By Tom Lochner

San Pablo, reacting to public angst about eminent domain, is promising not to use the doctrine to take away any owner-occupied home and turn it over to a private individual or company for development.

Such action already is prohibited by Proposition 99, passed by the state’s voters in 2008.  So although a resolution approved this week essentially affirms what already is law, the City Council, sitting as the redevelopment agency board, took a largely symbolic further step, pledging to sign agreements with any homeowner-in-residence promising not to use eminent domain improperly.

“In this way, San Pablo property owners will have a separate, contractual obligation to enforce against the Redevelopment Agency,” a staff report reads.

Or as City Manager Brock Arner expressed it: “It’s like wearing a belt and putting on suspenders.”

Under eminent domain, government can force an owner to sell it property for the public’s benefit and for just compensation, which is determined in court if the owner and the agency cannot settle on a price.

This week’s action came in response to an outpouring of more than 100 people at a public hearing two weeks ago on a proposal to renew the redevelopment agency’s eminent domain powers for another 12 years.  Many at that meeting accused the agency of plotting to take their homes and businesses.  The council continued discussion of the renewal proposal to April 19.

There was no such outpouring this time, but two residents drew the council and staff into a discussion of eminent domain and redevelopment in general.

Margaret Judkins objected to the fact that more than 90 percent of San Pablo is in a redevelopment area.

“It’s telling everybody we live in a garbage dump,” Judkins said.  “That’s very embarrassing.”

She also said the council resolution does nothing to protect business owners.

Arner and Assistant City Manager Kelsey Worthy countered that redevelopment created much of today’s San Pablo and that without it, the Signature at Abella residential development, several shopping centers, the Holiday Inn Express hotel and numerous other projects would not have been built.

Arner noted that earlier in the meeting, the critics had applauded the redevelopment manager of East Palo Alto, Marie McKenzie, who made a guest presentation on a program in her city to get businesses assisted by her agency to hire local residents.  East Palo Alto has a population similar in size to San Pablo’s, and most of that city also is in a redevelopment area.

The council announced there will be a town hall meeting March 29 on the subject of redevelopment and eminent domain.

The council will vote April 5 on a proposed letter of agreement with homeowners-in-residence, and April 19 it will resume the discussion of the proposal to renew the agency’s eminent domain powers for another 12 years.

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