The Moorpark City Council, responding to residents concerned that their homes will be taken for a redevelopment project, has directed the city attorney to draft a ballot measure to prohibit the Redevelopment Agency from using its power of eminent domain on residential property.
The action came after property owners in the two-square-mile downtown redevelopment district received a May 8 letter from City Manager Steve Kueny explaining that the Redevelopment Agency has the right under state law to condemn residential property for public use. Under eminent domain, the agency has to pay fair market value for any property that it seizes.
Although the letter stressed that eminent domain would only be used “in extreme cases,” about 400 angry residents attended a council meeting last week and called for a ballot measure to prohibit its use. The council, which also serves at the Redevelopment Agency, unanimously voted to sponsor such a measure on the Nov. 7 ballot.
“We weren’t planning to use the power anyway, but the public outcry was so great that we decided to reassure people by putting it on the ballot,” Councilman Scott Montgomery said. “We expect it will pass by a huge majority.”
1,020 Homes Protected
About 1,020 homes in the downtown redevelopment area would be permanently protected if voters approve the measure, said Jon Huffman, redevelopment project liaison. Those homes are in residential neighborhoods, he said.
Another 30 homes in the district are in commercial zones. Under the proposed measure, the Redevelopment Agency would not be able to use its power of eminent domain against the present property owners. However, the city would be able to condemn the properties if they changed hands, said Councilman Paul W. Lawrason Jr.
The redevelopment district, which encompasses the older downtown business district, is roughly bounded by Wicks Road on the north, the Arroyo Simi on the south, Gabbert Road on the west and Morning Dove Road on the east.
The issue of whether eminent domain should be used on residential properties has been controversial since Moorpark established its Redevelopment Agency a year ago. Several council members, including Montgomery, campaigned against its use during the November municipal election.