The Tracy City Council took a step toward acquiring the land it needs for a storm drain basin to serve new development at the southwest corner of town.

The city could end up using its eminent domain authority to acquire the land as negotiations with the property owner reached an impasse back and July, and on Tuesday the council voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Veronica Vargas dissenting, to move forward with the eminent domain process.

At issue is a piece of a 60.58-acre parcel on Valpico Road, owned by Ronnoco Properties of Tracy II, L.P., and the city needs about 16 acres for the storm drain project. City appraisers put the value of the 16 acres at $765,000, but Greg O’Connor, one of the partners with Ronnoco Properties, told the council that city representatives have made no effort to reach a compromise since the council last discussed the matter back in July.

City Engineer Robert Armijo reported that the city and its attorney in the matter, Todd Amspoker, reached out to the property owners but received no response until September, when Ronnoco Properties contacted the city to set up a meeting to discuss a settlement. The two sides finally met on Oct. 30, but couldn’t reach an agreement on the terms of a sale.

Greg O’Connor acknowledged that there was a meeting, but the city was unwilling to discuss alternative sites for the storm drain basin.

“We were told by city staff that they were not allowed to negotiate. There was nothing that they could talk about other than the price, and there was an appraisal in front of us,” O’Connor told the council.

O’Connor added that the city has undervalued the land. The 16-acre parcel sits about 500 yards west of Corral Hollow Road and is in an unincorporated area. It is now used as farmland, but once was in an area identified as the South Schulte planning area in a previous city general plan. That area was never annexed and most of it sits outside of the city’s sphere of influence, though it is surrounded by land that is within city limits.

“At some point, when we were in the city at one time, we were removed from your city,” O’Connor said. “Now you’re coming back as a city and saying that you need our property, after we’ve been removed.

“It just seems a little odd to me that you would remove us from your city and from your sphere, leaving us in a position where this land’s highest and best use should be residential within the city of Tracy. We’re surrounded by residential. The residential across the street from us is what’s commanding the need, or at least partially commanding the need for this detention basin.”

He noted that the land is just north of the Ellis development, and suggested that the developer of that project should provide land for a storm drain basin, considering that the basin project is required to serve the Ellis and Tracy Hills developments.

The council’s discussion mostly involved Vargas questioning Armijo on why this particular parcel was required as part of the storm drain project. Armijo reported that the 16 acres has long been considered the ideal site to develop as a basin as it would have little effect on surrounding land. He added that it would also be most effective, compared with other sites the city has considered, as a component in the overall storm drain system, which relies on gravity flow to move water through the city and north toward the delta.

Vargas remained skeptical that all other options had been considered, and noted that with the Valley Link commuter rail line slated to run just north of the property that this is an area of interest for future development.

“I just want to make sure that before we do eminent domain on anybody’s private property that all other alternatives have been studied, all other alternatives have been considered and the taking is as minimal as possible,” she said.

• Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com, or call 209-830-4227.

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