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City Tramples Woman's Rights
by J. H. Huebert

The Sun (Yuma, Arizona)
August 20, 2002


Patricia Stanphill wants the City of Yuma to leave her alone.

Twenty-seven years ago, Ms. Stanphill made an investment that would see her through her retirement years and provide her with something to pass on to her children. Her investment is called A Shady Tree Trailer Park, home to dozens of working class families in the Carver Park neighborhood.

But now Ms. Stanphill fears she may lose it all, because the City Council has targeted her neighborhood as a "redevelopment area," with her property squarely in the crosshairs.

Why Ms. Stanphill's property would need "redeveloped" is unclear. She prides herself in the care she's taken of her property through the years. The tall ficus that she planted as saplings keep the park pleasantly green. She rents her spaces to decent, hard-working folks who are doing the best they can to make ends meet.

None of Ms. Stanphill's tenants or neighbors ever complained to the City about her park, nor has the park ever been cited for violating any City code. The City apparently thinks that affordable housing for low-income families is less than desirable for Carver Park and would like to see something else in its place.

While only City officials know for sure what "redevelopment" might entail, so far it has resulted in a rental inspection ordinance ostensibly "in the interest of the public health, safety, morals or welfare" of Carver Park residents. This program allows a City inspector to barge into rental properties in Carver Park without a warrant-a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. The inspector may also, at his discretion, condemn a property and kick a family out of their home with only 72 hours notice. It also allows the City to fine property owners $500 per day for each violation of the ordinance.

Those are harsh penalties that could put low-income families on the street and fine property owners so severely that they couldn't afford to make the repairs the city claims are necessary. That makes Ms. Stanphill wonder if the city wants to help Carver Park residents-or if its real motive is merely to condemn as many Carver Park properties as possible, as quickly as possible, so that it can take them and give them to other people with more political power.

If you're thinking it's really not that bad, you're right. It's worse. The redevelopment ordinance authorizes the City to use eminent domain to take, by force, Ms. Stanphill's park-and that makes Ms. Stanphill and her neighbors even more frightened.

"I don't want them to be able to take my property so they can give it to a private developer, but I'm afraid that's what they have in mind," said the feisty Ms. Stanphill. "If I thought this land should go to developers, I'd sell it to them and make the money myself. But I worked too long and too hard to give this place up-no matter what the City offers to pay me. My tenants are hard working people who need an affordable place to live, and they're who I want to serve-not the politicians and their rich developer friends."

Using eminent domain to take property for private purposes (rather than a public purpose, like a road or a courthouse) violates the Arizona Constitution. If the City thinks it can get away with trampling Carver Park citizens' rights, Ms. Stanphill intends to teach the city a lesson in constitutional law.

The City should immediately repeal the unconstitutional inspection ordinance, and it should prove its good intentions right now by passing an ordinance that takes eminent domain off the table in Carver Park.

 

 

2002 J. H. Huebert