City bars first-year use of eminent domain: El Paso (TX) Times, 7/11/06

400 attend Downtown meeting

By Tammy Fonce-Olivas

[The El Paso TX] City Council decided late Monday night to prohibit the use of eminent domain during the first year that the Downtown revitalization plan is implemented.

The resolution was adopted just before 11 p.m. Monday during a special meeting that lasted more than four hours and was attended by about 400 people. The resolution stipulates that properties can only be acquired after the 12th month that the Downtown plan is formally approved by the council.

Mayor John Cook voted for the resolution, breaking a tie vote among the council. Council members Presi Ortega, Susie Byrd, Ann Lilly and Beto O'Rourke voted for the resolution. José Alexandro Lozano, Melina Castro, Eddie Holguin and Steve Ortega voted against it.

The final plan should be presented to the council in October.

The council also voted to allow city staff to continue working with the Paso del Norte Group, which is made up of about 350 community and business leaders. Some of the plan's boundaries, however, were changed to no longer include the Sin Fronteras farmworker center on Ninth Street and incorporate more land near the Magoffin Home on Magoffin Avenue and the convention center. More detailed plans are also needed on how the city will help families and businesses displaced by eminent domain, according to the council.

More than 70 people signed up to address the council on the issue. One after another the speakers told the mayor and city representatives they want to inject more life into Downtown, but they differed on how to accomplish the goal.

The Rev. Rafael Garcia of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, located in Segundo Barrio, told the council that the city's proposal to revitalize Downtown would displace poor families and immigrants. He urged the council not to move forward with the current proposal, which includes relocating some Segundo Barrio homes and businesses. The church is not affected under the current plan.

"The plans for the poor in the Segundo Barrio still remain very unclear and dangerous," Garcia said.

Carmen Zamora, a Downtown resident, said she wants the city to continue to plan the redevelopment of Downtown. The plan is needed to give the city an economic boost and improve the quality of life for its residents, particularly those in the Segundo Barrio.

"We want a better life for our children and our families so we are supporting the plan," Zamora said.

Prior to Monday's meeting, dozens of people marched, chanted and displayed placards in opposition to the city using eminent domain. Those supporting the city's proposal watched protesters or walked inside the Abraham Chávez Theatre to take their seats.

Downtown business and property owners told the council they weren't opposed to Downtown revitalization. However, many business and property owners said they did not support the use of eminent domain to implement the city's plan.

A group of merchants and property owners, which formed the Land Grab Opponents of El Paso, even told city officials they would be challenged in court if it tried to acquire property with the use of eminent domain. Marvin Rosenbaum, with the Land Grab Opponents of El Paso and co-owners of El Paso-Los Angeles Limousine Express, said the use of eminent domain shouldn't be used to spur private economic development.

Starr Western Wear owner Enoch Kimmelman said the proposed resolution on eminent domain would hurt his business, which has been around for decades.

"You want to steal my property and give it to somebody else," Kimmelman said.

The city's proposal calls for establishing anchor tenants, described as a market to be used by local vendors, an arena and a retail center.

It also calls for developing housing units for families of various incomes.

East Side city Rep. Presi Ortega said he favors continuing with plans to revitalize Downtown, because it would help the entire community, especially Segundo Barrio residents.

"It's our obligation to help these people go forward in our community," Ortega said.

East-Central city Rep. Lozano said the city can revitalize Downtown without using the power of eminent domain or bringing an arena to Downtown.

At the meeting, Lozano presented his own redevelopment plan for Downtown, which focused heavily on having businesses and local, state and federal government offices relocate to Downtown to try to stimulate the economy.

El Paso Times: http://www.elpasotimes.com