By Scott Bransford
Leonard Jones isn't the only Mid-Valley property owner who cringes when he hears the words eminent domain.
Jones, an owner of Speedometer Electric in East Marysville, is one of several residents opposed to Marysville's plan to renew its eminent domain powers, which expired in November 2003 and allow the city to seize blighted properties for redevelopment efforts.
At a public hearing held last week, Jones joined a group of about 25 people who protested the city's plans, voicing suspicions that officials might abuse the powers in their quest to make Marysville thrive.
"All these grandiose plans they have for downtown, they're going to run into old-time property owners that don't want to sell," Jones said Monday. "This is a big boondoggle and all it does is affect good citizens."
City Administrator Steve Casey and other officials countered that the city is just following state and federal laws which require municipalities to renew eminent domain powers every 12 years through a process of public hearings.
"I think most people don't understand it," Casey said. "Eminent domain scares a lot of people, and I think most people are afraid of the issue."
Marysville wants to have the power to exercise eminent domain within its redevelopment area, which includes Marysville's southern end, plus another patch of West Marysville. The city designated the area in the 1970s, as it pursued several renewal projects such as the construction of the Mervyn's department store at Second and D Street.
Building Mervyn's required the demolition of several historic properties, and some still consider the project a mistake that robbed downtown Marysville of its historic character. Some residents fear the city will pursue a similar campaign in its effort to eliminate blight, Casey said.
At present, Marysville is pursuing redevelopment projects that could require demolition, such as a theater development at First and D streets and a Chinese-themed retail and entertainment district proposed for downtown Marysville.
However, city officials said Monday they simply want to keep eminent domain as a tool of last resort. The city has no plans on the horizon that would involve eminent domain, Casey said Tuesday.
"We certainly understand peoples' fears, but from the staff's perspective, it's a valuable tool in the redevelopment process," Casey said. "We don't expect to use it, we don't want to use it, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have it."
Some opponents of eminent domain also claim that eminent domain powers are an infringement on property rights.
At last Tuesday's public hearing, Loma Rica resident James White called the city's attempts to renew eminent domain "one of the most unAmerican prospects that we've had."
James White Jr., his son, said:
"We certainly don't cherish the idea of someone coming in and telling (us) what we can and cannot do with a property."
City Councilman Paul McNamara said concerned residents need to trust that city officials will use eminent powers wisely.
"I can understand their concern, but I just wish they would listen to the explanations that have been given to them," McNamara said. "(Taking a property) is a last resort and something the city would not decide to do overnight."
Casey said city attorneys are currently looking at residents' objections to eminent domain powers. The item is likely to come before the City Council for a vote at a meeting scheduled for next Tuesday, he said.
City Councilman Bill Harris doesn't want residents to have the impression that a "government land grab" is underway.
"(Eminent domain) is basically something we have to renew every 12 years," Harris said. "It's unfortunate that some of the people probably were misinformed."