By A.J. Hazarabedian

Recently, the County of Santa Barbara began eminent domain proceedings to acquire property from Wal-Mart for the Union Valley Parkway project.

As reported in the Lompoc Record article, “County files suit in UVP land case,” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. owns three parcels that will be affected by the project.  These parcels are located on the east side of Orcutt Road near Foster Road.  According to the article, negotiations between the county and Wal-Mart have been ongoing for over a year and will continue to go on until their court date on July 5, 2012.

It appears that Wal-Mart is not disputing the project.  Rather, they want to be sure they are fairly compensated for the impact on their property.  Specifically, Walmart is complaining that “the county has not offered compensation to cover the cost of the four non-legal remnant parcels of land that will be created when the right of way is taken.”

The county has deposited $1.3 million with the state treasurer for the appraised value of the property being taken.  The county is also asking for prejudgment possession and per Scott McGolpin, Director of Public Works at the County of Santa Barbara, “if an agreement with Wal-Mart is not reached by June, the county will take possession of the property on or about the July 5 court date noted in the suit.”

Where, as here, only part of a property is taken, the take can sometimes have devastating impacts on the owner’s remaining property.  Walmart here claims that the part take is leaving it with four remnants that no longer comply with local land use ordinances.  If they are right, they may have a legitimate claim for severance damages.

As for the County’s request for prejudgment possession, prejudgment possession is fairly common in eminent domain proceedings.  California Code of Civil Procedure section 1255.410 authorizes the condemning agency to ask the court for possession of the property even before judgment has been entered in the eminent domain proceeding. The court may only do so, however, if the condemning agency has first deposited into the Court or the State Treasury the amount which it determines as the probable compensation to be paid for the property. In this case, the County of Santa Barbara has indeed deposited what they deem to be probable compensation.  If Walmart opposes the County’s request for prejudgment possession, the County will also need to prove that it has an “overriding need” for prejudgment possession, and that its hardship will outweigh any hardship suffered by Walmart as a result of early possession.  If the court grants the County’s request for early possession, Walmart may have as little as 30 days to turn over possession.

More is to be revealed in this situation.  We’ll keep an eye on the results of this case.