealership.

  10. Not sure what the snarky “couldn’t stand looking at the vacant lot” was for. Is California a majical place where they never have to build new schools? If you’ve got a problem with taking private land for a public purpose through eminent domain, take it up with Mr. Madison.

    And to top it off, you recommend that the city spend hunderds of thousands of extra dollars on demolition, redesign, and new construction. Interesting to see how hostility to black-letter-definition takings can lead to such promiscuity with taxpayer dollars.

    This would have made a great “Bickbats” Piece about a stupid city that screwed up its construction project and now has to pay extra taxpayer dollars, and further intrude on a guy, to finish the job. Trying to shoehorn in a point about eminent domain abuse makes a mess out of a neat little story.

  11. Well, joe, how about requiring that the municipality attempt to purchase suitable land first? Unlike a roadway, pipeline, or canal that requires adjacent parcels of land for its essential purpose, a school building can be situated in a variety of places.

    I believe that one reasonable reform of eminent domain would be to require that the purchaser pay 50% above the “value” of the land to encourage voluntary transactions and reserve eminent domain for only the most unusual circumstances.

  12. Take a D-9 and scrape away 10,000 sf of the school. Push the rubble into the street.

  13. joe, you’re kidding, right? the county office of ed. built on land that wasn’t theirs! that doesn’t mean they get to keep the land!

  14. We’re talking about less than one acre of land! (if the school had been built properly, that is.) Surely the school bureaucrats could find an acre of land somewhere for their school without forcibly taking it from its current owner.

    The bureaucrats just couldn’t be bothered to look around for their precious acre because current law allows them to forcibly take whatever land they want rather than having to expend all that effort to locate and aquire suitable land on the open market.

  15. If it really was the construction team’s mistake, then the taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook to pay for the additional land or reconstruction costs – the construction team, or its insurance company, should be.

    If the construction team can’t afford it, what’s the school district doing hiring uninsured or unbonded contractors?

    I’ve heard of a case where a surveyor laid out a house incorrectly, and as a result, one pier for the foundation hit a major storm drain for the subdivision. The house was still within the lot, so they just moved the storm drain. At the expense of the surveyor’s E&O insurance policy.

  16. And to top it off, you recommend that the city spend hunderds of thousands of extra dollars on demolition, redesign, and new construction.

    Yup. That’s what a private organization would have to do if it made the same mistake. Why shouldn’t the goddamn school district do the same?

  17. The construction guys didn’t make the mistake–the surveying engineers did. Mapping out the boundaries of the property is Surveying 101, and if the county hired them, that’s the county’s problem.

  18. In my part of the country, there are “Setback” regulations fanatically enforced by the local governments. That means that someone REALLY had to blow it because you usually can’t even design a building without taking lot line setbacks into account.

    I vote for the bulldozer solution.

  19. Anthony has it right. This is a surveyor’s error and it should be corrected that way. Tear whatever has been built down, rebuild it where it’s supposed to be and collect damages from the responsible party [or their insurance company (errors and ommissions policy), (that’s what it’s for)].

  20. Hats/beards off to “Burma Shave” at top of this thread.

    Had anyone ever speculated that Thomas Jefferson got wobbly regurgitating Locke’s “life, liberty, property” because Thomas had slaves? (slaves, liberty, property don’t jibe)

    If there hadn’t been the slavery fly in the ointment of the Founders, we could now feel comfortable viewing property crimes as capital offenses.

    But, hey, it would always have been one fly or another… flies and cockroaches: our evolutionary superiors.

  21. Robert Nabors writes:

    Why go to the courts?

    Point taken; however, there is a remedy called “declaratory judgment” available to people who want courts to clarify a potentially disputed issue, and perhaps out of an abundance of caution this landowner chose to pursue that or a similar remedy before revving up his bulldozer.

  22. Robert Nabors point out one of the many ways in which this landowner, who already has reason to be miffed at the School District, now has them over a barrel. They’re going to take the necessary property, make no mistake. In takings, it’s always a matter of negotiating the price so as to allow the government to avoid the lengthy, disruptive process of actually going through with a lawsuit. But the aggrieved landowner has all sorts of claims against the government for the “temporary taking” that is occuring before the government takes title, plus other delaying suits he can file on all sorts of matters. He’s got about 1000 years of English land law on his side, and the school alread has all sorts of sunken costs (the taxpayer dollars you all express such concern for on most occasions), meaning the government need to settle on Eisner’s terms. Frankly, this is probably what his demolition suit is angling for. He’s a businessman, after all.

    So, basically, the surveyors, their insurance company, the school district or all three just handed this guy a winning lottery ticket. Idiots.

  23. Why go to the courts?

    Unless the city or state has a law against demolition (with a bulldozer, hopefully – and would only require requesting a permit), he shouldn’t have to go to court.

    Hell, the city should have to go to court to get an injunction to keep him from bulldozing. Not the other way around. It’s not city property yet. So, until then, it is his to blow up, tear down, or live in.


  24. But in this case, the situation is more analogous to a road or utility corridor; the piece of land on which the unfortunate wing is sitting is the only piece of land that will serve the purpose, because the school is already sitting on top of it.

    I believe the Latin for this kind of argument is post hoc, ergo propter hoc. You are confusing the facts on the ground now with the situation when decisions were made. Sure, it may be necessary now to have the school slop over onto the neighbors land, because it does in fact slop over. However, when it was designed and built, well, it wasn’t already there and so there is no excuse and no necessity for the trespass.

    The analogy to roads and utility easements is flawed – these easements require access to and use of adjoining parcels because it is necessary to have the road or easement run uninterrupted.

    When the school was designed and built, there was no “necessity” to ignore property lines and trespass on the neighbor’s land.

  25. somehow, I guessed joe might sympathize with the gov’t in this case

  26. You assume that building across the property line was a decision. I’m more inclined to believe it was a screw up; it was not designed to encroach onto the neighbor’s land, but was built in the wrong spot, either because of a mistake on the plans, or a mistake reading them. Thus, the “decision” regarding whether to take the additional quarter acre was only made once the school was already there.

    If they wanted the extra 10,000 square feet from the beginning, they would have taken it then, believe me. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to do these things once than twice. Plus, the abutter is going to get a lot more per square foot now that he has claims against the school district than he would have gotten if it had been included in the original taking.

  27. it’s a screw-up that shows extreme negligence. looks like another good candidate for tarring and feathering a govt official

  28. “Surely the school bureaucrats could find an acre of land somewhere for their school without forcibly taking it from its current owner.”

    But in this case, the situation is more analogous to a road or utility corridor; the piece of land on which the unfortunate wing is sitting is the only piece of land that will serve the purpose, because the school is already sitting on top of it.

    Now, why did they build the school at this location, and not out in the boonies somewhere? I don’t really know, but the location of school buildings is not as irrelevant as some posters have suggested. From bus routes to utility installation costs to neighborhood impacts to allowing kids to walk safely, the siting of a school at a certain location can have huge impacts on the well being of students, the quality of education, the costs per pupil, and the future growth of the community.

    PS – building schools way out in the boonies is a favorite tactic of politicians who are close to developers. The school district picks up the cost of running water, sewer, electrical, and upgraded roads a few miles past the edge of the developed area at taxpayer expense, which makes all the land adjacent to these improvements much more desirable for residential and commercial development. Plus, the new suburb brags about having a sparkling new school.

  29. EMAIL:

    DATE: 12/10/2003 04:40:02
    I criticize by creation — not by finding fault.

  30. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/09/2004 12:07:07
    In his errors a man is true to type. Observe the errors and you will know the man.

  31. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/19/2004 01:56:31
    He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.