Standing up to Injustice

Lately, some cities in America have become so desperate in their attempts to redevelop to obtain more tax revenue, that they will take eminent domain abuse one-step further—not only will they use their “despotic” power to acquire property for private development, they will even loan money to businesses that are expected to bring in that higher tax revenue.

Welcome to Arcadia, Calif., where the City’s bureaucrats were more concerned about expanding a luxury car lot and higher tax revenue than they were about protecting the regular, working class folks of the town, located just outside Los Angeles.

In 2005, some small business owners in Arcadia found themselves living the nightmare of what Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor so accurately predicted:  those who would most feel the horrors of the Kelo v. City of New London decision would be those with the least political power.

The Rusnak Arcadia Mercedes-Benz dealership had sought to expand its already booming business, but standing in its way were an Elks Lodge, Rod’s Grill, The Church in Arcadia and Arcadia Self Storage.  The only problem was that these small, locally owned businesses did not want to move from their long-owned properties.

Manny Romero, owner of Rod’s Grill, put it best when he said, “I’m not interested in moving.  I’d like to stay.”[1]

Romero’s neighbors also wanted to stay in the properties they had long occupied.  The Elks Lodge had been there since 1957, and The Church was a staple of the community.[2] Common sense and human decency meant that either the Mercedes dealership would have to expand upward (instead of outward), or simply seek a bigger lot elsewhere.

But in Arcadia—and anywhere else in the world of eminent domain abuse—the story just gets uglier.

The Arcadia City Council was acutely aware of the mind-boggling fact that the Mercedes dealership was bringing in roughly 10 percent of the City’s tax revenue—and that the intended expansion would bring in even more.[3]

By March 2006, despite the vocal opposition of the business owners and countless community members—including seven former mayors of Arcadia[4]—City Council members voted unanimously to condemn one of the Rusnak’s neighboring businesses, Arcadia Self-Storage.[5]

The City was intent on spreading this practice to the other businesses, but there was a snag in the plans:  Rusnak Mercedes-Benz didn’t have the funds necessary to acquire the properties it needed to expand.

Coveting the potential new tax revenue and not content to allow the dealership to finance its own expansion, the City decided that it would lend the owner of the luxury car dealership $8 million to finish the project.[6]

But the people of Arcadia wouldn’t take this abuse of eminent domain lying down:  In April 2006, they elected only those candidates to City Council who were openly opposed to using eminent domain for Rusnak.[7]

By standing up and saying “NO” to eminent domain abuse, the people of Arcadia and their new City Council have been able to stop condemnation proceedings from that point forward.  The City is still in final negotiations to acquire The Church in Arcadia, but Rod’s Grill and Elks Lodge will remain intact.

Though not a complete victory—land was still taken for private development—Arcadians stood up for what they believed in and showed that the injustice that is eminent domain abuse can be stopped.  The Castle Coalition applauds their effort.

[1] Gene Maddaus, “Arcadia expansion may turn ugly,” Pasadena Star-News, January 8, 2006.

[2] Mary Bender, “Dis-Lodged?” Pasadena Star-News, January 31, 2005.

[3] Jim Chiswell, “Eminent domain case hits facility,” Self Storage Education Network, June 1, 2006.

[4] Mary Bender, “Redevelopment fight looms in Arcadia, Calif.,” San Gabriel Valley Tribune, January 5, 2005.

[5] Gene Maddaus, “Eminent domain vote paves way for Mercedes expansion,” Pasadena Star-News, April 12, 2006.

[6] Mary Bender, “Redevelopment fight looms in Arcadia, Calif.,” San Gabriel Valley Tribune, January 5, 2005.

[7] Kenneth Todd Ruiz, “Arcadia secures half of land for dealer,” San Gabriel Valley Tribune, September 15, 2006.