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Sounding Board: New Stadium III / Eminent Domain

Daily Transcript Question: Do you support the city's involvement in the construction of a new football stadium at the Qualcomm Stadium site if that involvement includes the uncompensated use of city-owned lands by the developers of the project?

No serious consideration should be given to the proposal to tear down Qualcomm Stadium.

Firstly, Qualcomm Stadium has proven itself as one of the country's greatest football venues. In 2003, at the last Super Bowl held in San Diego, the stadium received ecstatic reviews from the press. Like buildings everywhere, the Qualcomm has various maintenance requirements and had the Chargers not diverted more than $30 million of city money into the ticket guarantee, the stadium would be in tip-top shape. With routine maintenance the Qualcomm is perfectly capable of serving the needs of fans and the NFL.

We shouldn't be talking about tearing down and replacing it any more than we would consider tearing down landmarks such as the County Administration Building or the Hotel Del.

Secondly, the 160-plus acres in Mission Valley that the Qualcomm sits on is a fabulous sports park. It is only covered with asphalt because of the Chargers' insistence that every possible square foot should be used for parking. If the Chargers can actually do without 60 acres of the site, those 60 acres should be converted to a river park and playing fields. It is true that giving 60 acres to the Chargers for development would produce housing; but giving 60 acres of Balboa Park to the Chargers or some other private developer would also produce housing. Of course, we would never do that. The Qualcomm is not junk land just because it is paved!

Thirdly, the Chargers aren't being truthful about their proposal. The same claim that it would be a financial boon to the city was made regarding the 1995/97 contract containing the ticket guarantee and the team-shopping clause. We should not be fooled for a second time. The Chargers tell us that if we give them 60 acres of the site for development, the Chargers will build a new stadium, pay off existing bonds and pay for at least some of the public infrastructure. Sure the Chargers are saying the team will invest $600 million; but the land and development rights are easily worth over $1 billion. So, we give the Chargers a billion dollars and they give us back $600 million.

Next year the Chargers are going to try and put a gun to our heads. We have to understand that there are no bullets in that gun. We need to stand up to them and make it clear that the days of corporate welfare in this city are over.

-- Bruce Henderson

President, Association of Concerned Taxpayers

Daily Transcript Question: "Should the cities of San Diego County use a combination of eminent domain and rezoning as public policy tools to achieve higher density development in their communities?"

San Diego is running out of land available for housing. There is a need to increase density in many areas of San Diego County and redevelopment generates new taxes for the community being redeveloped. These three points support the use of redevelopment in planning and providing for effective land use policies.

Think of downtown San Diego before redevelopment or Southeast San Diego without the redevelopment efforts of Southeast Economic Development Corp. (SEDC). Redevelopment has been very successful in San Diego and now Center City Development Corp. (CCDC) is a major provider of funds for affordable housing. Thanks to the tax increment, increased taxes due to new development stay in the community.

There has been inappropriate use of redevelopment in other areas but that should not curtail our efforts in San Diego. In California the process to set up a redevelopment area requires proof that the area needs redevelopment; dilapidated building, crime, high incident of welfare et cetera. After that determination is made by the public agency, people that purchase or lease property should be informed that it is a redevelopment area and subject to redevelopment laws. In order for San Diego to provide proper planning for housing, retail, commercial needs as well as public improvements we need to continue our redevelopment efforts.

--Tom Carter

President, Carter Reese & Associates

Concentrating development in core areas of the county has many positive redevelopment purposes such as "livable communities," reducing "traffic congestion by encouraging alternative transportations where the live/work commute does not require a motor vehicle" and providing housing while balancing open space.

To accomplish these goals redevelopment agencies sometimes need to employ condemnation proceedings. Most states require that the "public interest" and a "public use" be part of that redevelopment plan. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution imposes a "public use restriction on any taking of private property." California restricts a public agency from taking land for economic development unless the area is declared to be "blighted".

In June of this year the United States Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London considered the constitutionality of a taking for economic development purposes. In that case the city determined that an area was "distressed" and that economic rejuvenation was necessary. The court relied on the fact that the redevelopment agency had an integrated development plan and even though the properties there were not blighted or otherwise in poor condition (there only sin was being located in the marked redevelopment area) the court decided that the taking of this property for economic development satisfied the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment. While the court noted that a municipality could not take land to impose a private benefit on a particular private party, it should be noted that a private developer and a large private corporation were beneficiaries of this decision.

The court rationalized that a public purpose was served because new jobs would be created and an increased tax revenue would be established. The court allowed that any state can further restrict the taking powers. Thus, recently a number of legislative bills have been introduced to try to create greater restriction on eminent domain. Putting a judicial check on how the public use requirement is interpreted is necessary as almost any new use could create some secondary benefit for the public such as taxes, jobs, and aesthetics. Protecting private property from another private owner who wants to upgrade their land is an important restraint on any eminent domain or rezoning tool utilized by the cities and the county.

--John J. Lormon

Partner, Procopio Cory Hargreaves & Savitch LLP.

New Section: Sounding Board

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