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City buying properties on El Camino for interchange
Council agrees to pay $600,000 for small apartment complex
Don Pedro apartments
The city is in the process of buying a 13-unit apartment complex at 2601 Don Pedro Road. Once in the citys possession the structures will be razed for the forthcoming Service/Mitchell/Highway 99 interchange. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

With construction on the Service/Mitchell/Highway 99 interchange at least three years in the offing, city officials are slowly snatching up affected properties along frontage road El Camino Avenue.

Last week the council approved the $600,000 purchase of a parcel at 2601 Don Pedro Road needed for a new local road system that will result from the new interchange to the south. However, it wasn't a unanimous decision.

Councilwoman Linda Ryno was the lone vote against paying $600,000 to Sun Valley Apartments, LLC, the owners of a 13-unit apartment complex occupying a little over a third of an acre at the corner of El Camino Avenue and Don Pedro Road where a police officer killed a suspect earlier this year. Ryno learned that the complex was appraised at $570,000 but the owners wanted an additional $30,000 for the loss of income and to help relocate tenants before the property closes escrow in October. At the end of her questioning Mayor Chris Vierra, Vice Manager Mike Kline and Councilmen Ken Lane and Bret Durossette voted to approve the purchase while she voted no.

The appraisal seemed a bit high because value was determined by the best and highest use of the property, because it is zoned for industrial use.

Funding for the purchase is coming from Public Facility Fees designed to help pay for new infrastructure.

On Jan. 5 the apartment complex was the scene of a police officer involved shooting in which Albert Thompson, 28, was fatally shot by Officers Justin Canatsy and Jesus Salinas.

City Manager Toby Wells said the "diverging diamond" design of the forthcoming interchange requires a different configuration of property and right-of-way in the area of Service and Mitchell roads.

"El Camino and Don Pedro need to be reconfigured to make the onramps work," said Wells. "It cuts that corner off so Don Pedro will actually connect to Ninth Street rather than El Camino."

A sliver of land is also necessary north of the apartment complex.

Also on Monday, June 13, the council went into closed session to negotiate the purchase of two additional properties, one located at 3824 El Camino and the other a small apartment cluster at 3836 El Camino.

Some of the parcels needed in city possession are a mixture of residential homes, smaller apartment complexes, and industrial uses and some are vacant. Besides setting aside land for the northbound onramp, the city is realizing the benefit of the eventual elimination of highly visible eyesores along the stretch.

Wells said he hopes the city doesn't have to use the eminent domain process to buy up any last remaining land needed to make the interchange work.

"We do have the authority," said Wells.

Some property owners have put their properties up for sale along the frontage road between Ninth Street and Service Road because they know the city is buying.
The city has thus far closed escrow on 3912 and 2624 El Camino Avenue.

Wells remains confident that the $125 million interchange - which has been in the planning process since 1997 - will begin construction in three years. The project would receive a funding boost of $31 million if voters approve a planned half-cent sales tax for transportation needs this fall.

The interchange design would also eliminate the current route where freeway motorists exit southbound 99 at Mitchell Road. The southbound off-ramp and southbound on-ramps currently cross each other, making drivers coming off the freeway stop and wait for a break in southbound Mitchell Road traffic headed onto the freeway. That southbound off-ramp at Mitchell would be eliminated. Those wanting to get off the freeway could get off on an off-ramp at Service Road. Mitchell Road would still have its southbound on-ramp and northbound on-ramp and off-ramp.

The diamond design is best explained in several Youtube videos. On most overpasses, a vehicle travelling westbound over a freeway overpass would be on the north side while eastbound motorists would be on the south side. The diverging diamond flips that pattern, mostly because it allows for less traffic conflicts, better and increased traffic flows and better access to the freeway. Proper signage are a "critical component" in keeping motorists from becoming confused about movement, said Wells.

The diverging diamond is considered safer than other designs because it results in a slower traffic movement - about 25-35 mph - and affords less chance for serious accidents.

Diverging diamond interchanges have worked successfully in Missouri, Florida, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho, Texas, Utah, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio, New York, Georgia and other states. Europe has used the design for about 40 years, said Wells. In all, 51 locations in the United States use the design.