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Council approves process to begin eminent domain

ESCONDIDO — A resolution to begin the process of eminent domain was approved unanimously by the City Council last week after putting the vote on hold.

The item concerns a project for lane widening and adding sound walls along East Valley Parkway and Valley Center Road.

The tabled vote, however, was due to the concerns of a pair of families impacted by the soon-to-be project and objections over negotiations.

Two residents, Peter and Matthew Jauregui, spoke to the council two weeks ago urging them to table the item or hold off for 30 days since they only received a financial offer 12 days prior to the Oct. 21.

Peter Jauregui said the paperwork from the city was accidentally sent to his former business partner, who died several years. In addition, the partner sold his stake years ago.

At last week’s meeting, however, city staff reported a deal was struck with the Jauregi’s, who are in favor of the project and said it must be completed to provide additional safety along the road.

An attorney for the Heath family said his client had not received the notice of intent from the city. Like the Jauregui’s, Heath’s are not opposed to the project, but their attorney wanted to make certain the city followed the law with proper notification and begin negotiations.

The attorney also stated the meeting was the first time he heard the soundwalls were voluntary. Although no deal was agreed to last week with the Heaths, the council can still negotiate during the process before construction begins.

City staff, though, told the council last week all proper notices were sent by certified mail.

The decision to move forward, though, is to meet deadlines or risk losing $675,000 in funding from the Highway Safety and Improvement fund. The deadline is Dec. 31.

As for the project, staff said the projected completion date is June 2017.

Although eminent domain eventually prevailed, a pair of councilmembers expressed concern with the process during the Oct. 21 meeting.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz said the city must exhaust all options before engaging in eminent domain. She said it “didn’t happen in this case” and said the process must be fair to residents whose property is the subject of such action.

Councilman John Masson agreed adding the city should continue talks with those affected in attempt to knock out a deal before any takeover.

Nevertheless, all parties are in agreement this project must be done.

The city’s efforts include widening the street to six lanes, a raised median, a bike lane, curb, gutter and sidewalks in each direction.