Council moves to protect use of eminent domain: Rio Rancho (NM) Observer, 7/8/06

By Tom Treweek

Even though the city council was not deciding to blight areas within Rio Rancho, eminent domain was once again on the agenda last Wednesday, as the city worked to protect what it has called an important tool.

The resolution before the council was a policy statement, sponsored by councilor Howard Balmer, aimed at Gov. Bill Richardson's task force on the "Responsible Use of Eminent Domain," which was established by executive order in June to "help recommend ways for New Mexico to prohibit abusive condemnation practices that could result because of the recent decision by the United States Supreme Court in Kelo v. The City of New London," according to the press release.

The resolution was unanimously approved.

In its resolution, the city council defended its right to utilize eminent domain in accordance with the State Metropolitan Redevelopment Code, which allows for condemning property in cases of "antiquated platting; multiple, disparate ownership; and the clear inability to otherwise effectuate real property consolidation, aggregation and acquisition," according to the resolution.

The council did allow for some variations in the current code, but only to coincide with measures the city has already taken. In January, then-Mayor Jim Owen introduced a resolution that prohibited the governing body from blighting a developed property for the purpose of economic development. In February, the council passed a resolution that required the city to educate residents about the uses of eminent domain, and another forcing the city to "assure fair and adequate compensation-value to individual property owners" who would be affected by the use of blighting.

The only discussion on the item was a motion by councilor Larry Naranjo that struck some of the language in the resolution. Originally, the resolution included language that indicated the city would support legislation that would uphold eminent domain but resist any attempt to limit the power of the city regarding blighting. Naranjo's motion, which passed unanimously, eliminated the city's promise of opposition.

The resolution, because the council passed it, is now the official position of the city. Mayor Kevin Jackson, who was appointed by Richardson to the task force, must now represent this view to that task force.

During his mayoral campaign, Jackson ran against the use of eminent domain for economic development, but he said Wednesday that he could put that aside to abide by the council's will.

"I understand what my marching orders are," he said. "Regardless of my personal viewpoint of the use of eminent domain, I will serve on the governor's task force objectively representing the views of our citizens."

But Jackson could not say that the will of the council, which represents Rio Rancho residents, actually matched the views of those who live within the city.

Previously, the city was vilified by the community for its use of eminent domain in Unit 13 along Loma Colorado Drive and its proposed blighting study in Unit 10, which is southwest of Southern and Unser boulevards. The latter proposal was indefinitely postponed by the council in January.

Rio Rancho Observer: http://www.observer-online.com