By Miguel Gonzalez
Despite property owners' objections, the Victorville City Council approved exercising eminent domain to acquire five parcels owned by three developers that currently stand in the way of rail spur construction.
A unanimous vote in favor of eminent domain, with Councilman Terry Caldwell absent, will now allow the city to keep constructing the project, which is slated to be completed by late 2006.
The project also includes construction of an underpass under National Trails Highway just before Turner Road, and the laying of rail at a cost of $25 million, according to spokeswoman Yvonne Hester.
Mayor Mike Rothschild said the city did not determine prices offered to the owners of the parcels. He said a judge will set the prices the city must pay for the land it acquires under eminent domain.
"We can't cheat anybody because a court determines the prices that are paid for properties," Rothschild said.
The proposal to start the process of eminent domain was suggested by City Attorney Andre de Bortnowski, who said there is a "public necessity" to acquire the property.
Robert Morris, a lawyer and son of property owner Gary Morris, said the city offered $79,000 for three of his father's parcels in the area.
"We are talking about eight acres of land that are valued around $800,000. We are willing to sell, but their offer was simply an insult," Morris said. "If they (the city) want to take this approach with us, it will be a long time before the rail spur gets constructed."
Councilman Rudy Cabriales said the city is simply following a process that will not stop negotiations with the three owners in question.
"We will continue to look for a solution through negotiations. This is a project that will end up benefiting everybody," Cabriales said.
The construction of the rail spur has been touted as the final piece of the puzzle that will make the Southern California Logistics Airport a full intermodal location for companies that will bring thousands of jobs to the area, according to Rothschild.
Morris said all he was looking for was a fair offer and, until he gets one, the issue will continue to be contested.
"I live in court, so let's go to court on this issue," he said.
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