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Issue date: January 19, 2001

Faravelli eyes Moffett Blvd. for efficiency studios Faravelli eyes Moffett Blvd. for efficiency studios (January 19, 2001)

Eminent domain considered

By Justin Scheck

As Mountain View officials continue to discuss potential sites for the city's long-awaited low-income efficiency studio apartments, Council member Ralph Faravelli proposed a new plan: put the apartments on Moffett Boulevard.

The site Faravelli is considering is an abandoned car wash at 240 Moffett Blvd., a much-discussed source of blight in an area the council has recently discussed upgrading.

In previous discussions, city staff has said that the half-acre site is too small for the development. But Faravelli is now considering the idea of taking eminent domain action on The Cottage Bar, located at 300 Moffett Blvd., and on a one-story, mixed-use building that lies between the bar and the car wash.

"My ideal plan is to be able to buy out The Cottage, the (building) next door to it, and the car wash, and put in a class-A (efficiency studio development) with senior housing," Faravelli said.

The Cottage has made news over the past few months as residents have told the council about excessive noise and public disturbances created by music from the bar and patrons. In an Oct. 10 study session on upgrading Moffett and discussing residents' complaints, Council member Sally Lieber asked city staff whether it would be possible to close down the bar.

Faravelli said Monday that he is not satisfied with the two pieces of city property currently being considered for the efficiency studio project He said one site, on the San Antonio Loop, is too remote.

Faravelli considers the other site, a 1-acre downtown parcel on Franklin Street currently being used as a parking lot, too valuable for the city to use for low-income housing.

"That really is a hot piece of property. My philosophy is that we've really done a great job in Mountain View of providing social services.... If we have a piece of property, we should get the best possible profits for the city," Faravelli said.

Faravelli argues that, rather than bring people on low incomes into the downtown site, the city should try to attract housing that would bring in a wealthier demographic, so the city can maximize its profits.

"If you take your choicest piece of property and get people who are spending $350 a month (on rent), they are not going to spend $75 on services," he said.

Faravelli likes the Moffett Boulevard site because of its proximity to public transportation and health and welfare services.

When asked about the problems people may have with eminent domain proceedings, Faravelli said, "I'm not saying we should steal from anybody. We'd give them fair market value (for property the city would buy). But I think eminent domain works when it would benefit more people than it would hurt."

Council member Rosemary Stasek said that she likes the idea of finding a site on Moffett for affordable housing, but not for the efficiency studios.

"My priority is to get the project built," Stasek said. "If that site on Moffett needs the city's action, that could take years." Stasek feels both the downtown site and the San Antonio Loop site would be adequate for the efficiency studio development, which has been in the planning stages for over two years.

"I would hate to see this project pushed back another year, or 18 months, to start from scratch," she said, adding that the city has not used eminent domain for years, and she would be reluctant to do so.

But Stasek added that, in the future, she would like to see the site opened for affordable housing, preferably without eminent domain action. "There are plenty of other affordable housing developments we can consider for that site," she said.

Council member Mary Lou Zoglin said she has not yet reviewed the city staff reports on the Franklin Street and San Antonio Loop sites, but that she would like to look into the possibility of finding a site on Moffett Boulevard.

"I don't think there is any site that will be without problems," Zoglin said. Her main concern about a plan to create space for the apartments on Moffett is that it could create an excessive delay for the project. But, she added, she would not object to eminent domain action if it is "in the public good."

City Attorney Mike Martello said that eminent domain can generally be avoided through negotiations with landowners, and such legal maneuvers would not necessarily delay the project, since the city's planning process would take longer than the eminent domain proceedings.

"If we tried to negotiate (to buy the property from the owner) and failed, and had to take the property by eminent domain, we could take possession of the property within 90 days, but the court case about how much the property is worth could take longer," Martello said.

He said also that questions about the car wash site's ownership could complicate eminent domain proceedings. Union Bank currently holds the title for the property, which was seized when the owner went bankrupt.

Dora Davila, owner of The Cottage, said Tuesday that she has not been approached by the city on the matter.


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