Eminent Domain for Sacramento's K Street Mall?

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, December 17, 2007

If you stand at 7th and K streets in downtown Sacramento, you can see the area has some potential.  There’s light rail, an ice-skating rink, a Hard Rock Café -- even the prerequisite Starbucks.  But among those signs of life are some buildings that need a lot of work.  Up at 8th and K is a large ditch where two buildings have been demolished.  These two blocks of blight are the site of a bitter dispute between property owner Moe Mohanna and the city of Sacramento. 
Fritzsche: “Our intent is to kick-start the vibrancy of these critical blocks.”
Leslie Fritzsche is the city’s downtown redevelopment manager.
Fritzsche: “Our redevelopment goals are to make the 700 block a destination retail district. The goals for the 800 block would include a mixed-use project with ground floor retail, potentially a residential above.”
But after years of negotiations, the city is stuck in what Fritzsche calls a stalemate with Mohanna.  Negotiations over a complex land swap have stalled; now, both sides are in court.  So the Sacramento City Council will vote Tuesday on whether it wants to start eminent domain – the process of a local government forcibly taking a piece of property from a private landowner.  Speaking last week on KXJZ’s Insight, Mohanna was furious.
Mohanna: “That is a threat to our democracy; that is a threat to our property rights.  And I’m gonna be fighting for it.”
The city wants to seize nine buildings in the 700 and 800 blocks of K Street.  Mohanna says Sacramento officials tried to force him into an unfair property exchange in court, but failed.
Mohanna: “Now that the judge ruled against the city, now that they can’t take my property under the contract, now that they don’t like the judge’s ruling, they’re gonna condemn my property and take it by force.”
Both sides say they’re hopeful of reaching a settlement, and city officials say eminent domain is a last resort.  In the meantime, everyone’s digging in for what could be a long battle.