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Lathrop may condemn private property for bridge over tracks

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POSTED January 8, 2013 12:12 a.m.

LATHROP – The City of Lathrop wants to build another bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad Tracks on Lathrop Road to move traffic along safely.

And since the owner of a parcel of land required to complete the project doesn’t want to sell to the city, the council went ahead and approved the use of the one thing that nobody ever likes to talk about unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Eminent domain.

On Monday the council voted unanimously to take the first step in condemning the property, starting the legal process that could very well end up with the property owner walking away with the $575,000 that the city initially offered after an appraisal late last year. 

The 6.15-acre parcel – which is zoned neighborhood commercial is completely barren – is slated to be a major part of the pending project. According to City Engineer Mary Grace Houlihan, the largest portion of the property will house part of the road while the rest will be set aside for the back slope and a major storm retention basin that will handle the water runoff for the new frontage road.

It sits just east of 7th Street and north of Lathrop Road near The Fireside Inn – one of several businesses on the south side of Lathrop Road that will not be part of the land acquisition aspect of what has come to be known as the Westerly Grade Separation.

Nearly all of the other parcels that will be affected have reached a contract with the city or are expected to do so within the month. Several are currently in escrow.

City Attorney Salvador Navarrete has secured additional counsel to assist with possible litigation that may stem from the city’s attempt. The cost for legal representation is covered in the acquisition portion of the project’s budget.

Planning for the project began back in 1997 with the engineering work and right of way acquisition – $3 million worth of preparation – beginning in 2006. In 2012, Lathrop learned that the project qualified for nearly $11 million worth of Measure K funds, and later in the year discovered that an additional $5 million of Proposition 1B funds would be added to fully fund the undertaking.

While the city wants to move forward with construction as soon as possible, they also have a financial incentive to do so. The $5 million worth of Proposition 1B funding will dry up if the project is started by mid-2013.

And the eminent domain process will take more than just the swipe of the mayor’s pen.

A notice was sent out to the property owners on Dec. 12 – the first phase – and a resolution of necessity which was adopted by the council represented the second phase. Now it’s up to City Attorney Salvador Navarrete to file paperwork in San Joaquin County Superior Court before the city can obtain possession through an order disseminated through the court system.

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