OAKLAND -- A West Oakland landowner could be forced to sell his property to accommodate a major grocery store project being considered in the area, as part of a change in eminent domain policy voted in by the Oakland City Council on Tuesday night.
The Kroger supermarket chain, which in July announced plans to open two stores in East Oakland, is considering a third project that would build a 72,000-square-foot store near West Grand Avenue and Market Street.
Proponents of the store say it would be begin to solve a desperate food access problem residents of the area face, but the owner of the land Kroger wants to buy said he doesn't think the chain is offering him a fair price.
Oakland 's Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA) asked the City Council to change the rules regarding eminent domain, by which the city could force a sale, to make it easier to use.
The council decided to change its policy as it specifically relates to the area where Kroger wants to buy. Up to an acre can be forced to sale per project, but each project can now be larger in total size. The council also expanded the area in which eminent domain can be used.
CEDA deputy director Gregory Hunter said he's confident the property's owner, Sang Hahn, will be able to come to an agreement with Kroger.
Hahn's attorney, David Roth, asked the council Tuesday to delay deciding on the issue, arguing that Hahn did not get sufficient notice to prepare for the hearing and that CEDA's report is incomplete, one-sided and inaccurate in many details.
Hahn rejected Kroger's $1.4 million bid for the property in April 2009 and has not been contacted by the chain since making a counteroffer of roughly twice that amount, Roth said Wednesday.
Roth declined to comment on the council's decision but said, "If Kroger makes a fair offer, I'm sure we can work out a deal to sell the property."
Should negotiations fail, the city will have an easier time using eminent domain under the council's new rules. If the property is forced to sale, the city would have to allow Hahn to accompany an independent appraiser who determines the current fair market value of the land.
Several council members emphasized the change partially applied only to commercial property, and assured homeowners that their property is safe.
The issue raised a passionate debate in the crowd at the meeting, with some arguing that eminent domain is the wrong way to handle the issue, others doubting a Kroger store is the right solution to the food problem and others saying West Oakland is desperate for access to healthy food.
Bob Berry, who owns a towing and transportation business in West Oakland and who has faced eminent domain himself, said it's incredibly hard to buy commercial property. Anyone who struggles through that deserves to make the choice about selling it, he said.
"Especially to come in during a down market and talk about fair market value, it's just very unfair," Berry said. "It means a lot to this man. He should not be made the villain in this story."
Ronald Muhammad, 40, said he's part of an organized group of West Oakland residents who demand Kroger be brought into their community.
"We want people to reap the benefits of real estate, but we're eating out of liquor stores, out of corner stores. We don't have access to food," Muhammad said to applause. "We want the guy to get fair value (for his property), but don't hold us hostage in the process."
Darrel Carey, who heads social ministries at True Vine Ministries, said West Oakland has seen its share of "public good" serviced by the use of eminent domain, including freeways, a post office and a BART station, but residents still have no access to fresh vegetables, fruits and grains.
"I'm begging you all. I'm asking. I'm praying for you all," Carey told the council. "This may not be the best fix. It may not be the fix everyone would want. But it's the beginning of one."
Jean Quan and Rebecca Kapkan, both mayoral candidates, voted to pass the amendment.
Quan asked how the store would look, whether the location was close to public transportation and if Kroger would consider buying from local farmers and food vendors. A Kroger spokesman said the chain "would be open to all suggestions and avenues" to supply its store.
Kaplan said she plans to bring up issues relating to local hiring and labor standards when the project comes before the council.
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.