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What’s not to like about threat of eminent domain?

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POSTED August 25, 2017 1:58 a.m.

Rocha Lane was once a short country road.
Along it stood modest dwellings occupied by hardworking folks who raised families and put down roots. Some people may not have thought much of the lane as the homes were far from cookie cutter. The footprint of a typical house was less than a fourth of the square footage of the biggest production McMansions ever built in Manteca that surpass 4,700 square feet.
Regardless of what others may have thought, it was their home. They loved Manteca. And it was where most of the residents intended to live out their lives.
You can drive down Rocha Lane today but it doesn’t look the same. The tree-studied parcels on that were once on a section of the sandy plains is covered in a sea of asphalt. As you turn onto what was once Rocha Lane you’ll pass a Denny’s Restaurant. And just beyond where the last house once stood is the Manteca Wal-Mart.
Rocha Lane was needed so Pearl-Rileyman could extend Mission Ridge Drive and develop the shopping center that flanks that street and fronts South Main Street. The City of Manteca was involved on the project’s peripheral and was willing to employ the fledgling redevelopment agency if necessary. The city was eager to get a development in place that would bring Walmart, Pak-n-Save and Mervyn’s. They considered it to be crucial to grow sales tax to run the city and grow the Manteca economy.
The residents along Rocha Lane did not all sell willingly. Appraisers hired by the developers had no problem raising the specter that the city could get involved and invoke eminent domain.
Most of us can’t fight city hall when eminent domain is threatened. You can’t hire a lawyer to fight them if you don’t want to move or believe you are being low balled unless you have deep pockets or are willing to lose upwards of 30 percent of what you do end up with for your home when the city ultimately prevails.
The McKinley Avenue and 120 Bypass land acquisition now underway is a skunk of a slightly different stripe as it does involve a road project. That said, have you ever seen the city move with such certainty and relative speed on a road project? The big difference is the interchange has become crucial to a pending waterpark project not to mention upwards of 3,000 homes proposed south of the future interchange.
The front men — or bogeyman depending upon your view of the process — for the efforts on both Rocha Lane and Bronzan Road are appraisers hired by parties that want the land.
Appraisals are not an exact science. At best they are an art form. At worse they are fraught with fraud.
Appraisers willing to be liberal with value got a lot of jobs leading up to the housing collapse triggered by liar loans. Then appraisers willing to be mega-conservative were the ones that got the jobs when wounded lending institutions were weighing new loans and refinancing as the economy skidded. Of course, other appraisers fell in line if they wanted to eat.
The reason some appraisal firms get a lot of government business when land is needed for public projects is because they have a track record of favorable financial results for their clients. Nothing sinister, just reality
Eminent domain — or the ability to infer that your client may use it — is a chilling weapon. Just the mention of such a potential move can get hardworking folks, who have spent years investing sweat and money building their version of the American Dream, to give up the fight.
It is why anyone who is losing their property — or full use of it — need to be made whole in terms of everything they have invested in their property based on the community they chose to live in and not based on values of comparable property in East Stockton, South Modesto or Timbuctoo in Nevada County.
It doesn’t stop there. The city has a moral obligation to move as swiftly as it can to convert the land for the use that it is buying it.
Back in the mid-1990s San Joaquin County went after a home on Sherman Avenue to expand the parking lot at what was then the Manteca Justice Court.
The owner was an 82-year-old woman who had lived all of her life in Manteca. She refused to sell. The appraiser the county hired raised the specter of eminent domain. She threw in the towel.
A Bulletin reporter who did not understand the woman’s resigned bitterness asked her for a story we were running why she wasn’t satisfied as the county paid her the “fair market price” of $82,000 for her home. Her answer was to the point and correct. She couldn’t afford to buy another home of the same size and age of hers in the Manteca market. She was forced to move out of the home and community where she had built her memories and planned to spend the rest of her life.
The house sat vacant for a number of years. It was eventually used for storage for a period of time and now sits boarded up. The parking lot was put in almost two decades later but the house wasn’t torn down
The woman could have stayed put and lived out her life where she wanted to.
The county ended up forcing a homeowner to sell and then never used the home for the purpose that  justified the purchase.
What’s not to like about the threat of eminent domain?

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