The Lodi City Council hopes a dispute over land needed for the Harney Lane Grade Separation can be solved in a month.

The council voted 4-1 at its Wednesday meeting to begin an eminent domain process to acquire land needed to build an overpass at Harney Lane and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

However, a stipulation in Wednesday’s vote prohibits City Attorney Janice Magdich from filing any litigation against two property owners for at least 30 days, while negotiations between the city and the landowners continue.

Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce dissented in the vote, stating a strong opposition to any eminent domain proceedings.

“I don’t like eminent domain,” she said. “I believe we need a willing buyer and a willing seller to come to a negotiation. I can’t support this.”

The city has been negotiating with 10 property owners to purchase portions of their lands near Harney Lane and the railroad tracks for about eight months, Magdich said.

Eight land owners negotiated deals with the city, but F&L Costa Family L.P. and Diane and Gary Tsutsumi have not come to agreements.

The city was looking to purchase 2.49 acres of Costa Family land located at 13160 N. West Lane for $188,400 in July. The city also wanted to purchase 2.61 acres of the Tsutsumi property located at 120 E. Harney Lane for $433,200.

Interwest Group of Elk Grove conducted land appraisals on behalf of the Costas and Tsutsumis, according to city documents. The appraiser valued the Costa property at $421,400, and the Tsutsumi property at $685,190.

“Quite frankly, the offer barely covered the cost of lost revenue from the (cherry) trees being pulled out,” Felix Costa told the council.

Costa said he would like additional time — as much as three weeks — to sit down with Magdich and City Manager Steve Schwabauer to come to a more amicable agreement over the value of the property.

“We’re not rejecting or accepting these offers,” he said. “We’d prefer not to be involved in any sort of legal action, and we’d like to see this project completed just as much as you do.”

Gary Tsutsumi agreed, and said the current discussions with Magdich and Schwabauer have made good progress.

“Moving forward with (eminent domain proceedings) is not necessary tonight,” he said. “I think we can put it off a little bit until we can decide where to go with this.”

The proposed Harney Lane Grade Separation Project involves building an overpass across the Union Pacific tracks. Harney Lane will also be widened to four lanes between Hutchins and Stockton streets.

The council made the project its top priority for funding from Measure K, the 1990 half-cent county sales tax measure renewed in 2006.

The Measure K will provide $829,782 toward the total estimated $1,071,900 for right-of-way, utility easements and temporary construction easements costs. An additional $242,118 will be provided by the city of Lodi Measure K local street repair funds.

The total cost of the project is expected to be $18.5 million, with a proposed completion date of 2017.

Magdich said the goal is to be ready for construction by January, but the city needs the remaining two properties in question to move forward.

“In the event we don’t have the properties necessary for the project, we will lose our (Measure K) funding,” she said.

The four council members who voted to move forward with eminent domain proceedings said they also don’t like turning to eminent domain, but they approved a 30-day negotiation period in the hopes both parties can come to an agreement.

“At the end of the 30 days, I don’t want this coming back to us,” Councilman Bob Johnson said. “We have made a decision, and if there’s an accommodation that can be made between the landowners and the city, great. But let’s not do this again.”

Contact reporter Wes Bowers at wesb@lodinews.com.

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