Eminent domain at center of forum: Contra Costa CA Times, 9/29/06

[Hercules CA] City Council candidates offer opinions on Wal-Mart, future of waterfront area

By Tom Lochner

Hercules City Council candidates at a taped roundtable forum Thursday exhibited substantial consensus on important issues in the city.

Yet despite the collegiality, the candidates spoke at times with passion, especially when it came to arguably the most controversial topic in recent years: Wal-Mart and eminent domain.

The candidates are incumbent Trevor Evans-Young, the current mayor; planning commissioner Joe Eddy McDonald; former human services commissioner Ed Sharp; and former Mayor Kris Valstad.

In May, the council voted to invoke eminent domain to force a sale of the retail giant's 171/4-acre lot near the waterfront, where it has sought to build a store. Wal-Mart's last scaled-down application was for a 99,000-square-foot store.

A coalition of Wal-Mart opponents urged the council to hold fast to a 64,000-square-foot maximum store size under a 2003 development agreement, a figure Wal-Mart has categorized as a guideline, not a size limit.

Evans-Young, part of the council that voted unanimously for eminent domain, reaffirmed his position Thursday, saying Wal-Mart had no right to "dictate" its terms to Hercules. The other candidates agreed emphatically that the council did right in May and should not reconsider.

Asked by moderator Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times how Hercules should pursue retail sales taxes if there is to be no Wal-Mart store, all four candidates said the waterfront - where a transit village, Capitol Corridor train station and ferry terminal are planned - can be a magnet for small, upscale businesses and their customers.

Sharp said the city needs to "market" itself, a notion the others agreed with, and also promote locally owned businesses.

McDonald said, "We could be the Sausalito of West County if we market it (the waterfront) right."

As an example of what marketing can do for Hercules, Valstad cited North Shore Business Park, which was stagnant until a marketer took charge and is home today to internationally known Bio-Rad Laboratories as well as smaller businesses.

All four candidates urged voters to reject Proposition 90, which would restrict governments' powers to acquire property by eminent domain. Evans-Young said Prop. 90 proponents invoke the image of the "little old lady" forced off her property, giving a false picture of the way eminent domain is used in California. The other candidates agreed.

Contra Costa CA Times: http://www.contracostatimes.com