"Blighted" California

Just 50 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Santa Rosa, Calif., a big city with a small-town feel, has sat quietly for generations, as family businesses have grown and people have found homes to call their own. The mostly industrial area of Santa Rosa Avenue has been a haven for business owners, who own everything from car repair shops to painting businesses.

“There is no good reason to make tax-paying people move off their properties,” said Casey Cambra, an activist who wants to stop the City Council and the Gateways Project in its tracks. He added, “They can’t just kick people out.”

But that haven may soon be lost—despite the opposition of the property owners—to the all-encompassing “Gateways Redevelopment Project.” With that project the City of Santa Rosa plans to displace thriving local businesses in order to turn the land over to private developers, who want to build a shopping mall and a parking garage.[1] Worse, the City justifies this scheme using an increasingly common excuse: using the façade of creating “low income housing,” when the real goal is luxury development and higher tax revenue.

To one vocal man whose family has owned property on Santa Rosa Avenue for over three generations, the actions taken by the City of Santa Rosa are more than he can stand.

“There is no good reason to make tax-paying people move off their properties,” said Casey Cambra, an activist who wants to stop the City Council and the Gateways Project in its tracks. He added, “They can’t just kick people out.”[2]

But kicking people out is precisely what the City, along with five major development companies, intends to do. They turn a blind eye to the fact that Cambra, along with many property owners along Santa Rosa Avenue, have depended on their properties for their livelihoods for several generations. To make matters worse, the City seems to have forgotten that private property should only be taken for public uses—not private ones.

The City passed an ordinance on June 20, 2006, dictating that lots that are “small and irregular, mixed character, or incompatible” are “blighted,” thus giving the City the power of eminent domain.[3] Never mind that these characteristics describe any neighborhood in the country. The City wants the land to further its agenda, so it uses the charade of “blight” to trigger the power of eminent domain.

Cambra’s grandmother owns two of the lots in the sought-after area, one of which has a Harley-Davidson dealership. Also along the Avenue are what Cambra describes as “mostly industrial” businesses- a BMW repair shop, a sign-painting business, and other automobile services—all important elements of a thriving economy.

Fed up and disgusted with the actions of the City to use eminent domain to kick out people whose businesses are clearly not “blighted,” Cambra set out on a mission to raise awareness in Santa Rosa. He is making his own posters and educating his neighbors and friends on the issue of eminent domain abuse.

“I don’t want to give up on this property easily,” Cambra said. “I intend on continuing to do my business not just in Santa Rosa but in America.”

Also planned is a website dedicated to the area that is threatened, in the hopes of raising awareness about the community’s business district along Santa Rosa Avenue.

“Everyone is busy, and I understand that better than anyone,” added Cambra. “But this is definitely something we have to take the time out to fight.”

So far, the City of Santa Rosa has not backed down from its plans to redevelop the entire business district area, and they are not afraid to use eminent domain to do it.[4] But with the sincere passion of Casey Cambra and his business neighbors, the City and its developer friends will learn what it’s like to challenge people who understand that it is their right to keep what is rightfully theirs.

[1] “Letter From Jeffrey D Meyer.” City of Santa Rosa. 28 Apr. 2006. 07 Sept. 2006 www.ci.santa-rosa.ca.

[2] Cambra, Casey. Telephone interview. 29 Aug. 2006.

[3] “Ordinance No. 3782: Approving and Adopting the Redevelopment Plan for the Gateways Redevelopment Project Area”” City of Santa Rosa. 20 June 2006. 29 Aug. 2006 www.ci.santa-rosa.ca.

[4] “Gateways Redevelopment Plan for the Gateways Redevelopment Project Area,” prepared by the Redevelopment Agency of the City of Santa Rosa, May 11, 2006.

Other Sources:

Joy Lanzendorfer, “Blight or fight,” Metroactive, July 12-18, 2006.

Citizens Against Eminent Domain. 29 Aug. 2006 www.srcitizensagainsteminentdomain.com.