Eminent domain issue unresolved: San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, 8/11/05

Residents opposed to National City plan

By Tanya Sierra

[National City CA] officials have been trying for nearly a year to expand the eminent domain area but keep running into persistent opposition.

The City Council, serving as the Community Development Commission, was supposed to give final approval Tuesday night. But the vote was put on hold again – this time for at least two months – because residents raised so many concerns.

Now, Community Development Commission officials will video record the properties included in the proposed expansion area to illustrate what they consider blighted properties.

"It's really important for us to be extremely thorough," said Byron Estes, deputy director of redevelopment. "It's one of those kind of issues that people feel strongly about and we want to work strongly with this community."

City officials want to expand the eminent domain area to include almost the entire redevelopment zone, and first introduced the plan in November. They conducted workshops to answer residents' questions. The City Council tried to vote on the issue several times but met resistance at every step.

Under eminent domain, the city can take over private, nonresidential property within the redevelopment zone. Residents oppose any expansion of that power because they fear their homes are at risk, despite the city's assurances that residential property is not included. Some residents are also arguing that the areas officials consider blighted are not.

City officials say they will use the authority only as a last resort. They say they need it to revitalize the city and remove run-down property.

Still, they made some concessions to ease residents' fears. They cut the length of time the expanded eminent-domain authority would be in effect, from 12 years to eight, and stated more clearly in documents that eminent domain will not affect residences.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that broadened the government's authority to take private property further spooked National City landowners, even though local officials said they are not targeting residences.

The Community Development Commission hired a consultant to perform a blight analysis of the eminent domain area, which concluded that 86 percent of the property within the target area suffers from blight or deterioration.

That finding outraged some business owners, who questioned the city's definition of blighted. At a meeting in June, longtime business owner Mike Filson said his property has always been kept up and that metal siding, when properly maintained, is an effective building material.

"My grandfather was a very resourceful builder," he said in June. "There's nothing wrong with an old building."

CDC officials will use video to document the properties, Estes said.

"We think it's important to examine this," he said.

For now, residents can breathe easy until the fall, when the issue goes before the City Council.

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