By Janet M Harp
The [Loma Linda] City Council heard an uproar of complaints Tuesday night in response to a proposal that would allow the city to seize residents' homes.
At press time, more than 30 of the hundreds of people attending the overflow meeting addressed the council about the amendment to stretch the Redevelopment Agency's eminent-domain rights to include occupied property. The Redevelopment Plan currently allows eminent domain, the power of government to appropriate private property without the owner's consent, only for unoccupied areas, City Manager Dennis Halloway said.
"This scares me very much,' said Tricia Kaiser of Loma Linda, her voice trembling. "The thought that someone would even want to do that is very threatening and intimidating. We want you to leave us alone. We like things the way they are.'
Eminent domain is most commonly used to turn private property into a project for public use, such as a school or street. But cities have extended the "public use' requirement over the years to work for economic or community developments, often seizing property to allow developers to come in and build more expensive homes or retail, increasing the city's property tax revenue. The city often only needs to show that an area is blighted and a certain project would improve it and benefit the public.
Residents of Loma Linda's older neighborhoods are worried this is just a way for the city to bulldoze them off their land and bring in more aesthetically pleasing subdivisions or lucrative businesses.
"As I walk around Loma Linda, I don't see blight,' said 50-year resident April Haindl before the meeting. "They use their own judgment about what's unlivable or what's displeasing. But most people who own property try to keep it up. You don't see things falling apart or graffitied.'
Haindl, whose brother spoke against the issue at the meeting, said she doesn't know if her area is targeted, but it is included in the city's redevelopment project area, which surrounds Loma Linda University and its medical center. City officials said there are no particular homes in mind, but Haindl said she doesn't trust them.
"They wouldn't be bothering to put this in place if they didn't have some certain areas in mind for why it's even needed,' she said.
At the meeting, Mayor Karen Gaio Hansberger insisted that using eminent domain would be a last resort for the city.
"I want to say again, it's not about any specific property,' Gaio Hansberger said. "We're not going to go and take your parents' house. This is about giving the city, and it could be right or wrong, the power to take it under a certain prescribed time as well as having to do with a certain project.'
With eminent domain, the government buys property and pays the owner a determined fair market value.
"A lot of houses are 20, 30, 40 and 50 years old there's no way they'll get true market value,' said resident Rebecca Ludwig, 62. "People work hard to get their homes and now here comes the city who wants to get more power to control.
"Why do you need eminent domain if it's not for greed? It's overkill.'
Ludwig said development in Loma Linda is going backward and pushing out its diversity.
"It's like segregation, we're going back to that,' she said. "We're going back to the dark ages, and these are supposed to be my golden years.'
The council was unable to vote because of procedural requirements to respond to letters received that the city must respond to before taking action. The item was continued to the Feb. 8 meeting.
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