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Developer sues district over eminent domain; The Record, 11/25/08

By Keith Reid

LOCKEFORD – A developer is suing the Lockeford Community Services District for not using eminent domain to buy a pricey, 63-acre lot next to his land to absorb his proposed subdivision’s future wastewater.

Livermore Acres Inc. owner Ernest Pestana has long been at odds with the Lockeford Community District over the pricing and timetable to provide sewer and water service to his proposed 300-home subdivision, Lockeford Oaks, at Brandt and Jack Tone roads.

The Lockeford Oaks project could not go forward without the purchase of the 63-acre lot, for which the services district says Pestana must reimburse it through higher sewer and water connection fees.

Pestana, however, claims in court documents that the district is gouging him for millions of dollars by purchasing the lot outright instead of using eminent domain.

The district bought the land for $2.2million from Black Mountain Development, which had acquired it from the Frank D. Bolea Trust in 2005 for the same price. Pestana believes the district could have purchased the land at a much lower price in today’s market, according to court documents. A lower price for the land would mean lower sewer and water connection fees for Pestana.

Lockeford Community Services District attorney Ryan Bezerra disagreed that the $2.2million price is inflated and said the district was happy it purchased the Bolea property without using eminent domain.

“The district did what it could to expedite the process for the Pestana project,” Bezerra said. “Now, they would prefer to not pay the adjusted connection fee. They want to pay the price they think is fair.”

In a 13-page complaint, Pestana claims the district could have implemented eminent domain to purchase the land for $6,000 an acre, $360,000 total. Pestana believes the district’s purchase price for the lot will result in his having to pay what he calls “a staggering $4.8million” in sewer fees, according to court documents.

Pestana complains in the documents that the district’s purchase was “arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.”

Messages left at Pestana’s office for comment were not returned.

“We are defending the suit,” Bezerra said. “I can’t say much else, because it is in litigation.”

The Record:

Supes may use eminent domain; The Reporter, 11/25/08

 By Danny Bernardini

Solano County supervisors will discuss the need to purchase or take by eminent domain eight properties needed in order to build the so-called North Connector project, linking Highway 12 in Jameson Canyon with Abernathy Road in Suisun Valley.

The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing today before likely adopting Resolutions of Necessity for condemning several properties, as well as authorizing the payment for five other parcels.

Some property owners have agreed on terms to sell a portion of the 36.5 acres needed for the east end of the North Connector project, however the county is considering acquiring the rest through eminent domain.

The county has pledged $2 million to the project, teaming with the Solano Transportation Authority and the city of Fairfield.

Construction on the east end of the North Connector from Abernathy Road to Suisun Creek — known as Suisun Parkway — is scheduled to begin in 2009. The west end is scheduled to begin construction in 2016.

Negotiations have been ongoing with the property owners for the past three months, according to staff reports. The county would have to prove necessity to condemn the properties. Despite moving forward with this process, the county will continue to attempt to reach purchase agreements with the remaining eight property owners.

Along with the public hearing, the board today will also be asked to authorize the purchase of the five property owners whom have agreed on terms with the county.

A specific price for the properties is not listed, but staff reports indicate the cost will be paid for with STA funds. The county’s contribution will come from a General Fund loan, that will be repaid from the future establishment of a Public Facilities Fee for Transportation.

The Solano County Board of Supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. in the Supervisors Chamber, 675 Texas St., in Fairfield.

The Reporter:

City invokes use of eminent domain; The Signal, 11/25/08

Body-piercing studio gives way to library

By Tammy Marashlian

The Santa Clarita City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to initiate eminent domain in order to obtain the last parcel needed for the new Newhall library, despite objections from the property owner.

The vote included allowing city staff to use up to $806,000 to purchase the property at 24509 Spruce Street in Newhall. The space is currently occupied by Just Passing Thru, a body-piercing studio open since 1994.
Tuesday’s vote marks the first time the city has used eminent domain for the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan.

The vote does not prevent the city and owner Thomas Fitterer from continuing negotiations on the property, something that Councilwoman Laurene Weste encouraged during the meeting.

The only voice of opposition during the meeting was Thomas Fitterer, who owns the property.

“I object to the city taking it,” Fitterer said. “They can work around that little area.”

Fitterer said he initially wanted to open a dental office on the location. However, he changed his mind after his son, John Fitterer, asked to use the property for his piercing studio, Just Passing Thru.

Fitterer expressed concern over the negotiations with the city about the value of the property and how much it has been appraised for.

“I think that my property is worth a lot more,” he told the five councilmembers.

During public comment period, Canyon Country resident Jeff Prata said he would be pleased to see a library in place of Just Passing Thru, which he considered an “eyesore.”

“It’s bringing Santa Clarita down,” he said, as a father who has driven by Just Passing Thru for 15 years.
He applauded the city’s efforts.

“I think a library there is going to be perfect,” Prata said.

Just Passing Thru occupies the final parcel the city needs before the updated Newhall library, expected to be between 25,000 to 30,000 square feet in size, can be built. The present library is considered by many to be out of date.

City officials view the new library as a key part of the city’s plan to revitalize downtown Newhall as it will anchor the area and draw in a range of demographics.

The city has already purchased the other parcels necessary to build the library.

The most recent parcel came earlier in the year when the City Council approved a $1.2 million purchase of the 6,200-square-foot property at 24519 Spruce Street. White Light Chiropractic now sits on the site.

The parcels occupied by CarQuest Auto Parts and Paws for Fun are already under the city’s control.

The Signal:

Piercing studio may get booted for books; The Signal, 11/23/08

City will consider using eminent domain to make room for updated Newhall library

By Tammy Marashlian

 In quest of the final piece of property to build a new Newhall library, the Santa Clarita City Council will take up the possibility of eminent domain at Tuesday’s meeting.

Just Passing Thru, a piercing studio open since 1994, sits on the final parcel the city must obtain to build the much-demanded library.

Newhall’s currently library is woefully out of date. A new public library, expected to be 25,000 to 30,000 square feet, is a key part of the city’s plan to revitalize downtown Newhall.

The city plans to hold a public hearing and may request a resolution of necessity during Tuesday’s meeting.

“It sets the legal framework for initiating eminent domain,” said Paul Brotzman, Santa Clarita director of community development.

If eminent domain is approved, it would be the first time the city has used it for the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan, Brotzman said.

The council will also consider a request by city staff for the approval of up to $806,000 for the acquisition and for all related costs to execute the acquisition of 24509 Spruce Street, the site of Just Passing Thru.

Negotiations between the city and the owners of Just Passing Thru began in 2007 and have not been “fruitful,” Brotzman said.

Brotzman said the situation with Just Passing Thru revolves around making an agreement on the value of the property.

“It’s really an issue of the dollars,” he said.

The owner of Just Passing Thru was unavailable for comment on Friday.

The city has purchased all the remaining parcels for the future Newhall library.

Earlier this year, the City Council approved $1.2 million to purchase a 6,200-square-foot property at 24519 Spruce Street. The location is currently occupied by White Light Chiropractic.

The city already owns the parcels occupied by CarQuest Auto Parts and the Paws for Fun dog-grooming business.

During the purchases, the city has made an effort to be “highly flexible” with the property owners who occupy space where the Newhall library is planned, Brotzman said.

“We’ve really reached out to the property owners that have been involved,” he said.

In one situation, the tenant is allowed to stay in the building until the building must be physically removed for construction, he said.

An architecture firm is evaluating the site plans and conducting analyses before beginning any specific detail drawings for the new library, Brotzman said.

City officials believe that once built, the library will provide an anchor for one end of revitalized downtown Newhall.

The library is expected to draw clients from Newhall and surrounding areas, as well as attract a wide range of age groups.

The Signal:

Negotiations about Riverside land for proposed Fox center parking to continue; The Press-Enterprise, 11/18/08

By Doug Haberman

RIVERSIDE – The city will continue negotiating for 30 days to buy three parcels just north of the Fox Theatre for a theater parking garage but the City Council on Tuesday gave staff the authority to draw up an eminent domain lawsuit to file if the negotiations go nowhere.

The city is converting the theater into the 1,600-seat Fox Performing Arts Center, which is set to open in fall 2009. It wants to build a garage with at least 400 parking spaces on the half-block next to the Fox to serve center patrons.

V. Prabhu Dhalla, who owns or co-owns three targeted parcels, has been in unsuccessful negotiations with the city. After the vote, he said he could reach a deal “if they’re reasonable.”

The city estimates it would cost $4.8 million to buy the three parcels and prepare them for construction of the garage.

The matter will come back to the council in 30 days for an update on the negotiations. The council will decide whether staff should continue negotiating or file the eminent domain case.

The motion made by Councilman Mike Gardner and approved by the council called for trying to reach a deal with Dhalla that would allow him to continue owning the historic storefronts on Market Street between the Fox and Sixth Street.

Three antiques stores occupy the storefronts, but the city is hoping for businesses more compatible with a performing arts center, such as restaurants or coffeehouses.

Gardner’s motion also called for saving a Spanish Revival-style building on Fairmount Boulevard now occupied by an antiques store and a botanica, which sells religious items and alternative medicines.

Before the council meeting, Gardner said that last building could be used as storage for the Fox.

In September, the city bought 20,000 square feet of space for the proposed garage at the corner of Sixth Street and Fairmount Boulevard. The price was $2 million.

The structures on that land house the Riverside City Mission and an automotive repair business, both of which would have to be relocated.

Joanne Pease-Simpson and James Youden addressed the council on behalf of the Old Riverside Foundation, a preservation group. They called on the city to work with the preservation community to save the historic buildings.

Patrick Brien, executive director of the Riverside Arts Council, and Wayne Hinton, executive director of the Riverside County Philharmonic, said the proposed parking garage would be a key to the Fox Performing Arts Center’s success.

Public agencies use eminent domain to acquire private property from owners unwilling to sell, or unwilling to sell at the price an agency offers. The agency condemning the property must pay fair market value. Eminent domain is typically employed to buy property for public uses, such as parks, libraries and street-widening projects.

The Press-Enterprise:

MURRIETA: City may use force to get land for freeway project; The Californian, 11/17/08

Murrieta to consider eminent domain in second hearing of its kind

By Nelsy Rodriguez

A major freeway project moving full speed toward construction has come upon a halting sign that reads: Private property.

With plans under way to replace the Clinton Keith Road bridge and build two loop onramps to the freeway, Murrieta officials are set to consider beginning eminent domain proceedings on land that sits east of the freeway.

The Tuesday night hearing is the city’s first step in the eminent domain process, where a government agency can force a landowner to sell property at its fair market value if the land is needed for a public benefit.

If approved by the council, this will be the second time since mid-October that the city has taken steps to force a property owner to sell land. The city already has acquired rights on other parcels within the project site.

Councilman Gary Thomasian said he was surprised that again a property owner has declined city offers.

“I don’t know why they don’t want to sell,” Thomasian said. “Those are questions that we’ll definitely be asking because this is a project that’s been in the works for many years. It’s nothing new.”

According to city reports, property owner Curci-Turner Company of Newport Beach has not yet accepted city bids for portions of four parcels that are needed for the roadwork project.

The city is prepared to pay $827,400 for portions of the four parcels owned by Curci-Turner Company, city staff reports state. The city is also ready to put the project out to bid, but cannot do so until all necessary right-of-ways are acquired.

A representative at Curci-Turner Company declined to comment and city Public Works Director Pat Thomas could not be reached for comment Monday.

The road project has been in the plans for years. Originally, city officials thought the work could be complete by October.

Thomasian said the delay in starting the bidding process puts the city at risk of missing a golden opportunity to get the construction work done at a really great price.

“Of course, the city has a timeline because (we) want to get this thing out to bid and take advantage of the way the economy is right now,” Thomasian said. “You’ll get more people bidding on these projects and ultimately it brings in lower bids.”

The eminent domain hearing comes a month after a similar situation regarding another property needed for the project.

In October, the city began proceedings to take a portion of another parcel near the project site by eminent domain after the city had reportedly been unable to reach an agreement with property owner Kim Investments. Negotiations on that property continue, Thomasian said.

“As of right now, I haven’t heard if there’s any kind of settlement,” he said. “But I do know that if there’s no settlement, then we’ll be going forward (to court).”

The 7 p.m. meeting will be held at City Hall, 24601 Jefferson Ave.

The Californian:

No easy path to deciding route of Mid-County Parkway; The Press-Enterprise, 11/1/08

By Dug Begley

A proposed parkway connecting San Jacinto and Corona might run east-west, but what divides most supporters and opponents are highs and lows.

Many residents in the valleys and lowlands around Perris and east of Interstate 215 give the Mid-County Parkway a thumbs-up. Opponents are concentrated in the mountains and atop the Gavilan Plateau south of Lake Mathews.

Both sides have two, possibly three, chances left to discuss the 32-mile project and tell Riverside County Transportation Commission members what they think before environmental documents on the project move to the final stage.

Transportation commission staff members prefer the southernmost alternative of the five remaining choices. The route follows Ramona Expressway near San Jacinto to Placentia Avenue in Perris, then crosses agricultural and low-density properties west of Perris before heading toward Cajalco Road in Corona.

Draft environmental reports released Oct. 10 confirmed the staff’s preferred route was the cheapest, would displace the fewest number of homes of any of the plans and used the least acreage.

But the route was not an across-the-board winner. Other routes had the least effect on threatened species and less potential impact on the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, an attempt by local officials to preserve 153,000 acres of undeveloped land in the next 20 years.

The preferred route has run into stiff resistance from residents around Lake Mathews, who argue their rural area should not be bisected by a parkway, which many contend is really a freeway.

Cindy Ferry, an outspoken critic of the road, urged her neighbors to speak up at a meeting last month of the Residents Association of Greater Lake Mathews.

Ferry said association leaders are also raising money to hire engineers to examine the 1,000-plus-page draft environmental report the transportation commission released.

“We need to protect ourselves,” Ferry said at the Oct. 15 meeting. “They have experts, and we need our own.”

Critics of the plan showed up last week at a public meeting held in Corona to discuss the Mid-County Parkway. Among their concerns is increased noise in the area and a suspicion the road will become a popular route for trucks traveling to warehouses and distribution centers along I-215.

Many of the 115 attendees said the route was a mistake, and officials have not done enough to warn residents.

Harold Meeks, 52, spent more than three years building a 4,200-square-foot house near Lake Mathews Drive. If officials choose an option for the parkway close to Cajalco Road — not the preferred option, but still under consideration — his dream home will be bulldozed for an offramp.

“I would have never done it if someone would have told me,” said Meeks, an electrical contractor who oversaw construction of his home. “What would have been the point if someone can just come by and build a road?”

Meeks said what frustrated him most was the years he spent talking with county planning, transportation and code-enforcement officials, not to mention the real estate agent who sold the land.

“Why didn’t they say ‘This land is along the route of a road that one day might be built,’ ” he asked.

Build, Baby, Build

But opposition to the road waned last week at public meetings as the location moved east. About 75 people showed up in Perris, many with questions about when officials will buy their property. But in some cases, people were hoping for sooner rather than later, officials said.

Cathy Bechtel, project development director for the transportation commission, said some residents struggling to make mortgage payments after their interest rates increased urged officials to start taking property now.

Supporters of the parkway contend the road is needed to help handle the growth going on in Perris and San Jacinto, and help connect commuters to their jobs in western Riverside County and Orange County.

“This is going to help open the San Jacinto Valley up,” said Brad Lofgren, a former San Jacinto resident who lives in Sun City. Lofgren, who develops family land in San Jacinto and works as a real estate agent, said a good way to handle the growth and spur development is building the parkway.

“I hope it gets built and gets put in to the best result,” Lofgren, 49, said after a Mid-County Parkway meeting in San Jacinto.

Lofgren’s father, Carlton Lofgren, agreed, but both stressed they were withholding final judgment on the road until they see specifically what transportation officials are proposing.

“I don’t know about all those bridges in Perris,” Carlton Lofgren said, pointing at overpasses planned for the route to connect Perris streets around the parkway. “Bridges are a lot more expensive than they think. You’ve got to maintain them and mow around them. That might be a problem.”

Still Meeting

Opponents and supporters of the plan have chances to comment on the plan, including two public hearings Thursday and Nov. 12. Transportation commission officials will also accept comments via e-mail and postal mail until Dec. 8.

Transportation commission deputy director John Standiford said a request by critics in the Lake Mathews area for a meeting in their neighborhood is also under consideration. Standiford said the possible meeting would be held later this month, and likely organized by Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster.

Buster, who represents the area where some of the strongest opposition is centered, said he is skeptical of the parkway’s planning.

“The more I look into it, the more questions and problems I have with it,” Buster said Friday.

Nearby Cajalco Road is already planned for widening to four lanes, Buster said, which might be capable of handling at least short-term growth. Buster questioned why transportation officials are forging ahead on a major roadway that has about $300 million of the $3 billion price tag accounted for, and years before it can be built.

“There is no money in sight for this road,” Buster said. “To put over all those threats of eminent domain around these people just is not right when we can expand Cajalco. … I’m all for future planning, but this seems like the worst kind of planning.”

After the comment period on the draft environmental reports closes in December, officials must compile the comments and start the yearlong process of finalizing the report. Local, state and federal officials must sign off on the report.

The 32-member county transportation commission will decide which route will be used after the final report is finished, probably in late 2009.

The Press-Enterprise:

COPYRIGHT © 2010 Arthur J. Hazarabedian, Esq.