By Julissa McKinnon

Perris is preparing to take property from two landowners using eminent domain in the face of failing negotiations to buy the properties.

City officials have been trying to buy 10 acres from Georges Abitboul and 11 acres from Kevin McKenna to allow IDS/Whirlpool the right of way it needs to finish road and storm-drain improvements around the intersection of Ramona Expressway and Redlands Avenue.

The changes would provide access and drainage for the new 1.7 million-square-foot Whirlpool warehouse at the corner of Dawes Street and Redlands. The warehouse is big enough to hold 31 football fields, according to a news release from Whirlpool.

So far Abitboul and McKenna have spurned city attempts to purchase their land for $14,000 and $47,000 respectively.

Tonight council members will consider taking these properties via eminent domain, the process by which governments can forcibly purchase private property for a “public interest.”

McKenna has said that instead of trying to build an open channel on his property the city should look at building an underground pipe on land it owns on the other side of Morgan Street. McKenna recently hired an engineering firm, Rick Engineering, to draw up this alternative plan.

“I spent a lot of time, effort and money to hire an engineer to prove to everyone that there’s at least one alternative,” said McKenna, who heads the California Real Estate Group in Corona. “I was unaware that the onus of all this should be on me when someone is coming in to take my property.”

But while building the underground pipe might be possible, that does not necessarily make it the city’s best option, according to City Manager Richard Belmudez.

Building an underground pipeline is a much costlier venture than constructing an open channel, he said.

At the last Perris City Council meeting, Sunny Soltani, an attorney representing Perris along with City Attorney Eric Dunn, said “a city can take into consideration the convenience and cost to the public of the alternate locations,” when pondering eminent domain.

Mayor Daryl Busch suggested that if McKenna volunteered to pay the difference in cost for his proposal the city would likely accept it.

“If they want to come to the table with the money for this then it is viable,” said Busch, adding that these drain and road improvements enable both property owners to develop their land in the future.

Belmudez said the lands in question are on a flood plain and the improvements safeguard against flooding.

Beyond providing the necessary drainage for commercial development, Belmudez said the road improvements also further the city’s long-term goal of finishing Redlands Avenue.

The future north-to-south artery through Perris is a series of disconnected segments the city is gradually linking together.

Belmudez added that the city has started the process of eminent domain several times in recent years but rarely has had to exercise its authority to forcibly take land.

“Ninety percent of the time we go down that route it never results in actual proceedings going to completion,” Belmudez said. “Even in this case we hope that doesn’t happen.”

The Press-Enterprise: