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Tuesday, June 19, 2007 | Ahmad Mesdaq’s cigar shop, Gran Havana, was an exemplary mix of tobacco and coffee that stood head and shoulders above the rest of its kind in San Diego. Well designed, well run and inviting, it should have been a successful, long-lived end-destination business. Its failure was due entirely to the legitimized theft known as eminent domain.

I remember some of the locations Ahmad was offered in place of his corner. One was a dismal basement outlet of less than one-tenth of his original space; it had no amenities to make it suitable for a coffeehouse, resembled a bunker and was off the beaten path in Gaslamp, too. It was a grave insult or at least a bad joke to dare consider it a suitable substitute for Gran Havana’s original site.

Perhaps, after the disaster of Kelo v. New London, there ought to be a kind of review process that includes consideration of the unique character of a business or other property — and what its loss would mean to the community — before it faces the attention of developers and their political allies acting on their behalf.

We have something like that already that almost, occasionally, protects historical sites from the wrecking ball; the least we could do is make the review process a little less lopsided in favor of those who have figured out how to use the system to steal land and other property at will.

I hope Gran Havana will make a comeback, though Ahmad will likely think long and hard before committing himself to any future that can be cut short by silly, thieving little quidnuncs who hold San Diego in their grimy little mitts.

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