By Tania Chatila

LA PUENTE – The city is moving forward in using eminent domain to obtain a nearly three-acre parcel of land along Hacienda Boulevard.

In the coming weeks, La Puente expects to approve several guarantees to ensure financial security for Victor Gudzunas, who owns the land at 1313-1335 N. Hacienda Boulevard.

City attorneys first filed paperwork with the courts in July to seize the property. It is home to a small strip mall with 13 tenants, some of whom have operated their businesses there for more than two decades.

The city wants to build a commercial retail center on that site, as well as on two adjacent sites.

Officials say that since the summer, the city has been taking necessary measures to ensure the process moves along.

They have also been in negotiations with Gudzunas. He has yet to accept a deal from the city for his land – which in July, was appraised at $3.8 million.

Gudzunas could not be reached for comment Friday.

“From what I understand, (Gudzunas) has been very cooperative,” Mayor Louie Lujan said. “He has taken the approach that any responsible property owner would and should take at this point.”

Officials say they hope to resolve negotiations before a May hearing set by the courts. At that time, if a resolution is not reached, legal proceedings will begin to seize the land, Lujan said.

The city will have the opportunity to request an extension, he said, but there is no guarantee it would be granted.

Assistant City Manager Gregg Yamachika said he is hopeful a resolution can be reached, as several obstacles in the negotiations have already been addressed.

Among them are three guarantees that the Community Development Commission and the City Council are expected to approve within their next few meetings, Yamachika said. The city is going to guarantee that if the commission somehow dismantles before the proceedings are complete, the city will take over responsibility, Yamachika said.

Officials are also guaranteeing that they will not abandon eminent domain, he said.

“In other words, we are not going to move all his tenants out and then not move forward, leaving him with an empty shopping center,” Yamachika said.

Finally, the city will be assuming lease obligations for those tenants which they relocate as part of the eminent domain process, Yamachika said.

“If we move a tenant out, we will guarantee the property owner continued rent payments,” he said. “So that potential loss of rents is no longer an issue for him.”

The city has successfully relocated two tenants out the strip mall – The Chop Shop, a barber shop, and JRCRealty and Financial Services.

A third tenant – an auto sales office – is in the middle of relocation, Yamachika said.

“We are required by law to assist them in moving,” he said. “That includes their moving expenses, helping them find an alternative location, paying for any fixtures or equipment they can’t take with them.”

A group of seven of the 13 tenants have hired an attorney.

Anthony Li, owner of Tony’s Hobbies and Toys, is not part of that group and is looking for another site to move his 2,000-square-foot storefront.

“I’m just waiting to find a place to get out too,” he said. “I’m struggling. I’m looking all over.”

Li said it is unlikely he or the city will ever find him a spot comparable to what he has now – in terms of size and rent.

“But what can I do?” he said. “It happened. The landlord is losing the land and we get all the hassle of having to move.”

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