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There is justice in the world.
Sometimes it takes a while to be realized
It is happening in the heart of Manteca.
Some 29 years ago, an elderly woman was forced from her home.
It wasn’t a foreclosure.
Nor was she a victim of a scam.
But it was a “swindle” from her perspective.
The perpetuator was San Joaquin County.
Officials back then did not see it that way.
They were acting in the “public good”.
The Manteca-Ripon-Escalon Justice District had been absorbed into the San Joaquin Superior Court system.
The decision was made to keep the courthouse at 315 East Center Street.
Bureaucrats decided there wasn’t enough room for parking and a future expansion.
So they tried to buy an adjacent home at 205 North Sherman Avenue.
The homeowner, who refused to sell, was in her 80s.
The county used the power of eminent domain to force the sale.
The woman was not happy.
I sent a reporter out to interview her after she lost in court.
When he came back, he said he asked her why she was upset.
He pointed out she got a fair market price — determined, of course, by the county and approved by the court.
Couldn’t she just go out and buy another house?
The lady’s reply was not in Manteca, not at her age.
The $80,000 or so she received from it was a good $50,000 below the median resale price of homes closing escrow in Manteca at the time.
She was on a limited income.
If I recall correctly, it was just Social Security.
Clearly, she couldn’t afford a mortgage payment.
Not only did she lose a house she had made into her home with the accompanying memories, but she had to move out of the town she called home.
The home sat vacant for years while the county tried to determine their next move.
When they did, it was to add onto the courthouse on the Lincoln Avenue side of the property.
They did not have money to tear down the house to expand parking.
Meanwhile, the home was turned into a storage facility for court records.
That would have been the end of the story.
But then recently, the county’s General Services Department uncovered a bit of unnerving information.
The eminent domain action started in March 1993 and led to the county taking possession in 1994 was never officially completed.
The final judgment was never entered nor was the final order for commendation.
Even though the property owner was paid, her property was taken without the due process of the law being completed.
On Tuesday, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors are pondering a recommendation from Marcia Cunningham, Director of General Services.
Given the fact there is no final judgment or final order entered in condemnations required by law, it has created an uncertainty in ownership.
Cunningham is recommending the county relinquish any interest or ownership in the property.
That’s because the interest of ownership by the prior owner remains valid due to the county never obtaining a final order of condemnation.
The supervisors are being asked to approve a quitclaim that will release the home at 205 Sherman Avenue to Kathleen A. King, Robert E. Lemos, and Kimberly J. Merrick.
The other ugly ‘eminent
domain’ on incident
Since the county finding a serious legal flub and taking steps to correct it prompted a trip down memory lane, it is worth mentioning another lane — Rocha Lane.
Rocha Lane likely doesn’t ring a bell with too many people.
It was off a short, narrow dead-end country road that intersected with South Main Street prior to 1990.
That’s when the last street on the west side of Main Street before the 120 Bypass was Wawona Avenue.
It started where Denny’s is located and ended just short of the front of Walmart.
The developers of the Mission Ridge shopping center used the threat of eminent domain to force owners of a half dozen or so modest rural parcels with even more modest homes on them to sell.
The developer actually had no such power per se, but they were either authorized — or emboldened enough— to say the city would resort to eminent domain using the redevelopment agency.
The reason? Manteca wanted a Walmart that would come with an accompanying Mervyn’s and Pak-N-Sav — the store that was to Safeway what Food Maxx is to Save Mart.
Not all the property owners were pleased to sell.
Back in 1992 when I was bicycling near Escalon with John Alves, we stopped by the house of a friend of his.
I do not remember the gentleman’s name.
At one point in the conversation, it came up that he had lived on Rocha Lane and was forced to sell.
He did not want to but be couldn’t afford to fight eminent domain.
His property and home — the one he raised a family in, built his memories, and planned to live out his life in — was needed for a parking lot.
Manteca wanted a Walmart.
He was bitter.
He didn’t want to move, let alone sell.
But he was a smart man.
He knew the cards were stacked against him.
And it would have been too expensive of a legal endeavor given his means considering his slim chances of prevailing.
The involvement of the “separate” redevelopment agency that at the end of the day was simply the Manteca City Council 2.0 given all of the council members sat as RDA commissioners, allowed the threat of eminent domain to be used.
Past Manteca leaders used to brag they never used eminent domain powers invested in the RDA to force the sale of property.
If the truth be told, they never had to.
All their “agents” had to do was dangle a threat.
The little guy can’t bankroll a legal fight with a 900-pound gorilla that given court decisions at the time had the same chance of succeeding as a 25-pound block of ice not melting in Death Valley on July 4.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com