August 26, 2005

National City Spotlight:

Blight Between the Eyes

By Ted Godshalk

It is starting to look like every place is blighted in someone’s eyes. National City, like many other communities, is wrestling with serious redevelopment issues including eminent domain and the determination of blight. The egregious abuse of power by many cities has been well documented by organizations like The Institute for Justice, CastleCoalition.org, as well as the news shows Sixty Minutes and the PBS News Hour. In past columns I have called for the Redevelopment Corporation (CDC) in National City to be dissolved, with the assets transferred to the financially strapped city government. This hasn’t happened yet. Maybe they’re studying it.

The current question is: are all places blighted just because they are old or don’t bring in lots of tax dollars? The long-time property owner of two blocks on National City Boulevard says no way. Mr. Larry Dailey said at this week’s CDC/City Council meeting, “ the condition [of the property] has always been kept up…it’s not blighted.” Is he right? And why was he hit between the eyes with the threat of eminent domain?

You know this property as Mossy Nissan and it is located between 26th and 28th Streets on NCB. The Daileys originally opened a car dealership on the property in 1973. For the last 23 years, Peter Mossy and his brother have leased the property from the Dailey family for the purpose of selling cars and auto services. They wistfully proclaim they were the number one Nissan dealer in the 90’s and long for those golden days to return.

The Devil’s in the details and here they are. The Nissan Corporation would like the Mossys to update the appearance of the building; they want to keep up with the Fords and the Volvos. Additionally, through an agreement with their landlord, the Mossys are responsible for regular maintenance of the property and some upkeep may be required. Is this the definition of blight? Depends on who is talking.

The building’s outward appearance is well maintained, and new cars are being driven off the lot every day. Nissan is not calling the facility blighted, and to the Dailey family there is certainly no blight. Most reasonable people would agree that there is no blight along the new car stretch of NCB at all. It is the CDC that has shown a willingness— no, an eagerness—to call this property, along with much of the city, blighted. The CDC, apparently in cahoots with Mossy Nissan, sent a letter threatening eminent domain on the Daileys. A staff report was written for the City Council, justifying the use of eminent domain based on the possible increased tax revenue to the CDC. The staff, however, did not speak during the meeting, preferring to have their newly retained private attorney respond to inquiries.

The Mossys have apparently been trying to buy the property from the Daileys but the sale has not occurred to date. Testimony was given that a price had been agreed upon, but incredibly the CDC sent the threatening letter to the Daileys offering them a great deal of eminent domain and less money than the Mossys’ offer. This irritated the youngest brother of the clan, Tim Dailey, who said, “They [the Mossys] send in Big Brother. It’s a very crooked deal and you know it.” After Councilman Luis Natividad vented over this comment, Tim Dailey simply said all they wanted was for the city to not step into this matter. Mr. Dailey did not call any one person crooked. He is just shining a light on a questionable practice at the CDC. After making a motion to continue the item until the next meeting, Natividad stated, “ If nothing happens then we will step in and do what’s best for the community.”

Oh by the way, did I mention that the staff report states that Mossy Nissan may move off the Mile of Cars if they don’t get their way. This Dailey- CDC- Mossy deal is exactly the kind of thing that hundreds of concerned people have told our elected officials they don’t want to see happen in National City. Natividad and the others on the City Council do not need to step in to do anything.

Furthermore, eminent domain should never be used to take property from one person to give or sell to another for his or her own profit. This is very clear, and does not require a staff person or lawyer to study it or justify it. It is time to stop ignoring the overwhelming volume of testimony and clearly tell the CDC staff, at a public meeting, to stop interfering in private matters. Until this is done, the vision for this city’s future will be imposed by others and will not be the result of community consensus and respect for private property.

Ted Godshalk can be reached at paradisecreek@mac.com

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