Earlier this year, the City of Los Angeles offered $2,000 to 75 individuals who owned part of the Los Angeles River channel in Elysian Valley. Why? When the City wished to construct a bike lane along the river, it discovered that individual property owners, and not the government, owned portions of the channel. It had to purchase easements from the property owners in order to complete the project.
As additional public works projects are developed – including the Army Corps of Engineers’ project to restore an 11-mile section of the river between the Ventura Freeway and southern Los Angeles – more property owners can expect to receive compensation for the rights to use their property.
A murky history
Needless to say, it’s not common for individuals or private businesses to own a piece of the river. As the LA Times notes, the reason why the Los Angeles River channel is any different is “cloudy” at best. It appears the Flood Control District purchased some of the channel in the 1930s, but there are no records as to why it did not purchase all of it. Furthermore, since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared the river navigable, it may be argued that the government has had a right to access it for decades (without obtaining easements).
If the government asks to use your land
If you can show that you own a portion of the channel that the government has interest in using, you can request compensation for that use.
In some cases, the government will want to purchase the land rather than simply pay to use it. To do so, it must offer just compensation for that property. If the government approaches you with a bid that you think is too low, you do not have to accept it – and probably should not accept the first offer.
In eminent domain proceedings (the government’s action to take private land for public use), the government must offer the best value your property could receive on the open market. Of course, determining how much a river channel is worth has its challenges. It is nearly impossible to compare it to similarly situated properties or otherwise show how much a private buyer would pay for it. An eminent domain attorney, together with an experienced appraiser, can help you counter the government’s offer and receive fair value for your land.