12/08/2006

Hints of eminent domain: Costa Mesa CA Daily Pilot, 12/2/06

Opinion

By Ron Foster and Dick Schroeder

When the Newport Beach City Council placed Measure W — written by Councilman Keith Curry — on the Nov. 7 ballot, our city's leadership was essentially asking the voting public to voice its opinion on the concept of eminent domain in principle and Newport Beach's limited use of it specifically.

We answered the call. Measure W was overwhelmingly approved with 76.4% of the vote, receiving more votes, 22,517, than any of the council candidates in their respective districts. Our message? That eminent domain is abhorrent to our deeply held American values that private property rights are inviolable, and that our property isn't for government's taking.

Just 11 days following the vote of the people, the Nov. 18 edition of the Daily Pilot splashed a front-page headline reporting that Newport Beach was — according to outgoing Councilman Tod Ridgeway — in talks to acquire the seven acres currently occupied by the tennis club at the Newport Beach Country Club.

The property — the cherished and longtime home of the tennis club and an important social and recreation asset in our community — is the latest parcel our city is eyeing as the new home for a city hall.

Councilman Ed Selich offered more detail in the story, telling the Daily Pilot that "we're appraising the property." In fact, the landowners — Golf Realty Fund, of which lifelong Newport Beach resident Robert O Hill is the owner — has received a notice of appraisal from the city.

The problem is that the property isn't for sale.

Quite the contrary. O Hill, Newport Beach Country Club, the Founding Members of the Newport Beach Country Club, the membership of the tennis club and the management of IBC have invested thousands of hours and significant financial resources over the last four years developing a compelling master plan for a new tennis clubhouse, a new stadium court, a spectacular new golf clubhouse and a new country club parking lot filled with olive trees and a 700-foot landscape buffer along East Coast Highway. As well, a small cluster of one-story, five-star bungalows on a portion of the excess tennis courts, for use by visitors and guests of club members, is also part of the master plan and will help pay for the multimillion-dollar improvements.

That the master plan exists — and, in fact, was submitted to the Newport Beach planning department a year and a half ago — should be proof enough for the city that the tennis club property is not for sale and not going away. With the Nov. 7 passing of the general plan amendment, the master plan and the dreams of the members of Newport Beach Country Club can now become a reality.

It should be deeply troubling to the residents of Newport Beach that its government is spending taxpayer money for the appraisal of property that isn't on the market. Only one alarming conclusion can be drawn from this dumbfounding action: That the city of Newport Beach is laying plans to seize the tennis club property under eminent domain in complete contradiction to the will of the voters as expressed in their overwhelming support of Measure W.

The citizens of Newport Beach should not tolerate even the entertainment of such an action.

Never mind that the taking alone of the tennis club property — combined with the damage claims from the larger property — would drain taxpayers of more than $70 million, or that the city would lose a tremendously valuable part of its social and recreational heritage. Never mind that the building of a new city hall on the tennis club property would disrupt the tranquillity and aesthetics of Newport Beach Country Club.

Forget, too, that such a taking would effectively scuttle the master plan, including the new golf clubhouse, preventing the Newport Beach Country Club from enhancing the word-class experience that draws the Toshiba Classic to our city. And ignore that the PGA's Toshiba Classic — which raises about $1 million a year for Hoag Hospital and pumps more than $30 million a year into our local economy — opposes a city hall facility within Newport Beach Country Club and supports the new golf clubhouse and the bungalows to help draw top players and their families to the event. Finally, shelve for the moment the untenable quality-of-life effects the residents of the Granville and Irvine Terrace communities will endure with a city hall facility camped next door.

Instead, the red flashing light and alarm bells that should be going off in the heads of Newport Beach voters are warnings that their city government is contemplating taking private property not one month after voters told it not to go there; that eminent domain is anathema in Newport Beach.

Rest assured, the respective members of the Newport Beach Country Club, the tennis club the residents of Granville and their families — a force of some 5,000 people — will vigorously contest any attempt by the city of Newport Beach to take the tennis club property.


Costa Mesa CA Daily Pilot: http://www.dailypilot.com

Ron Foster and Dick Schroeder are past presidents of the board of governors, members of the equity committee, and founding members of the Newport Beach Country Club