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"Stopping eminent domain abuse Q & A"

Stopping eminent domain abuse Q & A

Excuse me... some already have a home or business where you want to build your luxury lofts, condominiums, and upscale shopping center!

Q: What is all this I am hearing about the Redevelopment Agency lately?
A: The community is asking for support to prevent the RDA (Redevelopment Agency) from "redeveloping away our neighborhoods." Currently, they are implementing the "Strong Neighborhoods Initiative," as well as a number of business redevelopment areas. One-third of the city will be impacted by the SNI project, with unknown consequences over the next thirty years. As one example of what is currently happening, small family-owned businesses at the Tropicana Center, an older strip mall on San Jose's East Side, are in imminent danger from the RDA and City Council. The RDA plans to replace Tropicana with an upscale mall to be developed by a private Walnut Creek developer.

Q: What is happening at the Tropicana Center?
A: Over sixty long-standing small businesses are being displaced and priced out of their shopping center, all in the name of "bringing the community together." Some of the businesses have been told that they don't fit into the tenant mix for the new center, and they will not be permitted to return after construction is completed. The Redevelopment Agency refuses to let the owners and merchants of the Tropicana Center remodel the property themselves even after being RDA and City approved planning permits and building permits after seven years of working with the RDA! The RDA intends to seize the property by eminent domain, including three newly built or renovated buildings totaling 70,000 square feet, and give it away to an out-of-town developer along with a $50 million dollar public subsidy.

Q: Why would the City Council and the RDA do these things?
A: Many people love our city's mix of cultures and unique businesses. The City Council obviously feels otherwise. The proposed RDA redevelopment plan will actually eliminate character, culture and the uniqueness of the Tropicana Center. What does being in a designated redevelopment area mean to our neighborhoods? They have been designated as "blighted" so that the RDA and City Council can exercise absolute authority over the property within the redevelopment project area. Some of the most beautiful and historic areas of San Jose have been officially declared "blighted" as part of this process. Elected leaders have neglected some areas of the city over the years, but placing one-third of San Jose into a redevelopment project area is not the answer.

Q: I thought that eminent domain was only for a public purpose, such as a hospital or school?
A: Under the Bill of Rights and State and Federal Constitutions, government has the right to use eminent domain to acquire land for a public use (i.e. roads, schools, hospitals, parks, and police stations). Modern Redevelopment has changed all that, and many government now consider the taking of private property acceptable for projects such as shopping centers, auto malls, movie theaters, luxury condominiums and townhouses. In this case as well, the RDA and City Council describe the taking of the Tropicana for an upscale shopping mall a public use!

Q: What does this mean to me and my home or business?
A: Much of this is a classic case of planned gentrification by the RDA. The pattern works like this: a city makes plans to displace homes and businesses for upscale high-rise, mixed-use developments, chain stores, luxury apartments, and shopping areas. Local officials ignore community protests in a competition for the increased sales tax and property tax increases. Long-time residents, the local shoe repair shop, the trades, or mom & pop restaurants can't afford the rent at the new project after the first few subsidized years and/or they don't fit the new planned "tenant mix," and have to leave the area altogether. You may look at the area around the new planned City Hall for examples of this displacement of residents and businesses.

Q: I thought that they said all this was good for the Community?
A: Many cities and counties are moving forward with plans to encourage development that brings in more tax dollars. Organizations such as the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and California Redevelopment Association (CRA) are creating a mandate for this process and their mission to "identify and obtain the regulatory Area (growth in both population and building heights). This is claimed to create an influx of new people to the area to encourage an economic vitality that will supposedly "trickle-down" to benefit the entire community. These plans usually include changing the zoning in neighborhoods, creating more exemptions from California Environment Quality Act regulations for development, and trying to stifle community protest. Influence by special interests is clearly at play here.

Q: How do we protect existing communities from this economic opportunism?
A: Last year activists in San Jose saved "40 sites," consisting of over 150 properties, from the RDA's use of eminent domain. The justification by the City and RDA at that time was that these properties were needed to create market value high density housing to provide a critical mass of shoppers for the then-planned Palladium project in downtown. Now, the City is claiming that all of this is to "eliminate blight." The first thing we all need to do is educate ourselves on the issues. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Are the RDA and City really providing resources to our community, or seizing privately-owned property and giving massive gifts of public funds to for-profit developers? Why would they do this? These decisions are in the hands of a few City Council members (who are also serving a dual roles as Redevelopment Agency Directors). This is about their political power and future, as well as big money interests.

Q: Why are property rights an important social equity issue?
A: Redevelopment projects often target neighborhoods where seniors, people of color, recent immigrants and working-class people live, often near transportation hubs. Redevelopment agencies (RDAs) and rezoning are traditional vehicles for carrying out gentrification, the displacement of our communities with upscale development. While most government entities can use eminent domain only for a clear public purpose (such as a hospital, school or fire station), redevelopment agencies can use eminent domain powers for any purpose, including totally for-profit private development projects within project area boundaries.

Q: Don't we have the right to vote on something like this?
A: The City of San Jose created the "Strong Neighborhoods Initiative," a redevelopment project area that covers one-third of the City, without any public vote! City council members serving as Redevelopment Directors can legally accept political contributions from the very same developers they select for projects. This is a clear conflict of interest. Businesses and homeowners who lose their property can challenge the so-called market rate price offered by the city as fair compensation, if they have the personal resources to fight the RDA and City Hall in court. Most people are too intimidated to fight, and then are considered "willing sellers." Yes, as hard as this is to believe, your home or businesses could be taken by redevelopment eminent domain and handed over to a private, for-profit developer.

Q: Will the redevelopment bring new jobs and housing?
A: Many people, including the merchants of the Tropicana don't think so. They voted overwhelmingly against the RDA's plan. Blake Hunt, the RDAs chosen private developer, has not disclosed which new tenants they are bringing to the area, but we know they are not offering the authentic goods and services the Tropicana provides to the community. Even if the development is successful, the process has already started a chain of gentrification. It has been reported that housing speculators are attempting to buy homes near the center, with the intent of driving up the prices and changing the community. Over the next thirty years, our neighborhoods will also be at risk. Developers will be promoting high-density housing (and high profit) development in our neighborhoods. Commendable non-profit housing projects will be built in San Jose, but they will be few in number compared to all the new luxury high-density developments "popping up" all over town. Developers and planners are using the "affordable housing" argument to obscure the fact that the real impetus for all this growth and regulatory change is profit. For the RDA and City, the goal is increased taxes.

Q: What can we do to protect our communities?
Demand stronger conflict of interest regulations.
End the use of eminent domain for private gain.
Protect residences from RDA eminent domain.
Assure that local businesses are respected and protected.
Increase community control and citizen notification.
Reform laws to stop tax increment from being diverted from real public uses.

These are our homes, businesses, and neighborhoods. We must question the RDA and public officials who tell us to leave the decision-making to them. What will our City be like in the next 30 years? Will our homes and businesses still be here, or will San Jose be a mass of towers piercing the sky?