Eminent domain still possible for proposed transit center land: Santa Maria CA Times, 9/26/06

By Malia Spencer

Santa Maria city officials are continuing talks to purchase nearly three acres for the eventual location of a municipal transit center, even as they are taking steps that could trigger eminent-domain proceedings against a local land company.

The 2.8-acre site, at the southeast corner of East Boone and South Miller streets, was identified as the future location of the city's “intermodal transit center.” City staff have been in negotiations with the property owner, La Brea Land Company, for about a year to acquire the site.

The city made an offer in mid-August, and La Brea Land has made a counter offer, officials said. Neither the city nor the landowner would comment on their respective offers.

Though talks are continuing, the city is preparing a “resolution of necessity” to take to the City Council on Oct. 3.

The resolution is the first step in the eminent-domain process. Eminent domain is the power of government agencies to take private land for a public project as long as the landowner is compensated.

“Until we resolve the matter and an offer is accepted we are proceeding with a resolution of necessity,” said Santa Maria Principle Engineer Bruce Nybo.

He added that the city does not want to take the issue to the next level and proceed to court. Instead officials want to continue talks with the land company.

“We anticipate an amicable settlement,” Nybo said.

Michael Parry, president of La Brea Land, acknowledged that eminent domain is a threat, but added he hopes further talks will render a fair solution.

“(Eminent domain) is definitely the route they will take if they have to,” Parry said of the city. “We hope it is not necessary.”

He added that any complications with the negotiations have been addressed and solutions are proposed in the counter offer.

If the two sides are to continue negotiations, then why look at eminent domain?

The answer, according to Nybo, can be found on the Nov. 7 ballot and Proposition 90.

The Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property initiative would amend the state constitution to alter the rules allowing government to take private property.

Should the new provisions pass in November, Nybo said, it shouldn't affect the city's plans, but with a resolution already approved, the project could be grandfathered in.

This is the second time eminent-domain proceedings have been suggested for this piece of property.

The first suggestion for a possible resolution of necessity came in September 2005 when the city was offered a 30-year land lease for the property.

However, after city staff went over the numbers, the City Council decided to pursue purchasing the land - even if it meant going to court.

Once the property sale is worked out, the site will be home to the city's transit center, which would offer a central location for riders of Santa Maria Area Transit, the Guadalupe Flyer, the Amtrak shuttle, San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority and the Breeze.

Initial project plans propose a 3,000-square-foot building, an 87,000-square-foot parking and loading area, and 53,000 square feet of landscaping.

Talks between the city and La Brea are occurring at the same time as the pending sale of the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, which owns La Brea Land. However, the land company is not part of the railroad sale.

Any eminent-domain proceedings are not expected to complicate the sale of the railroad, which is expected to be finalized and made public in the next week, Parry said.

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