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CALIFORNIA EMINENT DOMAIN LAW BLOG

VISTA: Homeowners wary of redevelopment plans: North County Times, 3/30/08

By Gig Conaughton

VISTA —- Michael Booth stood in front of his home last week, a resortlike, rock-walled, wisteria and bougainvillea covered house on 2.7 acres of land teeming with fruit and a small winery, and grimaced.

Booth and a seemingly growing number of Vista residents said last week they were worried that the city wants to declare their homes “urban blight” and take them in the name of progress.

Those fears have emerged since the city announced a plan several months ago to expand its downtown redevelopment area into other parts of Vista.

Redevelopment is a controversial economic tool that cities have used since the 1940s to claim special tax advantages and reshape aging, unattractive neighborhoods.

In redevelopment areas, cities have the power to buy private property from unwilling sellers by paying what a court determines is fair market value in a process called the right of eminent domain. Vista officials have repeatedly said they won’t use eminent domain on private homes.

But that hasn’t soothed residents.

“I went around to 60 of my neighbors,” said Booth, “and I had 60 people with the same attitude. The city has sole power over eminent domain and the public has no control.”

The proposal

The city’s plan would more than double the size of Vista’s 2,016-acre redevelopment area, created in 1987 to give an economic boost and aesthetic face-lift to the city’s downtown core. City officials used redevelopment to create the downtown Vista Village shopping center, a sprawling mix of restaurants, retail shops and a movie theater, on property that used to be an abandoned strip mall.

The expansion proposal would draw in the city’s Townsite neighborhood; a large area between South Santa Fe Avenue and Highway 78; a big stretch of Sycamore Avenue in south Vista; and other parcels just north of Highway 78. The City Council vote is set to vote on the plan in June.

More than 50 percent of the expanded redevelopment area would be in residential neighborhoods.

“Why do they want to come into these … neighborhoods?” asked Betty Gilroy, an artist whose family has lived in the same home in the hills off South Santa Fe Drive since 1990. “What are their intentions?”

Gilroy and others said they believe the city’s aim is clear: Vista wants their property.

“My home is in the redevelopment area,” said George Wolfe. “I think the city is going to do a land grab.”

Good intentions

Bill Rawlings, Vista’s redevelopment director, said the city’s desire to expand residential zones into residential areas was to help those areas, not to take people’s homes. He said the city simply wants to build new infrastructure —– sidewalks, streetlights, curbs and gutters —- for the people living in those neighborhoods.

Rawlings said that people have no reason to fear being forced to sell their homes, because Vista’s plan specifically bars the city from using eminent domain in residentially zoned areas.

Rawlings said that the city had two main reasons to propose the expansion.

The first, he said, was because the original 1987 redevelopment corridors in urban areas have been too small or narrow to attract strong interest from developers. Widening those areas, Rawlings said, could change that.

The second reason was to improve life in the residential areas, he said.

“It’s not redevelopment for the purpose of putting in additional commercial or any development of any kind, but just to do infrastructure.”

Suspicions linger

Booth, who was elected by homeowners to a city advisory committee on redevelopment, said he is not persuaded the city’s goals are noble.

He said City Council members could still use eminent domain to take people’s homes by changing residential zoning.

Widening rural roads, putting in lights and gutters would make it easier to do that, he added.

“If the government wants your house, there are very easy ways for them to take your house,” Booth said.

Rawlings said changing zoning was unlikely, because it required a lengthy, public process.

Gilroy and some of her neighbors said last week that they also don’t think city officials have provided enough information about the proposed expansion.

Kay Buist, a retired schoolteacher, said she and many of her friends found out their neighborhood would be in the expansion zones by reading a city flier in December. The city began to publicly discuss expanding the redevelopment area months earlier, in July.

Gilroy said the city lost her trust in part because it failed to send out its redevelopment fliers in Spanish. Vista’s hardscrabble Townsite area, a redevelopment target, has many Spanish-speaking residents and 43 percent of the city’s total population is Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey.

Preserving the past

Buist said she is also worried about how the change could affect the hilly Lado de Loma Drive neighborhood where she and her husband have rented a home for several years.

She said the city could allow developers to build “hundreds” of condominiums or apartments and ruin the charm of the area, where eclectic homes line narrow, winding streets.

Buist said she and her friends are also offended that the proposal calls their neighborhood blighted.

“(That’s saying) I live in the projects now,” Buist said. “That’s how I feel.”

Rawlings said he hoped residents’ suspicions would not stop the city from pushing redevelopment into those areas.

“The only result of that will be that we won’t be able to improve the infrastructure, and continue to have little kids walking to schools in the street.”

North County Times: http://www.nctimes.com

Next Neighborhood Eyed for Redevelopment: Voice of San Diego.org, 3/27/08

By Will Carless

Thursday, March 27, 2008 | The government agency tasked with redeveloping and revitalizing swaths of southeastern San Diego has resurrected a plan to corral a large chunk of Logan Heights and other neighborhoods into a new redevelopment district.

The plan, which is being driven by the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., an arm of the city’s redevelopment agency, has sparked alarm among several community activists in the area, who said they have been ill-informed about SEDC’s plans and that there needs to be more community discussion about whether creating a redevelopment area is the right way to help the neighborhoods. The activists also expressed concern about SEDC’s recent legal troubles, including accusations of fraud that have been levied against the agency’s president, Carolyn Y. Smith.

Expanding the redevelopment zone to include the new neighborhoods would allow SEDC to begin capturing tax money from the area, which it could then use to complete revitalization projects and offer subsidies to developers working within its boundaries. It would place the redevelopment effort for the neighborhoods firmly in the hands of SEDC, which would also have the power of eminent domain within the redevelopment zone.

SEDC currently administers San Diego’s redevelopment efforts in a seven-square mile zone east of downtown, bounded by State Route 94 to the north, Interstate 5 to the south and west and 69th Street east.

Councilman Ben Hueso, who opposed the redevelopment zone proposal when it was previously floated in the mid-1990s, said he now supports at least studying the creation of the new redevelopment area.

But Hueso said SEDC should not push forward any plans for redevelopment unless it has the full support of the community and is working hand-in-hand with local leaders. He said the community concerns are “troubling,” and that they echo the concerns he had in the 1990s about SEDC’s openness and transparency.

“If they’re not going to have an open process, I’m not only going to halt the redevelopment process, I’m going to change the relationship I have with SEDC,” Hueso said.

Smith said it is premature for community activists to even be thinking about the plans for creating a redevelopment area. The plans are at such an early stage that there has been little need for community input so far, she said. As the process gets further down the track, Smith said, SEDC will welcome the opportunity to work with anyone in the community who is interested in the process. And Smith said any concerns about eminent domain are ill-founded.

“We’ve never used eminent domain,” she said. “We respect each individual neighborhood.”

The new redevelopment zone, called the Dells Imperial Redevelopment Project Area, which would be bordered on the south by Interstate 5, on the east by Interstate 15 and would include a thin section of land along either side of Market Street, according to a staff memorandum.

The SEDC board of directors approved the boundaries for the new redevelopment area and approved moving forward with the adoption process for the area at its board meeting on Jan. 23.

A local consulting firm, Keyser Marston Associates, will now study the area to see if there is adequate evidence of blight in the neighborhoods to merit the creation of a redevelopment agency. By law, a redevelopment area can only be set up if the neighborhood is deemed blighted and if the elimination of that blight cannot reasonably be expected to be accomplished by private enterprise.

But three local activists who live in Logan Heights said SEDC has failed to include the community from the get-go.

The activists said they had no idea the Jan. 23 board meeting was taking place and that they only recently found out about SEDC’s expansion plans. The activists said they believe the approval of the redevelopment action was sneaked through without any real opportunity for public comment.

A February SEDC board meeting was cancelled after community members complained to the City Attorney’s Office that the public was not given adequate notice of the meeting. Huston Carlyle, a chief deputy city attorney, said his office was notified that SEDC had not informed the public of the meeting 72 hours in advance, as they are required to do by law. Carlyle said he notified Smith of the violation and she cancelled the meeting.

“I would like this to be more of a dialogue,” said David Alvarez, a member of Barrios Unidos Hoy Organizados, a grassroots community group in southeastern San Diego. “Right now this feels more like an imposition.”

Ben Rivera, a member of the Logan Heights Town Council, said he wants to see a series of forums held in the communities within the new redevelopment area. Local residents need to understand the implications of the proposal, he said, and they currently have no idea what SEDC’s plans or goals are.

Smith said the SEDC board’s actions are simply the first in a long line of bureaucratic measures needed to create the redevelopment area. She said the process could take as long as three years, and that SEDC plans to create a project area committee, made up of community members who will guide the creation of the redevelopment area.

If the redevelopment zone is approved, it will allow SEDC to collect tax dollars from within that community that otherwise would have been spread around to various levels of government to spend exclusively on redevelopment efforts.

“Everything SEDC does is redevelopment to benefit those who already live there,” Smith said. “We don’t want to push anyone out; we want the people who live there to get involved.”

But Rivera said he and other community leaders in the Logan Heights area are wary of working with SEDC at all. Rivera said the agency has a reputation for “backroom dealing,” pointing to SEDC’s troubled Valencia Business Park project. And Rivera, who said his mother lives in one of SEDC’s current redevelopment areas, said he’s seen little evidence that SEDC’s redevelopment efforts actually benefit the neighborhoods where they work.

“I think SEDC hasn’t really done anything for the community. They’ve done some nice favors for developers,” Rivera said.

That sentiment was echoed by John Alvarado, a member of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ Stakeholders Committee for Barrio Logan, another grassroots group.

“They’re kind of an entity unto themselves,” Alvarado said. “They’ve got their own agenda and they’re going to keep this as dumb and blind as possible.”

Hueso said he is aware of SEDC’s recent troubles but said he plans to keep a stern watch over the agency’s handling of the new redevelopment zone. And he stressed that SEDC is still the best option the community has to get a strong redevelopment effort going in Logan Heights and the surrounding communities.

“I think I’ve put SEDC on notice,” he said. “I’m on a timeline here, I’ve been working on this for 10 years and I feel like SEDC is the only group sitting at the table. I’d be a fool not to talk to them.”

Voice of San Diego.org: http://www.voiceofsandiego.org

Perris to consider use of eminent domain for road, drainage project: The Press-Enterprise, 3/24/08

By Julissa McKinnon

Perris is preparing to take property from two landowners using eminent domain in the face of failing negotiations to buy the properties.

City officials have been trying to buy 10 acres from Georges Abitboul and 11 acres from Kevin McKenna to allow IDS/Whirlpool the right of way it needs to finish road and storm-drain improvements around the intersection of Ramona Expressway and Redlands Avenue.

The changes would provide access and drainage for the new 1.7 million-square-foot Whirlpool warehouse at the corner of Dawes Street and Redlands. The warehouse is big enough to hold 31 football fields, according to a news release from Whirlpool.

So far Abitboul and McKenna have spurned city attempts to purchase their land for $14,000 and $47,000 respectively.

Tonight council members will consider taking these properties via eminent domain, the process by which governments can forcibly purchase private property for a “public interest.”

McKenna has said that instead of trying to build an open channel on his property the city should look at building an underground pipe on land it owns on the other side of Morgan Street. McKenna recently hired an engineering firm, Rick Engineering, to draw up this alternative plan.

“I spent a lot of time, effort and money to hire an engineer to prove to everyone that there’s at least one alternative,” said McKenna, who heads the California Real Estate Group in Corona. “I was unaware that the onus of all this should be on me when someone is coming in to take my property.”

But while building the underground pipe might be possible, that does not necessarily make it the city’s best option, according to City Manager Richard Belmudez.

Building an underground pipeline is a much costlier venture than constructing an open channel, he said.

At the last Perris City Council meeting, Sunny Soltani, an attorney representing Perris along with City Attorney Eric Dunn, said “a city can take into consideration the convenience and cost to the public of the alternate locations,” when pondering eminent domain.

Mayor Daryl Busch suggested that if McKenna volunteered to pay the difference in cost for his proposal the city would likely accept it.

“If they want to come to the table with the money for this then it is viable,” said Busch, adding that these drain and road improvements enable both property owners to develop their land in the future.

Belmudez said the lands in question are on a flood plain and the improvements safeguard against flooding.

Beyond providing the necessary drainage for commercial development, Belmudez said the road improvements also further the city’s long-term goal of finishing Redlands Avenue.

The future north-to-south artery through Perris is a series of disconnected segments the city is gradually linking together.

Belmudez added that the city has started the process of eminent domain several times in recent years but rarely has had to exercise its authority to forcibly take land.

“Ninety percent of the time we go down that route it never results in actual proceedings going to completion,” Belmudez said. “Even in this case we hope that doesn’t happen.”

The Press-Enterprise: http://www.pe.com

Riverside County sets vote on using eminent domain to expand Clinton Keith Road: The Press-Enterprise, 3/18/08

By Duane W. Gang

Riverside County supervisors took the first steps Tuesday toward using eminent domain to acquire property from nearly a dozen owners to expand Clinton Keith Road near Murrieta.

The land is needed to turn the road into a six-lane thoroughfare between Interstate 215 and Winchester Road.

The county proposes paying $2.86 million for the land.

The 5-0 vote Tuesday set an April 22 public hearing for what is called a “resolution of necessity” in which officials must outline the public need for the property.

The resolution, if approved, would authorize the county to use eminent domain.

Eminent domain, an often controversial tactic, allows a government to take property without an owner’s consent as long as a fair market price is paid.

Property owner W.W. Franklin said he is concerned that the county is moving too quickly to take his land.

“Why is the county considering eminent domain rather than negotiating in good faith?” he questioned supervisors.

Franklin said a well on his property is his primary concern.

He relies on the well for water, and it is located on land the county proposes taking.

He said he does not mind the road project moving forward as long as his well is relocated, he gets a fair price and a noise wall is built to protect homes.

Supervisor Jeff Stone, who represents the area, said the Clinton Keith Road project is critical to southwest Riverside County because of increased traffic from the area’s growing population.

The use of eminent domain is a last resort, he said.

Stone said the county should first exhaust all other avenues to acquire the property before using eminent domain.

He said negotiations have been ongoing for two years.

Officials have reached deals with six property owners, but they were unable to come up with agreements with 11 others, including Franklin.

“We want to be good county neighbors,” Stone said, adding that he will personally meet with Franklin and county staff to try to resolve the issue.

The measure supervisors approved Tuesday “doesn’t mean the property becomes ours tomorrow,” Stone said.

“There is time,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to treat you fairly.”

A Clinton Keith Road expansion has long been a goal for county officials.

Plans have been on the table since 1980.

A lawsuit tabled the original proposals, and officials resurrected the project as the French Valley and Winchester areas began booming.

The expansion is expected to cost as much as $70 million.

The Press-Enterprise: http://www.pe.com

Placerville agrees, reluctantly to housing on signature hilltop: The Sacramento Bee, 3/14/08

By Cathy Locke

A plan to build homes on a hilltop overlooking Highway 50 on Placerville’s western edge is on again, after the City Council reluctantly agreed that the property is better suited to housing than commercial development.

The council in November denied developer Jerome Dover’s request to rezone the 5.83 acres off Forni Road from highway commercial to residential use. Council members said they did not want to remove the site from the city’s limited commercial land inventory.

They subsequently agreed to postpone final action to allow Dover to respond to concerns raised during the Nov. 27 hearing.

The council toured the property with the developer in February, and on Tuesday, it voted unanimously to rezone the site for a planned development of 34 homes southwest of the Office Max Commercial Center.

Though some council members said they hated to lose highway commercial acreage, they determined that commercial use of the site would be difficult without access through the existing commercial center parking lot.

Dover said he had sought the access, but the owner of Office Max center agreed only to a gated emergency access.

Because of the steep topography, commercial development of the site would not be economically viable, Dover said, explaining that he had considered retail and office space. A terraced office building would have to have an elevator to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, he said.

“It’s the site work involved to make it into a reasonably flat site,” Dover said. “We can’t get enough ground to get the rents low enough to compete in the marketplace.”

Dover urged the council to allow the housing project to proceed, explaining that he is working with the developer of a proposed hotel on the south side of Forni Road to fund water and sewer lines, and a sewer pumping station. Providing the utilities is key to any economic development in that area, he said.

Residents along that section of Forni Road argued against a residential development with access off Forni, saying it would make already dangerous conditions on the winding section of roadway even worse.

The developer maintained that the site was well suited for housing because it is within walking distance of shopping and the county government center. But residents said no one in the neighborhood walks to the shopping centers along Forni Road or Placerville Drive because of traffic hazards.

Linda Irwin said she has lived on Forni Road since 1986. “I’ve seen it go from a near-rural area to almost a highway situation on Forni Road,” she said.

Irwin said she’s afraid to cross the road to get mail out of her mailbox.

Bobbye Freitas, another resident, said she used walk along the Forni Road every morning, but she stopped doing so a couple of years ago because it was too dangerous.

Freitas said she was worried about additional hazards from construction traffic for Dover’s project as well as the proposed hotel.

“It is a system you would not want to live with,” she told the council.

But Lee Holifield, who also lives on Forni Road, said he preferred housing to commercial use of the site.

“The whole top of the hill would have to be leveled for commercial,” he said.

Holifield said he believed the traffic problems would be reduced when improvements to the Missouri Flat Road/Highway 50 interchange are completed. Forni Road links Missouri Flat Road on the west with Placerville Drive on the east.

Councilman Pierre Rivas said he was disappointed that an easement wasn’t obtained through the Office Max center to serve Dover’s property when the center was built. But given the slope and lack of access, Rivas said, “I believe this project is the best and highest use.”

Councilman Mark Acuna said he was not convinced that an economically viable commercial project could not be developed on the site.

He noted that Home Depot transformed a challenging site off Placerville Drive in a project that involved realigning a creek and building a bridge. The result was a store that is a model for the corporation and one of the city’s largest sales tax generators, Acuna said.

Councilwoman Patty Borelli asked whether the city could do anything to secure an easement through the Office Max center.

City Manager John Driscoll said the city could exercise its power of eminent domain to acquire property for a public project. But in this case, he said, it would involve taking property from one private owner to benefit another.

Mayor Carl Hagen said he was opposed to seeking an easement through eminent domain. Hagen said he viewed the residential development as an infill project that would open the area to other economic opportunities such as the proposed hotel.

The Sacramento Bee: http://www.sacbee.com

Eminent domain request denied, Land is owned by Rep. Calvert: The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, 3/11/08

RIVERSIDE – The Riverside County Board of Supervisors has tentatively denied the Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District the right to use eminent domain to acquire 4 acres of land for park space.

“I am disappointed with the decision,” said Bobby Hernandez, president of the park district board. “We strive to do the best for our community, and apparently it wasn’t good enough for the supervisors.”

The land is owned by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Riverside, who bought the 4.2 acres for $1.2 million in 2005 from the Jurupa Community Services District. The JCSD has since been criticized for not first offering the land to other government agencies before selling it.

Eminent domain allows government agencies to take property for public improvements, giving fair market value to property owners.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to tentatively deny the request of the parks district to file against Calvert.

County staff will have a resolution for final denial at the supervisors’ April 8 meeting, said Ray Smith, spokesman for the board.

Despite the fact that Supervisor John Tavaglione voted in favor of the park district’s request, he said he didn’t believe the parks district had done all it could have to explore open land opportunities.

“I think it’s completely inappropriate that this board was brought into the middle of this controversy,” Tavaglione said. “We had an obligation to hear the request of the park district.

Chairman Roy Wilson and supervisors Marion Ashley and Jeff Stone all said eminent domain should be used as a last resort and voted to deny the request.

“I don’t think this is a setback,” Hernandez said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re still going forward. It’s just a stumbling block.”

Hernandez said the park district board will address what action to take at its meeting Thursday night.

The park district has argued that the land was given to the community services district with the stipulation that it be used for a park. Hernandez said it should have been given to the park district, along with several other parcels, when the park board was created in the 1970s.

In mid-February, the community services district offered the park district $570,000 to drop the issue, but the offer was rejected as too low.

In July, the Riverside County grand jury issued a report that found the community services district board violated state law by selling the parcel off Limonite Avenue to Calvert and his associates without first offering it to other public agencies.

The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin: http://www.dailybulletin.com

Residents oppose development: Pasadena-Star News, 3/15/08

By Tania Chatila

BALDWIN PARK – Property owners rallied against a proposed multimillion-dollar development this week at a forum backing eminent domain reform.

More than 200 residents and business owners attended the meeting Thursday at the Baldwin Park Marriott. It was hosted by the Community Alliance for Redevelopment Accountability, a Baldwin Park-based nonprofit formed in opposition to the city’s redevelopment plans for the downtown.

Baldwin Park is in talks with Bisno Development Co. for a 125-acre renovation of its main commercial corridor that could include a new hotel, a charter school and thousands of luxury residential units.

More than 200 businesses and homes face relocation through eminent domain, depending on the outcome of the project and two legislative initiatives – both slated for June – aimed at limiting eminent domain powers.

One of those initiatives, Proposition 98, was heavily pushed by several groups at the forum, including the National Federation of Independent Business/California, the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Institute for Justice.

Proposition 98 would restrict city agencies from taking property through eminent domain and turning it over to private developers.

Marko Mlikotin, president of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, said the forum was meant to provide information to residents about Baldwin Park’s situation and gather support for the proposition.

“The government’s power to forcibly seize private property from property owners is unquestionable,” Mlikotin said.

He called the Baldwin Park case “one of the most egregious” he’d seen in years.

“The only thing that can save them,” Mlikotin said, “is legal reform.”

Among the several speakers Thursday was Jeff Rowes, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which litigates property rights cases.

Rowes encouraged property owners to protest, make public records requests and create their own records of city actions.

“What Baldwin Park wants to do is replace people of modest means with rich people because rich people have more money,” he said. “I think the only realistic chance to save these neighborhoods is through a lawsuit.”

A question-and-answer period garnered several heated comments from angry residents and business owners who accused city officials of being evasive about project plans.

“I intend to retire when I’m ready,” said Rosalva Breceda, owner of the Maine Avenue Penhmar Beauty Salon, “not when the city says they need that space.”

Other residents – some of whom were not from Baldwin Park – told stories of losing their homes through

“What you see here is the heart of Baldwin Park,” said James Treasure, president of CARA. “This is just the beginning of our movement.”

City officials have refuted claims they’ve been deceitful and have said their plans will benefit Baldwin Park.

While in support of the project, Councilman Ricardo Pacheco said he believes better communication could make the proposed development less contentious.

“The city itself needs to do its public outreach to get input from the community,” Pacheco said. “I think we need to emphasize more inclusion.”

Pasadena-Star News: http://www.pasadenastarnews.com

Riverside County to use eminent domain to get land for road extension: The Press-Enterprise, 3/14/08

By Rocky Salmon

Hoping to begin building a new link for motorists from Interstate 215 to Winchester Road, Riverside County officials are proposing to begin eminent-domain proceedings.

The land is needed to turn Clinton Keith Road from a dotted line on a map into a six-lane major thoroughfare. The county has been in negotiations for two years with property owners. Construction can begin once the county has the land.

“Our bid prices for the project are coming in 20 to 25 percent less than a year ago,” said George Johnson, director of the county’s transportation department. “That’s why we want to make sure we have land in our possession. If we time this right, we can take advantage of this good bidding market we are in right now.”

The county has proposed punching through Clinton Keith Road from I-215 to Winchester Road since 1980. A lawsuit stalled the original plans.

County officials resurrected the road-extension project as the French Valley and Winchester areas became swamped in rooftops. After a series of public meetings, the county decided on a 3.4-mile route that will take motorists from the freeway over a creek and connect with Winchester Road.

The project, which will turn the road into six lanes, would have cost $35 million in 2003. It is now expected to cost $70 million. A community facilities district will be created covering properties in the area to fund the project.

The county used the same program to fund the Domenigoni Parkway and the Scott Road widening.

Two years ago, county officials began negotiating with property owners to get the land needed for the project. Johnson said the county did its best to negotiate prices but could not reach an agreement with 11 property owners.

The Tuesday vote would set in motion eminent-domain proceedings to get the land at a cost of $2.8 million.

Johnson said there is no construction date yet because the county is waiting for the right moment to issue bonds to fund the construction. Property owners will pay off the bond.

“We really don’t have a date because of the economic uncertainty we are in right now,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to overburden the landowners.”

The Press-Enterprise: http://www.pe.com

Riverside residents ask council to buy land and oust liquor store: The Press-Enterprise, 3/11/08

By Doug Haberman

Eastside neighborhood residents on Tuesday urged the City Council to use eminent domain to buy a University Avenue property holding a liquor store and automobile upholstery business, but the council delayed the vote until March 23.

City officials and neighbors said Discount Liquor is the site of frequent violations of the law, including prostitution, illegal drug sales, public intoxication and indecent exposure.

The delay gives the city Redevelopment Agency two weeks to work one last time with property owner Hassan Taheri to come up with a plan for improving his parcel.

The council acts as the agency’s board of directors.

Agency staff estimated it would cost almost $1 million to buy the property and demolish the two buildings.

Neighbors said children see criminal behavior oustide the liquor store every day.

“This is a very big concern for us parents,” said resident Mary Munoz.

Zarren Pasma, chairman of the 7th Street Historic District Neighborhood Improvement Association, said the group opposes a blanket use of eminent domain for economic development.

But “Discount Liquor needs to go,” he said.

Added Eastside resident Steve Easland: “It’s time for the city to step up to the plate.”

The police received 31 calls about the liquor store in 2007 and eight more in the past couple of months, said Lt. Larry Gonzalez, who oversees policing in an area that includes the Eastside neighborhood.

Calls were for everything from robberies to public intoxication, he said.

Gonzalez added that many more times police officers patrolling the neighborhood stop on their own initiative to deal with problems outside Discount Liquor.

City Manager Brad Hudson said Discount Liquor is a problem and that its removal would fit in with efforts the city has made in the past two years to tear down other problem properties on University Avenue, including liquor stores and motels.

For his part, landowner Taheri told the council he tried to work with the Redevelopment Agency officials but they insisted he buy a neighboring parcel before they would consider his plans to redevelop his property into a strip mall on his own, which he would like to do. But the owner of the neighboring parcel is not interested in selling, Taheri said.

I don’t know what to do,” he said.

The Press-Enterprise: http://www.pe.com

County moves on jail plan: Santa Maria Times, 3/12/08

By Malia Spencer

Efforts to build a North County Jail using a partnership between Santa Barbara County and the state are moving forward despite concerns about the ongoing operational funding for the new facility.

The Board of Supervisors approved a series of actions Tuesday that move the plans forward, including the initiation of eminent domain proceedings to acquire the property needed.

In addition, the board authorized Sheriff Bill Brown to submit an application to the state seeking funds for the project. Under recent state legislation there is money available to help local jurisdictions build county jails if the project also includes a “secure re-entry facility” for state prison inmates who are approaching their release date.

It is estimated that building a North County Jail will cost $80 million but under the state incentive, the county may have to cover no more than about $29 million of the total.

California is under pressure to reduce the number of inmates in state prisons.

However, the annual operating costs for the county’s portion of a combined facility has been estimated between $12 million to $15 million, and no funding source has been identified for that expense.

Meanwhile, county officials are focusing their efforts on buying a 50-acre site west of Santa Maria near Betteravia Road and Black Road. The land is owned by Agland Venture Capital Group Inc., which has told the county that it does not oppose continuing negotiations to sell the property.

However, a question about legal title to the property may complicate the process and has led the county to initiate eminent domain proceedings as a way to acquire the land in time to meet the March 18 deadline to apply for state funds.

It was the willingness of the land owner to work with the county that led 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno to vote in favor of the action, he told the rest of the board.

Much of the board discussion Tuesday focused on timelines and when the county would be bound to the project, should the county receive the state funds. Supervisors said they were concerned about over-extending the county and whether the state would be able to deliver the funds.

County staff members noted that the state funds would be generated with bonds, so revenue would earmarked for jail facilities, so if the state withheld the money it would be exposed to litigation.

The board also asked staff to begin to identify funding options for long-term operation of the facility that would have 300 county jail beds. The construction and ongoing cost of operating the state’s 500-bed re-entry facility would fall on the state.

With the supervisors’ approval of the actions, Brown said, the application for the county’s proposal would be sent to Sacramento where county officials will make a presentation. The county expects to receive word of an award of the grant by May.

Santa Maria Times: http://www.santamariatimes.com

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COPYRIGHT © 2010 Arthur J. Hazarabedian, Esq.