Some owners may want eminent domain: North County Times (Escondido CA), 11/19/05


By Iris Siefert, Escondido CA

The Escondido Union High School District's recent set of five new school sites in suburban neighborhoods has met with the usual resident opposition.

Board members must now be tired of this search and its angry public debates, irate e-mails and press coverage of countless negative critical comments. Most of them probably joined the board hoping to focus on improving Escondido's educational system. Yet year after year, front-page news focuses around this bitter, emotional site search. They clearly have other important issues on which they need to concentrate.

Three years ago, when this search started, several of us suggested that the board appoint a citizen's task force to specifically attack this site issue. Some board members said that they would do so when the time came.

Is that time now? The five new sites are again in American dream neighborhoods. These are owner-occupied, wonderful places with single-family homes, low crime rates, and room for gardens, kids and dogs. Over the years a number of speakers have said that if eminent domain must be used, why not look at troubled inner-city neighborhoods rather than beloved suburban ones?

Three years ago district administrators told me that some people actually like to have their properties taken by government. I was told that business owners and landlords are often happy with it because not only do they receive market value, but they also get lost-income revenues and huge tax benefits. Tenants get not only a lump-sum relocation allowance but, if paying less than market rent, also can get an additional payment covering a number of months rent differential. This can sometimes be a good deal for them as well.

Redevelopment of an urban neighborhood is expensive, but perhaps less so than building a highway ramp to the Dorn site (at Del Dios Highway and Via Rancho Parkway). One of the speakers a few months ago even mapped out a possible 50 acres in a crime-ridden area off 9th Avenue. Task-force members could meet with owners and tenants in a few locations to provide compensation rights information and assess the degree of resistance and/or cooperation in the neighborhood. This would all be done with volunteer time and without the acrimony of the public meetings.

This search has dragged along and torn the community apart for well over three years. Perhaps a task force could do no better than what has transpired so far. But considering what is at stake, isn't this effort worth a try? Do we really want a school where suburban homes sit now or on the Dorn land? Let's let those community volunteers who feel vested in this search have a shot at the problem while freeing the board to focus on educational issues.

We have the best site for a new, state-of-the-art high school to possibly gain. What do we have to lose?

North County Times: www.nctimes.com