7/30/2007

Consultant doesn't address objection on eminent domain: San Diego CA Union-Tribune, 7/11/07

By Tanya Sierra

[National City CA] officials last night postponed a discussion to renew their eminent domain authority because their consultant failed to respond to a legal objection filed in June.

Council members expected to address objections raised about their intent to extend their condemnation authority for 12 more years, but realized late yesterday afternoon that their consultant, Rosenow Spevacek Group Inc., overlooked a 14-point, 34-page objection.

Instead, the consultant – which prepared a blight analysis of the redevelopment area – submitted responses to a six-volume appendix filed to support the objection.

“The consultant didn't address it, and we don't know the reason for that,” said City Attorney George Eiser.

No representatives from the Rosenow group attended the meeting.

Officials will convene a meeting at 5 p.m. tomorrow to finish the discussion.

The City Council held a public hearing June 19 seeking to extend the time it could condemn private property. The authority expires next month, and officials said the extension is a customary procedure.

But the routine decision has drawn protesters from inside and outside the city who say National City is abusing its power.

Eminent domain allows government to take blighted private land to make way for new development. Owners are paid market rate for the properties.

A popular youth mentoring and boxing program, the Community Youth Athletic Center, is in the path of a proposed condominium project. Attorneys from the Institute for Justice, based in the Washington, D.C. area, filed the lengthy objection and are representing the center.

The institute represented homeowners in the Kelo v. New London, Conn., eminent domain dispute in 2005. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled governments could force private property owners to sell their land to spur economic development.

Dana Berliner, an attorney with the institute, said the consultant's blight study and preliminary responses to her objections were superficial.

“This response is just shoddy, and this city shouldn't put its name on that,” she said. “I've never seen a study that is this perfunctory and casual even for a small area. To have off-the-cuff generalizations of over 600 properties is insane.”

Berliner said she doubts the consultant could come up with genuine and responsible responses to her 34-page filing by tomorrow.

Before the meeting, Mayor Ron Morrison said he was confident the city would overcome the objections.

“This is a group that is looking for a West Coast presence,” Morrison said. “Look at what they did back in Connecticut. They lost that case, and they're still hanging that on their crown like it's a victory.”

Morrison said the institute attorneys are “cross-country ambulance chasers.” He said they cost National City taxpayers a lot of money with their voluminous written objections because of the time the city and its consultants have spent reviewing the documents.


San Diego CA Union-Tribune: http://www.signonsandiego.com