September 17, 2008
Eminent Domain Issue Causes Fractious Debate
By Paul Eakins
LONG BEACH - Residents and business owners concerned about losing their properties confronted city officials Tuesday over a proposed 12-year extension of eminent domain power in North Long Beach.
The North Long Beach Redevelopment Plan was established in 1996 and gave the city a 12-year power of eminent domain, which allows governments to force people to sell their property for improvement projects.
The public hearing at the City Council meeting came one day after the Redevelopment Agency's board approved the 12-year eminent domain extension. The council will vote on the proposed extension on Oct. 7.
City officials said that residential property owners needn't worry about eminent domain. California voters in June approved Proposition 99, which forbids governments from using eminent domain to buy homes for other private developments, only allowing the use for public projects such as roads and parks.
But local business owners still expressed concern about how the city may use eminent domain to take their property.
The city often has used eminent domain as a stick to encourage business owners to sell their property, along with the carrot of eliminating neighborhood blight and bringing more desirable developments to the community.
Aristi Contos, whose family owns Golden Star Family Restaurants, spoke out against the Redevelopment Agency's use of eminent domain, though Contos' properties are part of the Redevelopment Agency's Central Project Area, not in North Long Beach.
"Taking someone's property because of blight is too simplistic of a solution," Contos said.
She said her family has been forced to speed up development of a third restaurant site in order to meet the Redevelopment Agency's timeline or risk losing the property to eminent domain.
The city should do more to help local business owners improve their property, rather than bring in outside developers, Contos said.
Craig Beck, director of Long Beach Development Services, defended the city's policy, saying that it has many effective programs to help business owners, such as a facade assistance program.
At 12,500 acres, the North Long Beach Project Area is the largest in the city and includes much of the Port of Long Beach as well. The 12-year eminent domain extension wouldn't include the port, however.
City officials did their best Tuesday to make their case for the value of eminent domain, which they said has allowed the city to bring in projects like the planned North Village Center. That project at Atlantic Avenue and South Street will include condominiums, retail and commercial businesses, a new North Long Beach branch library and a community center.
Amy Bodek, manager of the Redevelopment Bureau, said the city has bought and demolished 10 North Long Beach properties that had caused problems for their neighborhoods, including motels and liquor stores. As a result, police received 2,400 fewer service calls in the project area, she said.
But more needs to be done, Bodek said.
"There are still significant blighting conditions that exist within the city's North Project Area that do need to continue to be eliminated," Bodek said.
WHAT IS EMINENT DOMAIN?
It is the power of local, state or federal governments to force the sale of private property at a fair price for a public purpose, even if the owner objects. California's Proposition 99, passed by voters in June, forbids government from using eminent domain to seize homes for another private development.
OTHER CITY COUNCIL
In other business Tuesday, the City Council voted:
To approve the rezoning of 6,750 square feet of city-owned land on the east side of Ernest S. McBride Sr. Community Center, 1550 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., from residential to park, to increase the total size of Ernest McBride Sr. Park to 108,180 square feet, or 2.48 acres.
The rezoning was the final step to clear the way for an expansion of the community center that will include a new teen center, park area, basketball court, playground and outdoor area for seniors.
To delay a final vote on a change in the city's sewer line maintenance policy, which would require that property owners instead of the city be responsible for the lines from their property line to the city's main sewer line in the public right-of-
way. Property owners who must make repairs because of city owned trees may still submit a claim for reimbursement, officials have said.
However, several council members, most notably Gerrie Schipske, who was the only council member to oppose the policy change initially, said they wanted more information about how the new process will be managed.
To approve a location agreement with General Petroleum Corp. to entice the company away from Rancho Dominguez and to consolidate
all sales and distribution offices for Southern California in Long Beach.
The 20-year agreement will allow General Petroleum to receive 65 percent of the sales tax revenue generated by its $200 million in annual sales, while 35 percent will go to the city. That will result in about $700,000 for the city and $1.3 million for General Petroleum annually, as well as creating 30 new local jobs.
The agreement was approved 7-2, with council members Schipske and Tonia Reyes Uranga dissenting because of concerns about the city's small share of the tax revenue.
For the final adoption of the proposed city budget for the 2009 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The $3.1 billion budget includes some layoffs and program cuts, but managed to keep the downtown Main Library open.
To approve decreases to gas rates that city officials said will result in about a 1 percent lower cost for most residents.
To approve a six-month moratorium on interior alterations of homes to create additional bedrooms, called "bedroom splitting," in Long Beach's parking-impacted areas.
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