Facing a 2015 construction deadline and the uncertainty of a long court fight, the builders of a San Gabriel Valley light-rail project have agreed to pay a Monrovia property owner $24 million to settle six lawsuits related to a dispute over the price officials offered him for his land.
Under the settlement, the Gold Line construction authority will give George Brokate of Excaliber Property Holdings his asking price for 4.8 acres in Monrovia that are needed for a maintenance yard for the Foothill extension, which will run from Pasadena east to Azusa.
Brokate's attorneys contended, among other things, that rail officials undervalued their client's property on the southwest corner of Evergreen and Shamrock avenues at $5.8 million during condemnation proceedings.
The lawsuits are part of a yearlong battle with Brokate, who lodged a separate conflict-of-interest complaint involving the rail agency with the state attorney general last year. It alleges that authority board members held multiple government positions that could clash with the rail project, a potential violation of a state provision against incompatible office holding.
Three board members resigned, but subsequent changes in state law allowed them to return to the authority. Thus far, only one of those who stepped down, L.A. City Councilman Ed Reyes, has been reappointed.
Light-rail officials say the settlement, reached late last week, will help the $735-million project stay on budget and meet its scheduled completion date in September 2015. The authority estimated that a protracted court fight could have resulted in a two-year delay and increased costs by $100 million.
"Although we feel confident that we would have prevailed on the legal issues over time, the delay caused by the legal process and the uncertainties related to continuing [condemnation efforts] were very risky," said Glendora Mayor Doug Tessitor, chairman of the construction authority's board of directors.
Christopher Sutton, one of Brokate's attorneys, said the authority had suffered several legal setbacks, including a court order for a new environmental analysis of alternative maintenance facility sites.
The Gold Line agency also faced a Feb. 22 trial date in another case involving Brokate's allegations that a $486-million construction contract for the Foothill extension was awarded without competitive bids. Rail officials deny any impropriety, saying the selection process resulted in three companies as finalists.
"My client got exactly what he wanted or else he would have wanted a full trial," Sutton said. "It was not about the money. He wanted to draw attention to what he thought was misconduct by the Gold Line."
The settlement ends four lawsuits brought by Brokate and two eminent domain actions filed by the construction authority to obtain his property. One Brokate case alleged that Monrovia violated a 2004 court settlement in which the city agreed not to pursue condemnation proceedings against his land.
In addition to the Gold Line, the newest settlement covers other entities, including the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Monrovia.