By Ted Godshalk
In the previous commentary, we saw the pattern of behavior by the redevelopment corporation known as the Community Development Commission. Poorly organized meetings, oppressive urban planning and a general disregard for the public’s input strike observers as tactics used to control the process and the decision makers. We pick up the story as the New Year began.
On January 4, 2005, the NC City Council held its fifth hearing and once again put off a decision on eminent domain, this time to the February 22nd meeting. In matters like this, positions change very slowly, but they do often change. During this period of lost faith in the redevelopment plan, some homeowners who have previously called for forced relocation of polluters and other negative influences on the community have rethought their views. After getting to know the concerns of small business owners, genuine respect and financial incentives seem more appropriate tools rather than the threat of condemnation.
It was at the February meeting that Councilman Luis Natividad stated, “I cannot in good conscience vote for a blanket authority.” Council members Zarate and Morrison showed signs of concern, noting that 12 years was too long a period to hold this sword over the community’s head. Prior to the next meeting, the area open for eminent domain was scaled back to Highland Avenue, National City Blvd., Eighth Street, Sweetwater Road, all of the land west of I-5, and all of Old Town. This is the area currently proposed, and it still incredibly encompasses one third of the entire city.
On June 21st the latest hearing was held, and it was widely believed that the council of three would finally come to a decision about this onerous matter. They listened to more testimony, with all but one speaker of the 25 who approached the podium, speaking against the label of “blight” laid upon their properties. Only one speaker, the owner of the leather shop, stated the she wants the city to exercise the power of eminent domain. She has plans for a high-rise along National City Boulevard and needs to move some her neighbors out of the way.
It has been a long process, and almost universal displeasure has been voiced against the Corporation’s plan to expand eminent domain power. Many small business owners have recently woken up to the real threat this matter holds for them. They have seen that redevelopment does not hold anything good for their futures. It has become clear that moneyed interests are flexing their muscle in this town, and the not-so-well-connected finally see how they have been played.
Real government reform is called for in our community and it starts with dissolution of the corporation called the Community Development Commission. The City Council should move to kill this eminent domain authority outright and go further and let the Corporation die a quiet death. We can no longer afford a quasi-government that doesn’t listen to our concerns and in fact actively conspires against us.
Additionally, the Corporation has been taking property taxes from the city’s treasury to the point where a sales tax increase is now proposed to cover municipal expenses. While the city gets $1.7 million in property tax, the Corporation takes in at least $8 million. Yes, the Federal government kicks in some Housing money and Block Grants, but the city would be better off at this stage to manage its own low-income housing assistance program without the Corporation’s overhead and other excesses. This whole system is based on the largesse of the Federal and State governments, and as you know, their budget deficits and borrowing virtually guarantee future cuts in funding for National City’s needs. Taking back the property tax income could put off the need for a sales tax increase to help pay the city’s bills.
Redevelopment’s time has come and gone. The benefits of its projects are unproven, and the threat to our security by eminent domain is too great for it all to continue. City government can and should take over many of the roles currently being played by the Corporation.
Throughout all of this, Mayor Nick Inzunza and Councilman Frank Parra have been excused from the hearing because they live in the redevelopment zone. But they are not innocent, indifferent bystanders. A simple inquiry may reveal that they are still playing a role in the background. Council members Morrison, Natividad, and Zarate are left holding the bag on this one. It is time to speak up for your right to pursue happiness in National City and be free of the oppressive hand of redevelopment. Call Morrison at 336- 4233, Zarate at 336-4234, and Natividad at 336-4238 to voice your concerns. They can all be reached by email as well. Check the city website at www.ci.national-city.ca.us for their addresses.
Ted Godshalk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org