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CALIFORNIA EMINENT DOMAIN LAW BLOG

Claremont to Vote on Possible Eminent Domain Action Against Private Water Company, 7/15/14

The City of Claremont is turning to its citizens to ascertain whether or not the city should forcefully take possession of the local privately owned water company, Golden State Water Co. The City Council unanimously voted that a $55 million bond measure will be placed on the November ballot relating to acquisition.

As the water company’s rates and prices gradually increased, so did the backlash from the Claremont city residents. Since 2004, prices have increased 100%. Whether or not the city’s proposed acquisition is to benefit the residents with lower bills, however, is unclear. City officials believe so but Golden State Water Co. spokeswoman, Julie Hooper, believes that the city is trying to convince its residence that its appraised value of $55 million is all that the city will spend for the acquisition. She notes that the city is not disclosing the additional costs for borrowing the $55 million nor the interest it will incur.
Furthermore, there is a major discrepancy between the city’s appraised value and the value the water company claims. According to Hopper, Golden State believes that the company is worth close to $135 million. The city refuses to release its appraisal report to Golden State; its offer stands, as of October 2013, at $55 million.

Nevertheless, Hopper has made it clear that the company is willing to work with the city to try to reach a compromise in the hopes that eminent domain proceedings can be avoided. City officials say that they will not be filing the eminent domain lawsuit until after the November vote on the bond measure, so the City Council can get a better idea of the public’s perception towards the takeover.

California Eminent Domain Project News: CHSRA Adds Palmdale to Burbank Track on Route

California High Speed Rail’s recent increase in activity in the Central Valley has caused some rail backers and opponents to voice their dissatisfaction with the “train to nowhere” plan. Both groups have taken the position that starting the high speed bullet train in the Central Valley has no benefit.
The dissatisfaction has caused a political challenge for the California High Speed Rail Authority especially since there are struggles with getting the appropriate funding base for the project’s under-estimated budget. Recently the state of California has tentatively approved $250 million in fiscal 2015, however, that is merely a drip in the bucket given that the CHSRA’s proposed budget is roughly $4 billion for the year.

In attempts to satisfy the public’s concerns, CHSRA has stated it plans on bringing the rail project to Southern California sooner than expected with the addition of the Palmdale to Burbank track with the anticipation that some of the greenhouse gas fees will be allocated to the high speed rail project. However a segment between Burbank and Palmdale will require much planning as well as approvals from a number of government agencies and completion of extensive environmental reports. The hope is that the segment will bring benefits to the Los Angeles area, especially by improving traffic congestion. The current commute time using the Metrolink rail is approximately 90 minutes, which is still faster than by car. However the high speed rail is anticipated to cut travel time down to 14-16 minutes from Palmdale to the San Fernando Valley.

Ultimately the Palmdale track is intended to reach down to Union Square connecting Southern California with the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco. The Palmdale to Los Angeles track is estimated to cost $13.5 billion, however there have been no budget estimates released for the Palmdale to Burbank segment. Jeff Morales, the CEO of CHSRA, had proposed the idea for the Palmdale-Burbank segment in a letter to Sen. Fran Pavely (D-Agoura Hills). He stated that the board of directors would adopt the revised plan for the Palmdale-Burbank segment if the legislature could secure greenhouse gas fees for the rail. The action was secured last month giving the CHSRA a chance to bring the rail to Southern California.

So far, the CHSRA has been confronted with legal issues and lawsuits in Central Valley and the Simi Valley but there has been little opposition in Southern California. The long term funding provided by the greenhouse gas fees may cover billions of funding dollars that had not been allocated to CHSRA by the state. Greenhouse gas fees are typically allotted to projects which reduce or eliminate emissions in large amounts during a short time span. CHSRA argues that a bullet train in the Los Angeles area will be a great benefit to the public and the environment. State legislators have agreed and the long-term funding through greenhouse gas fees will, as Morales states, “accelerate the high-speed rail program and connect California from north to south and south to north.”

For frequent updates on the California High Speed Rail Authority project, and other California projects, visit our blog and look for “California Eminent Domain Project News” for the latest news and information on projects near you. Also, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

To learn more about California Eminent Domain Law Group, APC or if you have any questions regarding an eminent domain matter, please feel free to visit our website at www.caledlaw.com, where you may request an initial consultation or a copy of our California Eminent Domain Handbook, free of charge. The Handbook may help answer any general questions you have regarding eminent domain. However, the handbook is intended only as an aid for understanding general eminent domain issues. It does not constitute legal advice and may not be relied upon for that purpose. For a FREE consultation please call 1-866-EM-DOMAIN.

California Eminent Domain Project News: Valley GOP Rally House to Put an End to High-Speed Rail

The GOP is rallying its troops in an effort to throw the California High Speed Rail project off its tracks. Efforts to do so, however, have been met with the full-blown resistance of the rail backers; they are not giving up their high-speed train without a fight.

Valley GOP delegates are deploying a transportation funding bill for fiscal year 2015 that would effectively prohibit allow the federal Surface Transportation Board for issuing the project new permits. Furthermore, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, proposed an amendment to the bill, which was passed by the House, restricting CHSRA from getting any money from the $52 billion transportation bill. CHSRA made it clear, however, that it would not need any more federal funding for the fiscal year which starts October 1. CHSRA has already received $3.8 billion in federal funds for the high-speed rail project in the upcoming fiscal year.

California High Speed Rail Authority board chairman, Dan Richard, stated the actions of the rail opponents are an attempt at politicization of transportation policies and will lead to leaving almost 9,000 California employees jobless. Richard argues that since April, these 9,000 employees have been benefiting from the contracts that have risen from the project. Killing the high-speed rail, according to Richard, would lead to 71 companies in the Central Valley and 47 Fresno area companies to lose contracts for jobs for the high-speed rail.

In the 155-page transportation bill, project opponents include a provision that the Surface Transportation Board cannot take any action on the project unless it does so in whole, not in part. So far the STB has been reviewing phases of the rail project and issuing permits based on specific phases. More recently, the CHSRA board approved the 114 mile track from Fresno to Bakersfield. STB has yet to take action in regards to the newly approved phase. However, the bill will restrict STB’s action in a way which affects the whole rail project, from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The White House Office of Management and Budget opposes the provision and supports the rail backers in their effort to address transportation needs and opposes “any attempts to limit state choices in enhancing passenger rail.”

California Eminent Domain Project News: California High Speed Rail Authority’s Funding Dinged Again

A recently approved transportation bill which has blocked CHSRA’s possibility of getting additional federal funding for the up-coming fiscal year is not the only money crisis facing the rail project.

The planned funding by the State for the high-speed rail has been tentatively approved for $250 million beginning in fiscal 2015. This massive sum, however, is a drop in the bucket when compared to CHSRA’s proposed budget of roughly $4 billion for the year.

Even though the plan is not yet final, it is clearly evident that the high speed rail will be facing a budget crisis soon.

Along with the funding restrictions, CHSRA is also facing numerous lawsuits further complicating the dispensing of already limited funds. The lawsuits do not seem to cease and if CHSRA loses, it will face serious funding issues. Another lawsuit was filed last week by a Central Valley resident seeking a restraining order against the authority alleging that CHSRA submitted an incomplete environmental impact statement back in May. However, the record of decision for the Fresno-Bakersfield track was issued last week. CHSRA hopes funding will now be available through private investments and private-sector funding.

California Eminent Domain Project News: CHSRA Receives a Record of Decision from Federal Railroad Administration, Fresno-Bakersfield Tracks Approved

On Friday the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for the 114 mile high speed rail track from Fresno to Bakersfield. The DOR reflects the FRA’s adaptation of a preferred alternative to the track which was outlined in the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The FRA chose the alternative track alignment in order to reduce as much impact on the environment, especially the wetlands and other habitats. The FRA stated that the alternative was a better choice when taking into consideration the long-range development plans for the high speed rail.

The ROD also highlighted a few provisions which the CHSRA will need to incorporate into the project. One such provision is the Mitigation Monitoring and Enforcement Plan to help minimize and/or avoid adverse environmental impacts caused by the project during construction.

The ROD is a major milestone for the planning process of the California High Speed Rail. With the ROD issued, the final step in the National Environmental Policy Act review process is now complete.

Richmond, California Has Yet to Exercise Eminent Domain to Seize Underwater Mortgages, 6/30/14

While the city of Richmond is the first municipality to approve the concept of using eminent domain to acquire underwater mortgages, the city has yet to actually do so.

The City Council has been unable to get the needed 5 out of 7 votes to go through with eminent domain proceedings. Therefore, the city is looking to team up with another municipality in hopes that together a joint powers authority will help carry out the proceedings.

Other cities, however, are reluctant to join in. Reasons for the hesitation comes in two major forms; the first being fear of lawsuits and complex litigation from banks and trusts, and the other being the threat of losing support from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

Other cities take no comfort in the fact that Richmond recently won against the trustees for hundreds of residential mortgage-back securities trusts, mainly because the lawsuits were dismissed without prejudice. This means that after Richmond begins the eminent domain process, the trustees will more than likely file more suits. The potential liability of such lawsuits can carry a very high price tag which deters most cities from joining Richmond’s plan.

Furthermore, the FHFA’s position on using eminent domain for such purpose is another deterrent. The FHFA has made it more than clear it is against the use of eminent domain, arguing that using eminent domain to modify the mortgages would eventually be shouldered by taxpayers. Also, the FHFA fears that it would create credit restrictions for home buyers in the future.

The FHFA is not the only organization against the idea of using eminent domain to seize mortgages. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), the National Association of Realtors, and the American Bankers Association have voiced their opposition as well. The fear is mainly the same; an increase in borrowing costs and restrictions on credit availability.

Richmond says it wants to help its residents come out of the slump that has been affecting many U.S. homeowners since the 2008 housing crisis, but does the city truly have its residents interest at heart? Richmond has been working closely with Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP), a private investment firm that has been pitching the eminent domain route to numerous cities. The assumption is that if the city does acquire the mortgages, it will turn around and offer the mortgages for a lower price and pocket the interest. Only time will tell what the outcome will be; for now, it is still up in the air. And as the real estate market improves, the ostensible justification for using eminent domain to assist underwater homeowners becomes less and less compelling.

By: A.J. Hazarabedian
To learn more about A.J. Hazarabedian, the managing partner at California Eminent Domain Law Group, visit http://www.eminentdomainlaw.net/aboutAJH.php

San Francisco Bay Commission Suing Feds to Stop Eminent Domain Attempts in Alameda County, 6/25/14

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission is ready for a gruesome battle with the federal General Service Administration over McKay Avenue in the county of Alameda. The Commission’s decision to challenge GSA’s exercise of eminent domain to acquire McKay Avenue was reached during a closed session meeting held on June 5th.

After the state refused to grant GSA utility easement rights for McKay Ave, GSA filed suit against East Bay Regional Park District back in April. A number of citizens as well as state and local organizations raised enough signatures to get an initiative on the November ballot to rezone as open space the area where developer Tim Lewis Communities is planning to build luxury homes.

The Committee’s reasoning in regards to filing suit is to compel the GSA to show that it’s eminent domain lawsuit against the Park District is allowed under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act. This Act requires federal coastline projects to be consistent with state law.

The advocates for open space are also suing the city of Alameda for allowing rezoning of the area for residential development without complying with the California Environmental Quality Act. Back in 2008, Alameda citizens voted to use the surplus land to expand Crown beach; however, their bid was trumped by the developer’s near $3 million bid.

If successful, the Commission’s efforts will stop the eminent domain proceedings; though, only temporarily.

Updates on the McKay Avenue takeover will be posted on our blog, Facebook and Twitter. For other eminent domain and inverse condemnation issues and projects, please follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

By: A.J. Hazarabedian
To learn more about A.J. Hazarabedian, the managing partner at California Eminent Domain Law Group, visit http://www.eminentdomainlaw.net/aboutAJH.php

Feds Use Eminent Domain to Acquire Public Street for Supposed “Public Use,” 6/3/14

On April 17, the federal government filed a lawsuit against the state of California and the East Bay Regional Park District to acquire McKay Ave in the city of Alameda through the process of eminent domain.

Back in 2008, voters of Alameda passed Measure WW which gave the East Bay Regional Park District authorization to purchase a federally owned parcel of land to expand Crown Memorial State Park. McKay Ave falls within the parcel now owned by East Bay Regional Park District. The street leads up to the Crab Cove Visitor Center and connects with Central Ave.

The DOJ office leading the lawsuit is the Environmental & Natural Resources Division. The federal government’s claimed reason for pursuing acquisition of McKay Ave is to secure continuing operation of the federal building complex which is located on Central Ave. The federal government also stated, however, that acquiring McKay Ave will facilitate the sale of federally owned “surplus land,” to a private housing developer. Currently, McKay Ave is used by the federal government to access the 3.89 acre federally owned parcels and recently a bid was accepted for the sale of that land to a housing developer, Tim Lewis Communities.

The opposition to the sale of the land for residential development and the acquisition of McKay Ave is substantial not only in the Alameda community but by numerous organizations all over California and the nation. State Attorney General Kamala Harris has stepped up to speak for those in opposition to the taking. Her November 7, 2013 letter to the Department of Justice expressed her rebuttals against claims made by the federal government regarding the need for McKay Ave in order to operate the federal complex. She also addressed the State’s willingness to discuss the issues of access or security for the federal complex and her failure to see how a public street and sidewalk could be acquired for “public use,” particularly given that the State is willing to discuss any upgrades to the street that the Feds might desire. However, the federal government is confident it will be able to practice eminent domain over the street.

Recently, a group of 10 organizations opposed to the acquisition posted an open letter to the U.S. Attorney General urging the Department of Justice and the General Service Administration to not proceed with any and all eminent domain cases against California Parkland. The letter described the taking as “not defensible” and a “misuse “of state park property. The opponents to the taking want the land to be left as “open space.” Allowing a developer to build houses on the currently owned federal parcels is “a contrary notion that parklands are trivial…and can be easily undone.”

(The letter is available to view on Alameda Sun Time’s website.)

The elephant in the room is this: Is the federal government using their nearby federal complex as an excuse to proceed with an eminent domain case in order to make money? It seems a bit fishy that the federal government secured a bid for the sale of the 3.89 acre surplus property at the end of the street for a price that was double the parcel’s appraised value, and then went after McKay Ave. Although the federal government is not hiding the sale to the housing developer, it seems quite a coincidence that things have played out as they have.

Now the State of California must file a response to the lawsuit. It will be interesting to see how this case proceeds. One can’t help but to recall the infamous Kelo case and how its decision has influenced governmental acquisition of private properties for sale to private developers.

By: A.J. Hazarabedian
To learn more about A.J. Hazarabedian, the managing partner at California Eminent Domain Law Group, visit http://www.eminentdomainlaw.net/aboutAJH.php

California Eminent Domain Project News: CHSRA Gives Thumbs Up on Fresno-Bakersfield Track

On May 7, California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) board members voted on the next section of the rail project. The two-part vote resulted in the approval of the 114-mile route from downtown Fresno to the northern outskirts of Bakersfield. The first part of the vote was dedicated to the 20,000 page Environmental Impact Report which contained the analysis of how construction and operation of the rail will effect nearby homes, businesses, farms, wildlife and their habitats, and what CHSRA would do to minimize or compensate for those effects. The second part of the vote was with regards to the actual route from Fresno to Bakersfield. Both the EIR and the route were approved by the CHSRA’s board. Opponents to the high speed rail objected to the approval. Opponents were unsatisfied with CHSRA’s work and research in regards to the effects the high-speed rail would have on the environment. Concerns of the unchanged line running through the Central Valley were one of the imminent issues for the opponents. They believe CHSRA had done little to address their concerns regarding the high-speed rail’s impact on the environment. Lawsuits against CHSRA are still underway as a recent appeal in three lawsuits was denied. CHSRA is ready for more lawsuits seeing that the Bakersfield-Fresno track will bring more opposition. Rail board’s vice chairman, Tom Richards, doesn’t think the new lawsuits will be any different from the ones CHSRA faced for the Madera to Fresno section of the rail; he says they are ready.
In response to concerns over the pollution the construction of the high-speed rail will cause, CHRSA stated that they will be committing over $35 million to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Jeff Morales, CHSRA’s CEO, also stated that the agreement with San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District will also pay for replacements of old farm equipment, including pumps and tractors, to minimize pollution. In addition, CHSRA claims that all contractors during the construction of the high-speed rail will be required to use the cleanest-burning construction fleet available.

Although the votes for the Fresno-Bakersfield track were a significant step towards construction of the project, CHSRA still needs to get the approval of two federal agencies: the Federal Railroad Administration and The Surface Transportation Board. They also require permits from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in order to work along waterways, wetlands and various other habitats.

For frequent updates on the California High Speed Rail Authority project, and other California projects, visit our blog and look for “California Eminent Domain Project News” for the latest news and information on projects near you.

To learn more about California Eminent Domain Law Group, APC or if you have any questions regarding an eminent domain matter, please feel free to visit our website at www.caledlaw.com, where you may request an initial consultation or a copy of our California Eminent Domain Handbook, free of charge. The Handbook may help answer any general questions you have regarding eminent domain. However, the handbook is intended only as an aid for understanding general eminent domain issues. It does not constitute legal advice and may not be relied upon for that purpose. For a FREE consultation please call 1-866-EM-DOMAIN.

California Eminent Domain Project News: Senate Committee Rejects Attempts at Another Vote for the California High Speed Rail

The ongoing tug-of-war between rail backers and opponents to the project has led to delays in California’s plan to build a high speed rail. Since its voter-back initiative, Proposition 1A, was passed back in 2008, the California High Speed Rail project has encountered numerous bumps in the road. The latest was the appeal denied by the Third District Court of Appeals regarding pending lawsuits between CHSRA and Kings County farmers. Now, the courts continue to delay the project because CHSRA is implementing a plan much different than the one voters approved back in 2008. Issues have a risen regarding CHSRA’s financial plan, lengthened travel times and higher operating subsidies. Courts have already held that the current financial plan is not in accordance with the terms of Prop 1A.

Senator Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, argues that a majority of California voters are now opposed to the high speed rail. Senator Vidak attempted to get 4 bills passed in hopes of derailing the project. This first bill, SB 901, was an attempt to get a referendum on the November 2014 ballot to prohibit sales of additional bonds to fund the project. SB 902 would have required CHSRA to disclose its funding sources before the use of eminent domain to acquire property and required a higher compensation for any properties taken through eminent domain. In Fresno, the CHSRA has already begun the eminent domain process for property needed for new train stations; however, it is unclear whether CHSRA has enough funds to complete its initial operating segment. SB 903 would have required CHSRA to reimburse counties for lost tax revenue because of the acquisition of private properties. Finally, SB 904 would have required officials and contractors of the project to identify themselves to property owners prior to pre-condemnation entry for eminent domain purposes.

All 4 bills were rejected by the Senate Transportation and Housing committee. Legislators have been reluctant to allow California voters to re-vote on the high speed rail project. The Senate committee stated “while voters today may not approve…Californians will be thankful the state continued to pursue it.” Unfortunately, these Legislators seem to have forgotten that they are in office to represent the will of the people they serve- not to dictate to the people what their will should be.

At least the opponents to the project can look to the courts which have been diligently attempting to uphold the legal provisions specified in the ballot measure. It seems clear that Prop 1A’s promises are not being met and rail backers seem to think it is not a big deal in the context of the high speed rail’s benefits.

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COPYRIGHT © 2010 Arthur J. Hazarabedian, Esq.