Eminent Domain is an issue that has dominated the community of National City and perplexed its’ political leaders for some time now. This situation is not particular to National City, it is topic of paramount importance to the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista, and is presently being heard before the U.S. Supreme Court which is deciding the question of personal property rights versus public use, which could make this issue moot in the near future.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in one of the most significant property-rights cases in recent years, Kelo v. New London (Conn.). The key issue: Does the Fifth Amendment allow the government to use eminent domain to take property from one private owner and give it to other private owners for the sake of economic development?
In National City the city council is looking to expand its power of eminent domain to include Highland Ave, 8th Ave corridor, Plaza Boulevard corridor, 30th Street corridor, and to encompass the whole of the Westside. Naturally, National City residents are apprehensive over the expansion of powers, eminent domain cuts to the core of property and personal rights!
National City is on an ambitious program to remake their downtown which has included some good things, Southwestern College education center, and some questionable agendas, conversion of hotels into condos and the various village ideas for example. You compound the questionable agendas with the mistrust of politicians in general, see pension fund fiasco, and the apparent site specific, cherry picking, of disconnected sites selected for eminent domain, for example the 30th Street corridor has three specific sites that are not logically associated with each other or with the downtown redevelopment, and you get a public that are asking some tough questions.
For these homeowners eminent domain presents a threat to them, if not directly, indirectly. These homes represent much more than just property; this is where their families were raised, where they hold their memories, and their future. In most cases this is all they have in regards to personal wealth. And in today’s market if they were to sell, where would they go to restart? The sale of these homes would not be enough to move into a respectable home.
And the bigger question should be what about the quality of life these people will experience, even if the city promises not exercise eminent domain on their property but allows for industry and condos to go up around them, in effect forcing these residents out!
Then there are the rights of the small businessman at whom this whole issue of eminent domain seems to be targeted at. National City is a city of small business, what rights will these business owners be left with and where will they go to restart their business and support their families?
The city is moving at a rapid pace with no real blueprint in place. Before the city continues down this road of expanded powers in anticipation of business development, perhaps the city should stop and take a breath, complete the projects that they have started and start the ones they have promised and build confidence with the community in their vision. And lastly, they need to see these property owners not as a hindrance to their plans but as a valuable partner, a piece of their history, and as a neighbor.