The use of eminent domain powers was authorized by Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit directors Wednesday to obtain easements necessary to consolidate three rail crossings into one in south Petaluma.
It would be the district's first use of eminent domain — essentially the power of government to force owners to give up some or all of their private property rights.
Officials said the controversial process, which is infrequently used, may be necessary to provide the single crossing that is being required for safety reasons by the California Public Utilities Commission and to avoid leaving any of the owners landlocked.
It will be undertaken only if the district can't reach a voluntary agreement with four property owners, said Bob Pittman, a deputy Sonoma County county counsel who advises the district, told the SMART board.
"We are attempting to negotiate possession and use agreements, but if not successful, we will file for eminent domain, which will take five to six months to be granted," Pittman said.