The California Supreme Court held that state agencies may enter private properties for environmental and geological testing activities in some cases and that a jury may award damages if property is damaged during that testing. In Property Reserve Inc. et al. v. The Superior Court of San Joaquin County et al., case number S217738, the California Department of Water Resources invoked precondemnation powers under the state’s Eminent Domain Law relating to entry and testing to conduct environmental and geological studies and testing on more than 150 privately owned properties.
The California Supreme Court held that the testing was permitted. However, it also held that the property owners must have the opportunity for a jury trial if there are damages caused by the testing. The Court explained that the statutory procedure relating to precondemnation entry and testing “as presently written” does not afford a property owner the right to have a jury determine the amount of compensation within the precondemnation proceeding itself, and is constitutionally deficient.
“We conclude that the appropriate remedy for this constitutional flaw is to reform the precondemnation entry statutes so as to afford the property owner the option of obtaining a jury trial on damages at the proceeding,” the Court held.
It is very possible the legislature will now amend the statute to conform to the decision.