By A.J. Hazarabedian

The City of Modesto will consider acquiring properties by eminent domain for the Pelandale Avenue freeway interchange project at tonight’s city council meeting.  According to the Modesto Bee’s article, “Modesto considers seizing sites for Pelandale freeway project,” the City has been negotiating with affected property and business owners since March, yet an agreement has been made with only one of the eight parcels required for the project.

The Pelandale Avenue project plans to “replace an inadequate three-lane span with a seven-lane crossing at a better angle for traffic, with new southbound ramps,” as reported by the Modesto Bee.  The interchange was not built for the amount of traffic it now receives due to the popular businesses in the area.

A few businesses will be affected by this project, including a Quik Stop gas station and convenience store, Dolphin Spas & Stoves, as well as a vacant commercial property.  Temporary construction easements for up to one year are needed from neighboring properties, of which one has agreed to an offer of $4,800.

Under California’s Eminent Domain law, the government is required to pay the “fair market value” of the property.  The fair market value of the property taken is the highest price on the date of valuation that would be agreed to by the seller, being willing to sell under no particular or urgent necessity for doing, nor obliged to sell, and a buyer, being ready, willing and able to buy but under no particular necessity for so doing, each dealing with the other with full knowledge of all the uses and purposes for which the property is reasonably adaptable and available.

This is a bit different from the definition of market value used in the marketplace.  Put simply, owners in eminent domain proceedings are entitled to the “highest” price that might reasonably be expected.  This is determined by appraisal opinion, and the government’s and owners’ appraisers often differ substantially in their opinions of what the “highest” price should be.  The owners involved in this project are apparently dissatisfied with the City’s appraisals, so the City’s options are to either agree to pay the owners an amount that satisfies the owners, force the sales through eminent domain, or drop the project.

If the City decides to pursue eminent domain after tonight’s council meeting, these matters will then move into the hands of the Superior Court, and the owners will be entitled to a jury trial to determine the amount of compensation.  Stay tuned…