11/30/2007

Owner on Mooney fights Caltrans on eminent domain: Visalia CA Times-Delta, 10/17/07

Visalia man losing land to make room for bus stop

By Gerald Carroll

A Visalia property owner says he stands to lose more than $1 million if Caltrans follows through on the eminent-domain seizure of a strip of his Mooney Boulevard parcel.

Dave McWilliams' 33,000-square-foot property is located in the 3700 block of South Mooney Boulevard, near Costco and Circuit City. On Sept. 11, Tulare County Superior Court Judge Patrick O'Hara ruled that Caltrans could acquire a 4,874-square-foot portion of the property to make room for a bus stop.

The stop, which includes a bus bay, is part of an overall widening project for that portion of Mooney.

Caltrans would take the front 10 feet of a tile store but leave the rest to McWilliams.

"That bus stop will seal off any access to my property from Mooney," McWilliams said Tuesday, "rendering it worthless and impossible to sell."

Because of the parcel's proximity to a major retail center, McWilliams said, he's received "hundreds" of offers to buy that spot over the years.

"The offers have been anywhere from $700,000 to nearly $1 million," he said. "That's what I stand to lose here."

Caltrans offered $87,732 for the strip of property nearest Mooney. But its appraiser placed a value of zero dollars on the building, court documents say.

The building is insured for $224,000 and is "probably worth a lot more than that," the owner said.

The no-value appraisal represents "theft, plain and simple," McWilliams said.

The building now is rented by Rubio's Ceramic Tiles. McWilliams said he stands to lose $45,000 a year in rent.

No one will buy the property without direct access to Mooney, he said.

"It's a lost cause," McWilliams said.

Rubio's will be given a "relocation allowance" of $10,000 or more by Caltrans, Rubio's Manager Oswaldo Angulo said.

The tile shop will relocate to 1324 S. Mooney Blvd. by the end of the week, he said.

Caltrans relocation agent Rita Velazco-Dias visited McWilliams' property Tuesday with Walnut Creek-based appraiser Roland Burchard and other Caltrans officials. McWilliams, who said he was confused by the appraiser's presence, denied the officials access.

"Why bring in an appraiser when Caltrans has already appraised the value of the building as zero and has already seized the land?" McWilliams asked.

The Caltrans representatives called Visalia police. After extensive discussions with the parties involved, Visalia Police Sgt. Corey Sumpter advised McWilliams to seek legal advice.

"No appraisal will take place today," he told Burchard.

No arrests were made.

Caltrans spokeswoman Gloria Sammaniego said the legal process involved in the eminent-domain proceedings has not reached the point of physical eviction.

"The [judge's] ruling does allow us to enter the property at any time and take any actions deemed necessary," Sammaniego said. "We chose the most logical course today under the circumstances."

Sammaniego said Caltrans officials will meet today to decide what their next step will be.


Visalia CA Times-Delta: http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com