City Life: Eminent domain equals imminent problems

The city of Newport Beach is poised to exercise eminent domain in order to finish building a new road.

According to the City Council, a piece of land is on its radar because it completes the widening of the Jamboree Road bridge across the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway.

On June 8, the council voted 6-1 to seize the property, calling it a "resolution of necessity." The lone dissenting vote was cast by Councilman Ed Selich, who wanted to continue to negotiate with the property's owners. He called the eminent domain process one of the government's "more fearsome and awesome powers."

Unfortunately, eminent domain is perfectly legal. In fact, it's even blessed by the Constitution, in which the process is sanctioned by the Fifth Amendment. But the Fifth Amendment does not give government carte blanche to take any property anytime it sees fit. Compensation is mandated and the seizure must be for the "public use."

Yes, I know it's in the Constitution, but that doesn't make it right.

The city is in this fix because the property's owners, Karen and Frank Dabby, are unhappy with the latest offer of $452,000 for the 0.13 acres of land. According to a Daily Pilot report, owner Karen Dabby called the offer "ridiculous."

Even more ridiculous is the rationale for the street widening. Caltrans traffic flows are called "Levels of Service" (LOS) and are assigned a range from A to F.

LOS A represents a traffic situation with no delays, which today you will find only near a Krispy Kreme doughnut store.

LOS F represents heavily congested traffic and "considerable delays." That's also known as "gridlock," and is the type of traffic you'll find on the floor of the state Assembly.

Today, traffic is flowing quite freely in front of the center. So why the rush to seize the property? Because a report issued by the city estimates that in 2030, the intersection will be performing at LOS D, and in order to get some county money to support the project, construction must begin soon.

Yes, you are reading that correctly: There is no problem at the current intersection where the property stands. But apparently, someone borrowed the same crystal ball used to predict a Boston Celtics' victory in the NBA Finals to predict that traffic would be a mess in 20 years, all because the city wants the subsidy.

Now that's scary.

You see, one of the problems with having governments responsible for these projections is that they only know how to think one way. They can only create models based on the way they have always done things. And because there is always at least a little bit of self-preservation in any bureaucracy, these types of projections can be dangerous.

The city of Newport Beach should not only back off using eminent domain here, it should scrap the project altogether, because I believe that in 2020 there will be less traffic.

Long before 2030, businesses all over the United States will have finally figured out that existing technology can enable employees to work from home and save the company absurd amounts of money in costs such as insurance, mileage allowances, rent and supplies, just to name a few. They will have figured out that not only are telecommuters more productive than those in an office (40%, according to one study), they are also happier and more loyal to the company.

When that happens, the area will be rid of many of the people driving to and from work because they are doing the same job from home. This is not wishful thinking. Right now, there are smart companies all over America that use telecommuting as a recruiting tool to get the best and the brightest.

Selich cast the right vote but for the wrong reason. Eminent domain should be used only in rare cases. Seizing property because a government agency is telling us what will be in 20 years is not one of them.

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