By Tanya Sierra
A local auto repair business owner and 10 of his customers launched a recall campaign against City Councilman Luis Natividad because of his role in an eminent domain procedure that will displace the business.
Humberto Rodriguez Sr., who lives in Spring Valley, said his customers, who are National City residents, and others involved in the campaign targeted Natividad because of the councilman's gruff behavior during meetings.
"Mr. Natividad is a person who gets out of hand," Rodriguez said. "It's more of a symbolic statement I'm making. It's nothing really personal against Natividad."
In February, the City Council, acting as the Community Development Commission, began the approval process for Park Village, a 24-story condo project at 11th Street and National City Boulevard that will feature retail shops on the ground floor.
Tuesday night, officials gave final approval for the development and voted to use eminent domain to acquire three properties, including Rodriguez's.
A fourth property, an after-school boxing program for at-risk youth, will be displaced as well, but the city is working to find a new location for it. Officials said they do not intend to seize that property because they believe they will agree on a replacement site.
The city voted to use eminent domain after the developer and the property owners could not agree on a sale price after more than two years of negotiating. Property must be considered blighted to be seized through eminent domain. The law defines blight as property that is not economically viable and is physically deteriorating.
Tuesday night Natividad called business owners "greedy" for holding out for more money.
The councilman, who has until today to submit a written response to the recall effort, said the move does not intimidate him.
"You want to take me out? Knock yourself out," Natividad said during Tuesday night's Community Development Commission meeting. "I wasn't born in this office and I'm not going to die in this office."
Natividad, 63, was elected in 2002. His term expires in November.
A special election would cost $70,000 to $80,000, City Clerk Michael Dala said. To place a recall initiative on a special election ballot, several steps need to occur.
First, the elected official must be served with a notice and a copy of that notice must be filed with the city clerk. The person, in this case Natividad, has seven days to respond. However, a response is not required.
Recall organizers then have 10 days to file two blank copies of the petition and proof that their notice of intent has been published in a newspaper. The city clerk reviews the petition and any accompanying documents for accuracy before the recallers are free to obtain signatures.
In this case, 20 percent of registered voters in National City must sign the petition within 120 days. That amounts to 3,110 signatures. The registrar of voters then has 30 days to confirm the signatures. After that the City Council sets a date for a special election to be held 88 to 125 days later.
Rodriguez said he is not sure whether he will complete all the necessary steps.
"We're kind of holding off for a little while," he said. "We don't want to make a lot of enemies. We don't live in National City, but we have to work in the National City area."
Five years ago, Rodriguez purchased Ray Brock Auto Service from Ray Brock, who opened the shop on West 11th Street 47 years ago. Rodriguez worked for Brock, who still owns the land, for 30 years.
"I spent almost 50 years here and I just don't think it's (eminent domain) the American way," Brock said. "You spend half your life building a business and hoping to retire off of it and now the city wants to take it away."
Natividad says he is only in favor of using eminent domain when he thinks it will help the city.
"We have to make difficult decisions to benefit the city," he said. "Every decision I have made has been with the city in mind."
Officials have used eminent domain in the past to clear out several bars – and the accompanying crime – on National City Boulevard. The city then built an education center in that area.
Whether the group moves forward with its recall intent or not, Natividad said it will not deter him.
"You can un-elect me and I'll get re-elected the next week," he said.
San Diego Union-Tribune: www.signonsandiego.com