An invitation was emailed last week for a ground breaking ceremony to be held on Wednesday Oct. 8, at 10:00 AM for a new Pendry Hotel to replace the parking lot of 5th & J. The invitation was ground breaking in more than one way. This parking lot was the site of one of the most egregious abuses of eminent domain under the California Community Redevelopment Act, and became one of the poster-children of the property rights – anti-eminent domain movement. Many believe it also played a role in Governor Brown’s repeal of the redevelopment law. Formerly, a vibrant corner improved with a newly restored building — occupied by a cafe / cigar store — and two historic buildings, the lot was condemned for the benefit of a local developer with questionable wherewithal promising a Mariott Hotel. The condemnation was litigated. The redevelopment agency prevailed. The city’s redevelopment agency evicted the businesses and demolished the buildings, despite a last-ditch plea by the Gaslamp Quarter Association to at least retain the buildings and keep the corner active until the new development had obtained financing or was ready to break ground. The City ignored the plea and demolished the buildings. The developer, Ramin Samimi and Ed Himmelberg dba GRH LLC, were unable to get a hotel built and the property sat as a parking lot for the better part of a decade. Even the parking lot itself was illegal as the City didn’t bother with obtaining the required conditional use permit for surface parking. The City’s action in condemning the site was troublesome on multiple levels. First, the Gaslamp Quarter is a National Register Historic District in which historic preservation and scale is intended to override redevelopment density and new development goals. Second, the site, as well as the Gaslamp Quarter in general, was active and vibrant, not blighted requiring redevelopment. Only the state law’s overly broad definition of “blight,” which allowed blight in one part of a large redevelopment area to be used to justify condemnation and redevelopment in a non-blighted area. Third, the City’s approval of the project seemed driven by the desire for the higher tax increment dollars to be derived from a denser project. Fourth, the project smacked of favoritism and bias being provided to a well-connected developer. In any case, after several years of a parking lot existing where a vibrant business and historical buildings once existed, even redevelopment staff decried the condemnation.
Now, no matter how poorly designed or out-of-scale, most welcome the project as at least better than the surface parking lot.
Photo by author