By Sandra Stokely

GLEN AVON – By a nearly 3-1 margin, voters on Tuesday gave Jurupa parks officials the green light to begin eminent domain proceedings to seize 4.3 acres of land from Rep. Ken Calvert and his partners for development as ball fields.

The final tally overwhelmed even Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District officials with 74.3 percent of voters who returned their ballots signaling their approval for Measure P.

“I thought we’d get maybe 50 percent,” said Robert “Bobby” Hernandez, president of the park district’s board of directors. “This is awesome.”

Measure P needed the approval of 50 percent plus one vote of the returned ballots to pass.

Out of 30,487 ballots mailed last month, 5,712, or 19 percent, were returned to park district headquarters.

The final tally was 4,128 votes in favor of Measure P and 1,421 opposed.

As the final tallies were announced at the Jurupa Community Center, the room erupted in cheers.

“I’m ecstatic but not surprised,” said Edward Hawkins, the retired superintendent of the Jurupa Unified School District and one of five community leaders who signed the argument in favor of Measure P.

Mira Loma resident Mary Beth Goodwine, who dropped her ballot off at 7:15 p.m., said she voted in favor of Measure P because the land was sold “under dubious circumstances.”

“I would rather have a park there,” she said.

Calvert spokeswoman Rebecca Rudman said earlier Tuesday that the congressman would have no comment on the outcome of the election.

Eminent domain is the process by which a government entity may seize property from an owner unwilling to sell, providing the owner is paid fair market value for the land.

The park district mailed ballots to voters living within its boundaries. Included are the unincorporated Riverside County communities of Mira Loma, Pedley, Glen Avon, Sunnyslope and Rubidoux.

The park district wants to develop the land for youth sports fields.

The Calvert partnership wants to build a storage facility there.

The dispute started two years ago this month by the revelation that the Jurupa Community Services District — a water and sewer agency — had sold the land to the Calvert partnership. Tuesday night’s outcome guarantees that the drama will continue.

The property was sold to Calvert, R-Corona, and his partners in 2006 by the community services district in a transaction the Riverside County grand jury concluded violated state law.

Under California law, governmental agencies such as the water and sewer agency are required to offer surplus property to other agencies, particularly park districts, before putting the land on the market.

That never happened in this case despite the fact that the Jurupa park district had expressed interest in the property as a possible park or ball field going back to at least 2001.

Because the park district does not have the inherent right to acquire property through eminent domain, earlier this year park officials asked the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to authorize the seizure of the land. That request was turned down by a vote of 3-2.

That denial set in motion the mail-in election.

In a related matter, the park district filed suit earlier this month against the community services district, charging it with fraud and deceit in connection with the property sale.

The lawsuit seeks at least $1.5 million in general damages and unspecified special and punitive damages.

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