State bills could slow Millbrae projects 

As efforts continue on the state level to limit governments’ ability to use eminent domain, city officials acknowledge that these efforts may prompt continuing roadblocks as they attempt to make massive improvements around the Millbrae BART station area.

Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate, on Monday unveiled a number of eminent domain reforms he said would protect homeowners and small businesses being examined by eminent domain.

Millbrae city officials have never used eminent domain to spur private development, but Community Development Director Ralph Petty has said it is an option available to the city if officials want to help move projects along, particularly major projects around the BART station.

In response to inroads made in the state Legislature for eminent domain reform, the City Council tonight is scheduled to discuss and possibly approve some city staff recommendations on the issue. City Manager Ralph Jaeck said that among the recommended changes are disclosing as soon as possible when certain properties are eyed for eminent domain. Jaeck said the city has never and does not plan on using eminent domain to seize residential properties.

But he said the city’s power of eminent domain — long thought of as the ultimate trump card for governments — could be limited for both private and public improvements should the wave of reform continue. "It’s not going to go away," Jaeck said, noting that the city has not officially discussed how such reforms will affect any future development on tap in the city. "So we’re just going to have to deal with it as it comes up." The Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan, adopted in 1998, sought to encourage development around the Millbrae BART station in light of the pending opening of that transportation hub.

One five-acre parcel within that area, dubbed Site One, which now includes Peter’s Café and Millbrae Lumber, is planned to become the $200 million center of what officials hope will be a flurry of new activity.

Mayor Marc Hershman said that for now, the city is leavingit up to Irvine-based Fancher Partners to assemble the properties for Site One and that officials have not discussed the use of eminent domain for other properties in and around the station area.

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