STOCKTON, CA - In order to extend Highway 4, California's Transportation Department (Caltrans) told four companies on Navy Drive it'll need their land to build the ramp.
At first, the owners of Debco Auto Wrecking were prepared to sell.
"We'd move, we're all for progress," said Debco manager Mark Bedford, whose great-grandfather started the business. "But it's just buy the business and everybody go on your merry way, or give us a piece of property to move to."
Debco Auto Wrecking has been a Bedford family business since 1962. In 2010, when Caltans came calling, the owner had his 5-acre property appraised independently by Stephen R. Clark Appraiser & Consultant, Inc. The property was appraised at $1.2 million. So the Bedfords were more than floored when Caltrans offered them $1,000.
"Actually, the first offer was zero, so I found a $1,000 even more insulting," Bedford said. "If you're going to take it, take it, but offering a thousand was really insulting."
A manager at C.R. International Sales, next door to Debco Auto Wrecking, said Caltrans offered it a few thousand for just the front portion of its property. However, when it provided Caltrans with relocation costs, Caltrans stopped negotiating and instead filed eminent domain lawsuits on the four businesses.
Caltrans Chief Counsel Ronald W. Beals, listed as the first defendant in the lawsuit, did not return News10's phone calls, but a spokesperson for Caltrans' Stockton office said the department cannot comment on current litigation.
Demco's attorney Tom Keeling said Caltrans also did an appraisal on the Demco Auto Wrecking property; according to the appraisal, Caltrans values the property at a little under a $1 million, but claims it'll take $3 million to clean up "contamination."
In essence, bringing the value down to zero.
"We've followed every law that's been in effect since 1962," said Bedford when questioned on the term "contamination" cited in the appraisal. "And we're up to code now, so I have no clue."
Debco said it impounds cars for California Highway Patrol, the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office and Stockton Police Department. At least 400 cars would have to be relocated and only to a property all three agencies first survey and approve. Bedford said $1,000 wouldn't cover any of the cost.
"It'll fuel a couple of trips maybe," Bedford said.
Keeling said he believes the state most likely will file a motion for a pre-judgement possession and will want these businesses gone this year to start the Highway 4 project.