James Ramos, candidate for the Third Supervisorial District in San Bernardino County, which includes Redlands and Loma Linda, announced his opposition in August to use of eminent domain as a possible tool to protect homeowners with underwater mortgages.
"It's clear to me that expanding government's power to seize private property through eminent domain is no solution to our housing problems," Ramos said in a statement issued Aug. 16.
But Ramos, former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, did not oppose the use of eminent domain for street improvements in Highland in 2007, when city officials sought "to accommodate the increase in traffic in this area of the City resulting from development in the City and expansion of the San Manuel Bingo and Casino facilities over the last five years."
Ramos was part of San Manuel leadership at the time and he was elected chairman of the tribe in 2008. The tribe supported the street improvements project and did not oppose the city of Highland's use of eminent domain for the project, according to Highland city records.
The city acquired a strip of easement along Highland Avenue and Victoria Avenue frontages of several private parcels, Highland City Engineer Ernie Wong said in an email Tuesday Sept. 18.
"The City secured three roadway easements for construction of the intersection improvements via the eminent domain process, which was eventually settled out of court," Wong said. "The City secured the remaining one roadway easement via negotiation with the property owner without any eminent domain action."
Construction of the project began in September 2009 and ended in March 2010, Wong said.
The city of Highland received about $2.2 million of Indian Gaming funds, out of which about $500,000 was spent on construction, about $1 million on compensation to property owners, about $500,000 on engineering and legal fees, and $200,000 remaining for future improvements, Wong said last week.
"The entire project was funded by the State of California Special Distribution Funds, which the State received from the San Manuel Tribe," Wong said.
Incumbent Third District Supervisor Neil Derry faces Ramos in a November runoff to represent the re-drawn district, which is now home to about 407,000 residents and covers roughly 2,700 square miles.
San Bernardino County, the city of Ontario and the city of Fontana recently formed a Homeownership Protection Program joint powers authority to look at proposals that include the possible use of eminent domain.
The authority board is comprised of county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux, Ontario city manager Chris Hughes, and Fontana city manager Ken Hunt.
When Ramos came out in August against the use of eminent domain by the county joint powers authority, Derry took an opposing view, saying at the time, "I'm waiting to see what they come up with first. I think it shows a lack of judgment on my opponent's part."
Asked last week for perspective about the San Manuel tribe's support of the city of Highland street improvement project that included use of eminent domain, Derry said, "There are some concerns with any consideration of using eminent domain to protect homeowners, but it is nevertheless worth exploring.
"The way I understand it this would be a tool used to condemn a mortgage, not a physical home or residence," Derry said.
"But it's ironic the former chairman of the San Manuel tribe says he is opposed to exploring the use of eminent domain in an effort to protect under-water home owners, because he was not opposed to it when it benefited his casino," Derry said.
"When the eminent domain benefited the casino, the city of Highland took a physical residence, a single-family home," Derry said.
Wong said existing uses of the private parcels were not affected.
"Therefore, the use of the properties as a pawn shop, an ARCO gas station, and apartments remain the same after the City has completed the street improvements," Wong said Tuesday.
Ramos did not respond to messages last week seeking comment for this report.
Through spokesman Andre Levesque on Tuesday Ramos said, "Neil Derry is trying to compare Apples and Oranges. Apparently he doesn't understand the issue yet he is the driving force behind a government program that would seize private property from homeowners. Voters should be frightened."
In August, when he issued a statement opposing the county joint powers authority use of eminent domain, Ramos said, "I look forward to seeing other proposals that are presented to the JPA where coalitions between homeowners, local leaders and industry work together to bring solutions to address this issue."
Ramos said he is supportive of "all constructive ideas" that could help address a very real problem. But the use of eminent domain, which has never been used as proposed here, "is at best a risky expansion of government power and potentially counterproductive to real solutions and the fledgling recovery of real estate that is beginning to take shape."
The City of Highland received State of California Indian Gaming Special Distribution Funds to improve the Highland Avenue/Victoria Avenue intersection in 2009 and 2010, Wong said.
The funds were approved by the Indian Gaming Committee, which includes representatives from San Manuel, San Bernardino County, and the cities of San Bernardino and Highland, Wong said.
San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino is billed as "a premier gaming establishment in Southern California since 1986, drawing approximately 2.2 million visitors every year and paying out more than $2 billion in cash, prizes and giveaways."
In an interview in May, Ramos said the casino and other San Manuel businesses employ 3,700 people, making the tribe one of San Bernardino County's largest employers.