Council responds to tax claims, eminent domain: San Mateo (CA) Daily Journal, 10/29/05

By Michelle Durand

Recent allegations that Redwood City improperly used tax dollars on its downtown cinema project will likely be addressed at the council’s next meeting in November, according to one councilwoman.

On Nov. 14, the council will receive an ad hoc committee report on guiding principals for property acquisition, an attempt to avoid future eminent domain issues like those raised by the cinema project.

At that time, Councilwoman Rosanne Foust said, the tax accusations made by Jim Knapp will likely be raised publicly, too.

“We have to talk about at least some of it. We can’t expect any of this to just go away so we need to get through the rhetoric ... and take it all seriously. We can’t ignore it,” Foust said.

Mayor Jeff Ira, though, doesn’t expect any exhaustive discussion.

“It’s not something to bring up unless somebody really has something to discuss. It might otherwise be confusing to the audience rather than helpful,” Ira said.

Knapp, president of Citizens for Accountability, claim the city has been less than forthcoming about the project’s price tag and improperly used public money for a private project. Knapp also claims city charter requires two-thirds voter approval for the hefty bonds but did not take the issue to the ballot.

Foust, like other Redwood City officials, questioned why Knapp is bringing the matter up so close to the election. During her tenure on the Planning Commission, Foust said she has no record of Knapp or anyone from his group publicly speaking out against the cinema or other projects like the Marina Shores proposal.

Instead, he has sent a number of e-mails to public officials that Foust characterizes as insulting and libelous.

Ira told Knapp he would look at any documents he could provide on the alleged problems and, if needed, appoint a task force to research it.

Knapp’s accusations are just the latest bump in the cinema’s road to completion.

In April 2004, Judge Quentin Kopp ruled the city unlawfully seized private property and razed a building to make room for the 20-screen cineplex and parking garage on land bound by Broadway, Jefferson Avenue and Middlefield Road. James Celotti’s two-story building was taken on the grounds that a public parking lot would be built on the land but Kopp ruled it was in fact being used to benefit a private developer.

The city declared the block a blighted area and acquired it using eminent domain. Celotti later received a $3 million settlement.

The San Mateo County civil grand jury knocked the city’s lack of etiquette in the land grab and recommended the redevelopment agency create written guidelines. The jury did not tackle the details of the Celotti agreement but said all the property owners suffered “disproportionate injuries.”

The recommendation propelled the creation of the guidelines to be unveiled Nov. 14.

“It basically lays out the principals of how we expect the process to go and really sets the tone,” said Foust, who served on the subcommittee with councilmembers Barbara Pierce and Jim Hartnett. “We want to have a more sensitive approach to future redevelopment actions.”

Foust does take issue with the civil grand jury not seeking council input into its final report. Likewise, she said if Knapp has a true concern and valid complaint he should approach the city in a different way.

“I have no qualms about doing whatever sort of investigation needs to be done, in the most appropriate way possible,” she said. “But all we’re seeing is that we’re being attacked and he wants to run out names into the mud.”

Ira said it doesn’t matter so much if Knapp has a valid concern or is simply muckraking.

“He is a resident so we’re not just blowing him off. He just need him to follow the process for it to work,” Ira said.

San Mateo Daily Journal: www.smdailyjournal.com