Transit district uses eminent domain powers in San Marcos — North County (CA) Times, 1/21/05

By Paul Sisson

Despite vocal opposition from some San Marcos residents, the North County Transit District used its eminent domain powers Thursday to clear the way for a short section of rail that will some day be part of the Sprinter light rail project.

The transit district board voted 8-0, with member county Supevisor Bill Horn absent, to "extinguish" public easements on a short section of Walnut Hills Drive. Property owners living adjacent to the area were paid $1,000 each in compensation.

The transit district already owns the underlying ground and will soon build railroad tracks across Walnut Hills Drive as part of the San Marcos loop, which in turn is part of the 22-mile Sprinter light rail project from Oceanside to Escondido.

San Marcos residents took a public hearing on the matter Thursday as an opportunity to protest both the existence of the Sprinter's San Marcos loop and also the transit district's plans to close Shelly Drive, a nearby thoroughfare. The city of San Marcos has already sued the transit district over its plans to flex its eminent domain muscles and close Shelly Drive rather than construct a concrete railroad bridge over the street and leave it open.

Kathleen Sloan, who lives in the Walnut Hills neighborhood, called the $1,000 payment she will receive as compensation for loss of her easement rights on Walnut Hills Drive too little.

As many San Marcos residents have in the last year, Sloan noted that closing Shelly Drive will isolate a nearby neighborhood and will lengthen response times for emergency services.

"This is not in the best interest of the public," Sloan said."It will create an emergency nightmare."

She said the transit district should be willing to reconsider its plans for Shelly Drive.

"This is not an issue to be bull-headed about," she said. "Great ideas start with a plan that is open to change."

Patrick Yates, who also lives in the Walnut Hills neighborhood, said he is worried that having Sprinter trains zooming through San Marcos could hurt local property values. He said he had no idea that the Sprinter was headed for San Marcos until recently.

"I, like many other residents, was not made aware of the Sprinter when I moved in. If I had been, I don't think I would have bought the property,"

After hearing from the public, Jerome Stocks, a transit district board member and Encinitas city councilman, noted that the matter before the board was whether to extinguish property's owner's easements on Walnut Hills Drive, not whether to keep Shelly Drive open.

"Whether Shelly Drive remains open or is closed is irrelevant to our action today," Stocks said.

Hal Martin, a San Marcos city councilman recently appointed to the NCTD board of directors, said he believed that residents deserved more than $1,000 in exchange for losing their easement rights on Walnut Hills Drive.

"I do believe that a thousand dollars is not just compensation," Martin said.

However, Martin ended up voting for using eminent domain Thursday.

"The loop is going to happen. You can't stop the loop in my opinion," Martin said.

North County Times: www.nctimes.com