Column: Threat of Eminent Domain Gets Writer Writing Again

By Susan Parker
Friday January 04, 2008

I haven’t written a column for a long while because I’ve been adjusting to this widowhood thing. Over the past 15 months I’ve spent time renewing old friendships that were lost after Ralph’s accident, fixing up my house, looking for and finding a job. It took some weeks for the people who lived with me and helped with Ralph’s care to relocate. Since then several folks have moved in and out, and moved in again. 

Soon after Ralph died, my friend Jernae came to stay with me. I’ve known Jernae since she was seven. Now she’s seventeen and trying to find her place in the world. It isn’t easy. She’s switched schools half a dozen times, moved back with her grandmother, and couch surfed at friends’ apartments. As I write this column she’s sitting on the living room sofa, bags semi-packed, deciding whether to come or go. 

A lovely couple from Japan, Sagiri and Hideyuki, and their four-month-old baby, Laia, stayed with me for a month. Hideyuki has a one-year appointment at Stanford, and Sagiri, an aerospace engineer, is completing a post doctorate in integrative biology at Cal. When they moved out, my sister-in-law Yuka and my niece Kanna and nephew Bryce moved in. Nothing cures a house of loneliness like energetic three- and five-year-olds.  

I really seemed to be getting my life back together when a new set of problems arose. On Sept. 13 I learned that Children’s Hospital is planning to build a 12-story tower and helicopter landing pad at the end of my street.  

I’m not against children and I’m not against the hospital expanding. They do good things and I’m happy to have them in my neighborhood. But I don’t want a 180-foot building looming over my house or a helicopter crashing onto my roof. I’ve had to do a lot of digging around to find out how I can protect my home and my neighborhood.  

What I’ve learned in a nutshell is this: Children’s Hospital has two measures on the Feb. 5 ballot to collect a parcel tax from the residents of Alameda County. It’s a private hospital. It will take sorely needed funds away from public entities such as schools, libraries and Highland Hospital. It has bought some but not all of the homes on the south side of 53rd Street, and also one to the north, my side of the block. I met with Mary Dean, CHO’s Senior Vice President of External Affairs, and inquired about a rumor that Children’s could take our homes by way of eminent domain. Specifically I asked, “Does CHO believe it possesses the right to exercise eminent domain without the Oakland City Council?” 

She answered, “I believe we do.” 

I can tell you right now that there aren’t many words that can frighten a homeowner more than eminent domain. Fire, earthquake, acts of God? Yes, those are scary, but what can you do? But a private corporation seizing a taxpayer’s home? Yikes!  

In the past few weeks I’ve talked with neighbors, city council supervisors, and representatives from Mayor Dellums’ office. I’ve contacted the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters, the Alameda PTAs, and the Chamber of Commerce. I’ve held neighborhood meetings in my home and invited administrators from Children’s Hospital and City Hall to come and talk with us.  

I’ve gone down to the Alameda County Courthouse and filed arguments against measures A and B, and a rebuttal against Measure A. I’ve spent over $100 of my own hard-earned cash on photocopying fliers to distribute throughout the neighborhood. But that’s no match for the one million-plus Mary told me Children’s will spend on politicking for Measure A. 

After Ralph died I didn’t think I had much to write about, but now I find that I do. My house turned 100 years old this year. Ralph and I bought it together in 1992. He spent the last 12 years of his life downstairs in the living room. Since then I’ve filled our home with family and friends. I know he’d want me to fight for it, and so I will.