Water project never happened


(Note: The criminal use of eminent domain chalks up another victim. The city of Escondido's mayor, Lori Holt Pfeiler, City Attorney Jeffrey Epp etc., have apparently chosen an arrogant path in a city-controlling agenda.)


March 17, 2006


By Elena Gaona, Staff Writer [email protected] or 760-737-7575

The San Diego Union-Tribune 

P.O. Box 120191

San Diego, California 92112-0191


Fax: 619-260-5081


To submit a Letter to the Editor: [email protected] or [email protected]


Escondido, California - City officials have ended dealings with a family that was trying to buy back land it was forced to sell to the city 11 years ago, and plan to sell it to a developer next week instead.

Negotiations between the Redding family and the city ended yesterday after City Attorney Jeffrey Epp sent Jane Redding a letter at her home in Nebraska.

“The primary difference between the city's offer to you and your counter offer is the fact you are refusing to return the city's money with any interest earnings whatsoever,” Epp wrote in the letter, dated March 16.

In 1995, Jane Redding, 57; her sister Ann, 64, of Los Angeles; and their mother, Helen Redding, 94, of Point Loma sold their 10-acre parcel off Mary Lane to Escondido for $345,000. The city had initiated eminent-domain proceedings, saying it needed the land for a water-reclamation project.

The parcel, at the end of Puebla Street just east of the city limits, was bought by Helen Redding and her late husband, Marion, around 1957.

The Reddings said that after paying more than $15,000 in attorney fees, they were advised by their attorney that they had no choice but to sell because the city would prevail in court and condemn the property.

They say the dispute contributed to the death of Marion Redding, who was battling prostate cancer at the time.

He died before the land was sold.

But the city's planned reclamation project never happened, and the Reddings' parcel became unused surplus property.

A few weeks ago, the city was prepared to sell the parcel, which has been appraised at about $700,000, to a developer for $775,000.

After learning that the property had never been used and of the pending sale, the Reddings contacted the city and said they wanted it back. The city was willing, if the price was right.

The city asked $596,000, a figure that included the original sale price, $13,502 in property taxes since the city bought the land and $238,000 the city says it would have earned had the money it spent on the land been in its investment portfolio.

The Reddings offered $345,000 plus $13,502 in property taxes. They said they were unwilling to pay the city any earnings on the parcel because they never wanted to sell it in the first place and because of the emotional toll the forced sale placed on the family.

The Reddings also say they received less than $207,000 for the property after paying capital-gains taxes. The city says the original purchase price was more than the appraised value because it included costs the city avoided by not going to court.

Their offer didn't sit well with Escondido officials, however. Jane Redding said the family assumed both sides would continue talking. But city officials say they're done.

“She rejected our offer, and we rejected her offer,” Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler said yesterday, adding that negotiations have ended.

The Reddings' offer was “so far apart” from the developer's offer that the family wasn't playing fair, Pfeiler said. They also appeared to be negotiating reasonably in person, but at the same time were expressing indignation with the city's position in news accounts of the situation, she said.

At this point, the city must get the best return it can from the surplus land it owns, Pfeiler said.

“The city also has constitutional and statutory obligations to manage taxpayer funds and property in a fiscally responsible manner,” Epp wrote in the letter to Jane Redding.

The city plans to approve the sale of the parcel to developers Cliff and Diane Morgan on Wednesday, Epp said in the letter.

“We're devastated,” Jane Redding said. “We're not trying to be greedy. We're trying to say, 'Look what it has cost our family.' ”

The family plans to seek a restraining order to stop the sale, Redding said.

“We're going to fight,” she said. “What they're doing is immoral, and it could happen to you next.”


Copyright 2006, The San Diego Union-Tribune.



Additional researched, related, recommended reading:


Mayor of Escondido, California, Lori Holt Pfeiler:

[email protected] or 760-839-4610


Escondido City Attorney Jeffrey R. Epp: [email protected] [email protected] or 760-839-4608 / 760-740-9093. Fax: 760-741-7541



Top Escondido officials get pay raise



September 20, 2005


By David Fried [email protected] or 760-740-5416

The North County Times

207 East Pennsylvania Avenue

Escondido, California 92025


Fax: 760-432-6582


To submit a Letter to the Editor: [email protected] (200-word limit) 


Escondido, California - Welcome to the big leagues.

Beginning this fiscal year, City Manager Clay Phillips and City Attorney Jeffrey Epp each received an annual raise of $45,504, pushing their total compensation packages up to $215,504 and into the top tier of public employees in the county.

While the 28 percent increases quietly went into effect last month, they were negotiated as part of new work agreements the City Council unanimously approved in July 2004.

Beginning this fiscal year, the contracts tie the officials’ wages to the average of the three highest salaries for city managers in the county, excluding the city of San Diego. Escondido is San Diego County’s fourth largest city in terms of population.

As a result, Phillips -- who previously ranked 10th among the region’s 18 city managers -- now ranks third on the local pay scale, behind San Diego’s Lamont Ewell and Chula Vista’s Dave Rowlands. Chula Vista is the county’s second-largest city, followed by Oceanside.

Epp, who was appointed in 1996 and whose salary is tied to that of the city manager’s, becomes the highest-paid city attorney in the county.

Before the raise, Epp, who manages a team of five attorneys, ranked last. He now rakes in $12,000 more than San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre, an elected official who oversees an office of 130 attorneys.

Both Epp and Phillips said that the pay hikes make up for several years without a raise, and that in the future, the increases would probably not be so large.

“We needed to play catch-up, that’s the reason for the bigger boost,” Epp said, adding that the council can re-evaluate the new benchmark with each annual contract cycle.

Neither official received a raise last year, but the contracts included the formula for determining the new salaries, although they did not specify how much the raises would end up being.

The 2005-06 fiscal year budget the council approved in June did not include the raise amount either, and lists Epp’s and Phillip’s salaries at $165,025 each.

The new salaries will be paid from a contingency fund and won't show up in budget documents until next year.

Phillips said that the final survey of local salaries was not completed until this summer, but that ballpark figures were available for anyone who looked at the contracts and paid attention to the formula.

All this stuff can't be done without public approval,” Phillips said. “And the contracts were approved publicly.”

Based on last month’s survey, Epp and Phillips receive a base salary of $206,504, as well as a car allowance of $9,000 each.

Previously, they were paid $161,000 as well as a car allowance, which was increased 67 percent as part of the 2004 contract. Under city policy, the new car allowance applied to the council members, as well.

City officials said the pay increases were recognition for a job well done, and were needed to keep Escondido competitive with neighboring jurisdictions.

Mayor Lori Pfeiler said the council understood what the final value of the Epp’s and Phillip’s raises might be when it approved the contracts.

“We expect a lot from our city manager and city attorney,” Pfeiler said. “And if we expect a lot, we have to be on a level of compensation that is commensurate with that sophistication.”

Richard Rider, who heads San Diego Tax Fighters, a libertarian watchdog group, called that argument “utter nonsense.”

“Government pay in general has nothing to do with performance or retention,” Rider said. “It’s just whatever they can get away with.”

Moreover, Rider said that the raises will probably have a “leap-frog effect” as the city’s labor unions begin clamoring for similar deals the next time they're sitting at the bargaining table.

The notion of tying Escondido officials’ salaries to those of their counterparts throughout San Diego could also result in increasingly hefty compensation packages all around.

“If there’s more than one jurisdiction that benchmarks to the highest salaries, that can be problematic,” said Steve Jepsen, Oceanside’s city manager, who makes $174,800.

Epp’s and Phillip’s raises are the third major compensation boost for city officials this year.

The council received the same $3,600 car allowance increase as Phillips and Epp, giving the elected officials the highest such reimbursement of any North County city.

And last week, the council approved a 30 percent raise for elected officials, after five years without one. That raise will not take effect until after the 2006 elections, and many on the council pointed out that nearly half of the $3,150 increase will be offset by a state-mandated cut in payments for some ancillary council duties.

Councilman Ron Newman has criticized the increase in auto allowance and the recent vote to raise council pay. In this case, however, Newman said he supported the raises for the two city officials. But he felt that the final amount should have been divulged as part of a public dialogue at the time it took effect.

“The worst thing about this, it’s not the money,” Newman said. “When we do something like this, it brings public trust down a couple of notches.”


Copyright 2005, North County Times.



Also posted here:



Family wants its Escondido land back


March 4, 2006


By David Fried [email protected] or 760-740-5416

The North County Times

207 East Pennsylvania Avenue

Escondido, California 92025


Fax: 760-432-6582


To submit a Letter to the Editor: [email protected] (200-word limit)


Helen Redding's fragile 94-year-old frame has difficulty navigating the soft soil of the steep slope that was once an avocado grove and the pride of her family.

But with the help of her daughter, she is scrambling in a race to buy the 10-acre site at the end of Puebla Street from the city, which purchased it from the Redding family for $345,000 as part of an eminent domain proceeding in 1995.

The city is now selling the land and the Redding family says it should be the first in line to buy.


The Reddings sold the property to the city after the City Council declared the land was part of a new water reclamation system. That project, however, never came to fruition.

"We had never had any hope of getting (the land) back," Helen Redding said. "It's amazing. But it was a doozy, because they've had it for (10) years and never did anything with it."

Actually, the city did do something with it. After receiving a purchase offer from a local developer last year, it decided to sell the land -- a plan that didn't sit well with Helen Redding's daughter, Jane.

After a former neighbor informed her of the pending sale late last month, Jane Redding, who lives in Nebraska, immediately contacted Escondido officials crying foul play and flew to San Diego to deal with the matter.

"They were going to make a huge profit on it," said Jane Redding, who serves as secretary of M.D. Redding MD Inc., her family's medical business, which once owned the site.

How much to pay

City officials said they had decided to accept the developer's offer because the land wasn't needed. But making a huge profit wasn't part of the equation.

And once they learned of the Redding's interest, city officials immediately started working with family members to sell them back the land, at a rate below market value.

"We didn't build the public improvement," said Mayor Lori Pfeiler. "And the best and most we can do is to let the ones who care about (the land) have it back."

This week, the city agreed to sell the land to the Reddings for $596,000, a price that includes the original purchase price, $13,500 in property taxes the city has paid, and $238,000 to compensate for lost interest returns had the money been placed in Escondido's investment portfolio.

But the Redding family has balked at the offer.

Jane Redding said she has no problem covering the taxes -- something her family would have had to pay, regardless. But she rejects the idea of covering the city's losses had it simply kept the money in the bank.

"They are the ones that sat on it," Redding said, adding that she intends to put forward a counteroffer. "Why should we be paying for the appreciation?"

Selling the family land

After all, for the Redding family, the expansive parcel was meant to be their heritage.

Marion Redding, a San Diego surgeon, had purchased the hilltop land in the unincorporated area in 1957, with the hopes of passing it down through the generations, said daughter Jane Redding.

For decades, the family would while away their weekends picnicking beneath the avocado and orange trees they had planted. They regularly sold some of the fruit to markets, but mostly they just gave it to friends and neighbors, Jane Redding recalled.

"More than an income-producing thing, it was a great joy for the family," she said.

Redding said the family believes the City Council's move to adopt a "Resolution of Necessity" that cleared the way for the city to acquire the property contributed to the death of her father, who was battling cancer at the time.

In 1995, shortly after the family patriarch passed away, the Reddings agreed to sell the land, on the advice of their lawyer.

After that, the story of the land is told in the brown tree stumps, dried grass and blossom on nine remaining orange trees that line portions of the roadside.

A plan abandoned

Escondido had gone after the land in order to house storage tanks as part of a water reclamation project it had proposed in conjunction with the city of San Diego. The project would have nearly doubled the city's reclaimed water capacity and piped water to San Pasqual Valley, parts of southern Escondido and other areas.

But shortly after the city purchased the land, San Diego backed out of the project, said Pat Thomas. the city's public works director.

Even without San Diego's participation, Escondido officials still felt they could move ahead on the project, Thomas said. But around 2001, the city dropped those plans for good.

The city cut off water to the site a couple of years after the sale, and for the last decade, the land has lain fallow. Neighbors said they later cleared dying trees and regularly cut down the brush that would grow on the slope, presenting a fire hazard to the community.

"The city was genuine at the time," Councilman Ed Gallo said. "And things change over time, and it became surplus (property)."

Changing the law

That surplus property is now valuable land.

After receiving an unsolicited offer for the property, the city decided to advertise the sale of the property last spring and received just two offers. The highest was from Clifton C. Morgan Construction Inc, the company that first inquired about the land, said Tom Nutt, the city's real property negotiator.

After further investigating the land, Morgan Construction began renegotiating the sale price, dropping the company's initial offer of $1 million to roughly $775,000 -- well above the $700,000 appraised value, according to Nutt.

In general, cities and other California entities that exercise eminent domain have seven years to make use of properties they condemn.

City Attorney Jeffrey Epp said that, in this case, he did not believe the clock was ticking, since the property was ultimately purchased outright and not condemned.

State law does not provide former owners any recourse if the land seized from them is not used for its intended purpose or is later put up for sale.

However, a proposed amendment to the state's constitution would provide that right if a government entity abandons the intended use or doesn't develop the property within 10 years.

The amendment, authored by Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, is one of many such measures being drafted around the nation, in the wake of a Supreme Court decision last year upholding governments' right to exercise eminent domain to further private development.

Bringing back family history

Today, the only remnant of the Reddings' family retreat at the end of Puebla's cul-de-sac is a rusted chain-link gate that once led to lush avocado groves that lined the slope and still yield a panoramic view of the Escondido valley.

The view would no doubt be a selling point to anyone who built on the land, which is zoned for up to four single-family houses.

Jane Redding, however, has other plans.

A self-described conservationist, she said that she would like to build one house for her aging mother, and a guest house for herself and her sister, who lives in the Los Angeles area.

And while the glory of the family's grove is probably lost for good, Jane Redding said she intends to replant the hillsides, perhaps with native California vegetation.

"It looks like a dust bowl," Jane Redding said. "We want to beautify it and bring it back."


Comments On This Story



Note: Comments reflect the views of readers and not necessarily those of the North County Times or its staff.
JulieKay wrote on March 19, 2006 1:23 PM: "For those good and astute readers that want to learn more: http://www.propertyrightsresearch.org/emdomainfrms.htm It's a lesson in hindsight that the average Joe doesn't become outraged until his own back yard is impacted. Being in the crosshairs provides a new feeling."

Dane wrote on March 05, 2006 7:04 PM: "Escondido basically stole this land from this family. They should give the land back at no charge and forfeit and monies paid to them by the family as compensation for the trouble they put the family through. Furthermore, the eminent domain law needs to be amended to accommodate situations such as this, i.e., state explicitly that the city must return the land at no additional cost regardless of appreciation."

Matt wrote on March 05, 2006 6:06 PM: "You've got to love how (thanks to the Federal Government) now at the local level it's even easier to "acquire" land from private owners. Mike is right; the laws really have changed a lot in the last few years. All of the other writers all make some very good points;I guess our city too (like so many others) have lost sight of "the big picture" (meaning the elected officials are suppose to be looking out for the people who voted them in,not just for the city itself) I wish the Redding family luck,and hope the City of Escondido does the right thing."

Escondido stinks wrote on March 05, 2006 5:22 PM: "How wrong for them to expect to profit from this land they stole! Forced sell is stolen no matter how much money the Reddings were paid for it. The city of Escondido should return it free to the rightful owners ... the city ruined the land that now needs to be given TLC to restore. This city stinks ... rotten to the core."

Josh wrote on March 05, 2006 3:35 PM: "Agreed; Escondido is not doing the right thing here. At a minimum, they should sell it back at the price they paid for it!"

Mike wrote on March 05, 2006 9:35 AM: "The Reddings should feel fortunate that they even have an opportunity to get the land back, no matter what the price. In this day and age -- of eminent domain and the schemes that are being played out so that cities take land (after defining it as a blight) and then resell it to the highest private developer -- the Reddings should sign the documents ASAP. The eminent domain laws have changed significantly these last couple of years, and the city can do whatever they want with the land. These recent eminent domain changes were made at the Supreme Court level and not by city managers."

Fred wrote on March 05, 2006 9:33 AM: "Ditto ... the city should GIVE the land back FREE of ALL charges for the damages they have caused. In other words: restitution and restoration Then they -- Escondido city of -- can fully repent for the bad deed. This hopefully would avoid a possible lawsuit and cover the family's lawyer bill on this issue."

Jeff wrote on March 05, 2006 8:09 AM :"The City of Escondido should be ashamed of themselves for such a miserable offer. They used government power to steal this land, and now are trying to make a profit on it, or at the very least, to recover costs. This family is not responsible for the city making bad decisions, and they should not have to pay extra for it. The city should sell it back for the purchase price and learn a lesson from this. This story made me sick."

Kathleen wrote on March 05, 2006 7:49 AM :"How can the City of Escondido use eminent domain to acquire land, not use the land for its intended purpose, then turn around and sell the land? Escondido has lost sight of the fact that cities exist to serve the residents, not the other way around. The citizen should not have to pay for lost investment portfolio earnings. The land was never supposed to be an investment to begin with. Toss those corrupt council members in Guantanamo with Duke Cunningham and throw away the key!"


Copyright 2006, North County Times.