Santa Ana officials have weighed the virtues of BMWs against public health—and come down firmly on the side of German luxury automobiles.
On Nov. 18, Santa Ana's Community Development Agency (CDA) filed a suit to evict 202 county health inspectors from their offices, improbably located in the Santa Ana Auto Mall. The lawsuit aims to provide additional space for Crevier BMW, one of the first auto dealerships in the auto mall when it opened in 1986.
The lawsuit came one day after Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido signed a unanimous CDA resolution authorizing the city to use eminent domain to seize the county's five-year lease on the building. The suit itself is vague, but city officials may be betting that expanding Crevier BMW will raise the company's car sales, leading to higher sales-tax revenues for the city.
Neither Pulido nor CDA director Larry Yellin responded to telephone calls seeking comment for this story. But county Supervisor Chris Norby, a longtime opponent of eminent domain, said he was shocked by Pulido's resolution and the lawsuit, which he said the county will fight in court. Norby added that he had been working with the CDA for months to find a new office for the health inspectors when he learned about the lawsuit.
"Santa Ana has no grounds to stand on," Norby said. "Any court will rule in favor of the county."
Norby claimed that condemning anybody's private property—a house, a store, or a county facility—simply to accommodate an auto dealership failed to meet the public-use requirements of eminent domain law. "The higher public use is public health, not selling more BMWs," Norby said. "And condemning a county facility that houses over 200 workers—who keep our air and water and especially our restaurants safe—to accommodate the selling of more cars, is an obvious abuse of eminent domain. If the city wants to buy the facility or if the BMW dealership does, they should have come to us and made an offer."