A five-way race for City Council has challengers criticizing Tempe’s desired use of eminent domain to build a shopping center and its handling of an employee discrimination problem.
The amiable campaign for three seats in the March 14 election has brought out few major differences to date, but a Tribune-sponsored forum Wednesday revealed some divides.
Candidates Onnie Shekerjian and Corey Woods said it was wrong for Tempe to threaten eminent domain on dozens of industrial businesses that stood in the way of the Tempe Marketplace. The City Council promised to condemn land on behalf of a developer if owners refused to sell.
Tempe lost its attempt when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of several property owners last year, but the developer convinced remaining owners to sell within months.
“It’s wrong to take people’s property,” Shekerjian said.
“It’s one of the things that pushed me into the campaign,” Woods said.
Candidate Shana Ellis said she wouldn’t automatically rule out condemnation for private developers. It would depend on the situation.
“If you had a toxic dump next to your house, would you want the city to do something?” Ellis said.
The Marketplace site was home to many substandard buildings and landfills. The land, on the southwest corner of the Loop 101-Loop 202 interchange, was once labeled a Superfund site.
The government was justified in condemning property because the pollution posed a public safety threat, incumbents Ben Arredondo and Len Copple said. Both supported eminent domain for Marketplace.
The free market ultimately resolved the situation, Copple said, because the property owners sold without the city taking their land.
“Those property owners were sitting on a toxic dump,” Copple said.
Arredondo said the landfill posed a hazard to police and firefighters, but said he would otherwise oppose condemnation when it involves transferring property to a developer.
“The day is over for us to take people’s property over for development,” Arredondo said.
Ellis criticized Tempe’s leaders for not addressing discrimination against Hispanics in the public works department. The problem festered for two decades and resulted in a successful lawsuit against the city last year. The city has acknowledged problems and replaced some key officials.
Ellis was chairwoman of the city’s Human Relations Commission at the time, which oversaw an audit of the problem.
“Something should have been done long before the diversity audit was called for,” Ellis said.
Ellis said she’d continue watch for discrimination.
Arredondo took credit for getting the City Council to address discrimination.
“Nobody started it except Ben Arredondo,” he said.