By Alicia Robinson

The Riverside City Council voted Tuesday to use eminent domain if necessary to buy parcels the city needs for road improvements at the Five Points intersection.

Compensating 15 property owners for land, furniture and equipment is expected to cost almost $5.4 million, but the city may not end up seizing any properties. City officials have worked out deals with three landowners, and they’re still talking with the remaining 12, Assistant City Manager Belinda Graham told the council.

“(With) some we’re close, but we just need a little more time in getting there,” she said, adding that to keep the project going the city needs to be able to stick to a timeline.

The council approved the road project in 2008. It includes widening La Sierra and Hole avenues and Pierce Street, adding left turn lanes, and closing Bushnell Avenue off as a cul-de-sac at La Sierra.

Officials say the work would make the intersection, now like a five-pointed star, safer and easier to navigate. The road work is expected to begin in July and was previously estimated at $3 million.

New commercial development also is planned for the area, but that is a private-sector project and the city is not using eminent domain for the developer’s benefit, city officials have said.

Councilman Paul Davis wondered what will happen to unused portions of six parcels the city will take whole. Road widening requires only strips of land adjacent to the street, but the city must take some complete properties because the only access to them is from the street entrance.

Davis said current owners should get the first chance to buy back left-over property if it’s possible to develop, but it’s unclear whether that will occur. Deputy City Attorney Eddie Diaz said the council has two ways to dispose of excess property, and City Manager Brad Hudson said some of the uses on the properties now would not be allowed under current zoning.

Ruben Juarez, who said he’s a part owner of La Sierra Dental, told the council he’s upset with how the issue has been handled.

“As the rightful owner, I want to enjoy my property and I want to be able to sell my property according to what I think it’s worth, not according to someone making a threat” of eminent domain, Juarez said.

The Press-Enterprise