Pipe ruling called important for eminent domain: Riverside CA Press-Enterprise, 7/23/07

By John F Berry

San Bernardino-based Campus Crusade for Christ Inc. will get another shot at an estimated $12.5 million in compensation for land taken via eminent domain after the state Supreme Court said Monday that the case should be heard by a jury.

"We're very happy with the decision," Campus Crusade attorney Scott Heil said. "We're getting the crack we should have had in the first place."

Joseph Vanderhorst, deputy general counsel for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said he was disappointed in the ruling.

Monday's 7-0 unanimous decision is the latest development in the decade-long dispute between Campus Crusade and the Metropolitan Water District.

The ruling is also a victory for private property owners throughout California, said Charles Doskow, a University of La Verne law professor who specializes in eminent-domain issues.

Doskow said property owners want to have their cases heard by juries instead of decided by judges.

"They believe they have a better chance of getting a generous verdict with a jury," Doskow said.

The Legislature could eventually change laws based on this case, he said.

"This stands as an instruction to any judge who tries this kind of case," Doskow said. "Everybody is bound by it."

In 1997, MWD used eminent domain to acquire the right to tunnel under 1,824 acres owned by Campus Crusade at the Arrowhead Springs Hotel in northern San Bernardino, court papers said.

In 2002, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John Wade ruled that representatives from Campus Crusade could not present evidence to a jury about the value of the property that the water district wanted for the 12-foot-diameter water pipe.

The judge awarded Campus Crusade $479,000 in compensation, and the organization appealed. At one time, MWD offered $3.5 million, while Campus Crusade wanted $12.5 million.

In 2005, a three-judge panel from the state's 4th District Court of Appeal, Division 2, in Riverside nullified Wade's ruling and sent the case back for trial.

The panel said Wade overstepped his authority when he prevented the property owner from presenting evidence to a jury about the potential value of the land.

MWD appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court, which heard arguments May 29.

The case now returns to a San Bernardino County courtroom for a status conference Nov. 26, Superior Court records show.

On Monday, Vanderhorst said he was disappointed by the Supreme Court's ruling. He added, however, that he expects a jury will reach the same verdict as the judge did in 2002. He declined to say whether the water district would try to settle with Campus Crusade.

The pipeline is part of the almost 45-mile-long Inland Feeder Project that carries state water from Northern California from a junction just south of Silverwood Lake, to Diamond Valley Lake, near Hemet, through a series of underground pipes and tunnels.

Monday's decision said the now-completed pipe under Campus Crusade is buried hundreds of feet below ground along most of its route. It said the pipe does come within four feet of the surface in spots.

The entire Inland Feeder Project is expected to be completed in 2010, MDW spokesman Bob Muir said Monday.

MWD wholesales water to 26 governmental agencies that together provide water to 18 million people throughout six counties in Southern California, Muir said.

Muir said those customers could see an increase in their water bills in the wake of a high settlement. He declined to say how much.

Heil said the 24-page ruling is technical and helps to clarify the case.

"We need to fully digest the decision," Heil said. "It's a technical ruling, but within eminent-domain circles, it's a fairly important ruling."

Riverside CA Press-Enterprise: http://www.pe.com