National City [CA] officials can use their eminent domain authority until 2017 after the City Council last night voted 3-0 to approve the extension.
Three of the five council members made the decision after several meetings in which protesters blasted the council, and at least one councilman blasted back. Council members Rosalie Zarate and Frank Parra, who were absent last night for other reasons, recused themselves from the issue because they own property within the city's redevelopment area, where eminent domain would be used.
Eminent domain allows government to take blighted private land to make way for new development. Owners are paid market rates for the properties.
An East Coast civil liberties law firm is preparing to file a legal challenge to the extension, saying National City's methods have violated state statutes, as well as the U.S. Constitution.
City officials don't see it that way.
“Eminent domain is a tool that needs to be used,” said Councilman Fideles Ungab. “It needs to be used properly. If we have to take a property, we will give them an honest deal as long as I'm in office.”
Last week, Councilman Luis Natividad grew frustrated when an opponent called the policy eminent theft.
“For those who say I already had my mind made up before the hearing, that's a lie,” Natividad said last week. “I slap back; that's how I am. I'm not going to sit here and take abuse.”
Before the meeting, Herman Baca, who heads a Chicano rights group in National City, issued a two-page statement criticizing the mayor on his eminent domain position. Baca said extending the city's condemnation authority is politically risky and could end in a recall or with the recently increased sales tax repealed.
Mayor Ron Morrison waved off Baca's letter, saying most of it was lies.
“Eminent domain is a necessary evil whether we like it or not,” Morrison said. “We need to keep as many tools in the toolbox as possible. But just because you have a tool, doesn't mean you use it right off the bat.”
San Diego CA Union Tribune: http://www.signonsandiego.com