By Scott Mobley

Two property owners have sued Redding for inverse condemnation, saying Cypress Avenue Bridge construction robbed them of income from a pair of office buildings just east of the span.

The suit, filed in Shasta County Superior Court late last month, seeks unspecified compensation for taking the property and other damages.

Richard Downs, a real estate agent in Redding, and W. Jaxon Baker, a developer, own 100 and 150 Cypress Ave. The dark brick and glass buildings once housed Placer Title, but these days are leased by Cypress bridge contractor Kiewit Pacific and PB Americas, the consultant the city hired to manage construction at the bridge and Stillwater Business Park.

In their complaint, Downs and Baker claim the city “entered onto, physically invaded, damaged and took possession” of their property without permission, judicial authorization or just compensation, mainly by blocking access.

Bridge construction has devalued the property and deprived the owners of investment income, according to the complaint.

The suit also accuses the city of causing more than $100,000 in physical damage to the property.

Finally, the suit claims city dickering over whether to take the property by eminent domain cost Downs and Baker rental income.

Redding must answer the suit by June 8 and has yet to file a response, said Lynette Frediani, the assistant city attorney handling the case.

But the city will deny all three allegations, Frediani said.

“None of the construction activities undertaken by the city on the Cypress bridge project has blocked, restricted, or impaired access to the plaintiffs’ property,” Frediani said. “In fact, the access to their property is via Hemsted Drive, not Cypress Avenue where the project work is being conducted.”

Frediani will argue Downs and Baker have no inverse condemnation case against the city, noting courts have denied compensation to property owners with land abutting streets widened for better traffic flow.

Courts have maintained even restricted access because of construction doesn’t amount to a taking of property – especially if the restriction is temporary, Frediani said.

Frediani also denied the city waffled on eminent domain at 100 and 150 Cypress Ave.

Redding did try, and failed, to negotiate for the property before groundbreaking in 2007. And the city also started the eminent domain process for the property, Frediani said.

But Redding officials wound up redesigning bridge construction so the land would not be needed, Frediani said. The city never held an initial eminent domain hearing.

Downs and Baker don’t have a solid foundation for claiming costs from any delay between the city’s initial intention to start eminent domain and abandoning it, Frediani said.

A California court once found a 15-year delay between an agency’s tentative decision to take land for a freeway and its actual seizure of that land through eminent domain “reasonable,” given the lengthy required environmental studies, she said.

Kiewit started work on the $76 million Cypress bridge replacement in April 2007 and must finish by December 2010 under its contract with the city.

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