The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to establish a Community Redevelopment Agency in a 10-month-old city that already boasts pristine beaches, upscale homes and the only recreation marina in South Orange County.
All five council members said they supported the redevelopment agency ordinance, which would also designate the City Council as the agency's board of directors. The Monday night council session followed a special 6 p.m. public meeting, during which city officials showed residents a slide presentation that outlined redevelopment agency law.
After the vote, Councilwoman Ingrid McGuire said that "some kind of educational program should be instituted . . . otherwise there might be some misconceptions in the community" as to why a redevelopment agency is needed.
"I know that eminent domain can be a real bogyman," McGuire said. "So we are going to do this at a very slow and methodical pace."
Under state law, redevelopment agencies are designed to help cities spur renewal of blighted urban areas and to oversee public projects, such as road-widenings and construction of public buildings.
But critics say redevelopment agencies sometimes use their power of eminent domain simply to encourage commercial growth in cities that have no obvious blight.
Nevertheless, council members said, the financial benefits of a redevelopment agency outweigh the specter of the proposed agency's land-taking powers. The added sales-tax dollars derived from commercial growth are collected by the city.
"I am strongly, strongly in favor of it," Councilman Mike Eggers said before the meeting. "This is something that the city really needs."
City Manager William O. Talley declined to speculate about how the agency would be funded, which part of the city would fall under the control of the agency or how much money the city hopes to collect as a result of projects spurred by the agency.
He said if the ordinance is given council approval, a special meeting will be held Wednesday to select a consultant to begin studying financing and a possible first project site.
Council members said they will push for placing the entire city under the jurisdiction of the proposed agency but have targeted the Capistrano Bowl area along Doheny Park Road as the best prospect for renewal.
The 300-acre area, Eggers said, is a mishmash of liquor stores, self-service laundries, lumber yards, storage yards for heavy equipment and small restaurants. Several light industrial companies are next to old single-family homes and low-income apartment buildings.
Some Doheny Park Road merchants said they are angered that their commercial district is being considered for rehabilitation.
"I'm very much against it," said Ardythe Smetona, owner of Smetona Photo. "I'm for progress, but not when government steps in and (violates) people's rights."
But others welcomed the idea of upgrading the aging street.
"It would be very silly not to start a redevelopment agency," said Leo Chade, who runs a real estate agency across the street from Smetona Photo. "The area is probably one of the last locations along the coast that needs to be developed."
Council members said they were aware that some residents may protest the formation of an agency because of the chance that their property could be taken by eminent domain.