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A vision for Baldwin Park: Pasadena Star-News, 5/13/08

BALDWIN PARK, like many cities in the San Gabriel Valley, is looking to use redevelopment financing as a tool to bring in new commercial, residential and office space.

A plan to tear down dilapidated, poorly built and sited shopping centers – their nearly empty parking lots looming for acres in between the street and the stores – and abutting homes and apartment buildings, after purchasing them at fair market value from property owners using eminent domain, is picking up steam.

Though the scope could change, right now the redevelopment agency, through exclusive agreement with Bisno Development Co. of Century City, is trying to buy 81 residential properties and 289 businesses in a 125-acre project area that stretches along Ramona Boulevard from La Rica Avenue on the west, Clark Street on the north, the border with West Covina on the east and Sterling Way on the south.

In their place would be as many as 8,000 new residential units (two- and three-story condos and townhomes), 3 million square feet of commercial (including small department stores), 750,000 square feet of retail and entertainment (including a movie theater and chain restaurants), a 300-room hotel and possibly a 1,000-student charter school.

There’s no doubt that if even a portion of this is realized over the 15 years of the project, the city’s downtown will benefit, as will its residents. The developer’s vision is an urban village reachable by foot by seniors and residents of all
ages living near the mixed-use downtown village.

About a third of the homeowners targeted have settled with the agency/developer and many others have signed petitions in favor of the project. But a healthy opposition continues to post signs and voice concerns.

Those who oppose the use of eminent domain – tying the opposition to the bogus state Proposition 98 – are missing the big picture. Yes, in other states, and in other eras in California, eminent domain has been woefully misused.

Take a walk through this area of Baldwin Park, both homes and commercial, and see if you think it would be misused here. The city has been successful in the past with similar projects. It has a good track record of development that have greatly improved the city.

Baldwin Park, through redevelopment and eminent domain, has cleared away seedy motels, numerous houses and old shopping centers and relocated residents and businesses to make way for a Wal-Mart Supercenter, Target and most recently, the Smart & Final center.

When the city bulldozed prostitution-ridden motels, the residents cheered. More recently when homes were taken to make way for a thriving commercial district at Baldwin Park Boulevard and Francisquito Avenue near the San Bernardino (10) Freeway, not many complained. And we can bet that those who did shop there now.

It’s a simple fact that mid-century Los Angeles County cities that grew in crazily haphazard ways, as did Baldwin Park, need redevelopment and yes, eminent domain as a last resort, to pave the way for new development. When redevelopment is done right, it can add new shopping choices for residents and increase city revenues, which help pay for services needed by all residents, including public safety, libraries and recreation.

To do nothing is to increase the decline of property values and accelerate the flow of sales tax dollars outside the city, mostly to West Covina.

Many project details and potential impacts are still to come. We’ll wait until the Environmental Impact Report is completed in a few weeks to shed more light on these issues before we reach any further conclusions.

Pasadena Star-News:

Seaside revisists eminent domain: Monterey County Herald, 5/15/08

By Laith Agha

Seaside officials are considering approval of the use of eminent domain for a hotel project promoted by a development group led by former baseball star Reggie Jackson.

But a citizens advisory group, which was selected in January to represent residents and businesses in the area near the project, says using eminent domain for a private development would be an abuse of power.

The Seaside City Council today will start deciding whether to renew its authority to use eminent domain to assist the hotel project proposed by RLJ Development LLC, Jackson’s group. The city’s power to do so ended last month, but the council could revive it by amending Seaside’s redevelopment plan.

A date for a final decision hasn’t been set.

Last week, the Project Area Committee voted 7-1 against the renewal of eminent domain powers in the project area. That means it would take a vote of at least four of the five council members, instead of a simple majority of three, to restore the eminent domain authority.

“I know the government likes it because they’re getting money, but this country is not built on taking away individual rights,” said Lawrence Samuels, chairman of the committee. “The ends do not justify the means. Most people think it’s unfair to take private land and give it to someone else to make a private profit.”

Samuels plans to deliver that message at tonight’s council meeting.

“I’m going to tell them what we thought, that it was a bad deal,” he said.

It’s likely the council will open the discussion today, but continue it until June 5 — two days after Californians vote on Propositions 98 and 99, two rival ballot measures that would limit local governments’ eminent domain powers.

A 2006 state law limits a city’s use of eminent domain to 12 years within a designated area. Seaside’s merged-project area, which covers 40 acres in the southwest portion of the city, was designated in 1996.

Within the area is the 5.7 acres targeted for a hotel and conference center proposed by Jackson’s development team.

The City Council approved an exclusive negotiating agreement last year with RLJ Development and Amador Hotel 44 to pursue the 252 room hotel complex at Del Monte and Canyon Del Rey boulevards.

The proposed hotel site has 17 residences, four businesses and a church that would have to be removed to make way for the project, either voluntarily or through eminent domain. Jackson owns about a half-acre of the site.

Monterey County Herald:

Eminent domain may force out three property owners: Victorville Daily Press, 5/5/08

By Brooke Edwards

VICTORVILLE — Three property owners may be forced to sell to make way for the long-awaited Nisqualli Bridge, if the City Council approves the controversial use of eminent domain.

“The properties are necessary for the project,” states a city staff report. “The City has made every reasonable effort to acquire the properties by negotiation but has been unsuccessful.”

Staff has recommended the City Council authorize eminent domain, giving the City Attorney permission to begin action in court against the owners to condemn the properties.

All three properties are zoned commercial and lie along Mariposa Road, which is the site of the proposed off ramp for a bridge over Interstate 15 connecting Nisqualli and La Mesa roads. Two smaller properties are assessed at roughly $390,000, including the vacant lot on the corner of Mariposa and Nisqualli roads. The third parcel, further down Mariposa, is valued at more than $620,000.

The off ramp for the new bridge will either bisect these properties or landlock them, making them inaccessible when Mariposa Road is rerouted.
Councilman Mike Rothschild said he has no problem using eminent domain as long as no one is displaced from their home.

“Eminent domain always gives the property owner a bit more than what it’s worth,” said Rothschild, with the city paying top dollar primarily for “raw land.”

When it comes to the Nisqualli project he said, “In my opinion, eminent domain is appropriate in that situation.”

Discussions between the property owners and the city’s negotiating agent Epic Land Solutions have been “cordial,” the report states, but the owners have so far rejected fair market value offers.

The city already used eminent domain once for development on Nisqualli Road, when it took 1,800 square feet from a half-acre lot to widen the street in March of 2007.

The city is also proposing to use half of its $1.6 million in Proposition 1B funds to construct the second phase of Nisqualli Road improvements, towards a total projected cost of $8.7 million. The remaining money will come from other local funds.

Both the budget item and the proposal to use eminent domain are scheduled to be voted on during the City Council meeting starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall at 14343 Civic Drive.

Victorville Daily Press:

Lodi assures critics its eminent domain ban is here to stay:, 5/1/08

By Daniel Thigpen

LODI – The city’s elected leaders and public officials have made the promise, both in writing and in public forums: Lodi will not take your home or business if it approves a redevelopment project.

By stripping the city of its eminent domain powers, Lodi officials have aimed to garner more public support for redevelopment, the controversial process by which cities keep a larger share of property tax revenue for rehabilitation projects.

Several years ago, residents shot down a similar proposal, partly over fears the government would seize their property. There has been little public opposition to redevelopment this time around.

But as Lodi leaders inch closer to making redevelopment a reality, some critics recently have asked: What would keep future elected leaders from reversing Lodi’s ban on eminent domain?

Technically, nothing.

Lodi is seeking approval to designate nearly its entire East Side – the city’s older, lower-income half – as a redevelopment area. Such an action would allow the city to keep a greater share of property taxes to put toward sidewalk repairs and other public improvements. Lodi also would be able to borrow money to finance other public or economic development projects.

Over the past few months, several local residents have begun speaking out at City Council and other public meetings against redevelopment. Ann Cerney, a frequent City Hall critic, recently broached the eminent domain question.

“There is nothing to prevent (eminent domain) from later being introduced,” she said in a recent interview.

City Manager Blair King and other city officials said the likelihood of Lodi changing course years from now is small. Such a move would require a laborious and expensive process, including more studies, committees and public meetings, they say.

“It’s just not going to happen,” city spokesman Jeff Hood said. “It would be insulting to the public to do any kind of bait and switch.

“It’s an incredibly long process,” he said. “And the city’s been investigating redevelopment for a year. It would take a similar type of ordeal to amend the plan to put back something like eminent domain. … It’s like, why even talk about it? It might snow tomorrow, too.”

Eminent domain was a major concern among redevelopment opponents in 2002, who successfully defeated a redevelopment proposal through a massive petition drive.

City leaders have since passed ordinances that prohibit eminent domain.

In fact, some say it is becoming increasingly difficult for communities to gain public support for proposed redevelopment projects that do include eminent domain. And California voters in June will decide on two ballot measures that would restrict governments’ use of eminent domain for private purposes. The measures, however, won’t affect Lodi because the city’s ordinances are much more strict, prohibiting it outright.

Tim Ogden, the economic development and housing director for the city of Riverbank in Stanislaus County, has seen the public’s aversion to redevelopment because of eminent domain.

In many ways, Lodi’s redevelopment efforts mirror Riverbank’s. Activist residents successfully fought off redevelopment there in the early 1990s. In 2005, the small town tried again – this time without eminent domain – and things went more smoothly.

The Lodi City Council, which has indicated support for redevelopment, likely will vote on the issue at the end of May.

California Eminent Domain Law Group Partner, Glenn Block, Featured Speaker at the 10th Annual Eminent Domain Conference

California Eminent Domain Law Group Partner, Glenn Block, was a featured speaker at the Eminent Domain Institute’s 10th Annual Eminent Domain Conference in Los Angeles on May 1, 2008. Mr. Block shared his expertise on “How to Succeed in Los Angeles Superior Court.”

COPYRIGHT © 2010 Arthur J. Hazarabedian, Esq.