"It will be 20 years before we have the beautiful trees that are established."
La Jolla Colony residents and owners are upset over the looming loss of land, serenity, and the old-growth trees that shelter them from the I-5 freeway — up the hill on the western edge of the condo complex — to be replaced by a trolley and a partial sound wall.
"The maps don't really show what is being taken," said Carol Dahlberg, who owns a condo in the La Paz condominium complex, a 22-building, 280-unit project. "The price that's been offered is not what I'm going to lose."
On Friday (July 22), the San Diego Association of Governments board of directors unanimously signed off on condemnation lawsuits that will take a strip of land along the east side of I-5 from Gilman Drive to Nobel Drive — as well as pieces of property to build a station for the Mid-Coast Trolley project.
As part of the action, the association of governments will also get permission for temporary easements to use the condo association parking lots and roads for access during trolley construction, which could last for years, according to meeting documents. (Filing the court action means the association of governments can begin construction by autumn, not when the suit is resolved.)
"What's been proposed isn't even going to cover the cost of soundproof windows," said La Paz resident Brooke Eastman. "Yes, La Paz is next to the I-5, but the trees have buffered us from the noise. Now you're going to take our trees and put a train there and not even build enough sound wall to protect us."
The Mid Coast Trolley is designed as a commuter light-rail service that will run from the downtown Santa Fe Depot to the Westfield mall at University Town Center, east of La Jolla. The challenge of designing it comes with fitting it into the thoroughly developed corridor between the two landmarks.
The project has been designed so "the alignment maximizes the use of the existing public right of way and minimizes private property acquisitions," said Brad Kuhn, the Orange County attorney representing the association of governments in the condemnation action.
Seven owners are seeing their land condemned for the trolley. Association of governments attorneys made them offers "of just compensation" last year and have been negotiating since then, while land values have gone up.
The outfit with the highest offer, SA Marina LLC, was offered $8,965,000 for their land — which Emad Bolovs, the Rancho Cucamonga owner declined to discuss.
La Paz condo association was offered $2,487,000 for the land it will lose from its common area. Usually, common-area money would go into the association funds rather than dividing it among owners.
The condo complex is at the south end of the La Jolla Colony projects built in the mid-1980s. With the freeway uphill on the west side and greenbelt to the south and west in the canyons and big shady trees throughout, La Paz smells of coastal sage and mist on the hottest day. The one- and two-bedroom condos sell for between $325,000 and $430,000, according to current real estate listings.
The condo complex will lose 78,000 square feet of land and will see a permanent easement and pedestrian access on 33,000 square feet. The association of governments also wants 67,000 square feet of temporary access for construction.
"This will mean noise and dirt in our parking lots for as long as it takes to build the trolley," one resident, who asked not to be identified, said in a telephone interview. "How am I going to rent my condo to someone at market rent when they're looking at a year of noise and dust?"
The construction also means that many of the tall trees along the west edge of the property will be cut down, residents said.
"It will be 20 years before we have the beautiful trees that are established," said Sherri Schoeder, a resident and owner. "They are...destroying a mature landscape and adding the trolley, with all the problems that come with it."
Residents brought attorney Don Detisch to the meeting, but the board refused to let him speak for more than six minutes. He brought a presentation he was forced to rush through that showed the impact on the property.
One woman was worried because her mother, a condo owner, is in the process of moving in with her daughter's family and was going to sell the condo.
"Our real estate agent retracted this contract because of this project," Cara Brull said. "Can anyone tell me what we should do now?"
La Paz residents were also upset about the sound wall, which goes only half the length of the project, then abruptly ends.
"That issue should have been raised in the [California Environmental Quality Act] or [National Environmental Policy Act ] process," Kuhn said.
Lemon Grove mayor Mary Sessom showed little sympathy to the plight of the residents.
"You're not the only community to have to suffer this," Sessom said. "I've got a trolley [line] that cut my city in half. We have a freeway [SR-125] that took some of our best housing. I understand that your people have been affected by what we're trying to do for the region."