Lowball Watch – California

We are reliably informed that yesterday, following a five-week trial, a jury in Riverside, California, returned a verdict in the taking of a 233-acre flowage easement, plus a small taking in fee simple and a small temporary construction easement. The figures were as follows. Condemnor’s evidence – $2,300,000. Owner’s evidence – $17,007,166. The jury verdict was $15,000,005, or 6.5 times the condemnor’s figure.

The case is Orange County Flood Control District v. Altfillisch Construction Co., and the taking was for
occasional floodwater storage that would be needed as a result of a modification of the Prado Dam.

The controversy centered on whether the subject property was developable. The condemnor argued that it was not, because it was in a floodway of the Santa Ana River. The owners disagreed and contended that by a process of modifying the floodway through FEMA and filling some wetlands (for which obtaining necessary permits was probable) the property could be developed, and this enhanced its fair market value way above the its value as raw unusable land.

The smiling counsel for the property owners is Ed Burg of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in Los Angeles.