By Andre Briscoe

A workshop this week aimed at educating the public and Seaside city officials on the rules governing California redevelopment did little to ease fears of at least one property owner, who is worried his home could be a victim of the city’s development plans.

Ernest Glover, president of Southern California-based GRC Redevelopment Consultants, outlined the city’s two major redevelopment projects, explained California redevelopment laws, and outlined steps the city would have to take to exercise its power of eminent domain to seize land slated to become the West Broadway Urban Village project.

That project would include 40 acres stretching from Canyon Del Rey and Del Monte Boulevards past Fremont Boulevard to the upper Broadway area.

Saif Ataya, whose home sits on the 300 block of Amador Avenue, said he worries that another proposal, Reggie Jackson’s hotel and conference center on 5.7 acres, would force his family to sell and move.

Ataya said he has received little information about the project.

“I don’t want to seem like an obstacle, … but from the bottom of my heart I feel that there is a lack of communication between the city and residents,” said Ataya. “I was born and raised in Iraq, and my family home was taken. It was similar to eminent domain. This kind of thing makes me remember the system over there. I’m just afraid something like that will happen here.”

City redevelopment agencies can acquire property, but it must be authorized within the city’s redevelopment plan and must be used in the public interest, such as to clean up blighted areas, said Glover. Among the factors considered to be “public interest” are economic development, community and neighborhood revitalization and historic preservation.

A recent Supreme Court decision permits local governments to exercise eminent domain to turn some private property over to a private developer for the purpose of economic development.

The city has two redevelopment project areas: the so-called “Merged Project” area and the old Fort Ord area. Fort Ord land was acquired after the Army base closed in 1994.

The merged area, formerly seven separate project areas within the city, was formed in 1996. The agency’s power to exercise eminent domain within these project areas expires in April 2008.

In 2006 the California legislature revised community development law limiting to 12 years the time a city’s redevelopment agency can impose eminent domain. An extension to that time limit can only be made by an amendment to the redevelopment plan.

City staff members will recommend that the City Council proceed with plans to extend the agency’s authority during the Sept. 20 council meeting.

Even if the city decided to use eminent domain, the process is tightly regulated, Glover said. Safeguards are in place to ensure that the rights of property owners are protected and that they are treated fairly, he said.

“You have to show that you need it, not that you just want it,” said Glover. “You have to show that an area is predominantly blighted. The whole idea is to avoid a long drawn-out process. It’s not nice for the owner and it’s not nice for the council or the city.

“The agency has to go as far as it possibly can to make sure that whoever is being displaced by eminent domain or any other action comes out whole. … You can’t just put them out there with nothing. You have to make them whole, or better than whole.”

Blighted areas are considered more than just deteriorating buildings, Glover said. They include obsolete buildings, and areas of high crime and with out-of-date building codes.

Assistant City Manager Jill Anderson said imposing eminent domain would be a “last-resort scenario.”

“It is in (the city’s) best interest that we create a win-win proposition for all concerned. Something that would be satisfying financially, emotionally and otherwise for everyone,” she said. “It only makes good sense. The important thing to remember is that this is a discussion, and only a discussion, about amending plans to reflect today’s redevelopment realities.”

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