In 2003, the County of Riverside and the cities within western Riverside County formed the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (commonly known as the "RCA"). They delegated to the RCA the task of acquiring approximately 153,000 acres of privately owned property deemed necessary for habitat conservation under the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (the "MSHCP").
Many property owners whose land falls within the MSHCP conservation area find themselves with few options: generally, they can either (1) sell their property to the RCA at a dramatically below market-value price (usually on the RCA's payment terms); or (2) allow the RCA's looming conservation cloud to hang over the property for years, essentially rendering it worthless.
Nossaman attorneys Rick Friess and Brad Kuhn have assisted several property owners over the past few years in challenging the RCA's acquisition/conservation tactics. A few past examples:
- Last year, we represented Winchester 700, the owner of 454 acres of property north of Murrieta between the I-215 and SR-79, in an arbitration with the RCA. The County had refused to process Winchester 700's proposed 1,034-unit residential development, and while the RCA demanded 100% conservation, it never made an offer. The RCA ultimately agreed to pay over $70 million for the property, along with other acreage owned by Winchester 700.
- Earlier this year, we represented San Jacinto River Ranchos and the Meadows at Lone Cone, two owners working together to develop just over 200-acres of residential property. Development entitlements for their land were stalled when the RCA deemed the property necessary for conservation. The owners and the RCA ultimately reached a deal allowing the developers to keep about 70 acres for development purposes, with the RCA paying for the remaining property.
This week, after months of effort on behalf of Saul and Maria Delgado Velazquez, the owners of 80 acres of property in Wildomar that the RCA deemed it wanted for 100% conservation, we were able to assist in closing a sale transaction with the RCA. The process was not easy, as the Delgados were forced to file a lawsuit against the RCA, alleging that the RCA's actions constituted a de facto taking and resulting liability for inverse condemnation, precondemnation damages, and violations of the state and federal relocation assistance and real property acquisition policies act.
The RCA offered the Delgados a price well below fair market value, and refused to pay the purchase price until 2013. After the Delgados filed their lawsuit, the RCA's Board approved a deal whereby the RCA is acquiring the property in phases at a value acceptable to the Delgados. The acquisition of the first phase just closed.
Brad Kuhn, Chair of Nossaman's Eminent Domain & Valuation Group, guides private and public sector clients through complex real estate development and infrastructure projects – particularly with eminent domain/inverse ...
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