City to seize property via eminent domain: Hesperia (CA) Star, 2/8/05

By Beau Yarbrough

After a year of negotiations, the City of Hesperia [CA] is moving to forcibly acquire land it wants for road and drainage improvements on Sultana Street.

The land, on the north side of Sultana Street from Fuente Avenue to where it dead-ends at the California aqueduct, is to get public works improvements — including paving and storm drainage — as part of the improvements required in the construction of a 325-unit housing tract south of Sultana Street.

Forecast Homes contacted six separate property owners, but only five have sold the necessary portions of their properties to the company. A year after negotiations with the homeowners began, Forecast Homes asked the city to step in. The Hesperia City Council voted last Wednesday to begin eminent domain proceedings.

The legal seizure of the land won’t happen overnight, though.

“Nothing will happen quickly,” City Attorney Sam Crowe said at the meeting, noting that it would take “years to go to trial.”

In the meantime, the negotiations continue with the Guttman family trust, which owns the parcel of land.

“I don’t think there’s an argument with the street” going in,” Crowe said. “There might be an argument with the value.”

That is exactly the problem according to Bruce Guttman, who spoke at the meeting representing the Guttman family trust.

The County of San Bernardino appraised the 30-foot strip that will form the northern half of Sultana Street from Fuente Avenue to the aqueduct and runs the entire width of the parcel as being worth $500.

Guttman said the appraisal works out to less than a penny and a half per square foot. A later verbal offer from Forecast was $43,000, according to Guttman.

“That is not a realistic, viable offer for the property,” Guttman said, “But it’s a start, at least.”

The county appraised the land as having relatively little value “based on the fact that it’s totally unbuildable property,” City Engineer Mike Podegracz said later. The property is the continuation of a city street, the development code requires that “when the development occurs on the Guttman property ... it will be required to be street right-of-way. Because of that, it has a nominal value.”

Councilwoman Rita Vogler was the lone dissenter in the 4-1 council vote to exercise the right of eminent domain.

“I think we just jumped too fast on this,” Vogler said later. “The absolute last thing you ever want to do is take someone’s property.”

Hesperia Star: www.hesperiastar.com