Caldwell Avenue expansion advances amid citizen concerns

Caldwell Ave. looking west near Blue Oak Academy and Rd. 148.(Kenny Goodman)

Tulare County Board of Supervisors approves acquisition of properties for the Caldwell Avenue widening project, prompting concerns from impacted property owners

TULARE COUNTY – The Tulare County Board of Supervisors has moved forward with property acquisitions under eminent domain for a road widening project on Caldwell Avenue, prompting some concerns from affected property owners who aren’t so pleased with the project.

The board made a unanimous vote to go forward with the expansion on April 9. With this approval, the county will acquire land from three residents to widen Caldwell Avenue. The project has been in the works since 2010 in an attempt to decrease traffic by making Caldwell Avenue a four-lane road.

“I’m not a fan of eminent domain at all, but there’s also a time when there’s a need for the greater community,” Chairman Larry Micari said. “We’ve always ensured that staff has done everything they can on the county side to make sure that we’re being fair.”

Eminent domain is a legal process that allows the government to take a person’s property, even if they don’t want to sell it, for “public use,” which is typically meant for road projects, or bridge projects.

Supervisor Pete Vander Poel III explained the decision the board was voting on was purely to decide if the properties are needed for the project, and have no impact on the ability of the property owners to continue negotiating for a fair offer.

“I highly encourage you to communicate and reach out and work with the Resource Management Agency, and councils, to make sure that we come to a resolution that takes into consideration your needs, your evaluations of property, etc.,” Vander Poel said in regards to the property owners.

He continued, “These things are never easy for elected officials to condemn as governments take people’s property. I’m firmly against it. But work with the county staff to come to a meeting of the minds. It’s not impossible to do.”

The RMA noted at the meeting that traffic on Caldwell Avenue is higher than when the project was started in 2010, with the daily traffic only being around 10,000 vehicles per day. Now the RMA is projecting that the daily traffic will nearly double by 2030, with around 17,500 vehicles per day.

Before taking a vote on if the property is necessary for county use, the supervisors held a public hearing during the meeting to further discuss the issue.

During the hearing, property owners were less than pleased about the offers they have received for their land. One property owner noted that he was not being given a fair offer in part because of mature Redwood trees planted at the edge of his property, which would have to be cut down for the work to the road.

“There’s 27 mature redwood trees that are protected from the existing road,” Greg Cahill said. “They were put in 20 years ago, and are at least 30 feet in height. When the appraisal was done on this, in my opinion, the value was substantially low.”

Cahill explained that the trees act as a privacy, sound and safety barrier to protect his home from those driving down the road.

“That’s why they’re planted. So…people can’t see me in my living room watching TV. And it’s a safety barrier. Someone has wrecked before and went into the first tree and stopped. That’s why those are put in there,” he said.

He claimed that a mature tree of that size costs around $22,000 to replace. Instead of giving him the cost it would take to replace the trees, the county has only offered him $750 per tree.

Cahill also noted the county rerouted the project to accommodate some other properties in the affected area, such as a local school across the street.

“Why is one side of the road more important than the other?,” Cahill said.

He ended his statements by saying that he understands the need for the land, but wants to receive fair compensation for what he is losing.

Cahill was not the only one who felt like he was not being compensated fairly.

“This project is something I think is needed for the community, but all due respect, it’s not taking into account what it’s doing to some of the landowners,” Eric Matthewson said.

Matthewson explained that when he was planning on building his storage shop on his property, the RMA told him he would be fine to set it up 60 feet away from the road in order to protect the shop from any future projects to the road.

He said he built the shop 72 feet away just to be safe, but now with the current project to expand Caldwell, the shop is only eight feet from the road, which is two feet less than what is required in the California Municipal Code. Now Matthewson worries that the structure will eventually be hit by a car.

The last property owner, Anthony Magana, explained that he is doing all he can to make sure he is receiving a fair offer from the county; however, he needs more time because of how long the appraisal process takes.

This hearing could be one of many since the project requires the county to acquire a total of 51 properties to widen the road. Out of the 51 properties, 31 are already in negotiations.

Ultimately, the board did approve the acquisition of the properties but encouraged all the property owners to keep working with the RMA to get a fair negotiation.

Start typing and press Enter to search