San Jose RDA pledges not to use eminent domain: Silicon Valley/San Jose (CA) Business Journal, 4/14/06

By Timothy Roberts

Faced with a backlash against the use of eminent domain, California's largest redevelopment agency is taking the unusual step of repeating its promise that it will not take single-family homes away from their owners in 19 neighborhoods in San Jose redevelopment areas.

"We understand that people may fear that their homes will somehow be taken through eminent domain for commercial purposes," Harry Mavrogenes, the executive director of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency, the state's largest, said in a statement. "Although this has not been the case in San Jose Strong Neighborhood Initiative areas, we want to reassure our residents that it won't happen."

The Strong Neighborhood Initiative has directed $45 million in redevelopment money into 95 projects in 19 San Jose neighborhoods since the program began in 2002.

The redevelopment agency has raised fears about the use of eminent domain in the past, in particular when it sought 40 sites for residential development in the downtown San Jose in 2001 and threatened to use eminent domain.

Concerns that cities might take privately owned property for purposes that have not traditionally been considered in the public interest took on heightened national concern last year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, in fact, cities could take property for economic development purposes. That court ruling spawned ballot initiative proposals and possible legislation in California that would reign in powers of eminent domain, although in California, a government agency must show that a property it would like to take is blighted.

The redevelopment agency is now asking the city council, which also serves as the board of directors of the agency, to "reconfirm its practice to not use eminent domain authority for any single-family, owner-occupied properties in the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative Project Area," according to a statement. The recommendation is on the agenda for the May 2 city council meeting.

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