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City pays for store’s relocation expenses: The Downey Patriot, 8/29/08

DOWNEY—After exercising eminent domain powers to take control of a local cash advance shop, the city will pay approximately $180,000 for its relocation costs.

The City Council approved the lump sum payment this week.

The city took control of the Speedy Cash at 8850 Imperial Hwy. earlier this year as part of its Lakewood Boulevard Improvement Project. The store’s lease was not set to expire until 2010, and negotiations for the city to purchase its lease were unsuccessful, said Deputy City Manager Desi Alvarez.

“Since no agreement was reached for Speedy Cash to move, the city adopted a resolution of necessity and filed an eminent domain action to acquire Speedy Cash’s leasehold interest,” Alvarez wrote in a staff report.

Speedy Cash eventually agreed to move to a new larger location across the street. They submitted a claim of $358,287 for relocation costs.

According to the report, the city retained a relocation consultant which determined Speedy Cash was entitled to $179,653.51, which includes the store’s fixtures and equipment.

The Downey Patriot:

Baldwin Park scales back redevelopment plan: San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 8/28/08

By Tania Chatila

BALDWIN PARK – City officials plan to scale back their downtown redevelopment project and leave untouched 40 homes originally slated for demolition. The decision was made in the last two weeks and announced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Officials say they chose to exclude the properties – which comprise about 16 acres of the proposed 125-acre project – to protect homeowners and in the spirit of Proposition 99.

California voters approved the ballot measure earlier this year. It limits local governments’ use of eminent domain.

“At this point, it’s the best compromise that we can make,” Councilman Anthony Bejarano said. “Not every person is going to come out 100 percent happy with this project. This is our way of trying to compromise with the opposition.”

Foes of the project called the move a “smoke screen” to ease pressure on a contentious proposal that has already seen heavy opposition.

“The mayor thinks he’s doing a favor to the people,” said James Treasure, president of the Community Alliance for Redevelopment Accountability, which opposes the downtown project. “It’s not a favor. That’s the law that they are applying.”

The city has been in talks with Bisno Development Co. for redevelopment of its main commercial corridor since 2007. Under the original plan, the project would have required the city to acquire 370 homes and businesses through eminent domain.

The city initiated that process in December, mailing purchase-offer letters to 81 affected homeowners, according to Chief Financial Officer Vijay Singhal. Fewer than two dozen property owners accepted those offers, though they have yet to receive any money.

To continue with eminent domain proceedings, the city would have had to pass a resolution of necessity by Dec. 1 in order to seize owner-occupied homes under Proposition 99, according to City Attorney Joseph Pannone. Bejarano said that instead of approving the resolution in haste, the council instead decided to cut those properties out of the project all together.

“It’s a victory for the people who are directly impacted,” Bejarano said.

But that still leaves more than 300 other renters and business owners who would be forced to relocate, said Greg Tuttle, a Pomona resident and Baldwin Park businessman who is spearheading a recall effort against Bejarano and councilwomen Monica Garcia and Marlen Garcia.

“The owner-occupied homes are a very minimal part,” he said. “All the businesses, all the renters, they still go.”

Tuttle said the council could easily reverse their decision.

“There is no guarantee in anything that they are not going to turn around and change their mind,” he said. “What they are trying to do is calm all the people down.”

Longtime resident and retired Los Angeles County Public Works supervisor Joe Ikari said the city offered him $369,000 for his 800-square- foot, two-bedroom, one bathroom Downing Avenue home.

Ikari, 68, said while he was tempted to take the offer – he purchase his home 10 years ago for $123,000 – his wife was not ready to move.

“It’s a relief now that I don’t have to think about moving right away,” Ikari said. “At least we had a place to go. For a lot of the neighbors, they don’t have anywhere to go. So it is good news for the retirees.”

Mayor Manuel Lozano said city staff members will work with the developer to reevaluate the project’s scope and timeline as needed.

Calls to John DeClercq, Bisno’s vice president and chief operating officer, were not returned Thursday.

Bejarano said while the move will significantly change the project, officials “got the green light from (the developer) and it’s not going to be a deal breaker.”

“The project is still in the planning stages,” Lozano said. “A lot more still needs to be done before we can say this is what the project is and this is what it is going to look like.”

San Gabriel Valley Tribune:

Jurupa district voters endorse using eminent domain for park site; The Press-Enterprise, 8/26/08

By Sandra Stokely

GLEN AVON – By a nearly 3-1 margin, voters on Tuesday gave Jurupa parks officials the green light to begin eminent domain proceedings to seize 4.3 acres of land from Rep. Ken Calvert and his partners for development as ball fields.

The final tally overwhelmed even Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District officials with 74.3 percent of voters who returned their ballots signaling their approval for Measure P.

“I thought we’d get maybe 50 percent,” said Robert “Bobby” Hernandez, president of the park district’s board of directors. “This is awesome.”

Measure P needed the approval of 50 percent plus one vote of the returned ballots to pass.

Out of 30,487 ballots mailed last month, 5,712, or 19 percent, were returned to park district headquarters.

The final tally was 4,128 votes in favor of Measure P and 1,421 opposed.

As the final tallies were announced at the Jurupa Community Center, the room erupted in cheers.

“I’m ecstatic but not surprised,” said Edward Hawkins, the retired superintendent of the Jurupa Unified School District and one of five community leaders who signed the argument in favor of Measure P.

Mira Loma resident Mary Beth Goodwine, who dropped her ballot off at 7:15 p.m., said she voted in favor of Measure P because the land was sold “under dubious circumstances.”

“I would rather have a park there,” she said.

Calvert spokeswoman Rebecca Rudman said earlier Tuesday that the congressman would have no comment on the outcome of the election.

Eminent domain is the process by which a government entity may seize property from an owner unwilling to sell, providing the owner is paid fair market value for the land.

The park district mailed ballots to voters living within its boundaries. Included are the unincorporated Riverside County communities of Mira Loma, Pedley, Glen Avon, Sunnyslope and Rubidoux.

The park district wants to develop the land for youth sports fields.

The Calvert partnership wants to build a storage facility there.

The dispute started two years ago this month by the revelation that the Jurupa Community Services District — a water and sewer agency — had sold the land to the Calvert partnership. Tuesday night’s outcome guarantees that the drama will continue.

The property was sold to Calvert, R-Corona, and his partners in 2006 by the community services district in a transaction the Riverside County grand jury concluded violated state law.

Under California law, governmental agencies such as the water and sewer agency are required to offer surplus property to other agencies, particularly park districts, before putting the land on the market.

That never happened in this case despite the fact that the Jurupa park district had expressed interest in the property as a possible park or ball field going back to at least 2001.

Because the park district does not have the inherent right to acquire property through eminent domain, earlier this year park officials asked the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to authorize the seizure of the land. That request was turned down by a vote of 3-2.

That denial set in motion the mail-in election.

In a related matter, the park district filed suit earlier this month against the community services district, charging it with fraud and deceit in connection with the property sale.

The lawsuit seeks at least $1.5 million in general damages and unspecified special and punitive damages.

The Press-Enterprise:

Moreno Valley to decide whether to pursue eminent domain for land-use rights: The Press-Enterprise, 8/25/08

By Dan Lee

MORENO VALLEY – The City Council will consider tonight using eminent domain to acquire land from nine property owners to help improve a section of Day Street.

City officials are planning to improve Day Street between Alessandro Boulevard and Cottonwood Avenue. The project will require officials to obtain easements or the rights to use land belonging to nine property owners temporarily during construction; a permanent easement would be needed from one property.

“Negotiations have not been successfully completed with all of the property owners, and it is therefore necessary to proceed with eminent domain to acquire the easements necessary for the project to allow the work to commence on or about December 2008,” Senior Real Property Agent Monica Adamee wrote in a report to council.

The owners of the nine properties include individuals, a family trust, a loan company and a bank.

Joe Teague, one of the individual property owners, said he has reached an agreement with city officials for use of his property, but he declined to say how much he would receive in compensation. The biggest sticking point was that city officials had wanted to put a culvert through his property, he said.

“I would have fought that tooth and nail,” Teague said by phone. “I want to develop that lot.”

The culvert will go through an adjacent property, he said.

The council already has authorized spending almost $20,000 to acquire easements for the project. The city has borrowed $3 million for the construction work.

The work will include the addition of storm drainage facilities, sidewalks, curbs and gutters and the installation of a water line. In addition, the work will include changing the elevation of the roadway and connecting driveways to the new road level.

The Press Enterprise:

Brothers battle Norco to rebuild homestead the city tore down; The Press-Enterprise, 8/22/08

By Sonja Bjelland and Alicia Robinson

NORCO – The weedy, rubble-covered parcel on Mountain Avenue does not have a proper house, but it is still home to Paul and David Corson.

The brothers, who have lived all of their 60-plus years on the same plot, saw the house their father built bulldozed in January, after the city of Norco had the house condemned through a court order.

Now they want to build a house, but no one seems to agree on whether that is allowed or even possible.

The dispute pits the right of longtime residents to make a home on their property against the city’s right to guide future development.

“We figure we still have the right (to build),” David Corson said. “We’re the land owners. That gives us the right.”

The latest debate continues a history of contentious relations between the city and the Corsons, and it is forcing the brothers to navigate a government system whose authority they largely reject and have previously ignored.

Paul Corson, 62, and David Corson, 64, have had trouble with the city dating back to at least the 1990s, when they filed a lawsuit to block the city from ever using eminent domain to take their property — something the city said it never had the power to do.

The brothers accumulated more than 20 years’ worth of old tires, bottles and electronic parts for what they said was a recycling business. Norco officials said it was a public nuisance and a fire hazard, and in 2005 the city won a court judgment to get the parcel cleaned up.

The house, built in the 1920s, had no running water or electricity, and a bee colony had taken root inside. It was deemed unsafe and torn down under the supervision of Mark Adams, a court-appointed attorney.

Last week, the brothers stood at the front of the parcel, near a pile of tires and a trash barrel containing electronic gear still wrapped in plastic, while Adams toured the property.

The open field behind where the Corsons stood is vastly changed from a year ago, when crews hauled out more than 1,100 tons of items the brothers collected. It is now dotted with an occasional old sneaker, a small pile of baby food jars, a tire here and flattened aluminum can there.

In the midday sun, Adams recalled the glut of salvaged items that filled most of the property.

“It was just 12 feet high, all the way back,” Adams said as he walked around the weedy parcel.

Who Decides?

Whether they can rebuild on the 5.5-acre property is unclear. The head city planner and mayor have argued that the industrial zoning of the property would prohibit new construction of a home.

“That whole area was always viewed as being industrial property,” Mayor Frank Hall said. “I think putting more residential in there is probably not a smart thing to do.”

The City Council must still vote on whether to allow the Corsons to rebuild, though no vote is scheduled, City Manager Jeff Allred said.

However, City Attorney John Harper said whether the Corsons rebuild is out of the city’s control — and must be decided by Adams.

For his part, Adams said last week that the issue might soon be moot because if the Corsons don’t pay off the $432,000 debt from the cleanup and other costs, he may have to foreclose on the property.

Adams said he offered to bring a modular home onto the parcel for the Corsons to live in, but they weren’t interested. They have never appeared in court on the case and they haven’t responded to repeated requests to settle the cleanup debt, Adams said.

“Where have they been for the last 18 months?” Adams asked. “Trying to position it as the government’s in their way now is just not credible to me.”

The brothers say they don’t think the cleanup and demolition of the old house were necessary. Paul Corson, with a Jack Daniels ball cap on his head and a bushy mustache on his weathered face, said a structural engineer said the house was fine.

They’re still unhappy that the sheep and geese they kept on the property were taken, and they said some of David’s gardening equipment was hauled away in the cleanup.

They want to build a house like the one that was knocked down, they said, but even the rocks their parents originally used from the property to build the fireplace are no longer there.

“They’ve taken all our rights and just threw them away,” David Corson said.

‘Protecting Our Land’

Since the house was demolished, the Corsons have lived in a recreational vehicle that sits at one corner of the property, with a cluster of car batteries out front providing the power and a hose coming out of one wall, apparently the only sewage system.

A short distance away is David’s garden, where he grows organic produce and sunflowers.

“We’re still here and we’re still protecting our land,” David Corson said.

The brothers said they think somebody wants their land, and that’s why there have been so many obstacles to them rebuilding.

Adams said the Corsons’ property could be worth as much as $2 million.

But the monetary value of the property does not seem to tempt them. Asked whether they’d sell if they could get several million dollars, Paul Corson said simply, “We were born here.”

The brothers haven’t decided what to do if they aren’t allowed to rebuild. They say their parents moved here to enjoy a freedom that may now be taken away from them.

“It’s like they’re turning against people that were here before the city, and that’s kind of a crime,” David Corson said.

The Press-Enterprise:

Slow-growth showdown looms in San Marcos; Today’s Local News, 8/22/08

By Pat Sherman

When John Stanley surveys the five acres he owns off Bent Avenue, his mind wanders to the wild geese taking flight from the dew-speckled grass.

It’s a pleasant, albeit brief, vision that is quickly replaced by memories of his more than three-decade battle with city officials over the property.

When he and his wife, Janis, bought the land in 1976, they envisioned building a commercial complex, similar to existing ones along Bent Avenue between San Marcos Boulevard and Discovery Street, which could be rented out to small industrial businesses.

Though the Stanleys were told the property was zoned for commercial manufacturing uses, they received a letter from the city shortly after the sale went through, notifying them that flood control issues prevented development of their property.

The Stanleys said they have fought the city over the land ever since, and they have stacks of letters to prove it. Most recently, the city threatened to take their land via the powers of eminent domain should the Stanleys decline its purchase offer.

The city wants to build levees and make other flood control improvements on the Stanley’s property as part of its proposed $1 billion San Marcos Creek development, which would be located directly across Bent Avenue.

“Thirty years ago, I started to cry,” Janis Stanley said. “Ten years later, I started to cry again. Now, I just don’t give a damn. … We’ll end up going to court.”

The Stanleys are among those favoring a slow-growth measure headed for the Nov. 4 ballot. Dubbed the San Marcos Growth Management and Neighborhood Protection Act 2007, the measure would require all amendments to the city’s general plan that require a change in land use designation to be approved by a majority of the voters.

If approved, the measure would be retroactive, requiring a vote on all projects approved after July 23, 2007, including the adjacent creek development, which would include a mix of residential, retail and office space along San Marcos Creek.

John Stanley said he believes the city cannot sustain the traffic that would be generated by the creek project. It is expected to add an estimated 120,000 cars per day to San Marcos roadways.

“If they fill all those condos they’re talking about building, every one will have two or three cars,” John Stanley said.

What John considered to be a reasonable offer on his property — $3.5 million from Kaufman & Broad — evaporated after the city told the company the Stanleys property was in a flood plain and could not be developed.

“The city says you can’t do anything with it,” said John Stanley, 78. “Basically they condemned it.”

A grass roots coalition of slow-growth proponents plans to hand out fliers and walk door-to-door educating San Marcos voters on the initiative in the coming months. San Marcos environmentalist and former mayoral and council hopeful Lita Bowles is among them.

In 1992, Bowles led a group that successfully fought the city’s plans to turn a portion of San Marcos Creek into a concrete channel. Today, that portion lies along a bike and pedestrian path behind Twin Oaks Valley Mobile Home Park, where Bowles and her daughter own homes.

“Isn’t that gorgeous?” Bowles said Friday morning, gazing down at the creek from a bridge. “I just get such a thrill out of the creek. You can see the natural vegetation … and the flow of the creek is beautiful.”

Bowles said she fears that the San Marcos Creek project will destroy wetlands.

“From what I’ve read, 90 percent of the wetlands in San Diego County have been destroyed,” Bowles said.

She said she is not opposed to growth, but mixed-use projects have had problems. Projects along Rancho Santa Fe Road and Mission Avenue similar to what the city is proposing on San Marcos Creek have vacancies, she said.

“Nobody’s renting them, and they just sit there vacant year after year,” Bowles said.

Bowles and other slow-growth proponents face an uphill battle. A political action committee (PAC) that formed last month, has already spent $35,000 to defeat the measure.

The PAC, known as the San Marcos Association of Residents and Taxpayers, was formed in part by Steve Kildoo, chairman of the city’s planning commission.

According to financial disclosure statements filed with the city clerk’s office, $10,000 of the PAC’s funds are from Urban Village San Marcos, part of a company seeking to develop a blend of commercial, residential and retail near Cal State San Marcos to be known as “Heart of the City.”

Cynthia Skovgard, who helped circulate petitions to get the slow-growth measure on the ballot, called the PAC a “typical alliance of backslapping good-old boys in action.”

“They’ve networked out to the ones that they have deals with — you support me, I’ll support you,” Skovgard said.

At least 40 California cities have slow-growth measures, including Solana Beach, Del Mar, Poway and Escondido.

San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond and all four city council members oppose San Marcos’ initiative, saying it would create extra hoops for developers to jump through, causing them to take their business elsewhere.

“I think you’ve seen economic development in Escondido stall, and that’s what we don’t want to see,” city spokeswoman Jenny Peterson said Friday.

Pressed for specifics, Peterson declined to elaborate, though she cautioned against engaging in an apples-and-oranges comparison.

“When you look at some of those communities, like a Del Mar or a Solana Beach, those are communities that are built out, so it has a very different impact on them than a community like San Marcos, where we are still growing,” Peterson said.

“Some of the development that is set to take place over the next two years will be the keystone development to our build out.”

A $30,000 report commissioned by the city of San Marcos to gauge the effect of the measure states that putting general plan amendments to a vote could delay the development process by 24 to 30 months.

“It has to go to election, the election results have to be verified, there’s a whole litany of reasons why,” Peterson said.

“Generally speaking, the report found that the new process could result in roughly $2 million per general plan amendment … made up through legal costs, election costs and staff costs.

“Those funds would … take money away from services like public safety, fire protection and parks.”

Despite passage of Escondido’s slow-growth initiative, Prop. S, Skovgard said that city has the second highest sales tax revenue in the county, in part because of Escondido’s auto dealerships.

Skovgard noted that San Marcos Planning Director Jerry Backoff, who opposes the measure, resides in Poway, which has a slow-growth ordinance.

“Why would he choose to live in a city that is so damaged by a similar proposition?” Skovgard said. “Because it’s not true. It’s just a bunch of hyperbole.”

Backoff deferred to city spokeswoman Peterson to respond.

“He is not familiar enough with that plan to speak on it,” Peterson wrote in e-mail. “He wasn’t sure if Poway’s initiative was/is the same as what’s being proposed in San Marcos.”

Skovgard and other slow-growth proponents would like to see San Marcos’ general plan updated with input from residents.

“It’s not like we want to vote on all these projects,” Skovgard said. “We want them to follow the general plan … but they like spot-zoning. They like to do whatever they want, in spite of what the citizens want.”

Today’s Local News:

Airport, Evergreen, Wang on the clock; Big Bear Grizzly, 8/14/08

By Brian Charles

The countdown has started. The Big Bear Airport district board approved a resolution of necessity to acquire the terminal building through eminent domain during its Aug. 6 meeting.

The resolution doesn’t begin the eminent domain process, said Brad Pierce, attorney for the airport. It only puts the parties involved on a time clock. At any time during the next six months, the district can start the eminent domain condemnation process, he said. Pierce believes it won’t get that far, and a deal is coming soon, he said.

The terminal building is stuck in a quagmire involving the airport district, Evergreen Properties and Barry Wang, owner of Mandarin Garden Restaurant.

Wang is in escrow to buy the building from Evergreen. The purchase assures his restaurant a long-term lease and allows him to complete overdue maintenance, Wang’s attorney Chris McIntire said.

Deferred maintenance is the driving force behind the airport district’s desire to purchase the building, said Jay Obernolte, airport board president. The airport district plans to drop $125,000 in repairs into the building.

The terminal building has been at the center of controversy since its construction in 1981. Evergreen agreed to construct the building and in return secured a 65-year ground lease from the airport district for $1.

The difficulties didn’t end after the airport district purchased its portion of the terminal building in 2003. That portion extends from the main entrance east to the pilot’s lounge. The building doesn’t have a legal condominium map, which details what the district bought, Pierce said.

With no one sure who can buy what, all three sides spent a month trying to hammer out a deal. Evergreen wants to sell the property and Wang doesn’t mind the airport district owning the terminal as long as he gets a five-year lease, McIntire said. The airport offered Wang a one-year lease.

Airport board member Gary Steube said the district didn’t offer a long term lease because it wasn’t sure what the space could earn on the commercial rental market. The one-year lease allows the airport district to evaluate the market and come to a price on a long-term lease next year, he said.

Wang also wants a below market value lease. If Wang bought the property from Evergreen, the restaurant’s rent would be between $1 and $100 until 2046 when the ground lease expires, McIntire said. Wang is forfeiting that luxury by not buying the building, McIntire said. Without a long-term lease Wang is unsure about the future of his restaurant, McIntire said.

Big Bear Grizzly:

Part of doctor’s property is in Visalia’s sights for Santa Fe project: Visalia Times-Delta, 8/8/08

Doctor must choose between smaller clinic site and eminent-domain suit

By Gerald Carroll

Visalia doctor Magdy Maksy has known for 15 years that Santa Fe Street at Noble Avenue, where his medical office is located, would be widened.

“I was told it would be a strip they [the city] would need along Santa Fe,” Maksy said. Visalia officials want to make Santa Fe a major north-south artery and need to widen it. Further, an old railroad bridge across state Highway 198 is being demolished and replaced by an overpass that will connect Santa Fe’s north and south legs.

“It’s needed,” Maksy said of the multimillion-dollar project. “We don’t want to stand in the way.”

Maksy, specializing in kidney ailments and geriatric conditions, sees at least 20 patients a day, most from the surrounding neighborhood.

That intersection, as it has turned out, also will need a right-turn lane on Santa Fe — placing Maksy’s offices much closer to an even wider stretch of Santa Fe than was first projected.

Visalia-based broker Roy Kendall in September of last year said that reducing Maksy’s current setback from Santa Fe from the present 35 feet to only 2 feet would reduce that office parcel from a market value of $400,000 to “zero.”

“The city of Visalia would never permit the construction of any building right up next to this busy street,” Kendall wrote. Insuring the structure would be difficult, if not impossible, “due to the obvious traffic hazard, danger and noise level.”


Even if Maksy could keep the medical office at its present location, expensive renovations would be needed.

“I will have to tear down and rebuild these [handicapped-accessible] ramps,” Maksy said Thursday, pointing to well-built ramps using formed rock and concrete rather than wood. “I was offered $270 by the city for these repairs.” However, that will pay for only a fraction of the cost to tear back and replace the wheelchair ramps.

That $270 was part of a $25,000 settlement package offered to Maksy and approved Monday by the Visalia City Council. Six other property owners along Santa Fe Street, Mineral King Avenue and a parking lot near Bridge Street have already agreed to accept payments totaling $98,500 for rights-of-way relating to Santa Fe’s widening and Highway 198 bridge.

Eminent-domain terms have been drawn up by the city but no suit has been filed as yet and will be “the last resort,” according to a report prepared by city attorney Alex Peltzer. Eminent domain is used by cities to acquire property against the wishes of private owners so vital public infrastructure can be built.


Maksy’s 903-square-foot section is the only one of the seven that required an eminent-domain threat from Visalia to become reality. Everybody else settled early in the process, city records show.

“I will lose my ambulance entrance off Santa Fe,” Maksy said. “The other parking entrance on Noble will also be cut off, at least through the construction, which will last how long?”

Andrew Benelli, Visalia’s director of public works, said that the ambulance entrance would still be available, though ambulances and other vehicles — such as Visalia City Coach’s Dial-a-Ride used by many of Maksy’s patients — would “not be able to stop on the street where there is a right-turn lane.” The vehicles would have to turn completely into an existing driveway.

Benelli said the Noble entrance should remain unblocked during any construction.

However, Maksy is prepared to move his clinic if need be.

“Maybe a block or two away at most,” Maksy said. “I want to stay in this same area to better serve my patients.”

Visalia Times-Delta:

Pittsburg can take over land before eminent domain decision: Contra Costa Times, 8/1/08

By Paul Burgarino

Pittsburg’s Redevelopment Agency can acquire a three-acre piece of contaminated land near the waterfront before an eminent domain lawsuit is resolved, though it must deposit more money to proceed, a county Superior Court judge ruled this week.

Judge Thomas Maddock affirmed a tentative ruling Friday that says the redevelopment agency is entitled to the property owned by Marine Express Inc. on E. Third Street and would “suffer a substantial hardship” if the application for possession is denied or limited.

However, the agency must increase the amount of money deposited into the state treasurer’s Condemnation Deposits Fund by $700,000 as probable compensation for the property.

Maddock said the city must deposit a total of $1.8 million as potential reimbursement to the owner. Pittsburg has put about $1.1 million into the fund, said Juliet Cox, an attorney with Goldfarb and Lipman LLP, the firm representing the city.

The agency board, which consists of the Pittsburg City Council, will have to decide whether it wants to pay the extra money to proceed with cleanup, she said. The council will discuss the issue in closed session Monday, said Randy Starbuck, Pittsburg’s redevelopment director.

“If the city of Pittsburg wants to take away my client’s property, then it’s going to come at the taxpayers’ expense,” said Peter Langbord of Foley & Mansfeld PLLP, an attorney acting on behalf of Marine Express.

The property is part of a 33-acre site identified by the city as a unified development area in June 2006. Gaining the land would enable Pittsburg to pursue redevelopment of the area just west of Harbor Street, even though no concrete plan has emerged.

Pittsburg officials had raised concerns that if the property weren’t acquired soon, the owner might proceed with development, resulting in a higher property value.

Marine Express has been the only waterfront property owner not interested in working with the city. Langbord says his client intends to operate a marine-services business to repair deepwater ships, which reflects Pittsburg’s goals there.

“From our perspective, it seems quite silly,” Langbord said. “It’s not like they are building something the public needs right away; there’s nothing out there now.”

Marine Express has argued that it has started to clean the property and there is no need for the city to take over. Pittsburg contends no work to clean land contamination had been done until eminent domain was raised, and the agency can do the job itself.

In early July, the regional Water Quality Board approved a plan for the redevelopment agency to clean up the property. The agency must file an amendment to show that, Maddock said.

In a suit filed April 8, the redevelopment agency asked a judge to direct Marine Express to sell its property to the city for a fair market value price of $966,000. That price was determined by an appraisal done for the city in September 2007. The property is valued at $1.26 million when clean, the appraisal said.

A final resolution in the case — if the council approves spending the money — could take months, say attorneys for both sides.

Contra Costa Times:

COPYRIGHT © 2010 Arthur J. Hazarabedian, Esq.