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District votes to purchase homes through eminent domain; Santa Monica Daily Press, 6/27/09

By Melodi Hanatani

 District officials on Thursday voted to acquire two homes through eminent domain for the expansion of Edison Language Academy after months of negotiations with the property owners failed to yield results.

The Board of Education adopted a resolution to begin a process that through court-authority gives government entities the power to purchase private land for public use as long as the owner is compensated at fair market value. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will have six months from the time of adoption to file the necessary paperwork in court.

The Maruyama and Hernandez families, who own houses at 2508 and 2512 Virginia Ave. respectively, sat solemnly in the back row of the board room during the meeting, watching as officials cast their vote in support of the resolution.

“I was just hoping that they would go our way, thinking they will have a little heart,” Mary Hernandez said after the meeting.

The mother of four children moved into the three bedroom, one bathroom home 43 years ago, renting it until 1999 when she finally purchased the property from the landlord.

It was the perfect home for the family at the time, a big house in a safe neighborhood, she said.

“I don’t even want to think about not living there,” Hernandez said. “It’s going to be hard.”

Oscar de la Torre was the lone member who voted in opposition, saying he understands the need for an improved Edison, but couldn’t come to terms with displacing two families who represent the ethnic and socio-economic diversity that makes Santa Monica unique.

“The acquisition of the land is a benefit for the future of public education in the community and I respect everyone’s vote, but for me personally it was something that I just couldn’t do,” de la Torre said. “My hope is that because the real estate market has opened up, there will be other housing opportunities in Santa Monica for these families. People will be compensated the fair amount, but this is still somebody’s home and that was why this was so difficult.”

The properties in question abut the northeast corner of the elementary school, which is slated to be reconstructed.

The district has already offered Shinobu Maruyama, whose family has owned the house since 1952, $1.89 million for the property, which is right next door to the school. Hernandez, who lives on the other side of Maruyama, has received an offer for $1.99 million.

“As of this date, in spite of the district’s good faith efforts at negotiated acquisition, no agreements have been reached with Maruyama and Hernandez,” a staff report for the June 25 meeting said. The report also stated that it has always been the district’s preference to purchase the homes through negotiations, not eminent domain.

Officials believe that acquisition is necessary to bring the size of the school’s campus, which is 4.9 acres, closer to the California Department of Education’s standard of 7.8 acres. Adding the two parcels will bring the total acreage to 5.5.

Including the pair of houses, which will create a square-shaped campus, will also allow the school to maximize its play space by locating all the preschool and elementary classrooms to one side, the staff report said.

Campus reconstruction has long been a dream for the Edison community, which has raised concerns about the many physical challenges at the school, including cracks in foundation and the fact that many classrooms are in portable structures.

The school, a dual language institution where courses are taught in English and Spanish, has been fixed up in pieces over the past several years through donations from parents, who have given time and money to build a new courtyard and play area.

The new campus will include 27 classrooms for grades K-5, along with new basketball courts and playgrounds. A new drop-off and pick-up lane, which will include room for 12 parallel parking spaces, will also be constructed.

Lawrence Maruyama, who lives with his mother Shinobu and attended Edison before it was a language academy, said he is waiting on some outside funding that he believes will let him keep the house and allow the district to consider a different set of plans that would include acquiring multifamily residential buildings on both sides of the campus.

Maruyama said he could not disclose further details of the funds, but hopes they come through sometime late next week.

“My mother doesn’t want to move,” Maruyama said. “It’s the house of my grandparents.”

The district staff report said that the current proposal would be the lesser of expensive options and displace fewer number of families.

In condemning the properties, which is a declaration that the land will be converted for public use through eminent domain, the district must make several findings, including showing that the parcels are needed for the project. The district will also have to prove that the project “is planned or located in a manner that will be most compatible with the great public good and least private injury,” the staff report said.

During the eminent domain trial, a judge will determine the fair market value of the two properties. If the owners challenge the district’s intentions to purchase the properties, the judge will also rule whether the SMMUSD has legal rights to do so.

If the judge sides with the district, the ruling will go into a final order of condemnation, which will then be issued to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder to change the properties’ titles.

Maruyama said that if the funding does not come through and the district acquires his home through eminent domain, the family will most likely move out of town, calling Santa Monica unaffordable.

“If funding doesn’t come through then I’ll probably have to invite them (Hernandez) to come visit us in Las Vegas,” Maruyama said.

Santa Monica Daily Press:

Castaic keeps waiting; The Signal, 6/28/09

Giving up on one site, the Hart district is eyeing other possible high school locations

By Tammy Marashlian

It’s back to the drawing board again as the William S. Hart Union High School District has decided not to pursue the Sterling-Gateway location as a future site for a Castaic high school.

“Realistically, I don’t really think we have much choice but to move on,” Superintendent Jaime Castellanos said in a phone interview last week. “I don’t think we’re going to get the Valencia Commerce Center on board. They’re asking us to not put the school there.”

The issues stem from land-use restrictions, which prevent a public or private high school from being built on the Sterling-Gateway property. The land borders the Valencia Commerce Center.

Castellanos does not think the restriction will be waived by officials with The Newhall Land and Farming Company given the opposition from business owners and property owners in the Valencia Commerce Center.

Businesses are concerned that a high school built in the industrial area would create too much traffic and student safety hazards.
Business owners were pleased with the district’s decision.

Jerry Gonzalez, president of Maria Elena’s Authentic Latino Inc., located on Avenue Sherman, said he applauded the district for doing the right thing.

“It just didn’t make sense to put a high school within such close proximity,” he said.

Others were critical of the Hart district for taking Sterling-Gateway off the list of potential high school sites.

Tony Bouza, who represents Hunt Williams, the owner of the Sterling-Gateway location, was surprised that the Hart district is not considering the location anymore.

Any concerns or issues with the location of the high school could have been resolved, he said.

“This really is the right location for a school and there is no reason for it not to be there,” he said.

Castaic has been waiting for a high school for some nine years.

Besides the advantages to the community of Castaic, the high school is needed to relieve overcrowding at West Ranch and Valencia high schools, to which Castaic residents drive their students daily.

“It’s unbelievably disappointing,” said Renee Sabol, chair of the land-use committee for the Castaic Area Town Council, which has long fought for a high school in Castaic.

She said more should have been done to meet the needs of the business owners in the Valencia Commerce Center, rather than giving up on the Sterling-Gateway site.

“I don’t think that anyone formed any sort of committee to listen to any of their concerns and mitigate them,” she said.

Hart district officials have met with Newhall Land and Farming, which issued the land-use restrictions, and the association of business owners in the Valencia Commerce Center to mitigate the concerns, Castellanos said.

For Sabol, it’s the Castaic community that’s ultimately hurt.

“This community has been jerked around on this subject for too many years,” she said.

Sabol favored the Sterling-Gateway site because it had adequate access to roads and utilities and wasn’t in the middle of a residential area.

“All of us went into this with the best of intentions,” she said. “All of us really did think that we had found the right site and that this is the right place to go.”

Whatever the next site will be, the Hart district would like to get the support of the Castaic Area Town Council, Castellanos said.

The council, an elected advisory body representing Castaic and Val Verde, previously endorsed the Sterling-Gateway site.

The district is again looking at properties that were previously discussed for a high school site, including the Hasley Sloan site, which is owned by the Santa Clarita Valley Facilities Foundation.

The foundation is a non-profit organization that assists the Hart district with purchasing and developing school sites.

Other sites include Romero Canyon, school board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine said during a Democratic Alliance for Action meeting Thursday.

“I am confident that we will come to some agreement,” she said.

The Hart district also plans to open discussions with Hunt Williams about land near a residential community just south of Del Valle Road, Castellanos said.

When asked about the possibility of initiating eminent domain for the Sterling-Gateway site, Mercado-Fortine said, “That would be difficult. We’d be faced with lawsuits.”

While everybody seems to want a high school for Castaic, “Nobody wants a high school in their backyard,” Mercado-Fortine said. “That’s the bottom line.”

By considering another site, the Hart district is able to keep to its timeline to have a high school for the Castaic community by 2013, Castellanos said.

“I don’t want to keep putting our hopes on the commerce property,” Castellanos said. “The longer we wait, the longer it makes the high school wait.”

The Signal:

Indio set to use eminent domain; The Desert Sun, 6/12/09

By Xochitl Peña

The city plans to use eminent domain to acquire the final property needed to begin major road renovations along Monroe Street from Avenue 49 to Avenue 52.

After about a year of negotiations, the property owner, Muriel Weiner, and the city have not been able to agree on a purchase price.

The Indio City Council last week approved the use of eminent domain, which allows a city to take private property for public use.

Mark Wasserman, assistant to the Indio city manager, said the improving Monroe Street is a priority for the city.

These particular improvements from Avenues 49 to 52 run from the La Quinta border, past the Empire Polo Club to the south side of Indian Palms Country Club.

“Obviously with the two music festivals (Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the Stagecoach Country Music Festival) right there it’s very important to get people in and out of the festival quickly and safely,” Wasserman said.

The improvement plan is to eventually transform that rural stretch of road into a five-lane street with two lanes each way, a turning lane, Americans with Disabilities Act-approved sidewalks, gutters and a multi-use trail that runs alongside the polo fields.

Jim Collins, chief executive officer of Include Me, Inc., a nonprofit agency that provides services for persons with disabilities, appreciates the construction of sidewalks in that area.

“You have no pedestrian path of travel between Avenue 50 and Avenue 52 at this point,” said Collins, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. “There’s no way for anyone to get to any of the events at the polo (fields). I’d have to roll in Monroe Street with cars going by at 35 to 50 mph.”

Michael S. Kahn, attorney for the owner, said his client supports the public use of the land, but does not think the city is offering a fair price.

“We belive it’s worth more than the $32,000 they are now offering,” he said.

His client had an independent appraisal conducted that came in at slightly more than $100,000, Kahn said.

The city in October offered Weiner $62,500 for her two parcels — one is 7,980 square feet and the other is 152 square feet — based on appraisals conducted in late 2007 and August 2008.

Then on March 11, the city rescinded that offer based on updated appraisals taken and reduced its offer to $32,182.

City officials say the changes in the real estate market prompted the city to re-appraise the parcels.

Wasserman said the improvements to that area will be done in two phases. The first phase is estimated to cost $1.5 million and will include drainage improvements and the undergrounding of utilities.

He said the goal is to have those completed in time for the concerts this coming in the spring.

The second phase is estimated to cost $1.7 million and would include the road widening, sidewalks, landscaping and the trail, and would be complete by spring 2011.

Funding for the improvements will come from the state gas tax and voter approved Measure A funds.

“The council said four years ago roads were their top priority. We’ve continued to use those as our guiding principals,” Wasserman said.

 The Desert Sun:

COPYRIGHT © 2010 Arthur J. Hazarabedian, Esq.