Council puts eminent domain use on hold

ESCONDIDO — A resolution to begin the process of eminent domain was put on hold by the City Council during its Oct. 21 meeting.

The item concerns a project for lane widening and adding sound walls along East Valley Parkway and Valley Center Road.

Two residents, Peter and Matthew Jauregui, spoke to the council urging them to table the item or hold off for 30 days since they only received a financial offer 12 days prior to the council meeting.

Peter Jauregui said the paperwork from the city was accidentally sent to his former business partner, who died several years ago. In addition, the partner sold his stake years ago.

The Jauregui’s reasoning in asking the delay, however, was not an objection to the project, but to make sure they received fair compensation for the city taking the land.

An attorney for another party said his client had not received the notice of intent from the city. Like the Jauregui’s, this unidentified client was not opposed to the project, but their attorney wanted to make certain the city followed the law with proper notification and begin negotiations.

The attorney also stated the meeting was the first time he heard the soundwalls were voluntary.

As for the council, they, too, stressed the importance of using eminent domain as a last result. Councilwoman Olga Diaz questioned the city’s real property manager, Debbie Lundy, about the timeline and urgency of moving straight to eminent domain.

Diaz said historically the council has tried to avoid eminent domain and use it only as a “last resort” and it “didn’t happen in this case.”

Councilman John Masson also asked if the city and the affected parties could negotiate in good faith for 30 days, and if it would hurt any funding.

Lundy said the city may risk losing up to $700,000 in grant funding from the Highway Safety and Improvement funds along with right of way interests for the project if specific timelines are not met. She added those deadlines expire by the end of the calendar year. Lundy also said the city should approve the resolution and still negotiate with property owners concurrently.

In a memo to the council from Lundy, she reports the city has “made contact” with each property owner to ensue negotiations and has acquired four easements from two of the owners; although “staff continues to negotiate with four remaining property owners.”

City Attorney Jeff Epp said the city could echoed the latter saying the city could begin the process, which takes time, while discussing compensation. However, he later recommended the city table the issue to allow staff to dig deeper into the problems before proceeding.

Matthew Jauregui, though, said if the city were to approve the motion, it would force him to retain a lawyer and “box him in a corner.” The native Escondido resident said he would like to avoid such a scenario and urged the council for an extension to review his options as well as his counteroffer to the city.

The project, meanwhile, includes widening the street to six lanes, a raised median, a bike lane, curb, gutter and sidewalks in each direction.

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