Needles Votes To Use Eminent Domain Against 14 Property Owners

(November 13)  More than sixty people showed up at  the irregularly scheduled Wednesday night city council meeting a day after Veterans day to attend the public hearing held by the city of Needles with the intent to adopt a “resolution of necessity” to acquire multiple properties by eminent domain on a main route through the shrinking town that includes a portion of Route 66.
Though 14 properties were being considered for the imminent domain proceedings, only two property owners objected to the city’s findings of necessity.
Chuck Dewald, the city engineer, maintained that the city needs the property to improve  traffic flow through town. The  project consists of installing traffic light indicators at three corners, J Street and Broadway, Broadway and Needles Highway, and Needles Highway and K Street, Dewald said. This flow pattern and alignment was conceived of in 2005 and at that time was considered to be the most reasonable and least disruptive to the people in the city, while not bypassing the community as an alternative configuration, which would have which involved a very costly construction of an overpass from J Street to the bridge over the Colorado River.   The project is scheduled to begin when construction plans and specifications plans  are 100 percent, Dewald said, and must get approval from the California Department of Transportation, known by its acronym Caltrans.
The city is looking at an October 2015 start date for the project, which is to be funded by money put up by the city along with federal matching funds. There is also an agreement with the county of San Bernardino for shared funding for the cost of engineering services. Concern was expressed by some members of the council that if the project did not proceed, the city would have to reimburse the county and repay grant money to the state that was previously obtained and has been husbanded for the project.
Craig Bono, who lives at 1400 Needles Highway and has property involved in the project, questioned the city engineer about the integrity of power lines in the face of high winds and whether the lines would be undergrounded. Dewald said there was no intent to put any of the power lines underground except possibly at K Street and Needles Highway where they might interfere with the traffic signal.
Also at the hearing, two of the parties owning property to be seized lodged protests, questioning  the city’s true need for the property in question.  Among the properties to be seized is property owned by Mayer Edward Paget who recused himself from conducting the hearing. Councilman Terry Campbell wielded the gavel in his absence.
Paget’s wife, Jan Paget, speaking for the owners, testified that the frontage of their corner property at K and Broadway was being taken and was not needed for the project.
Ruth and Robert J. Lopez were the only party to submit written protests and both also gave testimony at the hearing that their corner frontage at Broadway and River Road was also being taken and not needed by the city for the identified purpose, which is to install a traffic signal indicator, saying that the city already controls that land.   They objected that the entire frontage of their corner lot was being taken for an alleged purpose of one traffic control devise and that was too much and that the language in the grant of easement left for wiggle room and allowed for more land to be taken as the city desired, for any purpose with no definite end date.   They testified that the clouded title and encumbrance would diminish the value of their property and leave them with uncertainty, subject to the whim of fleeting city councils, and maintained that the city’s designs on their property go beyond the immediate project needs.
The Lopez’s asserted that the seizure was a violation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights “to the extent that an arbitrary, unfair, or unjust taking of someone’s property is not allowed, even if the taking is for the public use and the property owner is compensated,” according to their written protest.
Ultimately, however, the city council voted unanimously 5-0 to approve the resolution of necessity and voted in summary to proceed with eminent domain on all of the listed properties.  Mayor Paget who ran unopposed and was re-elected on Nov. 2, abstained due to a potential conflict of interest. Three of the council members who voted, Shawn Gudmonson, Campbell and Linda Kidd have been voted out of office as of  November 4 election but will not leave until the end of November.
After the meeting, Bob Lopez stated, “Despite our objection and evidence that the taking was unnecessary and that they already control plenty of room for installation of traffic signals, they just voted to take the mayor’s property, my property and about a dozen other properties tonight. The taking is open-ended and allows them to come back for more land if they so desire, for a variety of purposes, including facilities, even though they may not be immediately necessary for this project.”
Lopez noted, “This will cause the impacted land owners trouble by clouding title on our private holdings, potentially diminishing the value of the property. It will be interesting to see what the city intends to do with the property, since the frontage is not needed for a traffic signal.”
While many in the audience were there to see hear the outcome the public hearing on the necessity of the public taking of private land, many were more interested in staying for the hearing that followed, which was  to consider  evidence and testimony for or against enacting new city legislation that (a) prohibits medical cannabis cooperatives or collectives but (b) grants limited immunity from said prohibition to those cooperatives/collectives that are in existence and operating within the city at the time the article is adopted and which comply with the requirements set forth by the city.

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