Eminent domain changes backed: San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, 12/6/05

S.D. council panel OKs 60 days' notice

By Martin Stolz

The government's practice of condemning and acquiring private property in redevelopment areas of San Diego will be slightly modified, not eliminated, after city officials researched complaints.

In September, the City Council's Government Efficiency and Openness Committee heard three hours of testimony from redevelopment officials and opponents of eminent domain, which is the government's power to take private property for public uses, with just compensation.

Among other changes, the committee decided yesterday to give more notice to those who might be affected by eminent domain and to make sure the process is free of threats or intimidation.

"Redevelopment has many sides," Councilwoman Donna Frye said. "I don't think they are all good or all bad."

The emotional outpouring at the September committee meeting followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming the government's power of eminent domain.

Much of the testimony focused not on the court ruling but on a controversial redevelopment effort in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood.

That project aims to create housing, a school, stores, medical facilities and a day-care center under the control of a special "joint powers agency" led by an employee of the San Diego Housing Commission with representatives from the city school system and City Council.

The City Heights project is outside the City Council's control; the project's scope has since changed, records shows.

At the September hearing, the committee asked city officials to conduct research into the procedures used in the condemnation process in redevelopment and address perceptions of abuse.

The city's staff researched recommendations made by Karen Frostrom, a lawyer in an eminent domain lawsuit against the Centre City Development Corp., which advises the council on downtown redevelopment.

Redevelopment proponents, who say eminent domain is rarely used, feared the council might eliminate or severely curtail the use of eminent domain.

Linville Martin, a real estate professional whose East Village home was seized to make way for Petco Park, said his experiences through the condemnation process "were totally positive."

"These's a campaign of fear out there that government will take people's homes," Martin said.

In response to a claim made in Frostrom's report that eminent domain "breaks the sacred contract between a government and its citizens," Martin said: "I am here, and I am not tainted."

Frostrom attended the meeting but did not speak.

Frye and Councilman Brian Maienschein voted to adopt the staff report. Councilman Tony Young, the third committee member, did not attend yesterday's meeting.

The staff report calls for modifications, such as educating real estate agents about redevelopment; lengthening the notification period for property owners from 30 days to 60; and expressly prohibiting "threats, and/or intimidation during purchase negotiations."

Half of Frostrom's 10 recommendations needed no action because they reflect current practices.

A separate report by City Attorney Michael Aguirre recommended that city officials follow state legislation on eminent domain and establish certain guidelines on its use in San Diego. Five legislative committees in Sacramento are reviewing eminent domain issues.

San Diego Union-Tribune: www.signonsandiego.com