Stanislaus uses eminent domain for expressway project land. ‘The private injury is immense’

Garth Stapley/

Stanislaus County is exercising eminent domain to acquire more property for the North County Corridor expressway project.

County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to begin the process of obtaining property from three sets of owners, with two of the properties valued in the millions of dollars.

The county has been acquiring rights of way and easements for a 3-mile section of the expressway between Oakdale Road and Claus Road, north of Modesto. Starting from the intersection of Oakdale and Claribel roads, the route will swing south on Oakdale for a quarter mile and turn east across what is now farmland to Claus Road.

Another piece of the project has upset homeowners in the Davis Avenue neighborhood in Riverbank. A realigned Claribel Road, east of Riverbank’s Crossroads regional commercial center, will wind through the ranchette neighborhood to a new intersection with Claus Road, across from the former Riverbank ammo plant.

Neighbors predict the new intersection is going to snarl traffic.

The county and Modesto, Riverbank, Oakdale and the California Department of Transportation are partners in developing the long-awaited expressway project. The county is responsible for the difficult task of acquiring the right of way.

The county is moving forward on taking possession of a 23-acre parcel in the 4700 block of Oakdale Road, which has a two-story, 3,100-square-foot home owned by a retired physician and her husband. The county has offered a “fair market” value of $1.7 million for the home and acreage.

The owners, Wolfgang and Victorina Bach, hired an attorney and have not made a counteroffer, a county staff report said.

Attorney Gerald Brunn, representing the Bachs, said the owners are in their 80s and have lived there for 40 years. It’s traumatic for them to suddenly learn they are losing their home. Victorina Bach is a retired pediatrician.

“The private injury is immense in this case,” Brunn said.

The flag-shaped parcel is where the 4-lane expressway will cut east from Oakdale Road, and all that’s needed is 8 1/2 acres of the Bach property. But the new road will block access and land-lock the residential property, so the county seeks the entire parcel.

The board also approved the eminent domain process for agricultural parcels totaling 80 acres near the 2600 block of Claribel Road. The properties include almond and walnut orchards, an agricultural well, pond and solar energy system.

About 17 acres is needed for a road easement and almost a half acre is designated for a four-year construction easement. The owners, listed as the Gregory and Karen Ellis Revocable Trust, have not accepted the county’s offer of $2.04 million and “not provided an acceptable counteroffer,” a staff report said.

Supervisors said the routes for the expressway project were chosen to get the road built with the least amount of disruption for property owners.

“It’s a tough process,” Supervisor Terry Withrow said. “If we had not chosen this route, we would have another room of individuals protesting the other route. At some point, we have to make a decision that this is the least of the worst effects.”

Speakers criticized the county for Claribel’s new alignment, which will route 3,300 vehicles daily through the Davis Avenue neighborhood. The proposed road will cut across residential properties and create a traffic jam at the entrance to the Riverbank industrial center on Claus, the homeowners said.

Anthony Garcia said the new road will swing north across his property and pass right next to his home on Davis Avenue. “How many cars are going to come down the road?” Garcia asked.

The homeowners said the project is not providing sound barriers and other measures to reduce serious impacts on the neighborhood.

Chris Wincentsen opposed the county proposal to take land on the east and north sides of his property for the new intersection on Claus. He stressed the location of the new intersection is not in the public’s best interest.

Wincentsen predicted a line of cars will back up behind big rigs trying to turn into the ammo plant. He said it takes 30 to 90 seconds for a single vehicle to get past the guard shack.

“The traffic flow problems will begin immediately,” Wincentsen said.

Supervisor Buck Condit asked why another route wasn’t chosen to connect the new Claribel alignment with Minniear Avenue, which is an existing link to Claus Road.

County Public Works Director Dave Leamon said the approved route passes by fewer houses. Also, people will use the road’s shoulder for bike paths.

The North County Corridor is designed to improve traffic circulation across the county, enhance safety and promote the movement of goods and services. The county says almost 60 parcels will be affected. Of those, the county will need to acquire 13 entire parcels.