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Leaders question eminent domain

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Redwood City mayor says mandate could be excessive

REDWOOD CITY — Downtown’s retail core is beginning taking shape, but city leaders continue to face fallout from the decision to acquire downtown land through eminent domain.

City leaders continue to grapple with the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury’s assessment of those eminent domain proceedings, in which the jury questioned Redwood City’s treatment of property owners. In response to a 2005 grand jury report, Redwood City adopted new guidelines for that treatment, but now Mayor Barbara Pierce objects to the grand jury’s recommendation that those guidelines be handed out to the other of any property that could be eligible for eminent domain.

“That includes an overly broad area,” Pierce said, echoing a response she drafted to the grand jury that was slated for City Council approval Monday night. Distributing the guidelines in that manner could “unnecessarily agitate a great many property owners,” according to Pierce’s letter.

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Redwood City followed most of the grand jury’s recommendations, which included establishing the guidelines and appointing an ombudsman to field any complaints from local property owners in future eminent domain proceedings. That task is handled by the Redwood City mayor, a practice former grand jury foreman Ted Glasgow questions.

“It’s sort of like having the fox in the henhouse,” Glasgow said.

In 2001, Redwood City claimed downtown business owners’ property by eminent domain, kicking off a messy legal battle that ended when the city agreed to pay a $3 million settlement to property owner James Celotti. The grand jury accused the city — particularly City Manager Ed Everett — of behaving abusively during the process.

One downtown property owner, attorney Don Wilson, continues to pursue legal action against the city after one of his two complaints was refused a hearing before the CaliforniaSupreme Court Sept. 26. Another case, challenging the city’s action to build the downtown retail-cinema project, is still pending in San Mateo County Superior Court.

In 2005, the San Mateo County Superior Court upheld Wilson’s 2001 lawsuit, which claimed that Redwood City’s Redevelopment Agency was outside its 12-year time window when it took the property for redevelopment purposes, according to City Attorney Stan Yamamoto. The appellate court overturned that decision in July, nullifying Wilson’s suit.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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