Yesterday, Monday April 7, there was an ad in the legal section of the Daily Bulletin that the city of Pomona had issued a Negative Declaration for the project at Foothill and Towne. This is a project that the Redevelopment Department is working on for the Southwest corner.
First: The project, as proposed is basically a strip center, anchored by Walgreens (currently located across the street in the Staples/CVS center. Walgreens, as a corporate policy, prefers to have their stores located on corner lots and they're somewhat mid-block across the street. The project is to be built by Lewis Homes and the city is in the process of "assembling" the property for this private developer. Please note that this is not a school, a library, a civic building, or a roadway, but a private development.
The reason that I mention that it's a private development, is that the reason that the city has prepared environmental documents, before there are any entitlements, is that this project is planning to use eminent domain to force the sale of the property. The properties that we're talking about are a mini-car wash, 7-11 store, Coates Cyclery, and Giovanni's Men's Suits. All of these appear to be thriving businesses and would not be what I would consider "blight" (one of the requirements for using eminent domain for redevelopment), however there are other properties within the site, the vacant motorhome sales site especially, which could be considered blighted and the argument will be made that the project requires the other properties to be viable and eliminate the blighted area.
While the US Supreme Court ruled in the case of Kelo v. City of New London , No. 04-108 on June 24, 2005 that this is legal, as the increase in property taxes is a benefit to the community, I have some serious problems with this particular project.
First, the project will move Walgreens from a location across the street. This would not appear to increase taxes but shift them from one parcel to another. In talking with city staff, it appears that they're working with Giovanni's to see if they can't help them with relocation funds to move them back to Covina, so taxes we're now getting, leaving the city. Then there's Coates Cyclery (there was a lively discussion of this issue on the Goddess of Pomona site back in January), who have been doing business in Pomona since 1934 and at its current location since the mid '50s. They are basically being forced out of their business. They have been offered space in the new center (subject to an agreement with the new owners, Lewis Homes) but it would be at a price approximately 3x what they pay now. Here's a business that has been paying Pomona taxes for over 70 years, and now the city wants to potentially put them out of business.
I know that there are those who oppose the work that I do for historic preservation and will say that I'm a hypocrite for wanting to restrict what people can do with their property on one hand and then say the city can't develop on the other. But really, the issues are similar. I'm not suggesting that the site should be able to devolve and become blighted. I appreciate that Lewis Homes wants to do a project such as this (maybe not this exact one, but something such as this) in our city. But taking away thriving businesses (how thriving is a point of discussion, but they've been in business long enough that I'm sure they're not losing money) is something else.
While I'm not against eminent domain for public usage, I'm VERY against using it to give to a private developer. We need businesses like Giovanni's and Coates in our city. Even the 7-11 serves a useful purpose as it's right on the edge of our residential neighborhoods.
This issue will come before the city council once the 30-day environmental review is completed. If you wish to respond to the environmental impacts on traffic, noise, etc. then you can pick up a copy of the report at the Redevelopment Department and you have 30-days from yesterday.
I plan to write to the council and mayor regarding this subject and to be at the council meeting when it comes up for a vote. I'll post any updates as they become available.