City to examine buildings for ‘blight’: Desert Dispatch, Barstow CA, 7/16/07

Study needed to extend eminent domain authority

By Jason Smith

The [barstow CA] Redevelopment Agency approved a contract Monday to perform an economic study of deteriorated and abandoned buildings in the redevelopment area. The results of the “parcel-by-parcel blight study” will be used to amend the redevelopment plan and possibly extend the city’s eminent domain powers for another 12 years.

The $30,550 contract was awarded to Corvina-based GRC Associates, Inc. The company stated in its proposal that it will use a combination of sources field surveys, crime statistics, U.S. Census data, and active building code violations in order to determine levels of blight.

The California State Safety Code defines blight as “buildings in which it is unsafe or unhealthy for persons to live or work.” The code further states that blight increases the “obsolescence, deterioration, and disuse” of surrounding land, depressing property values and discouraging economic activity.

According to city documents, the study is required under state law in order for the city to retain its eminent domain authority allowing it to force owners to sell their properties to the city for use for projects.

RDA President and City Council member Joe Gomez said that although he is concerned with blighted areas in the city, “especially along the Route 66 corridor from Muriel to First Street,” he opposes the use of eminent domain.

“I think that the local government shouldn’t have so much power to take the taxpayers’ property away. I don’t think that’s why we got elected,” Gomez said.

City spokesman John Rader said that the use of eminent domain is important for economic development. He stressed that the study will not change the boundaries of the redevelopment zone and residential property owners will not be affected.

“The redevelopment plans do not allow for the agency to exert its eminent domain authority with regard to legally occupied residents,” Rader said.

Despite the assurances that eminent domain powers will be used responsibly, some critics fear that the legal definitions of blight offer the government too much flexibility.

“If you’re creative enough, you can call anything blight. The state definitions and standards are a joke,” said James Burling, director of litigation for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a group that opposes eminent domain abuse.

Desert Dispatch, Barstow CA: http://www.desertdispatch.com