By Duane W. Gang

Riverside County supervisors took the first steps Tuesday toward using eminent domain to acquire property from nearly a dozen owners to expand Clinton Keith Road near Murrieta.

The land is needed to turn the road into a six-lane thoroughfare between Interstate 215 and Winchester Road.

The county proposes paying $2.86 million for the land.

The 5-0 vote Tuesday set an April 22 public hearing for what is called a “resolution of necessity” in which officials must outline the public need for the property.

The resolution, if approved, would authorize the county to use eminent domain.

Eminent domain, an often controversial tactic, allows a government to take property without an owner’s consent as long as a fair market price is paid.

Property owner W.W. Franklin said he is concerned that the county is moving too quickly to take his land.

“Why is the county considering eminent domain rather than negotiating in good faith?” he questioned supervisors.

Franklin said a well on his property is his primary concern.

He relies on the well for water, and it is located on land the county proposes taking.

He said he does not mind the road project moving forward as long as his well is relocated, he gets a fair price and a noise wall is built to protect homes.

Supervisor Jeff Stone, who represents the area, said the Clinton Keith Road project is critical to southwest Riverside County because of increased traffic from the area’s growing population.

The use of eminent domain is a last resort, he said.

Stone said the county should first exhaust all other avenues to acquire the property before using eminent domain.

He said negotiations have been ongoing for two years.

Officials have reached deals with six property owners, but they were unable to come up with agreements with 11 others, including Franklin.

“We want to be good county neighbors,” Stone said, adding that he will personally meet with Franklin and county staff to try to resolve the issue.

The measure supervisors approved Tuesday “doesn’t mean the property becomes ours tomorrow,” Stone said.

“There is time,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to treat you fairly.”

A Clinton Keith Road expansion has long been a goal for county officials.

Plans have been on the table since 1980.

A lawsuit tabled the original proposals, and officials resurrected the project as the French Valley and Winchester areas began booming.

The expansion is expected to cost as much as $70 million.

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