Living La Vida Local

Agency used their version of eminent domain to clear his neighborhood. As Ted recalls, “The old Ocean Park Pier was not unlike Coney Island. There was a theater, wrestling arenas, skating rinks, barrooms, dance halls, eating places and hotels. People were dressed to the nines.

“The change first started in 1958 and went in phases. Their vision was for Santa Monica to be wall to wall skyscrapers, just like Miami Beach. They went into a back room somewhere and strategized. They had already done this in Long Beach, so they had a blueprint.

“To begin with, they used eminent domain and took all the property up to the mean high tide line. They said the state owned that property. They took things off the beach - the swings and the rings and the bars and the balance beams. Then the City bought up the hotels and buildings along the beach - brownstones like the Cadillac Hotel on Venice Beach. Everything south of Hill St along the Boardwalk (Bernard Way) to Marine got destroyed.

“The next step was to pick apart the infrastructure. The way they took over the commercial zone was like a Roman field maneuver. They took the bank, they took the apothecary, they took the gas station, they took the Safeway; they took everything except for the library on the corner of Ocean Park.

“Somewhere along the line they declared it a slum, an eyesore, a blighted community. All the different buzzwords and terms were used. “They went after some little mom and pop stores that were on the ends of the streets. After that they came up into the neighborhoods.

“For a long time we were playing kick the can down streets growing more and more empty. All of sudden there's a house missing and another house missing, then there are nine vacant lots on your block…Oh, now there's 10.

“They would decide behind closed doors what they were going to go after. Sometimes they used imminent domain, other times they would send the fire department and the building department and condemn it.

“When they were trying to take our house, they’d send out inspectors to find something wrong. My father was a carpenter, so every time they'd find something wrong, he'd fix it. It was always chicken sh*t stuff, like the kind of wire that you use to put the stucco on wasn't the kind that the City approved of at this point in the game.

“There were a lot of crummy little shacks down there, but we didn't feel our house was a shack. It was all hand made. My mother had seven brothers who were stone masons and had built the big grotto over at the Catholic cemetery in Fox Hills. They dug the stone out of Latigo canyon and trucked it down here. The walls of our house were four feet thick. We had beautiful French doors that opened right into the sand. Around the corner, 20 feet away was the beach.

“By the time they actually took the house at 116 Ocean Park Blvd. it was around 1963. They gave us $20,000, which at the time was fair market value. Then we paid the Epsteins $17,500 for our house on Wadsworth. There was about a year where we had both houses. They gave us enough time to remodel it because it was in pretty poor shape.

“They really tore the heart out of the community. Picking it apart the way the buzzards pick a carcass apart. Then, they left it laying in decline. Blighted wasn't even the word. They left the Ocean Park Pier with nothing but an old chain link fence around it. Every kind of freak and fag and punk and dog town hobo were there. The punks down there used to go light bums on fire for fun. And the fags, it was like a Fellini film. Finally it burned down.

“I can remember my mom yelling at a City Council Meeting 45 years ago, ‘What do you think you're going to do with the traffic you generate?’ They did no planning whatever for traffic impact…Just like they're doing now. They're throwing these places up on Main St. by Pico. They have a hole going half way to China. And traffic on Main Street is already at a standstill by 3 p.m. in the afternoon.

“Don’t even ask how and how they got the land for the 10 freeway.



By Jodi Summers

Big Brother is upon us. First it was in the name of Homeland Security. Now it is Eminent Domain. We are referring to the recent Supreme Court eminent domain decision in Kelo v. City of New London. The highest court in our land ruled that local governments can seize individuals' homes and businesses against the property owner’s will to make way for shopping malls and other private economic development. Should those living along Adelaide or La Mesa Drives be nervous?

In a 5-4 ruling, the court said government agencies can take private property for economic development, and even transfer it to another private party. The ruling upheld New London’s right to seize 15 properties from private owners and to transfer the real estate to private developers for later hotel, office and conference-center projects. None of the owners wanted to sell at any price. None of the houses was considered to be blighted or in bad repair. None of the real estate will be used or owned by the city itself.

Can that happen here? Members of California's senate and assembly have introduced bills that would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot reducing the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on eminent domain.

California Senator Tom McClintock, R-Simi Valley, introduced bill SCA 15 and Assembly member Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 22. Similar in scope, both bills seek to put a constitutional amendment on the state ballot. One part of the proposed amendment states, "Private property may not be taken or damaged for private use….Private property may be taken by eminent domain only for a stated public use…Property taken by eminent domain shall be owned and occupied by the condemner or may be leased only to entities that are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission."

Now, let’s look at our local history books. Records show that in March 1972, the Santa Monica City Council decided to begin an urban renewal project to revitalize the two blocks between Broadway and Colorado and Second and Fourth Streets in downtown Santa Monica. The City and the developers called it a regional shopping center. We call it Santa Monica Place.

Nina Fresco of the Santa Monica Conservancy notes that, “Urban renewal projects of this scale are sometimes done through a city’s Redevelopment Agency which is a legal entity within the city. In Santa Monica, City Council appoints itself to sit as the Redevelopment Agency. Redevelopment Agency projects are a means by which a city can use eminent domain to take over property from owners in order to bundle separate parcels of land into one large parcel. They are often resold to a developer who agrees to rebuild the area according to a redevelopment plan prepared by the agency.”

After several years of legal battle (check with City Hall for more info), Santa Monica built the soon-to-be-destroyed Santa Monica Place Regional Shopping Center, and later the Santa Monica Promenade. They also talked about doing it back in 1958 when they redeveloped Ocean Park. Could it happen here again? Obviously, if f it’s in the City’s best interest.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the court opinion, affirming that New London's proposed disposition of petitioners' property qualifies as "public use." The five justices in the majority held that when a local government determines that eminent-domain seizures will contribute to a public benefit — even if that benefit is the prospect of increased tax revenues — then the Supreme Court should give the local government "deference" and not interfere. Stevens was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

In her last work on the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the dissenting opinion noting, "All private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded…. The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent [local governments] from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."

She was joined by Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and the Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

O'Connor also noted that the decision eliminated "any distinction between private and public use of property — and thereby effectively [deletes] the words 'for public use' from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment." That constitutional amendment prohibits governments from taking private properties "for public use, without just compensation."

The residents of New London, Conn. had petitioned against the use of eminent domain; declaring that cities have no right to take their properties unless the projects have a clear public use, traditionally, understood to mean direct public ownership and use — clear public roads or schools, improve blighted areas that need improvement.

The Los Angeles Times cited the 1954 case of Berman vs. Parker, as another time when the concept of public use was expanded to include projects that contribute to public benefit. Berman vs. Parker involved the condemnation of an economically depressed, predominantly African American neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., to be replaced by new buildings that were privately owned.

Dana Berliner, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm that represented the New London homeowners observed that only certain categories of homeowners are at heightened risk. Based on her research on more than 10,000 "abusive" eminent-domain seizures across the country, the high-risk homeowners are:

• Residents of older neighborhoods that have some locational feature — they are near a waterfront, they are low-density but are adjacent to higher-density commercial areas — that make them attractive for an allegedly "higher and better use."

• Working-class and middle-income areas in general.

• Neighborhoods with high concentrations of lower-income, minority residents.

In defense, Berliner suggests that homeowners organize and fight such projects at the local and state levels, where there may be greater statutory protections. For more information regarding launch grassroots anti-eminent domain campaigns, check out
the Castle Coalition, . The coalition provides legal information and training seminars for property owners who choose not to go down without a fight.