HESPERIA Hesperia will not join a regional group intended to help homeowners owing more on their mortgages than their houses are worth.

At their June 5 meeting, the Hesperia City Council voted down an invitation to join the Homeowner Protection joint powers authority (JPA) that already includes the county of San Bernardino and the cities of Fontana and Ontario.

The group aims to help property owners "underwater" on their mortgages. According to Mayor Russ Blewett, 50 percent or more of Hesperia homeowners are in over their heads thanks to falling property values. The group will have the ability to use the eminent domain process normally used to acquire property in the public interest that could not be obtained through normal negotiation processes to take mortgages from lenders and refinance them, providing property owners with more affordable payments.

"We can't even fund proper fire services for our citizens," resident Sophie Steeno said. "The expense would be too high."

According to several members of the City Council, getting involved in the mortgages of residents goes beyond the mandate of the group.

"This is really a distraction and a disservice to the people of the city of Hesperia," Councilman Paul Bosacki said.

"This has been giving me heartburn for months," Councilman Thurston "Smitty" Smith agreed.

Mayor Russ Blewett, who has long maintained that banks sitting on foreclosed homes are a major obstacle to regional recovery, argued unsuccessfully in favor of joining the group.

"This will really help 3,000 people," he said. "I think this is a perfect use of eminent domain to help people."

In the end, Smith carried the day: His motion that the city not join the JPA carried by a 3-2 margin, with Blewett and Councilman Bill Holland dissenting.

Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at Beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.