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Rohnert Park may use eminent domain to widen road near casino

By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rohnert Park may use its eminent domain powers to acquire parts of several properties needed to widen Wilfred Avenue to accommodate the huge Indian casino now under construction.

The city in September signed an agreement with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and the county of Sonoma under which the tribe is to pay the full cost of widening the street.

The final 75-foot long steel beam is positioned into place at the Graton Resort and Casino, in Rohnert Park, on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. The placement of the final beam marks the completion of the building's structure. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

The final 75-foot long steel beam is positioned into place at the Graton Resort and Casino, in Rohnert Park, on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. The placement of the final beam marks the completion of the building’s structure. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

But officials say neither they nor the tribe have been able to reach agreements with five property owners to buy just under an acre of land still needed for the $10 million widening project from Redwood Drive to Stony Point Road.

Nearly all the route is outside city limits.

City staffers have asked the City Council to approve five resolutions declaring that it is in the public’s interest for the city to forcibly acquire the land. The council is to consider the resolutions on Tuesday.

Under eminent domain proceedings a judge would determine the fair market value of the property and compel its sale.

“What we’re proposing here is taking a very depleted road that has no improvements and we’re looking at certain improvements that we believe greatly benefit the overall community,” City Manager Gabe Gonzalez said.

But the owner of at least one of the properties in question, Amy’s Kitchen Restaurant Holdings, said Friday that the company has signed a deal with the tribe to sell that portion of their land, 10,702 square feet, needed for the project.

“We reached an agreement with the tribe a while ago … now it’s just recording the easement,” said Mark Levin, Amy’s Kitchen’s real estate broker and consultant.

The company, one of the nation’s largest makers of natural frozen foods, plans to open a fast-food restaurant on the southwest corner of Wilfred Avenue and Redwood Drive.

Gonzalez said the agreement with Amy’s Kitchen was likely reached while the agenda item and staff report were being prepared. He said that may be the case with some the other property owners, too.

“We’re hopeful,” he said. “Talks continue to take place between the property owners and the city and the tribe.”

The city and tribe had offered Amy’s Kitchen $5,000 for the quarter-acre of land. Levin said the final deal was for “a different amount but not by that much.”

The owners of another property, though, farther west on Wilfred Avenue, said they remain far apart from the city and tribe in arriving at a price.

“We feel that their offer prices is extremely low and have expressed that,” said Tawny Tesconi, whose property includes a small single-family home that is being rented out.

The city and tribe have offered Tesconi and 12 relatives who also own the property $79,600 for a permanent easement of 10,975 square feet that contains the rental house, and for a temporary easement of 85,421 square feet to be used during construction.

(Tesconi’s brother, Tim Tesconi, was a longtime reporter for The Press Democrat and is one of the property’s owners. His wife is Catherine Barnett, the newspaper’s executive editor. She does not have a financial interest in the property. The couple’s sons have a share in the property.)

Tawny Tesconi, general manager of the Sonoma County Fair, said the tribe and city have appraised the property as farmland, but that her family have been paying taxes on it as commercial property.

“At this point it doesn’t seem that they are willing to reopen the appraisal or the assessment,” she said.

It is projected that the street, now two narrow lanes bordered by ditches, will get about 11,000 more vehicle trips daily when the casino opens. Officials have said that will happen by year’s end.

(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.)





13 Responses to “Rohnert Park may use eminent domain to widen road near casino”

  1. John Seamans says:

    @robert motiska.

    Unfortunately, that’s how it works. In Southern California, after years of trying to negotiate with home owners from Norwalk out to Santa Monica, they started using eminent domain to obtain land to build the 105 freeway to create another access route to LAX. The plan was to extend the freeway out even further, but was stopped by other cities because they refused to use eminent domain to take land. Other cities around there did it as well to expand the freeway system down there.

    If it’s within a “business need”, cities will use eminent domain.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  2. Phil Maher says:

    @David Stubbledine:

    I realize that the plan was originally to link the two with an under crossing, but I also question the timing, the motive, the redundancy of an already existing UC on Golf Course, the funding mechanisms, and the scope of the improvements. When crossing over the new Wilfred Ave overpass and looking westward, it’s obvious that the plan is for four lanes to punch through at some future date, although it now just blunts out and reduces to two lanes. Rohnert Park seems to have a litany of such conditions: The Expressway itself at both ends, Redwood Dr-Milbrae, and now, Wilfred. The city appears to have always had some grander vision of it’s carrying capacity than has come to pass. Had there not been a plan for the casino, responsible planning and logic would have dictated that at least the Expressway be brought to fruition and the properties along it developed first and foremost with an extension of the existing business district. With the casino’s projected revenue to the city, the timing is the suspect as to why such tremendous financial resources were committed to that one particular project on the timeline that they were. Wilfred Ave has existed in it’s horrible state of disrepair since well before the city was even incorporated, but now it’s priority #1. Secondarily, albeit not surprisingly, I also find it quite suspect that Rohnert Park’s priorities were the subject of a large part of the project costs of the 101 widening (was Wilfred critical to the functioning and benefit of the Sonoma County taxpayers as a whole?) Could it have been that Jake MacKenzie, aka: the Mayor of Rohnert Park, MTC commmissioner, SCTA commissioner, SMART Commissioner, wielded undo influence on how Measure M funding was allotted on behalf of what amounts to a project that he’s been instrumental in pushing through in the form of a casino project that benefits a very small and select group? Whether for or against the casino, per se, the real question is: why now, and with whose money is getting to it being facilitated?

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  3. Reality Check says:

    Ricardo, in 2003, RP entered into an agreement with FIGR. In return for $200mm, over 20 yrs, the city agreed not join lawsuits opposing the casino.

    But they did this 4 years after the tribe received federal approval of tribal status for the land. Except for a delaying action, the issue was settled.

    RP simply played the hand they were dealt. Like it or not, a casino was coming.

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  4. David Stubblebine says:

    @Phil Maher re: Hwy 101 interchange: The improvements to the Wilfred/Golf Course Dr interchange were on the books long before Jake Mackenzie invited the Indians to Rohnert Park. Golf Course Dr was laid out from its inception to precisely line up with Wilfred Ave with the hopes of one day linking the two. The traffic capacity of the new interchange is about the same as the earlier revision to the Rohnert Park Expressway overcrossing, whose planning also had nothing to do with the casino. The casino probably influenced the timing of the Wilfred/Golf Course project and the Tribe was likely part of the final discussion, but the interchange was not done just for them.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

  5. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    Reality Check – “But to imply that Rohnert Park planned or approved this casino is unfair.”

    I know that the Rohnert Park city council stuffed this down the throats of RP citizens and refused to let us have any say by way of a vote. Not sure how you can claim that RP didn’t plan or approve the casino; just ask the city how much payola they received over the last ten years. City officials even drove them around the city, looking for a casino site. Part of the deal was that the city would not challenge the building of the casino.

    The city of RP was sold out for money today, money tomorrow, mainly for Public Safety officers and further guaranteeing their massive over-time pay, health benefits and retirement benefits.

    Nothing about this casino was ever ‘for’ or ‘about’ the residents and citizens of Rohnert Park.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  6. Phil Maher says:

    How can RP use eminent domain on properties that aren’t even within its city limits? And, I’m also wondering how it was that the overpass on Hwy 101 was built to specifications that were obviously designed in preparation for the traffic flows that the casino would generate, but were put into place long before the casino was ever even approved? We have there the most glaring and expensive use of public money being used for private benefit in the entire project. Will the Graton Rancheria, Station Casinos, or the city of Rohnert Park be reimbursing the rest of us for our Measure M and other tax dollars spent on that? As a taxpayer, what do I stand to gain from any of this? We should all be collectively screaming for an answer!

    Thumb up 39 Thumb down 6

  7. James Bennett says:

    This is what fascism looks like.

    “Public-Private Partnerships”, eminent domain for private enterprize benefiting relatively few, taxes subsidizing private endeavors.

    This is part of the anti-property rights ideology to which our local government has subscribed with their ICLEI membership.

    The Casino will serve as another unaccountable funding mechanism, another black hole for our rogue government to oppress us with.

    Eminent domain was never intended for this kind of application. Precedent was set with the Washington Bridge. Unavoidable, benefiting most all the residents. In one of these rare applications, the property owner should receive a premium as they have forfeited their unrealized future investment potential.

    Wait ’till you see how many takings will accompany the Smart Train. Same cabal, same anti-private property ideology.

    Thumb up 40 Thumb down 11

  8. The Hammer says:

    I agree with robert. The issue of widening the street should have been negotiated before construction began, not half way through the project. I think either someone in the permits department get fired or the landowners get whatever they want and that means not selling if they don’t wish to.

    Thumb up 27 Thumb down 7

  9. Snarky says:

    Someone please refresh my memory.

    What qualifications do government “planners” have to have in order to dictate to private property owners and the public what we have to do?

    I remember the part about being a government groupie and hanger on, but what were the ACADEMIC requirements?

    Thumb up 20 Thumb down 11

  10. Snarky says:

    Robert:

    I fully agree with you.

    The government knew all along they planned on stealing private property to accomplish their government mission.

    The worst part about it? The government now will pay rock bottom dollars to the property owners because they only have to pay market value.

    YOUR government in action.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 11

  11. David Stubblebine says:

    Road Widening is not Land Stealing, it’s Progress. If people want to oppose this kind of progress, that’s their right but oppose it on its merits [“This is a country road that does not need to be widened for the traffic it gets”] instead of emotional & sensational arguments [“The government is stealing people’s land”].

    First, with the development that is taking place in this area (like it or not), the argument that the road does not need widening will not gain much traction. Second, eminent domain is not stealing land it is buying land – through a forced sale, yes, but it is still a purchase. The figures listed in the article for the offer on the Tesconi’s land work out to what would be just over $315K per acre. $315K per acre for any land in Sonoma County seems low to me but I don’t really know. Then again, by definition we are not talking about a buildable lot, we are talking about the strip that fronts the road – arguably the least valuable part of the property anyway.

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  12. Reality Check says:

    I don’t like it either. But to imply that Rohnert Park planned or approved this casino is unfair.

    Your duly elected representatives Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Boxer prodded the Feds to force this on Rohnert Park. Now, they’re just trying to make the best of a bad situation.

    Personally, I’d leave the area a congested mess and point the figure at those responsible.

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 8

  13. robert motiska says:

    Let me get this straight, after the casino was planned, approved, and construction began, now Rohnert Park is going to forcibly take private land for the benefit of a private business? Really? Is this how it’s done?

    Thumb up 54 Thumb down 7

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