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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Regional

Bakers Evicted by City Get $700,000 Settlement

March 09, 2000

SANTA ANA — City officials paid $700,000 to a couple who charged they were tricked into selling their bakery at a loss to accommodate a street widening project.

Jorge and Maria Merino, who owned the popular South Coast Bakery for 14 years, agreed to the settlement, which was approved by an Orange County Superior Court judge Tuesday--the same day that a lawsuit filed by the couple against the city was to go to trial.

The Merinos, both 60 and immigrants from Argentina, were paid $790,000 by Santa Ana in 1998 and have now collected almost $1.5 million from the city.

Evicted from their business in July 1998, the Merinos have tried unsuccessfully to find jobs.

On Tuesday, Jorge Merino said he was satisfied with the settlement.

"We're happy because this money will help us settle into retirement," he said. "We still have some of the money they gave us earlier. We thought of buying another bakery, but we really can't afford to start another business."

When the city informed the Merinos that their property was going to be acquired under eminent domain for the widening of Bristol Street, the couple hired an appraiser who valued their lot at $978,000.

The family accepted the city's $790,000 offer when officials promised to help them develop an adjoining property into a mall, with a new bakery as the anchor store, Jorge Merino said. He spent $140,000 for an architect, soil engineer and other experts to do studies and draw up plans.

But the Merinos said the city reneged on all its promises and evicted them. Two years later, the property remains vacant and the street project is on hold.

Officials at the city attorney's office could not be reached for comment.

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