Monday, March 9, 2009 | When Marti Emerald took the reins of the District 7 San Diego City Council office, she asked the Grantville Action Group for the community’s top three priorities. Here they are:

Don’t Make the Traffic Worse

For the residents of Grantville, Allied Gardens and surrounding communities this is the quality-of-life issue. According to Emerald’s predecessor, former City Councilman Jim Madaffer, traffic was one of the primary reasons Grantville needed to be a redevelopment project area. Grantville needed the redevelopment designation to retain additional property tax to fund improvements to roadways through the neighborhood.

The new property tax from redevelopment (tax increment) would be used for this purpose. To create tax increment there must be new, higher property taxes. The current plans are to generate the tax increment by adding 6,000 new residential units. Grantville’s population would triple, and the roads will be hopelessly congested.

There are no effective plans, however, to address this new, massive traffic impact, other than a shuttle to the trolley stop (“Madaffer’s Magic Bus”). We know that cars overflowing from Mission Gorge Road and Friars Road will be on our residential streets, desperately seeking a way around the inevitable bottlenecks.

Use Overlay Zoning

Last month city planners conducted the Grantville Master Plan “charrette.” This was a three-day session for urban planners by which they generated three plans for Grantville. All plans were mixed-use (commercial/residential) throughout Grantville, with the highest population density near the Grantville trolley stop. Most residents are now calling this exercise the “charade,” because these are essentially the same plans the officials trotted out over two years ago as their vision plans.

Given that all of the mixed use will be dumped on a community that is now commercial and light industrial, it is obvious that the government will resort to collecting properties by using eminent domain, either by deed or by threat.

The Castle Coalition, an Arlington, Virginia-based organization fighting eminent domain abuse nationally, believes there is a better way to promote redevelopment. Their example is Anaheim’s Platinum Triangle.

There are similarities between the Platinum Triangle and Grantville. Both are (or were in the Platinum Triangle) communities of commercial and light industrial properties. Grantville is near Qualcomm Stadium; the Platinum Triangle is adjacent to Angels Stadium. Anaheim, by contrast, chose to pursue redeveloping the Platinum Triangle into mixed use without authorizing the use of eminent domain.

This is how they did it: First, they determined what population density the current infrastructure could support. Then they applied a mixed-use overlay zone. And, they streamlined the permitting process. This has encouraged real estate developers to acquire properties on a free-market basis, while allowing current businesses to stay where they are. If the owners want to sell in the future, they are free to do so. In the meantime, they are free to conduct their current business. If we were to have Anaheim’s non-coercive, free-market approach, Grantville would thrive.

Instead, while there could have been a mixed-use overlay zone years ago, the previous councilman chose to create a formal redevelopment project area. And only now, are they creating the plan to go with their impulsive redevelopment designation.

Remove the Threat of Eminent Domain for Private Gain

Property rights activists call this eminent domain abuse, where the government takes land from private owners and gives it to more favored developers. The city, with Councilmember Emerald leading the way, must remove this threat for all property owners in the project area.

Redevelopment Agency officials have been hearing from the community on this issue for a long time now. They reply with the evasive phrases, “We don’t think we’ll need eminent domain,” or “We use it only one percent of the time.” The politicians recite the ever popular, “Not on my watch.”

On Feb. 8, of this year The Orange County Register ran the front-page investigative report, “Redevelopment’s Underbelly: Urban renewal angers displaced residents, landowners in Santa Ana,” which exploded the myth of “rarely-used” eminent domain. As in Grantville, the Santa Ana redevelopment agency also claims that they rarely have to resort to eminent domain to acquire property. Upon further review, however, many of those who “voluntarily” sold their property only did so after receiving a letter threatening them with eminent domain. Santa Ana — and we have no reason to think San Diego is any different — rarely uses eminent domain, because according a Register editorial, “the threatening letter usually does the trick.” (“Central planning trashes decent neighborhoods,” Feb. 10, 2009)

To preserve the future for Grantville’s businesses this threat must go. For some owners, the uncertainty of the on-going threat of eminent domain has forced them to put off expansion plans or capital improvements. This is the reason Grantville businesses oppose Grantville redevelopment.

When things weren’t looking so good for her prospects for election, candidate Emerald told the Grantville Action Group that she was on board with its whole agenda, including removing eminent domain from the project area. Now is the time to follow through on this pledge. Then next year, when the new land uses will be before the City Council, they should listen to community and let the citizens, through the free market, determine the character and pace of progress in Grantville.

Brian T. Peterson is president of the Grantville Action Group. You can e-mail him at Friarsroadvet@sbcglobal.net. Or send a letter and set the tone of the debate yourself.

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