On Tuesday night, members of the Mountain View City Council unanimously approved the use of eminent domain to get itself out of a quandary it entered when it unwittingly approved the sale of an alley that was essentially given to a group of landowners in 1904.
In December, the City Council approved the sale of a portion of Washington Alley to Prometheus Real Estate Group, developers of a 184-unit apartment complex on a portion of the alley and the south end of Stierlin Road. That sale was recently foiled when city officials learned that a map dated, September 28, 1904 of the "Mockbee and Weilheimer" additions to Mountain View, granted access rights to the area's streets and alleys to the property owners in the area. The city apparently neglected to remove the rights from Washington Alley when it was done for other streets in the area.
The City Council voted to use eminent domain to buy those access rights from 90 property owners, including 29 absentee owners. An independent real estate appraiser valued the easement rights to be $1,000, or approximately $11.63 per owner. On May 30, the city government sent letters offering $25 to residents willing to cede their easement rights.
Council member John Inks, who voted in favor of using eminent domain, noted at the meeting that he opposed the council's decision in April 2013 to close the Central Expressway on-ramp at the end of Stierlin Road nearby the apartment construction site, and that he usually would be against using eminent domain.
"I would normally be the last person in the city to support this, but eminent domain is the most efficient way to get land that we have been treating as our own," Inks told the Voice prior to the vote.
City officials said they believe using eminent domain will also prevent vehicles from traveling through the vacated portion of Washington Alley, which risks harming bicyclists and pedestrians.
"We want to eliminate any conflicts between the vehicles and bicyclists and pedestrians," City Attorney Jannie Quinn said at the meeting.
An independent contractor concluded that using eminent domain would create no negative economic impact on lot owners along Washington Alley and Stierlin Road. Inks said he doubts that any residents would face detrimental financial consequences.
"If anyone's getting screwed, it's Prometheus because of the delay in construction," he said.