City might drop eminent domain expansion: San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, 12/10/05

National City plan will be discussed at meeting Tuesday

By Tanya Sierra

After spending nearly two years trying to persuade the public to support expanding the city's eminent domain boundaries, city officials will consider dropping the proposal altogether next week.

On Tuesday the City Council, acting as the Community Development Commission, will discuss whether to abandon the plan because it is "totally unnecessary and way ahead of its time," Councilman Ron Morrison said.

The proposal, which was first presented in February 2004, has drawn intense public opposition. Because so many people objected, the expansion was delayed more than a year and a number of changes in how it would work were made.

The proposal was Mayor Nick Inzunza's idea, Morrison said.

"This whole thing was the mayor's proposal," he said. "The problem was then he had to excuse himself from the process because he owns property in the area and the rest of us were stuck with it."

Inzunza did not return a call seeking comment on the issue. He had said last month that he would be on a family vacation in Big Bear from Dec. 1 through Dec. 21, but in the past week he has been at several social engagements, meetings and personal appointments in National City and Tijuana.

When he first proposed the idea, Inzunza said expanding the eminent domain area was an important tool in redeveloping the city.

"This is probably the biggest decision we'll make as an agency in a very long time," he said in 2004.

However, less than three weeks ago, Inzunza said that he believes the government has no business getting involved in private property issues and that he opposes using eminent domain.

"I have never voted for eminent domain," he said during a recent interview. "I'm in favor of private property rights."

Inzunza, Councilman Frank Parra and Councilwoman Rosalie Zarate have all had to recuse themselves from discussing or voting on the eminent domain expansion because they all own property in the redevelopment area.

With only two remaining council members able to participate in the vote, the three abstaining members drew straws to decide who would re-enter the debate. Zarate was chosen.

Eminent domain is a process by which the government forces private property owners to sell their land for redevelopment.

Property must be considered blighted in order for the city to seize it through eminent domain. In simple terms, law defines blight as property that is not economically viable and includes deteriorating physical conditions.

In the past, National City used eminent domain to clear out bars and the accompanying crime for an education center on National City Boulevard.

Councilman Luis Natividad, who was at a funeral yesterday, said he was not aware the eminent domain issue is on Tuesday's agenda but joked that the idea to possibly rescind the proposal comes at a critical time.

"It's election year," he said.

Morrison said the public has good reason to object to expanding the eminent domain territory, which currently consists of National City Boulevard and the Harbor District. The expanded territory would add East Plaza Boulevard, Highland Avenue and other business corridors.

"It was too blanket and it scared a lot of people," Morrison said.

San Diego Union-Tribune: www.signonsandiego.com