The use of eminent domain has closed the casket on the Wilson Family Funeral Chapel [in Livermore CA], which will conduct its last funeral today.
The 1-acre lot on East Avenue has been handed over to neighboring Livermore High School to build new science classrooms. However, the transfer of land means the closure of a funeral home that has served locals for 40 years.
"We really thought we could petition the court for more time," said owner Judy Wilson. "It's really hard to close a business of 40 years in 90 days."
Wilson, 47, has run the home for 13 years. In 2002 it was honored as Small Business of the Year by the Livermore Chamber of Commerce.
"It's one of two (mortuaries); there are only two in town," Wilson said. "It's a large community, and now there will only be one. As much that it's a business, it's also a community service."
The battle between the school district and the Wilsons spans a few years when the Wilsons first offered the lot for sale in 2004. The school district showed interest, but the plot was soon taken off the market.
Attorneys for the Wilsons and the school district then went back and forth in negotiating a deal until May, when the Wilsons fired their attorney and retained an eminent domain specialist. That's when Wilson believed the school district was shortchanging them.
In October a court sided with the school district's appraisal of $2 million. The property legally changed hands Jan. 1, and the school district is waiting for the Wilsons to vacate.
The school district's attorney, Bob Thurbon, said the Wilsons can contest the appraisal in a hearing, which could be held later this year. But he said the property now belongs to the school district.
"They got $2 million, and now we got legal possession of the property," he said.
He said the Wilsons can counter with their own appraiser if they believe the process was unfair. The school district also is negotiating with adjacent resident Russell Greenlaw for his property.
"They should be able to challenge appraisals because that's their right," Thurbon said. "(Greenlaw) can get his own appraiser. Is it possible a different appraiser will make a different appraisal? Yes. But you can't get to that point unless you talk to us."
Meanwhile, Wilson feels she was victimized by eminent domain because the compensation isn't enough to buy another lot and start a new business.
"Most people like me have never heard of it," she said. "We all thought it was something they use to put roads through. Although this is a loss of a business for this community and my livelihood, this is an eminent domain issue, and the eminent domain laws are out of control. They decide they want property, and they just take it."
Wilson said she will miss the people she served.
"You get to know so many families in this town," she said. "You help them when they need it the most, when they're sad and upset. It's hard to think about not being here.
Werner Stone, a 16-year Livermore resident, called the closing of the funeral home "embarrassing." The home helped bury his father last year.
"These people are wonderful people," he said. "For what it's worth, hopefully the community will find out about this and come together to help them out. It's a shame."
With limited time to pack up, Wilson is focusing on the home's final three funerals.
"We have to contact families who have prepaid for their funeral here, return their money, their paperwork and help them find another place to have a funeral," she said.
She estimated she will have to track down hundreds of families.
"We have to reach each of them in every manner and tell them that we aren't here anymore," she said.
Pleasanton CA Tri-Valley Herald: http://www.insidebayarea.com/trivalleyherald