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  Richmond Pushes Forward Eminent Domain Plan
December 18, 2013

After a nearly two-week absence, I cannot say that last night’s City Council meeting was fun. We adjourned at 11:30 PM with a significant number of time-critical consent calendar items remaining, largely because Corky Booze dominated the meeting with incessant ranting and filibustering, spending as much time speaking as the rest of the Council combined.

In an interesting interchange with a Public Forum speaker, Booze asserted that he was insulted when the speaker referred to the Chinese as communists. He said that referring to those great people as such was equivalent to using the n-word. I guess the two sister city visits to China, in which Corky participated, did not include any political information about China.

According to Wikipedia, “The Communist Party of China (CPC), commonly referred to as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Although nominally it exists alongside the United Front, a coalition of governing political parties, the CPC is the only party allowed to govern the PRC. Through this position the CPC maintains a unitary government and a centralized control over the state, military, and media. The legal power of the Communist Party is guaranteed by the national constitution. The current party leader is Xi Jinping, who holds the title of General Secretary of the Central Committee.”
I wonder if Corky understood that most of the officials he hobnobbed with were communists.

Richmond pushes forward eminent domain plan
Carolyn Said, San Francisco Chronicle
Published 11:02 pm, Tuesday, December 17, 2013
 (12-17) 23:00 PST SAN FRANCISCO -- At a crowded meeting Tuesday night, Richmond's City Council voted 4-2 to set up guidelines for its plan to use eminent domain to seize and restructure underwater mortgages to prevent foreclosures.
The move does not mean that Richmond has decided to exert eminent domain; it establishes more structure for how it might do so.
The council agreed to prioritize neighborhoods hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis and clarify that only homeowners who "opt in" and have mortgages below the $729,750 conforming loan limit would qualify. It instructed city staff members to ask banks holding targeted loans to voluntarily cut principal in line with current home values. It reiterated a call to set up a Joint Powers Authority to cooperate with other towns on eminent domain for mortgages. While other cities are exploring the idea, none has committed to it.
"The focus of this program is to stabilize neighborhoods, to fight blight, to keep homeowners in their homes," said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, an ardent champion of the plan. She was joined by council members Jovanka Beckles, Tom Butt and Jael Myrick in passing the resolution. "This will move us another step forward."
The resolution also said eminent domain for mortgages would only be used in "exceptional circumstances when large numbers of households are underwater," McLaughlin said.
Banks and Realtors oppose the concept, saying it is unconstitutional and would drive up lending costs in the city. They've run a well-financed campaign attacking the plan, and are poised to launch a fierce court battle against it.
About 50 people, mainly supporters of the plan, weighed in during the meeting's public comment period. Audience members clapped, cheered and waved signs such as "Save our homes."
Richmond is the furthest along of any city in exploring the untested idea of using eminent domain to prevent foreclosures. In July it sent letters to banks and other entities seeking to buy 624 underwater mortgages at deep discounts to their face value. The letters threatened to invoke eminent domain to forcibly acquire the home loans, if the offers were spurned - as they have been. Under the plan, the city and its partner, private investment firm Mortgage Resolution Partners, would help homeowners refinance into smaller, more affordable mortgages.
However, the deeply divided council remains one vote short of the five-vote supermajority it needs to invoke its municipal authority of eminent domain. Vice Mayor Courtland "Corky" Boozé, Councilman Jim Rogers and Councilman Nat Bates remain vociferous in their opposition. Bates was absent from Tuesday's meeting, but had a letter read aloud in which he called the plan "ill advised" and said if the council continues to move forward, he will push to bring the idea directly to Richmond voters in 2014.
Rogers and Boozé said they fear the plan opens up the city to potentially crippling legal liabilities. Proponents said Richmond would seek court approval before utilizing eminent domain, which would negate the risk.
It is possible that eminent domain could move forward without a supermajority of the council, city attorney Bruce Goodmiller said. A simple majority vote by the council could create a Joint Powers Authority. That body, which would have a board composed of representatives from Richmond and other cities, could then proceed with eminent domain through its own supermajority vote.
Before the meeting, dozens of supporters held a spirited rally outside City Hall, punctuated by chants such as "We have the power." The group heard talks from local homeowners, union leaders, McLaughlin and Beckles. The rally concluded with an agitprop presentation of "How the Wall Street Grinch Stole our Homes" and a drum-accompanied march to the council chamber.
Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: csaid@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @csaid


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