By Marty Burleson
Efforts to transform the Mooney Boulevard/Walnut Avenue intersection into something more user-friendly — two Walnut lanes in each direction, additional turn lanes — depend on the acquisition of private property on the northwest corner.
Plans call for the relocation of 85-foot power lines from the south side of Walnut to the north side. But the owners of the Peachtree Shopping Center, which includes In-N-Out Burger, have not responded to a city offer for a strip of property needed for power poles, a signal light and additional sidewalk space, according to city officials.
The property owners, John Barbis, Katherine Barbis, Mary Jane Abercrombie and Dane Paras, previously had completed right-of-way negotiations with Caltrans as part of the Mooney Boulevard widening. In January, they were notified of the need for additional property.
Money is not the issue, said their Visalia attorney, Glenn Stanton.
“My clients’ concern is the relocation of the power poles onto their property,” he said. “[The poles] have been on the south side of Walnut for 30-plus years, and there doesn’t appear to be any good, substantial reason to move them.”
City officials disagree — and this week the Visalia City Council backed them up, voting 4-1, with Don Landers dissenting, to pursue eminent-domain proceedings against the property owners. Under eminent domain, property may be seized — and purchased — for government use when the purpose is to benefit the general public.
The city will ask a Tulare County Superior Court judge to grant the city immediate possession of the property.
“Although we are proceeding with the eminent-domain process, staff will nevertheless continue to work to negotiate a reasonable settlement,” reads a City Council staff report prepared for Monday’s meeting.
Plans call not only for the addition of through and turn lanes at the Mooney/Walnut intersection but a bus-turnout lane near the northwest corner. The intersection also will feature new medians, curbs, gutters and sidewalks, and both streets will be wider overall.
“If you’ve ever fought the traffic there, you know [why the project is needed],” said Adam Ennis, engineering services manager for the city of Visalia. “[Bottlenecks] down there, narrowing up at Mooney Boulevard.”
The finished product will resemble the intersection at Mooney and Caldwell Avenue, he said.
“The level of service [at Walnut] is only going to get worse as traffic picks up,” Ennis said.
The power poles must be moved, he said, but the presence of the Union Bank building on the southwest corner reduces the city’s options. Plans call for both regional and local power lines to be moved across the street, though the local lines would be placed below ground.
“Even though these lines would be moved closer to [Peachtree Shopping Center] businesses, they’ll be less of a visual blight after this project,” City Attorney Alex Peltzer said. “Old wooden poles will be replaced with fewer metal poles. There will be fewer lines and a wider street. We’re a little disappointed they don’t see the benefits.”
Peltzer expects to go to a judge within the next few days. He hopes for a ruling that would allow the city to take possession of the corner property 60 days later, at which point the project would go out for bid.
According to that timetable, Ennis said, the project could be completed at the end of next summer.
Stanton, however, said he expects the matter to go to trial. He’ll argue that no public necessity warrants the seizure of his clients’ property.
It’s also possible that when a new-look Visalia City Council is seated — two supporters of Monday’s ruling, Jesus Gamboa and Greg Collins, lost re-election bids in this month — the city’s eminent domain proceedings could be derailed, Stanton said.
“I suspect … the project will be delayed awhile,” he said.