5/13/2007

City begins eminent domain process: Highland CA Community News, 5/9/07

By Michael Sorba

City Council members voted 4-0 Tuesday night, with Councilwoman Penny Lilburn absent, to file eminent domain proceedings to acquire three pieces of property they say are needed to make street improvements at Victoria and Highland avenues.

The city is attempting to acquire one piece of property at Tony's Jewelry and Loan, a pawn shop at 26492 Highland Ave. owned by Richard and Darlien To.

The other two pieces of property the city wants to acquire are owned by Balbir Jhawar. One of the pieces includes the Arco gas station Jhawar owns at the northwest corner of Highland and Victoria avenues.

The city wants the piece of property to remove it and install a southbound right-turn lane on Victoria Avenue.

Jhawar's attorney, Roger Walker, acted as his spokesman during Tuesday's Council meeting. “The proposed construction is not a minor inconvenience,” Walker told the Council. “It will cause irreparable harm to the business. Approval of this decision would put Mr. Jhawar out of business.”

Walker says if the chunk of the station is removed and replaced with a right-turn lane fuel delivery trucks will no longer have access to the station, effectively eliminating Jhawar's ability to run a gas station business.

The city notified Jhawar of its intention around six months ago, Walker said. City Engineer Ernie Wong said an appraisal offer has been made for the piece of property itself, but a “good will” appraisal that provides a dollar amount for the impact on the business has not been made.

Jhawar says a gas station typically costs about $1.5 million to establish and that is the dollar amount he would like from the city. However, he says city officials have instructed him not to disclose what dollar amounts have been discussed in negotiations. “I'd be awfully surprised of they (city) came with that amount ($1.5 million),” said Walker.

“Negotiations are still taking place,” said Wong. “No amount has been finalized.”

The Council's staff report says the properties are needed due to “public interest and necessity.” They will allow the city to widen Victoria Avenue south to Highland Avenue and provide curb, gutter and sidewalk for Highland Avenue west of Victoria Avenue.

The improvements will accommodate the increase in traffic that has resulted from development of the city and the expansion of San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino that have occurred over the past five years, Wong said.


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