2/18/2007

Osgood Road residents battling eminent domain: Fremont CA Argus, 2/16/07

By Chris De Benedetti

The stretch of Osgood Road between Washington Boulevard and Auto Mall Parkway [in Fremont] has a problem with consistency, given its scattered mixture of uses and its physical layout.

The major traffic artery in south Fremont goes from two lanes to four lanes and back again, and the road is dotted with a melange of businesses and older homes, some of which have been around longer than the city itself.

But some property owners facing the threat of a forcible acquisition of their land under the city's eminent domain powers say Fremont officials themselves have been inconsistent.

Homeowners charge that city-hired appraisers have not made fair land appraisals that match current Fremont property values.

"I don't have a problem with the project — the street needs to be widened," said Tammy Robertson, who has lived in her home for 42 years. "What I have a problem with is the methods used in developing the value of those properties on Osgood Road and the total disregard for the property owners and residents."

Robertson may lose part of her land, property she feels is worth more than twice what the city offered her. Some residents also complain that city staff members "have been unreasonable and unfair" while conducting negotiations and disseminating information with property owners.

"They said everyone (on Osgood) is being offered the same amount of money, but they're not," said Jerry Foster, owner of Foster's Quality First, an Osgood Road business.

Added Jan Sparks, Foster's office manager: "Getting complete information from (city) staff has been extremely difficult, and each representation made by them seems to fall apart when we question it."

Sparks and Robertson also separately objected to the fact that the city-hired appraiser compared land outside of Fremont, including vacant land in Hayward, to the land along Osgood Road when trying determine its just value.

Randy Sabado, the city of Fremont's real property manager, has been leading the city's negotiations with Osgood Road property owners.

Sabado said he could not discuss details of the negotiations. But he defended the city's work, saying that city staff members have followed standard methods, in terms of appraisals and land-acquisition processes.

"Appraisers have to look at properties that have been sold recently," City Attorney Harvey Levine said. "One reason for looking outside of Fremont for vacant land sales of comparable size is that they are not very common in Fremont."

Out of 25 property owners, Fremont officials have made offers to 17. All but three of those 17 have agreed to settle with the city, Levine said.

"We'll be making offers in the next couple of weeks to the remaining property owners," Sabado added.

Osgood Road is a major artery that borders several neighborhoods in south Fremont.

The $6.2 million street-widening project would give it a uniform four lanes between Washington Boulevard and Auto Mall Parkway. The project also would give it a two-way left-turn lane, bicycle lanes and sidewalks.

It also would help absorb the increase in traffic on Osgood Road, which is traveled by more than 24,000 automobiles per day, City Engineer Norm Hughes said.

During rush hour, it really backs up, Hughes said.

Preliminary construction may start as early as July, when PG&E poles will be relocated. Construction to widen the street may begin by September, Hughes said.

The City Council on Tuesday followed city staff members' recommendation and approved using eminent domain powers to acquire property for the project.

It will affect people but it will not displace anyone, Councilmember Anu Natarajan said. "It's a hard decision, but one that (it) looks like we have to make," Natarajan said before Tuesday's meeting.

If there is a silver lining, Councilmember Bill Harrison contended, it is that the project should make Osgood Road safer, which may help improve all the landowners' property values.

"This is not us against the city," Sparks said while addressing the City Council. "It should be teamwork so we can move toward a long-term process to make Fremont successful."

Robertson also addressed council members Tuesday.

"I just wish the residents (in Fremont) could get a quarter of the respect given to developers," she said. "I may not pay a lot of taxes, but it does not mean that my rights are any less than that of anybody else."


Fremont CA Argus: http://www.insidebayarea.com/argus