City agency seeks land: San Bernardino County (CA) Sun-News, 5/17/05

Eminent domain possible

By Kelly Rayburn

Amid concern from some [Fontana CA] property owners, the city's redevelopment agency is seeking authority to use eminent domain in a large portion of the fast-growing north end.

The three areas where eminent domain is proposed all fall within the approximately 8,960-acre North Fontana Redevelopment Project Area, created more than 20 years ago to help eliminate blight.

While north Fontana has experienced tremendous growth and commercial development since then, Fontana Redevelopment Director Ray Bragg said that growth has been mostly stagnant in the three areas in question and that eminent domain could be used as a last resort to help the areas develop.

"We need to increase the tools we have to deal with these problems," Bragg said.

If eminent-domain authority is granted, it would give the redevelopment agency the right to take private land in the name of a greater public good.

Though the use of this tactic often is controversial, Bragg said the redevelopment agency has no specific plans to use eminent domain and that if it ever did, property owners would receive a fair price for their land, as well as money for moving costs.

Land in the three areas is mostly undeveloped, but homeowners nearby wonder what's to stop the city from using eminent domain in their neighborhoods if it is used elsewhere in north Fontana. Letters from Bragg specifying that only people within the three sub-areas of the redevelopment zone would be affected did little to quell some people's uneasiness.

"We're kind of skeptical," said Tony Galindo, who has lived on Lytle Creek Road, near the intersection of Interstate 15 and the Interstate 210 extension, for 18 years.

Galindo said, "Development is happening all around us, but we're not getting the upgrades ... we still don't have sidewalks."

He said he had been approached by a representative from a real estate development company looking to buy his property. He demurred, but wonders whether his property could be targeted if the city wants new development.

Bragg said he does not foresee the need for eminent-domain authority in any other region of north Fontana.

One of the areas where eminent domain is an issue includes land where the city would like to create an auto mall.

Larry Bonanno, who said he owns 23.75 acres in the auto mall area, sent a letter to city leaders protesting the inclusion of some of his property in the eminent-domain area. He said his property is not blighted and that the infrastructure needed for development including curbs, gutters, utilities and traffic lights is already in place. He plans to air his concerns at the City Council meeting tonight. Eminent domain is scheduled to be considered tonight during a joint session of the council and the city's redevelopment agency, which is composed of council members. Bragg said officials likely would use the meeting to hear concerns and would vote at their June 7 meeting.

Some elected officials have indicated their support for the proposed amendment.

City Councilwoman Janice Rutherford describes herself as a supporter of individuals' property rights.

"I generally oppose the use of eminent domain," she said, "but I think it's a valuable tool for the city to have to negotiate with people."

She said the redevelopment agency's work has been critical in bringing commercial development, including a Target and a Stater Bros., to north Fontana.

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