By Andre Briscoe

A new ordinance outlining how Del Rey Oaks could acquire property using eminent domain was written only to comply with state law, according to the city attorney.

On Tuesday, the council heard the first reading of the proposed ordinance.But City Attorney Rob Wellington insisted that it was necessary to comply with recently passed state legislation that has tightened the ability of cities and counties to use their condemnation powers to jump-start development projects.

Part of the legislation requires that a city or county have a written policy describing how land will be acquired using eminent domain. The council told residents who attended the meeting that the only redevelopment in the city will be the planned resort project area: 360 acres of Fort Ord land adjacent to South Boundary Road, that is slated to hold two hotels, homes and a golf course.

Wellington said the ordinance was “only a matter of legality” and that using eminent domain to acquire additional property for redevelopment would be indefensible, especially given the lack of blight in the city.

“This is just a formality. It’s something that needed to be done,” said Wellington. “It’s a law that will allow redevelopment agencies (in the state) to restate the power they already have.”

Some who attended the meeting voiced concern that such an ordinance could be used to seize public and private land. Former councilwoman Kathi Smith hinted that the Del Rey Oaks Golf Center and a 17-acre vacant parcel that sits between City Hall and Monterey-Salinas Highway were areas the city could impose eminent domain on later. Wellington said that if the city develops those properties, eminent domain would not be an issue because both are city-owned. He added that there are no plans to develop them.

Councilman Jerry Edelen sought to calm any fears residents might have.

“I can’t imagine this council, in my wildest dreams, confiscating private property from residents of Del Rey Oaks for commercial purposes,” Edelen said. “That, to me, would be insane.”

The legislation passed last year was a response to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that affirmed a city’s right to use eminent domain in taking private property to help increase local tax revenues. The council will vote on adopting the ordinance at next month’s meeting.

Monterey County CA Herald: