By Daniel Thigpen

LODI – The city’s elected leaders and public officials have made the promise, both in writing and in public forums: Lodi will not take your home or business if it approves a redevelopment project.

By stripping the city of its eminent domain powers, Lodi officials have aimed to garner more public support for redevelopment, the controversial process by which cities keep a larger share of property tax revenue for rehabilitation projects.

Several years ago, residents shot down a similar proposal, partly over fears the government would seize their property. There has been little public opposition to redevelopment this time around.

But as Lodi leaders inch closer to making redevelopment a reality, some critics recently have asked: What would keep future elected leaders from reversing Lodi’s ban on eminent domain?

Technically, nothing.

Lodi is seeking approval to designate nearly its entire East Side – the city’s older, lower-income half – as a redevelopment area. Such an action would allow the city to keep a greater share of property taxes to put toward sidewalk repairs and other public improvements. Lodi also would be able to borrow money to finance other public or economic development projects.

Over the past few months, several local residents have begun speaking out at City Council and other public meetings against redevelopment. Ann Cerney, a frequent City Hall critic, recently broached the eminent domain question.

“There is nothing to prevent (eminent domain) from later being introduced,” she said in a recent interview.

City Manager Blair King and other city officials said the likelihood of Lodi changing course years from now is small. Such a move would require a laborious and expensive process, including more studies, committees and public meetings, they say.

“It’s just not going to happen,” city spokesman Jeff Hood said. “It would be insulting to the public to do any kind of bait and switch.

“It’s an incredibly long process,” he said. “And the city’s been investigating redevelopment for a year. It would take a similar type of ordeal to amend the plan to put back something like eminent domain. … It’s like, why even talk about it? It might snow tomorrow, too.”

Eminent domain was a major concern among redevelopment opponents in 2002, who successfully defeated a redevelopment proposal through a massive petition drive.

City leaders have since passed ordinances that prohibit eminent domain.

In fact, some say it is becoming increasingly difficult for communities to gain public support for proposed redevelopment projects that do include eminent domain. And California voters in June will decide on two ballot measures that would restrict governments’ use of eminent domain for private purposes. The measures, however, won’t affect Lodi because the city’s ordinances are much more strict, prohibiting it outright.

Tim Ogden, the economic development and housing director for the city of Riverbank in Stanislaus County, has seen the public’s aversion to redevelopment because of eminent domain.

In many ways, Lodi’s redevelopment efforts mirror Riverbank’s. Activist residents successfully fought off redevelopment there in the early 1990s. In 2005, the small town tried again – this time without eminent domain – and things went more smoothly.

The Lodi City Council, which has indicated support for redevelopment, likely will vote on the issue at the end of May.