November 30, 2003 — Victorville Daily Press, CA.
Southern California Logistics Airport wants to grow north and east, adding a 2,900-acre high-tech rail yard and a warehouse/manufacturing district. Indeed, it already has promised the rail yard to tenants. But the airport’s finance authority, the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority, doesn’t own much of the land.
Last month, it proposed amending its authority to allow eminent domain, a concept disliked by land owners, in a 21-square-mile area north, northwest and east of the airport, a part of it in an annexed portion of Victorville. Eminent domain would allow the agency to condemn property if owners demand too much money for it. A court would then decide on a proper price and force the owner to sell the property in the public’s interest. However, city officials seemed to have forgotten that they had agreed in writing not to use eminent domain as a condition of annexing the land to Victorville.
An impasse with Victorville landowners could threaten development of the new rail yard. The small number of homeowners in the way of the rail yard have chosen to meet with city officals to resolve land acquisition issues. Eight owners met with five Victorville officials on Monday, and the mood was upbeat. “We really don’t want to stop development,” said Richard Trower, whose 15-acre horse ranch is in the middle of the land VVEDA wants for its warehouse district. “If they’re reasonable, I’m willing to move. It’s just that land has gone sky-high. They would have to pay me enough that I could buy another 15 acres.”
Keith Metzler, the city’s director of economic development, foresees an amicable solution. “The final design and alignment of the projects isn’t set,” he said. “There is some flexibility. I think we can get this cleared up. We have always tried to develop a master plan with local property owners.”
Metzler said there were provisions in the acquisition process for “relocation, a term which can be interpreted broadly,” and that the redevelopment agency would like to help landowners find comparable property elsewhere
. Both sides were careful to praise the other, Trower saying the city was “honest and straightforward,” and Metzler calling the property owners “very reasonable.”
VVEDA has scheduled another public hearing for Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Mavericks Stadium conference room in Adelanto. At an earlier public hearing, much of the time was consumed in an outpouring of fears about unfair use of eminent domain. “It’s a misunderstood concept,”
Metzler said. “We absolutely have to have a reason to use it. If a residence is involved, it has to be the only place the rail yard could go for us to invoke eminent domain.” At the last hearing, angry landowners whose property was targeted for an airport runway extension charged that the city is offering them $3,000 an acre for land they have had appraised at $14,000 an acre. The airport and landowners are discussing a plan by which specific properties would be exempted from eminent domain, but have not yet proposed an agreement. In the meantime, the city will grade local roads, which hasn’t been done, according to Trower, since the land was annexed five years ago.