In October, Santa Clara sent David Ebrahimi, the owner of the now-closed David’s Restaurant and the still-operating David’s Banquet Hall, an offer to buy out his lease on the banquet hall in order to widen and reconfigure Stars & Stripes Drive.
It’s the first step in an eminent domain action and the result of many years of unsuccessful discussions between Ebrahimi and the City over the lease — attested to by the frequency of these discussions on City Council closed session agendas from 2013 through 2016.
The City has had many discussions with Ebrahimi in recent years and tried to work with him concerning future plans, according to Assistant City Manager Ruth Shikada, who described the discussions as preliminary and aimed at understanding Ebrahimi’s “longer term interests.”
The City and Ebrahimi signed the first 20-year lease for banquet hall in 1999 — a time when there was nothing on Tasman except his restaurant and the Santa Clara Convention Center. The lease included two five-year renewal options.
Ebrahimi opened his restaurant on the golf course in 1987 and he says it was in partnership with the City. Now that Northside City Place development is coming to fruition, “they want to kick me out,” he said. The City refused to renew Ebrahimi’s lease on the restaurant.
In 2012, Related Companies brought Santa Clara its City Place project for a multi-billion dollar retail, entertainment, office and residential development on the 240 acres of the Santa Clara municipal golf course.
Developing that land required changes to Stars & Stripes Drive and Centennial Drive — the intersection of these streets is where the banquet hall sits, which currently is a two-lane U-shaped road off Tasman.
This requirement was explicitly presented in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that was approved by the Council on June 28, 2016.
Several successive City Managers have attempted to work with Ebrahimi, a former City employee told the Weekly on background. Former City Manager Julio Fuentes reportedly tried to help Ebrahimi find a new location.
The City’s initial compensation offer for the lease buyback is $5,000, based on an appraisal by Associated Right of Way Services (ARWS), a real estate services firm that specializes in public projects and agencies. After its analysis ARWS concluded that the value of the leasehold interest “is only nominal.”
The buyout offer is the first step in an eminent domain proceeding.
On Monday, Nov. 26, the City sent Ebrahimi an official notice of an eminent domain action setting a hearing for Dec. 11 and requiring a response 15 days in advance — in other words the day after he got the letter and at the start of one of the busiest times of year for the banquet business.
Ebrahimi says he’s talking to his lawyer and is willing to negotiate if City officials are willing to make a reasonable offer. “None of the places they’re sending me to are anything like this location. If they made a mistake on the lease 20 years ago, that’s their problem. If they want to change the rules now, it’s not fair.”
If negotiations fail, the Council must adopt a “resolution of necessity,” describing the public need for the property and filing a court action.
“What they offered me was ridiculous,” said Ebrahimi. “There’s no comparison to what it would take to move [the business] and have a comparable business. It’s going to be years and years to get [the business] back to where I am now. I’m not ready to retire. Don’t destroy my business because the City wants a Santana Row.”
Mayor Lisa Gillmor has said more than once that Santa Clara will not use eminent domain to speed the Tasman East redevelopment project; a concern of property owners ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that eminent domain could be used to advance private development projects.
There is no question, however, that the Stars & Stripes reconfiguration is a public infrastructure project, and as such, is a proper use of the power of eminent domain given to public agencies by the Constitution.