The city of Rohnert Park will use eminent domain on five properties west of Highway 101 in order to proceed with road improvements on Wilfred Avenue that include street widening, a bike lane, sidewalks and new streetlights.
Agreements have already been reached with 17 landowners, but are ongoing with five others, prompting the city to vote Tuesday to take their easements over and allow a judge to figure out proper compensation.
Eminent domain is a tool occasionally used by public agencies to take over property if they can show that doing so serves the public interest. And in this case, the city argues that it’s required in order to not slow down the road widening, scheduled to start this spring and be completed in time for the casino opening in fall 2013.
“Although negotiations are ongoing, we need to know with certainty that the project is moving forward,” said Assistant City Attorney Darrin Jenkins. “Our construction season is very limited.”
The work is being financed by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the tribe behind the new casino.
But not all property owners are satisfied with the process.
Tony Loosli, whose family owns one of the parcels from which the city will take over the easement, said he received a notice in November telling him the city was interested in purchasing a portion of his land. The family didn’t respond and a month later received another letter telling them the city was considering using eminent domain.
Chris Christoforidis, another property owner, said he was also bothered by the poor communication from City Hall.
“This is not about the money,” said Christoforidis, whose elderly parents own the parcel. “You can’t just take someone’s property…How would the city feel if I did an eminent domain on one of their kitchens so that I can have dinner tonight?”
Jenkins, the assistant city manager, said the majority of property owners were supportive of the project because it would increase public safety.
In addition to adding a shoulder to the road, the improvements will also put in a bike lane in each direction, a sidewalk, and traffic signals that will force drivers to slow down. There will also be flood storage facilities put in and new street lights, which Jenkins said would reduce collisions.
“Unlike before when it was just for cars, Wilfred Avenue will now serve pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles,” he said.