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California Supreme Court Rejects Inverse Condemnation Claims Based on Obstruction of View


08/22/06

In Regency Outdoor Advertising, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles Case No. 132619 (August 7, 2006), the California Supreme Court rejected Regency's inverse condemnation claim based on impairment of visibility. The City planted mature palm trees in the median of Century Boulevard on the approach to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The trees blocked the view of Regency's billboards, allegedly affecting their value. The Superior Court ruled in favor of the City. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that "the right to be seen from a public way simply does not exist under the circumstances presented." Regency Outdoor reaffirmed that in asserting an inverse condemnation claim, "the property owner must first clear the hurdle of establishing that the public agency has, in fact, taken [or damaged] his or her property. As part of this threshold showing, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the government has 'taken or damaged' a cognizable property right. An inverse condemnation plaintiff does not establish that its property has been 'taken' or 'damaged' merely by showing that government action has somewhat decreased the value of its property."

The Court noted that the majority of cases finding that impairment of visibility is compensable involved some other interference with the use, access to, or physical invasion of property. The Court concluded that street landscaping serves a legitimate purpose and compared the impact of the City's landscaping program to traditional land use regulations that "have long been held to be valid exercises of a city's traditional police power, and do not amount to a taking merely because they might incidentally restrict a use, diminish the value, or impose a cost in connection with the property." Regency Outdoor reaffirms principles established in earlier case law. A public agency will not be held liable for inverse condemnation unless there is some direct and substantial interference with the use of, restriction of access to, or physical damage or invasion of property. The ruling reaffirms that nearby public projects that affect a property's value but are not otherwise actionable do not give rise to a claim for inverse condemnation.

Thomas D. Long has over 23 years of litigation experience, much of it representing public agencies. He can be reached at (213) 612-7871 or at tlong@nossaman.com.

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