Eminent domain proceedings might be necessary to develop basin project: Yucaipa CA News-Mirror, 6/27/07

By Michael Quigley

The Yucaipa City Council has authorized city staff and the city attorney to begin eminent domain proceeding against three landowners who live on Panorama Drive in Yucaipa.

The land in question lies at the bottom of the bluff that frames the south side of the wash running west toward Bryant Street, just north off Panorama Drive.

The city intends to develop a series of three catch basins in this area, both for flood control and to channel runoff water into the groundwater supply. The city also intends to develop recreational facilities as part of the project, known as the Oak Glen Creek/Wilson II Basins Project.

The recreational element would include a system of trails and one or more picnic areas as well as signage to inform the public about the natural features of the area.

Several property owners on Panorama Drive have already agreed to sell property at the base of the bluff behind their land. Three property owners have not agreed to sell their land, however. It is not clear to what extent if any, price is an issue. When asked about this, Public Works Director Ray Casey responded, “You'll have to ask the owners about that.”

At least one of the holdouts, Carol Holder, said that her reluctance was not related to money. “I'm concerned primarily about my safety and privacy,” Holder said.

Currently, the public is barred from the wash area below Holder's property. With the development of the basin project, however, including the recreational component, the public will be able to traverse this area on a daily basis. “There's going to be traffic down there that's never been there before,” Holder added.

Casey noted that the bluff running along the south side of the wash is at least 20 feet and in some places as much as 30 feet high.

The basic principle of eminent domain, the public taking of private property, is that the taking should be done in such a way as to maximize the public good and, at the same time, if possible, minimize private injury.

The development of flood control facilities and the regeneration of the underground water supply are important public benefits and the financial harm to the land owners may be negligible, since the land in question could not reasonably be developed commercially.

The primary injury to the land owners is one of diminished privacy. The argument about diminished privacy and the maintenance of a quieter, more rural atmosphere has been made over and over with respect to almost every proposed development above Bryant Street.

The difference in this case is that the city isn't building more houses.

As for the habitat and the wild, scenic beauty of the existing wash, some changes are inevitable. No endangered or threatened species have been found in the area, however, and the city plans to re-vegetate the developed areas around the basins in a manner as consistent as possible with the original environment.

“The primary purpose of this project is to provide for flood control,” Casey said.

“But the goals and design of the project are far more comprehensive,” he added.

Casey did say that he would speak with Holder and any of the other property holders interested about fencing along the base of the bluff that would ensure more safety and privacy.

Yucaipa CA News-Mirror: http://www.newsmirror.net