Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Bad Manners of Eminent Domain

It's not just unfair. Sometimes, it's discourteous too:

When the Redwood City Council authorized a downtown land acquisition for a new cinema and retail project, ousted property owners were left “bruised” and resentful by its lack of respect, according to a civil grand jury report released yesterday.

The report concluded the Redevelopment Agency did not give fair and equitable treatment to those evicted. It recommends the City Council tell the RDA to develop written guidelines on property treatment of citizens and conduct staff training. The council should also set up a method to handle complaints about the RDA, the report states.

Mayor Jeff Ira, who had yet to see the report, concedes the city could have been more sensitive and vowed “it will never happen again.”

Multiple property owners were affected when the city began its $100 million downtown revitalization through a new 20-screen theater and retail complex. The land bound by Broadway, Jefferson Avenue and Middlefield Road was declared a “blighted area” and snatched through eminent domain.

James Celotti, 76, sued the city for taking his old, two-story building and in May 2004, Superior Court Judge Quentin Kopp ruled in his favor. Kopp found that although city officials claimed a public parking lot would be built on the land it actually was used to benefit a private developer.

The next month, Celotti settled for $3 million and Ira later sent him a letter of apology.

. . .

Ira doesn’t think specific guidelines for RDA are necessary but
said the staff were spoken with at length about how to deal with similar situations in the future.

The primary problem, Ira said, was that the city viewed the situation as a business venture while the Celottis saw it as a very emotional, personal matter. The building was in the family since 1976 when Celotti bought it for retirement.