4/25/2006

Groups fighting eminent domain: Contra Costa (CA) Times, 3/6/06

By Scott Marshall

[San Ramon] residents start Web sites [and] blogs, [saying] officials are not listening to their concerns over rezoning issue. Some of them oppose establishment of "eminent domain" property acquisition rules, while others fear local golf courses could be rezoned into other uses.

Their common bond — they feel the city isn't listening to their concerns. Members of both camps complain the city isn't listening to them or answering their questions about pending decisions they believe could adversely affect them.

And now, they're joining forces. The golf course people have a Web log and have put the eminent domain issue at the top of its home page with the headline, "Could they point a gun at you?" above a picture of a tot pointing a toy gun at the reader.

Eminent domain is linked with the potential golf course rezoning because they both are tools the city wants but that residents reject, said golf course rezoning opponent Jan Desmarais.

Foes of that rezoning have established a legal fund and have consulted two attorneys who have so far worked for free in examining their claims, Desmarais said.

Added Diane Smith, a vocal opponent of the rezoning, "It has become obvious (city leaders) do not want community involvement.

Although coming from different directions, "It's the same fight," said eminent domain opponent Ted Mendelson, who operates Mendelson Autobody on Beta Court. City officials have proposed re-establishing eminent domain — rules to allow the city to buy out property owners at "fair market value" — in that area of northern San Ramon. Most Beta Court business operators rent their spaces.

"Once the general plan got accepted, it has to be law," and residents' views don't get heard, Mendelson said. The golf course rezoning foes, he added, are "going to be a great ally."

Changing the land-use designation of the two golf courses from parks to commercial recreation, would open the door to development uses, opponents say, ranging from emergency and transitional housing and more intensive recreational uses to new housing.

City Council members, planning commissioners and planners say such fears are groundless and that rezoning opponents are wrong. Vice Mayor Carol Rowley read a statement at a council meeting saying such fears have no basis in fact.

"It's going to go through the normal process," said San Ramon Mayor H. Abram Wilson. "I believe, I know, that once the residents understand and get all the information, they will realize how unfounded these claims are."

The proposed revision, in the works since 2003, would bring the city's zoning ordinance into compliance with voter-approved General Plan 2020. City Council members and planners have met with opponents for several hours on several occasions.

Still, the issue took on a life of its own, as Smith and Desmarais gathered more than 250 signatures from people who live near the Canyon Lakes Golf Club and the San Ramon Golf Club.

Still not satisfied, the cause of the golf course group has made increasingly incendiary claims, including that the city didn't properly advertise meetings and that they have something to hide.

The eminent domain group, fewer in number and less vocal than the golf course neighbors, are business owners on Beta Court. They became alarmed when the Times and a Web site operated by longtime city government observer Roz Rogoff wrote about the eminent domain proposal.

The city wants to have eminent domain included in the Crow Canyon Specific Plan, which would establish mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly housing and businesses on the north side. The Planning Commission has deadlocked on whether housing should cover the Beta Court area. Housing there, Mendelson says, would result in landlords forcing his and other businesses out of the area.

Such organized opposition to city government in San Ramon hasn't been seen since a turbulent period in 2002 and 2003. Former Mayor Dianne Schinnerer formed Citizens for San Ramon in 2002, when the City Council evaluated and then fired City Manager Herb Moniz, who was rehired by the present council in 2003.

In 2003, Friends of San Ramon was formed to fight, among other things, a heliport proposed for a site near Iron Horse Middle School by Sunset Development Co.

Scott Marshall covers the San Ramon area. Reach him at 925-743-2216 or smarshall2@cctimes.com.

San Ramon opponents
Residents disenchanted with San Ramon city government have started their own Web log at http://SanRamonTalks.blogspot.com. San Ramon resident Roz Rogoff operates www.SanRamonObserver.org, on which she posts reports about city meetings, events, politics and community events. For the Observer's primer on city politics, visit www.sanramonobserver.org/user/Friends-Citizens.pdf.


Contra Costa Times: www.contracostatimes.com