02 July 2005

City Forces out Downtown Businesses

It doesn't appear that the recent Kelo decision is limited to Connecticut Yankees. Jerry Brown's Oakland has decided that two longtime Oakland businesses are in the way of a residential development. The properties in question are located in a zone designated for redevelopment by the city.
Last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling approving a Connecticut city's plan to take private land by eminent domain may seem far away. But to John Revelli, whose family has operated a tire shop near downtown Oakland for decades, the implications hit home on Friday. A team of contractors hired by the city of Oakland packed the contents of his small auto shop in a moving van and evicted Revelli from the property his family has owned since 1949.

"I have the perfect location; my customers who work downtown can drop off their cars and walk back here," said Revelli, 65, pointing at the nearby high- rises. "The city is taking it all away from me to give someone else. It's not fair."

The city of Oakland, using eminent domain, seized Revelli Tire and the adjacent property, owner-operated Autohouse, on 20th Street between Telegraph and San Pablo avenues on Friday and evicted the longtime property owners, who have refused to sell to clear the way for a large housing development.

The U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision last week paved the way for local governments to buy out unwilling property owners, demolish homes and businesses, and turn that land over to new owners for development. Last week's ruling expanded on earlier decisions that allowed agencies to take property only if it is considered "blighted" or run-down.
Let's see, Oakland? Housing development? Blighted? I give it five years before the city is using ED to once again claim the property and perhaps sell it to a automotive repair firm.
"The city thinks I cause 'economic blight' because I don't produce enough tax revenue,'' Revelli said. "We thought we'd win, but the Supreme Court took away my last chance."

The two properties, which total 6,500 square feet, were being forced to move or sell because their businesses are on a larger section of land that is slated for the Uptown Project, a city-subsidized real estate development that is expected to include nearly 1,200 apartments and condominiums.

The project's wedge-shaped lot, just west of the 19th Street BART Station, includes several blocks roughly bounded by 20th Street, 17th Street, Telegraph Avenue and San Pablo Avenue.

Both Revelli Tire and Autohouse, owned and operated by Tony Fung, are on the northern edge of the project in the 400 block of 20th Street, which is also called Thomas L. Berkley Way.

The eviction came as no surprise to Revelli and Fung. The city has designated their block as a redevelopment area for about 20 years. Before approving the Uptown Project last year, the city considered putting in a shopping mall, then an arena for the Golden State Warriors and later a ballpark for the Oakland Athletics.

Why didn't the city build the stadiums on the site? Oh, that's right, a loss of tax revenue constitutes "blighted." For anyone who has watched a Golden State Warriors game over the past few years...whew.

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