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City of San Jose v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

May 20, 2010

CITY OF SAN JOSE, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



(Santa Clara County Super. Ct. No. CV026149) Trial Court: Santa Clara County Superior Court Superior Court No. CV026149 Trial Judge: Hon. Jack Komar.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Premo, Acting P.J.

Plaintiff City of San Jose (City) sued defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company (Union Pacific) to condemn roadway easements over railroad tracks so as to widen a road already traversing the tracks. The parties agreed on the taking and litigated the compensation issue in a court trial based on stipulated facts. The trial court awarded Union Pacific nominal compensation for the taking insofar as the easements traversed the property within the track corridor. And it awarded fair-market-value compensation for the taking insofar as the easements traversed the property outside the track corridor. Union Pacific appeals from the judgment and contends that it was entitled to fair-market-value compensation for the taking within the track corridor. City appeals from the judgment and contends that Union Pacific was entitled to only nominal compensation for the taking outside the track corridor. At the heart of the dispute is whether City of Oakland v. Schenck (1925) 197 Cal. 456 (Schenck), is controlling authority. We conclude that it is. We therefore affirm the judgment.

Background

We appreciate the trial court's concise statement of decision and adopt it as indicated.

"City seeks to condemn roadway easements (the 'Roadway Easements') over portions of five parcels of land owned by [Union Pacific] for the purpose of widening Oakland Road. Two separate strips of property owned by [Union Pacific] are crossed by the road (these strips are referred to as 'rights of way' or transportation corridors herein for convenience, and not to indicate some legal significance from the use of those terms). One right of way is crossed by Oakland Road near a street called Faulstich Court, and thus is referred to as 'the Faulstich Court Crossing.' There are three small parcels of land at this crossing, which were referred to in the Stipulation as Parcel A (36.5 square feet on the westerly side of Oakland Road), Parcel B (644 square feet on the westerly side of Oakland Road), and Parcel C (511 square feet on the easterly side of Oakland Road). The second crossing is near a street called Wayne Avenue and is thus referred to as 'the Wayne Avenue Crossing.' This take involves Parcel D (658 square feet on the westerly side of Oakland Road) and Parcel E (6,067 square feet on the easterly side of Oakland Road). Parcels A, B, C, D, and E are collectively referred to herein as the 'Properties.'

"According to the Stipulation, for purposes of this trial, the parties agreed that the City's widening of Oakland Road as set forth in the Complaint will not interfere with [Union Pacific's] railroad operations or continued use for railroad track placement and train passage of the area within its transportation corridors covering a width of 10 feet in either direction from the center line of the single existing track (a total width of 20 feet). This 20-foot swath of land for track placement and train passage will herein be referred to as the 'Necessary Track Clearance Width.'

"The parties further stipulated that [Union Pacific] has the right to make use of all land within its transportation corridors that is not within the Necessary Track Clearance Width for alternative transportation corridor purposes, including, but not limited to, storage, development, leasing or licensing to third parties, addition of switches, signal cases, trackside detection equipment, side tracks for rail car storage, and storage for ties, ballast, crossing panels and other railroad materials."

The parties also agreed on the amount of square footage each parcel had within and outside the Necessary Track Clearance Width. They further agreed on the fair market value for each parcel based on a value per square foot. And they finally agreed that nominal compensation was $2,500 for the Faulstich Court Crossing and $2,500 for the Wayne Avenue Crossing.

The trial court found that Schenck applied to the portion of the properties within the Necessary Track Clearance Width and awarded Union Pacific the $5,000 nominal compensation therefor. It found that Schenck did not apply to the portion of the properties outside of the Necessary Track Clearance Width and, based on the stipulated value per square foot, awarded Union Pacific $174,389 fair-market-value compensation therefor.

Union Pacific contends that Schenck does not apply to the portion of the properties within the Necessary Track Clearance Width. It concludes that it is entitled to an additional $87,462. City contends that Schenck applies to all portions of the properties. It concludes that Union Pacific is limited to compensation of $5,000.

Schenck

In Schenck, the defendants owned a strip of land in fee approximately 115 feet in width and 757 feet in length. They used the northeasterly 55 feet of the strip as a right of way for their railroad. They did not use the southwesterly 60 feet of the strip for railroad uses. The city brought a condemnation action under the Street Opening Act of 1903 to condemn a strip of land 60 feet wide across the defendants' strip for the purpose of opening and extending 89th Avenue. The trial court found that no damages would be suffered by the defendants by the taking of the portion of the land used for a railroad right of way. It explained that the use of the property as and for a public street was consistent with the continuance of the use of the property as and for a railroad right of way and that both public uses can exist together. It therefore awarded one dollar for the taking. As to the taking of the portion of the land not devoted to railroad purposes, the trial court awarded $300. On appeal, the defendants challenged the one-dollar award. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment.

The court acknowledged the principle that a railroad's right of way is private property such that it can only be constitutionally taken under the power of eminent domain, which requires reasonable compensation to the owner. "The interest appropriated by the party condemning may be small, and the amount of compensation difficult of proper measurement, but some award should be made, however small the amount may be." (Schenck, supra, 197 Cal. at p. 460.)

The court noted the following: "In the present case it was stipulated that the portion of the right of way of the appellants sought to be condemned was required for street purposes only, for use by the public in common with the use by the railroad companies; that the uses are consistent; and that the railroad operated by the defendants can exist with the street across it. Appellants, as owners of the fee in the right of way over which the street is opened, will retain their rights in the soil for all purposes which are ...


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