Up to 14 properties may now be affected under eminent domain

By Valerie Gibbons

 The county moved to ask for a pre-judgment order that will begin the eminent domain process for 11 parcels, bringing the total number of properties in jeopardy of being seized by the agency up to 14.

The fate of three more parcels will be decided next week.

The county has been trying to acquire properties -†many of which are in 40- to-60-foot-wide strips, and about a mile in length — since the beginning of 2008. Eighty-five other property owners along the route have reached sale-price settlements.

But now a breakdown in negotiations has the county moving toward a court order that would allow it to move forward with the eminent domain process on the property owners who haven’t signed agreements with the agency.

Resistance has been mounting over the last month as a growing list of business owners, homeowners and dairymen began demanding more answers from the county. At the top of their list: How well they will be compensated for giving up some — if not all — of their land for the road project.

Fareed Saphieh, who owns a house and a store along East Parlier Avenue in Dinuba, said the county hasn’t offered him enough money to keep his business, Carniceria La Michoacana, in operation.

“After you take the store and my house, I will have nothing,” he said. “What you are offering is not enough for me to buy another store.”

In some cases, the sale of the right of way will affect how many cows a dairy can keep on its land, according to state wastewater permitting requirements.

“This is my land; this is my future,” said Daniel Griffioen, one of the dairymen who has been unable to negotiate a purchase price with the county. “Actions speak louder than words — and using eminent domain in this case will send a strong message.”

County officials said they didn’t have control over whether the state made any allowances for dairy owners who give up part of their property for a public right-of-way.

“That’s not a problem with the county’s permits; that’s a problem with the water board’s permits,” Supervisor Pete Vander Poel said.

In other cases, homeowners say selling off the land for the right of way for the widening will make their homes impossible to live in, or sell.

Bruce Belknap — who owns a home within feet of what will be the curb of Road 80 once the widening is finished — said he was told years ago that an official from the county would be out to his property to hear his concerns.

Belknap said the right of way acquisition isn’t the problem with him, it is how he will be compensated once the road is moved within feet of his front door.

So far, he said, no one has contacted him.

“If they had just done what they said they would do, we wouldn’t be in this position now,” he said.

Supervisor Phil Cox apologized to Belknap.

“That was handled poorly,” he said. “But we’re not closing any doors. We still want to talk to you.”

Visalia Times-Delta: http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com