City of Vista Seeking to Acquire Motel Property for Redevelopment Project

In an October 31 article for the North County Times, "VISTA: City wants to redevelop motel property," reporter Cigi Ross writes about the City of Vista's plans to acquire a motel property as part of a plan to redevelop the area:

The owner of a downtown Vista motel is accusing the city of trying to kick him out of his business and his home.

City officials announced Monday they're trying to purchase the Vista Riviera Motel as part of a redevelopment project along Vista Village Drive and Vista Way that could include a new car dealership. 

While the City's efforts currently involve a voluntary acquisition, the owner has already said that he does not want to sell, raising the possibility that the City could acquire the property through eminent domain.   Though this situation raises the specter of the often criticized Kelo decision, the situation is different, in that Vista's stated motivation in acquiring the property is to eliminate blight, a motivation missing in the Kelo case

Ms. Ross' article explains:

The land is prime real estate because Vista Village Drive is a main thoroughfare that cuts through the center of Vista and is used by an estimated 40,000 motorists every day.

Over the past few years, the city has spent at least $3 million to purchase properties in the downtown corridor as part of a long-term plan to spur economic development. Most recently, the City Council approved spending about $1.25 million on two sites near South Santa Fe Avenue.

Those properties, as well as the Vista Riviera Motel, lie within an expanded redevelopment zone that was created in 2008 when Vista's City Council approved an updated redevelopment plan.

That redevelopment plan says the city can use eminent domain ---- take properties for public use ---- in part to eliminate "blight." The city defines economic blight as properties with high crime rates, high vacancy or low lease rates, stagnant or declining property values or unsafe and unhealthy buildings. 

Tim Sandefur, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation and a well known property rights advocate, was quoted, explaining why the property owner would likely have little success fighting any effort by Vista to condemn his property:

One argument has been that it's wrong to take property from one business owner so another can develop the site. But Proposition 99, a ballot measure passed in 2008, expanded municipalities' power of eminent domain by allowing that kind of redevelopment, Sandefur said.

That measure followed a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that said local governments could force property owners to sell off their land to make way for private economic developments even if the property isn't blighted.

"It was possible until recently to say, 'No, there are limits on that,'" Sandefur said. "Redevelopment is now defined as a public use in the state constitution.

"Unfortunately property owners have virtually no protection against eminent domain in California until the state constitution is amended," he said. 

Only time will tell how badly Vista really wants this property.  If the owner maintains his steadfast refusal to sell, eminent domain will be the only option.  But in the wake of Kelo, the use of eminent domain for redevelopment purposes is subject to considerable -- and generally unfavorable -- public scrutiny. 

  • Rick E. Rayl

    Rick Rayl is an experienced litigator on a broad range of complex civil litigation issues.  His practice is concentrated primarily on eminent domain, inverse condemnation, and other real-estate-valuation disputes.  His public ...

California Eminent Domain Report is a one-stop resource for everything new and noteworthy in eminent domain. We cover all aspects of eminent domain, including condemnation, inverse condemnation and regulatory takings. We also keep track of current cases, project announcements, budget issues, legislative reform efforts and report on all major eminent domain conferences and seminars in the Western United States.

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