ALHAMBRA — Faced with judgments totaling more than $6 million for easements and property that the city contends are worth about $600,000, the city plans to ask a Superior Court judge to order a new trial in a condemnation suit against Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corp.
The disputed award compensates the railroad for property taken in 1985 to widen Mission Road and for easements and property losses incurred a decade ago when a three-mile section of railroad track along Mission Road was lowered to eliminate grade-crossings.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury fixed the compensation after considering sharply conflicting appraisals submitted by the city and the railroad. The city's appraiser said the railroad should receive $612,500 for easements and property. The railroad's two appraisers said the company should be paid more than $9 million.
City Atty. Leland C. Dolley said he believes the city can raise legal issues that would warrant a new trial or a successful appeal, but he declined to discuss them before they are submitted to court. Dolley said the request for a new trial will be made after the judgment is formally entered next month.
Anthony Parrile, attorney for the railroad, said the amount owed by the city will reach $9 million when interest is included. He said more than $3.7 million of the award is subject to annual interest of 7% dating back to 1976 because of an agreement with the city.
"Obviously, it's a big hit," said City Manager Kevin Murphy. "I don't know where we would come up with $9 million." Alhambra's annual budget, apart from restricted funds, is only $20 million.
Murphy said that for years the city budget carried $2 million in reserve to pay the railroad, but the city elected last year to spend the money for street improvements, including the Mission Road widening.
Dolley said the city will ask the state to pay part of the cost if the verdict stands, since the project to lower the railroad tracks was undertaken through an agreement among the state, the city and the railroad. The agreement called for the state to pay 80% of the cost, the city 10% and the railroad 10% up to a maximum of $2 million.
The railroad has not yet paid its share, and a separate suit filed by the city against the railroad alleging breach of contract is pending in Pasadena Superior Court.
Parrile said the railroad spent nearly $1.1 million on the track-lowering project and is willing to pay the remainder of its obligation, $934,000, to the city when all the litigation is settled.
The jury verdict, returned June 30 before Superior Court Judge Alexander Early, involved two condemnation cases filed by the city against the railroad.
One suit was filed in 1985 to acquire a narrow strip of railroad land to widen Mission Road. The property, varying from 12 to 22 feet in width and three miles in length, totaled more than six acres.
Confronted with appraisals that ranged from $575,000 to $3 million, the jury set the amount to be paid by the city at $2,216,700.
The second case, filed in 1981, involved easements acquired by the city to put the railroad tracks 25 to 30 feet below ground level and to build eight bridges to carry traffic from cross streets over the tracks, eliminating grade crossings.
The project, originally budgeted for $12 million, was completed in 1978 at a cost of $19.5 million.
The railroad contended that the project decreased the value of its property.
The Superior Court jury awarded Santa Fe Southern Pacific $1,704,500 for a temporary construction easement that was acquired while the tracks were being lowered and $2,079,700 in severance damages incurred because the ditch, slopes and walls built on the right-of-way limited use of the property.
Dolley said the city contends that the railroad agreed to the project, benefited from it and is not entitled to the huge amount awarded by the jury.
But, Parrile contended, the company deserves compensation for the reduction in the value of its property.