National City may widen eminent domain, including development area: San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, 7/27/05

By Tanya Sierra

[National City CA] officials continued their redevelopment push last night by moving another step closer to approving a development deal and increasing their ability to take private property.

In one move, the City Council approved expanding the city's eminent-domain territory in concept, but will hold off on a final vote for two weeks to accommodate a last-minute change to exclude several properties from the new territory.

The new area would include nearly the entire redevelopment area, which is a large chunk of the city west of Interstate 805.

City officials also moved closer to sealing a deal with an international architect who plans to build a 20-story tower and a seven-story building housing condominiums and retail space next to City Hall.

The development deal got competitive in the last few months when property owner Daniel Ilko refused to sell his corner land to the Constellation Property Group, led by Australian Eugene Marchese.

When Ilko refused to sell, city officials offered him the chance to propose his own project, which was considered along with Constellation's project.

An announcement was made last night about a pending agreement between Ilko and Constellation before the Community Development commissioners, who are also the council members, had to choose between the two projects.

The final vote to give Constellation permission to move forward with its development will be made at a future meeting.

Several residents have opposed the city's desire to expand its eminent domain power, which allows officials to take over private nonresidential property within the redevelopment zone.

City officials say they will use the authority only as a last resort. 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.

Another compromise includes not instituting eminent domain on the city's west side until the area's specific-plan process, now taking place, is finished.

Nevertheless, dozens of people crowded into the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center last night to protest.

"Don't mess with our neighborhoods," longtime resident Alfonso Hernandez said. "I consider all of National City my neighborhood."

The eminent domain territory will be expanded from National City Boulevard and the Harbor District to include Highland Avenue, the city's west side, East Plaza Boulevard, parts of the Eighth Street corridor and parts of 30th Street and Sweetwater Road.

At least 16 people wrote letters to the Community Development Commission objecting to the expansion or requesting clarification on what is considered blighted property – a measure officials use when considering eminent domain.

However, even in cases where a property is not blighted, if it is in the eminent domain jurisdiction, the CDC can still choose to take it if a development proposal more beneficial for the city is found.

In Ilko's case, for example, a car-rental business sits on his property and is clearly not blighted. But because city officials liked Constellation's condo proposal so much, Ilko came out on the losing end.

Councilman Luis Natividad requested that a number of residential properties be excluded from the eminent-domain territory since the power would not apply to them anyway.

City Attorney George Eiser recommended holding off on a vote so the properties could be officially identified by parcel numbers.

Union-Tribune: www.signonsandiego.com