In an all-too-familiar tale these days, a redevelopment agency is seeking to acquire property as part of its efforts to alleviate blighted conditions in the city, and owners are reacting strongly to the agency’s plans to utilize the power of eminent domain where owners are reluctant to sell.
According to a November 5 article in the Signal Tribune, "Property owners condemn Signal Hill RDA’s use of eminent domain," the situation in Signal Hill pushes all the buttons on both sides of the issue:
- The redevelopment agency touts numerous successful projects, including converting "many contaminated oil-production and industrial sites into successful retail centers and thriving residential communities";
- The agency’s claim of success in its redevelopment efforts have been well documented; the agency’s "Las Brisas" project received the California Redevelopment Agency’s 2006 Award of Excellence for turning an area "characterized by a high crime rate, vacant and boarded up buildings, and mismanagement by absentee landlords" into a " neighborhood consist[ing] of 90 attractive affordable residential units, courtyards, a park, and a community center that includes an on-site police substation, a childcare facility, a public meeting area, social services offices, and a computer lab";
- The redevelopment agency might not, in a perfect world, be at the stage where it really wants to condemn the properties now, but its power of eminent domain expires on November 17;
- One of the properties being condemned actually lies outside the redevelopment area, but (according to the city), its acquisition "will benefit housing in the city’s redevelopment project area";
- The properties being sought include a number of operating businesses that may not themselves appear blighted at all;
- The acquisitions are taking place under horrible market conditions, causing at least one owner to claim it is "unfair to offer him fair market value for the property at a time when the real estate market is depressed and causing his property to have a 50-percent diminished value"; and
- Even though the acquisitions will happen now, in this down market, the agency apparently does not intend to use the properties for five years or more, leaving business owners and property owners wondering why they should be forced out now (see item 2 above).
Does the agency need to acquire these properties for much-needed redevelopment? Perhaps.
Will it use the properties to improve the city? Hopefully.
But for the imminent expiration of the agency’s power of eminent domain, does the agency need to acquire these properties now? Almost certainly not.