By Raymond R. Beltran
National City - Mayor Ron Morrison and the city council were pelted over the head again by residents opposing eminent domain, which was up for discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Lately, they seem like lone rangers instead of community leaders in their endeavor to renew the city’s practice of eminent domain, which expires in August.
At this week’s city council meeting, approximately forty youth from a local boxing gym picketed behind city chambers at Kimball Park to oppose the loss of, what they say is, their only home away from home by use of eminent domain.
“This is our gym and we don’t want to go anywhere,” said a young Victor Nuñez (front center in photo) in front of a barrage of young fighters.
The Community Youth Athletic Center (CYAC), which sits on the corner of National City Boulevard and Plaza Boulevard, is a 3,700 square foot gym that provides athletic training for approximately fifty local youth in the evening hours.
It is now being replaced by high rise condominiums.
With financial support from companies and groups like United Parcel Service, the Holiday Inn South Bay, National Police Officer’s Association and the Borona Band of Mission Indians, CYAC received hundreds of thousands in 2002 to purchase the current building. Before that, they functioned out of a 400 square foot garage since 1991.
Today, the city is pulling the redevelopment card on the site and labeling the corner blighted. A desolate parking lot sits to the north of the gym with a chain barring cars, an auto dealership neighboring south and condos and a new coffee shop, The Living Room, a block north incorporated into Southwestern College’s extended campus.
“You guys are people, you are not blight,” said Jeff Rowes, an attorney from Institute for Justice (IFJ), a Virginia-based non-profit law firm battling eminent domain abuse nationwide.
Rowes accompanied CYAC vice-president Victor Nuñez to Tuesday’s rally and submitted a legal ‘objection to the city’s blight study,’ he says, with plans to initiate a lawsuit against the City of National City for abusing their power to practice land seizure for redevelopment.
CYAC supporters say it’s an act of reverse Robin Hoodism, stealing from the poor and giving to the rich.
Mayor Morrison said in an interview with La Prensa San Diego last week that the non-profit, CYAC, purchased the land with the knowledge that it is in a redevlopment area and that they would have a time limit on their ownership of the land.
“The boxing gym, they knew that that was a temporary building and that they would need to move to another location,” Morrison said.
He also says that negotiations have been going on with the CYAC board since developer Jim Beauchamp was given the city’s OK to buy the lot and build condos in 2005, which included a possible ground level facility to continue serving youth.
“Total nonsense,” says Rowes.
For one, he says, CYAC had no knowledge of buying property in a blighted zone, according to their records. The ownership title was not amended to indicate that until months after the purchase.
Second, he refers to the city’s negotiation process as Mafioso in that there’s a “sell it or else” approach.
According to letters from the city, Beauchamp’s vision was granted by the City Development Commission on February 22, 2005. Letters started arriving to CYAC front doors by the 28th.
No bonafide property value assessment has been made, says both sides, but the offers began at $400,000 and have since climbed to $600,000, according to Rowes. But boxers aren’t budging and when the city renews it’s eminent domain jurisdiction in August (which runs up National City Boulevard from 30th to Division St and all along the west side of the 5 freeway), IFJ attorneys say it will be too late for them to litigate.
IFJ is a non-profit law firm that battled eminent domain in the State Supreme Court in the now famous 2005 Keno case, where courts ruled on behalf of the government to seize land from private property owners for public use under the Fifth Amendment.
National City caught IFJ’s eye when land owner Ray Brock, around the corner, began raising awareness about his loss of property to the same Jim Beauchamp and the city.
“We’re going to fight the city’s outrageous plan to take away our gym so a developer can build condos for rich people,” said CYAC vice-president Victor Nuñez, in a community letter earlier this week. “We’re doing what we teach our kids to do. We’re standing up for what is right.”
Saving National City youth from gangs and the street life is their stance on the issue. The group, which now functions in a small box of a gym, has said to have served thousands in the past decade and rendering CYAC homeless would leave a major void in the lives of the at-risk.
Young fighters gathered around news cameras and shouted “Save our gym! Save our gym!” just before the city council meeting, calling the building a “home away from home.”
One young fighter referred to it as “my heart.”
But a lone redevelopment sign remains planted in the pavement, in the towering shadows of what only seems to be an old brick boxing gym.