Cigar bar gone
You can't say he didn't try. Ahmed Mesdaq, owner of downtown San Diego's Gran Havana Cigar and Coffee Lounge, fought the city's redevelopment agency for nearly two years in an eminent domain case involving his property on the corner of Fifth Avenue and J Street. But on Sunday the cigar bar was forced to officially close its doors.
Under eminent-domain law, the city labeled Mesdaq's property "blighted" last April because of an empty parking lot surrounding the building. The Centre City Development Corp., the city's redevelopment arm, then approved a plan for a 12-story Marriott Renaissance Hotel to be put in its place. The city believes the hotel will maximize the block's use and bring in much-needed tax revenue.
Mesdaq, who said he spent about $2 million renovating the Gran Havana, argued that his property was not blighted. He also argued that a tax benefit does not fit within the definition of "public good" under eminent domain.
The City Council, with only Donna Frye voting no, approved the eminent-domain proceeding, and both local and state courts ruled in CCDC's favor, giving the agency the right to demolish Mesdaq's building and hand the property over to hotel developers.
Mesdaq says he's saddened by the outcome, but he looks forward to what's ahead. "I'm looking for a place that is comparable," said Mesdaq. "I'm moving on and getting back on my feet."
The city must pay Mesdaq "just compensation" based on current market value of the property; however, any environmental cleanup of the land would be deducted from the price.
After the long battle, Mesdaq leaves the legal arena with a diminished trust in local government.
"I plan on following the trial of Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza," said Mesdaq. "Then I plan on watching as Donna Frye becomes our next mayor."
Shoppa non grata
Fed up with head shops they believe encourage drug use, Grant Hill-area residents gathered on Saturday to call for one shop's closure
The crowd, about 30 strong, marched three blocks to the recently opened A&A Smoke Shop on Imperial Avenue.
A&A has become a target of the community group Palavra Tree and associated organizations because it sits across the street from a candy store and within blocks of two elementary schools. Protestors claim the shop is purposely tempting school-age children in the area and preying on those suffering from addiction.
"It's wrong, and it shouldn't be there," said Milton Gale, a First Presbyterian Church deacon. "It's deliberately enticing young children. They should not be allowed to pollute a neighborhood, and that's what I see going on here."
A shop manager made her way through the crowd, shouting, "We don't sell no drug paraphernalia-we only sell tobacco products here. We even have a sign on the wall that says "for tobacco use only.'" She declined to speak to CityBeat.
"We've made it clear to them that they have no excuse to say they are selling tobacco paraphernalia. That's bull. They know it is drug paraphernalia," said Cleo Malone, executive director of Palavra Tree. "It is pretty hard to say to children, "Don't do this illegal act of taking drugs' while not saying anything to the merchant who is selling the means to take drugs."
Caught in the middle
The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) will gather at the Horton Plaza Westin Hotel this weekend for its annual convention. However, the event coincides with a union boycott aimed at pressuring the hotel chain to reach a better deal with workers, catching the typically worker-friendly AAN in the middle. CityBeat and the Reader are members of AAN.
Unite-Here, a nationwide union representing the hotel workers, has called for solidarity boycotts on behalf of workers in San Francisco who have been in deadlock since last fall with 14 hotels over healthcare benefits, immigrant rights and increasing workload.
Unite-Here members in Los Angeles negotiated the end of a labor dispute with hotel employers on Saturday over similar grievances. But union officials don't want the L.A. deal to mislead people into thinking the national boycott is over.
On the target list is the Horton Plaza Westin, part of the Starwood hotel chain. Union leaders say Starwood has aggressively undermined union power and cut worker benefits in San Francisco and L.A.
The dispute threatened to impact the AAN convention, which will bring hundreds of people representing more than 100 alternative newspapers from across the country to San Diego. The keynote speaker for AAN's First Amendment luncheon, author Mike Davis, initially cancelled in solidarity with workers in San Francisco, but he was convinced to speak after discussions between AAN and Unite-Here. Davis was unavailable for comment at press time.
AAN's executive director, Richard Karpel, said his organization reserved the hotel more than a year ago, "and Starwood wasn't on our boycott list at the time. We didn't learn about the boycott until three weeks ago," he said, "and we couldn't move a convention this large in three weeks, let alone three months."