New Study Highlights Abuses of Eminent Domain in WA

Seattle – Today Washington Policy Center (WPC) and Institute for Justice – Washington Chapter (IJ-WA) released a new study describing specific examples of how local governments in Washington have abused the Community Renewal Law to take private property from citizens.

The Community Renewal Law, also known as eminent domain, gives state and local governments the authority to label land as “blighted” and force homeowners to sell against their wishes. Often the land is then transferred to private corporations as part of mandatory economic development plans.

The study, authored by IJ-WA Staff Attorney and WPC Adjunct Scholar Jeanette M. Peterson, describes how the Community Renewal Law works and highlights specific abuses in Auburn, Bellingham, Bremerton, Renton, Seattle, Tukwila, and Walla Walla. Officials in those cities used a blight designation to legitimize the taking of citizens’ property, before transferring it to private developers.

The study finds that since 2000, officials have tried to use the Community Renewal Law to impact the private property rights of more than 71,000 Washington citizens. Of these, the homes, businesses and properties of more than 48,000 Washington residents have been subject to official action that involved the threat or use of eminent domain power to transfer land to private developers. In almost all cases, the result of using the Community Renewal Law was to generate profits for developers, while increasing tax revenues for local officials.

The study also discusses examples of successful economic development in Everett and Vancouver without the use of eminent domain.

“Private property is a civil right,” says Paul Guppy, WPC’s Vice President for Research and member of the Attorney General’s Eminent Domain Task Force. “State law does not do enough to protect this right from the wrongful use of eminent domain.”

Today Guppy is participating in a press conference in Olympia with Attorney General Rob McKenna to highlight weaknesses in state law protecting private property. The Attorney General is calling on the legislature to strengthen Washington law to protect private property owners from eminent domain abuse.