After decades of disputes, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) in the San Francisco Bay Area is about to play their ace card as they run out of options. In an effort to open to the public the summit of Mount Umunhum, a former Air Force base, the open space agency plans to acquire two properties through the use of eminent domain.
This move would mark the first time the agency has used eminent domain in over two decades. The recommendation to pursue the use of eminent domain was voted on during a MROSD board meeting this Wednesday, Dec. 9.
The last time the agency pursued eminent domain, it faced such intense opposition and controversy that it later dropped the plan. In 1998, the agency drew up a plan to pressure nine elderly nuns in a Russian Orthodox Convent of Our Lady of Vladimir to sell 284 acres they owned.
The agency claims they are running out of options and have tried every avenue possible.
“We’ve gone through every possible iteration of a deal that we put together to do this. But this is the only thing we have left. We’ve tried everything else,” said Steve Abbors, the general manager of the district.
The summit has been closed to the public for 50 years. Over the last 30 years the district has completed more than 800 deals, acquiring 63,000 acres for the public. During that time the agency has had to use eminent domain 14 times.
The road to the summit, which starts at Hicks Road, is supposed to open in October of 2016, but the MROSD cannot get access to part of the road that the McQueen family owns. The agency is proposing to acquire a 40-foot-wide strip of land that is about 1.5 miles of Mount Umunhum road from the McQueens. The agency is also proposing a forcible purchase of an easement over a 200-yard-long section of the same road that crosses property owned by Mike Rosetta, along with 19 other acres that Rosetta owns.
Scott McQueen, who owns 500 acres around the summit, said that he is not opposed to selling his section of the road, but he expressed concerns about vandalism and trespassing. Video cameras near the summit have recorded 373 trespassers this year alone.
The other property owner, Mike Rossetta, owns a 28-acre parcel along Mount Umunhum. Rosetta seems less reluctant to sell his property to the agency. He has tried to build a house on his 28-acre parcel but has been denied. He says he would like to use the land to build a horse stable or a campground.
District officials, who say they have negotiated with the owners for three years and have had no luck, propose to pay the McQueens $380,000 and the Rossettas $452,225. If the district moves forward with eminent domain and the owners dispute the offers, a jury will decide the sale price.
“It’s the biggest project we have ever attempted. It’s opening a mountain,” said Abbors. Opening the summit would be a landmark for the agency.
If you are a California property or business owner impacted by this project or are faced with eminent domain in any other project in California, please call the attorneys at California Eminent Domain Law Group at (866) EM-DOMAIN for a free consultation to discuss your rights.