By Cigi Ross

 Vista City Council members on Tuesday said a promise they made last year not to use the power of eminent domain to seize people’s homes would not apply to the owners of the Vista Riviera Motel should the city decide to purchase it.

Vista officials said last week they’re negotiating to buy the motel at Vista Village Drive and Vista Way, but one of the owners, Pankaj Desai, told the North County Times that he’s not interested in selling. Desai and fellow co-owner Vijay Naik and their wives share a two-bedroom apartment at the motel and the maintenance worker lives in a single-bedroom unit.

The city announced last week it wants to purchase the motel’s .71-acre lot and tear the buildings down. It would then redevelop the area, along with three other parcels totaling 2.89 acres, as part of a project that could include a new car dealership.

Bill Rawlings, Vista’s director of redevelopment and housing, has said that discussions of eminent domain are premature because the city still wants to reach a purchase agreement with the motel owners.

“Our goal would be to acquire the property for a fair price that would compensate the owners for all of their losses, including the business and their residences,” Rawlings said Tuesday.

In 2008, the City Council adopted a plan that expanded Vista’s redevelopment area and its powers of eminent domain, a process that allows a government agency to take private land for public use or development, as long as it pays fair market value, determined by a court. The council agreed at that time it would not exercise its power of eminent domain to seize residential properties.

City Council members on Tuesday didn’t discuss the negotiations for the property or what they are planning for the site, but they did say the motel property was fair game for eminent domain if a sale isn’t agreed on.

“As a council we said we wouldn’t displace residents from their homes” as part of the city’s redevelopment plan, Councilman Steve Gronke said. “But since this is a commercial establishment, then that policy doesn’t hold.”

On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved a replacement housing plan necessary because the motel owners and a maintenance worker live at the motel.

Rawlings said the city would need to replace those two residences with other similarly priced units if it purchases the property. The city’s plan calls for their replacement in a future low- to moderate-income housing development on West Los Angeles Drive.

The paperwork is required by the state and must be signed 30 days before tenants are displaced.

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