The "Cat" outside Dr. Eric Weigand's veterinarian practice in Claremont, California is not a small, furry, four-legged feline, but rather a fifteen-foot long bulldozer. Weigand's land is the subject of a heated controversy in Claremont between redevelopers who want to take his land by invoking eminent domain--taking of land for "public use"--and those who defend his property rights. The city once declared a veterinarian practice an "approved use" of Weigand's land, but now the city has other plans for it. After a long battle with the city, he is getting $950,000 for his land, building, and moving expenses.
Weigand's 50 year-old property—not much larger than a standard house--was coveted because it stood in the way of the city's plans to expand the city's downtown "Village" sector. This area, approximately four square-blocks, lies west of its long-standing Indian Hill Boulevard boundary and contains an old citrus packinghouse. Redevelopment proponents in Claremont want to gut everything around Weigand's property. They would substitute an artsy movie theater, a variety of shops, a sports bar, and an "upscale market." According to the redevelopment agency's literature, "The overall goal to expand the Village in a way that preserves the character and economic vitality of what currently exists downtown." While most of Weigand's neighbors acquiesced quickly to the city's determination to completely revamp the area from scratch, up until recently he had not felt he has been given even close to what is a reasonable offer. He is also principally opposed to the entire concept of "redevelopment"—local
government's taking of property from one
private citizen and bestowing it on another. Taxpayer dollars constitute a subsidy to encourage a tax revenue-producing business to relocate in the formerly "blighted" area.
It all began for Weigand in 1997 when a private developer—the Tolkin Group of Pasadena--contacted him about buying his land. In December 2000, the city council officially voted to change the zoning regulations, making his business a conditional use. The city council, functioning as the redevelopment agency, chose the developer themselves and called a "resolution and necessity" hearing as its first step to take the property as eminent domain. "They were unwilling to negotiate with us at all." Weigand tells Local Liberty, "But," he continues, only the city wants to take our property, not the people of Claremont. For most of the hearing, we had a really good public turnout." The packed city council meeting included testimonials from young and old, topped by a blind woman with a seeing-eye dog.
In response to Weigand's overwhelming public support, the city chose to work with him, making him a few counter-offers. One of these offers was to move his practice to another location, on the second floor of an office building, a location unsuitable for a vet practice because the animals would have to be taken up by elevator or stairs, which is often difficult if the animal has a bad limb. The city presented a second counter-offer, about which Weigand comments: "They wanted to buy this property at $22.00 a square foot for the land and building, and sell us a footprint back at the corner of First and Oberlin for $54.00 a foot. No building, nothing. Just a footprint at almost twice what they were willing to pay for the Indian Hill front, with a building and a going business. Another, fairer deal was later made, but the primary point of contention was that they weren't willing to pay us for our moving expenses. I couldn't believe that. They are required by law to pay moving expenses and any loss of business value. My attorney, who has been doing eminent domain law for years, said that is was basically inconceivable that there was no severance damage for our property."
Weigand is now satisfied with the city's newest offer of $950,000. Out of that, $135,000 is for his moving expenses. He has one year to move into his new site. Where that may be is yet to be determined, and he is not confident that he will make deadline. Nevertheless, Claremont's city manger, Glenn Southard, has assured him that the city will help him find a new location.
Weigand's story teaches a valuable lesson about property rights, but it also teaches about asserting one's constitutional and legal rights. Had Weigand meekly bowed to the city's initial offer, not only his rights but as well the rights of all property owners in Claremont would have been weakened. Democracy still works, as the city council voted him an offer far better than the one the city manager initially offered. But first Weigand had to fight to get the council on his side. Democracy and liberty, driven by his indomitable character and persistence, beat back bureaucracy.
"The whole issue of redevelopment I really find distasteful," says Weigand. The idea of taking property from one individual to give to another is wrong. For the people who negotiated and sold, that's perfectly fine, but I really resent the spending of tax dollars to support private businesses. It is so contrary to the entire concept of a free market economy. You don't fight roads and you don't fight schools, but to publicly subsidize running out businesses and condemning buildings when there's already an existing, viable business there already, that's not the way of the United States."
Return to Local Liberty, Vol. 1, No. 1