RTA Update 2017

In Southern Arizona, The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) is a major source of condemnation cases - cases in which government entities use the power of eminent domain to take private property needed for public-works projects. The RTA plan is a 20-year plan, approved by voters in 2006, that mandates improvements to many roadways in Tucson. 

The RTA had its 10-year anniversary last year, in 2016, marking the halfway point of the RTA plan. What can citizens expect from the next ten years? This map shows which projects remain to be completed:

As you can see, Broadway Boulevard, Silverbell Road, Valencia Road, 22nd Street, Grant Road, 1st Avenue, and Tangerine Road are still slated for major improvements. 

Many property owners who have asked me to represent them when their property has been taken through eminent domain express surprise at how quickly the process moves once the government decides their property is needed for a project. Property owners along these roadways should be prepared for the major disruption that can occur during an eminent domain taking. Having an experienced eminent domain lawyer can help to answer many of the questions that are sure to arise during the process.

City of Tucson - 43rd Best-Run City in the Nation?

Wallethub has published a study identifying the best-run cities in America, and the City of Tucson ranks 43rd by one of their metrics. That ranking includes a combined measure of "overall city services" and "total budget per capita." Tucson is ranked 99th out of 150 cites in the former and 29th out of 150 cities in the latter, which creates the composite score of 43rd best-run city out of 150 largish cities studied. 

It should be noted, however, that Tucson falls almost into the bottom third (99th our of 150) of ranked cities using Wallethub's detailed breakdown by city, which accounts for financial stability (88th), education (114th), health (82nd), safety (109th), the economy (117th), and infrastructure and pollution (47th).

Looking at Tucson's performance in the subcategories, it seems like this city is doing well at spending a large amount of money per capita, improving infrastructure, and addressing pollution. Tucson is not doing as well at being financially stable, providing health care, safety, and education, or addressing the overall economy. 

This is an interesting study that provides a detailed look at the City of Tucson's overall performance relative to other cities in the United States. It definitely highlights areas the city could improve with more focus and leadership.  

Carl Sammartino - Certified Specialist in Real Estate Law

This May, the Board of Legal Specialization of the State Bar of Arizona certified me as a specialist in real estate law. Certification requires admission to practice for at least seven years, substantial legal practice in the area of real estate for a period of five years, the Board's recommendation after application and references, and passing an examination, which I took and passed in April. I am proud to have met these rigorous standards. 

Certified.

Certified.

The State Bar of Arizona currently lists 72 board-certified-real-estate-law specialists in the State of Arizona, and only 15 of those have primary offices in Pima County. If you are looking for help resolving a real estate related legal issue, I highly recommend you seek the advice of one of those specialists. The specialist certification is the only designation the State Bar of Arizona grants to certify a particular lawyer practices mainly within one area of the law. 

 

March 2016 Updates - Broadway Boulevard 30% Design Complete

The City of Tucson, in partnership with the RTA, has completed the 30% design of the Broadway Boulevard widening project. There will be a meeting on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. at the Sabbar Shrine Temple at 450 S. Tucson Blvd. to discuss the design. 

For a preview, you can click on these links to see the 30% design alignment:

Refined Alignment Map 1
Refined Alignment Map 2
Refined Alignment Map 3
Refined Alignment Map 4
Refined Alignment Map 5
Refined Alignment Map 6 

Here is an example of Map 4, which shows the Broadway Boulevard widening plans from Campbell to just east of Plumer (click to enlarge):

Broadway Boulevard 30% Alignment

Sammartino Law Group Receives Clients' Choice Award for 2015

Avvo, an online legal services marketplace, has awarded Sammartino Law Group its 2015 Clients' Choice Award for my 2015 service to Real Estate and Land Use and Zoning clients. 

I am extremely grateful to have been able to meet the real estate legal needs of southern Arizona property owners, primarily through my focus on condemnation and eminent domain law. This year, I have helped clients who have had or will have their private property taken for the Grant Road Improvement Project,  the Downtown Links Project, the Los Reales Buffer Project, the Houghton Road: Broadway Blvd. to 22nd St. Project, and the Tangerine Road Corridor Project. In 2016, I hope to add the Broadway Boulevard Project to that list, among other projects.

It is important to me that this recognition from Avvo comes because of what I have done for my clients. I give thanks to those who hired or considered hiring me to help them, and I wish all past, present, and future clients good luck and good health in the new year. 

Fourth-Quarter 2015 Updates: Broadway Boulevard Widening Project and Relocation Benefits

Moving as a result of eminent domain?

Moving as a result of eminent domain?

As the Broadway Boulevard widening project gets underway, relocation agents working for the City of Tucson have begun to contact property owners along the path of the project. The Broadway widening has languished for many years but, in spite of that, once the relocation agents contact property owners, things start to move towards property acquisition fairly quickly. What should a property owner expect through the relocation process, and how can a property owner ensure he or she receives all of the money to which he or she is entitled through the eminent domain process?

When a government agency like the City of Tucson takes property through eminent domain and the property owner will no longer be able to live or do business at a taken property after the construction of the public improvement, the property owner is generally entitled to two pots of money from the government agency responsible for the taking:

Reach out your hand if your pots be empty / If your pots are full, may they be again.

Reach out your hand if your pots be empty / If your pots are full, may they be again.

Pot A is "Just Compensation" - the amount of money the Arizona Constitution guarantees a property owner in exchange for the real estate taken from him or her.

Pot B is "Relocation Benefits," which is an amount designed to pay for moving the personal property and reestablishing the business or residence of the property owner at a new property the property owner purchases with the funds from Pot A (or other funds the property owner wishes to spend).

If the City of Tucson is taking your property for the Broadway project or any other public improvement, you are certainly entitled to Pot A, and you may be entitled to Pot B funds as well. My practice has traditionally focused exclusively on extracting the most Pot A - Just Compensation funds I could for a property-owner client. Clients usually choose to hire me to seek the most Just Compensation possible and sort out Pot B - Relocation Benefits on their own.

Recently, a shift has occurred, and more clients are asking for help in securing their Relocation Benefits. The reason is those clients believe the relocation agents working for the City of Tucson are not doing a good job guiding the property-owner clients through the relocation process and, instead, seek only to maximize savings to the City of Tucson rather than fairly distributing the Relocation Benefits these clients deserve.

One example of this unfairness is the rules the City of Tucson and its relocation agents use to determine a property owner's eligibility for Relocation Benefits. There are three sources of a property owner's entitlement to Relocation Benefits: a federal source applicable to federal projects and state projects receiving federal funds, a state source applicable to Arizona Department of Transportation Projects, and a state source applicable to all other state- and local-level projects. This last source of Relocation Benefits requires the City of Tucson to establish its own rules governing the distribution of Relocation Benefits, but the City of Tucson has not done so. Instead, the relocation agents representing the City of Tucson use the oftentimes restrictive federal source and the guidelines pertaining to it. This confusion has resulted in clients reporting unfair and bizarre treatment from relocation agents who do not seem to have the appropriate guidance from the city. 

If you believe the City of Tucson or its hired relocation agents are not treating you fairly, call me for a free consultation. I would be more than happy to review the amounts to which you may be entitled and discuss a fair fee to seek the recovery of those amounts. 

Third-Quarter 2015 Updates: State of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA)

As many Tucsonans are aware, the Tucson voters passed the $2.1B Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) plan in May of 2006. Since then, the RTA has been working on delivering 35 roadway  corridor projects that impact Tucson and Pima County property owners. Of these 35 projects, most of them require the implementing agency to acquire private property through eminent domain. 

Here is a list of the 35 roadway corridor projects:

Source: Our Mobility, May 2015 http://www.rtamobility.com/documents/OurMobilityMay2015.pdf

Source: Our Mobility, May 2015 http://www.rtamobility.com/documents/OurMobilityMay2015.pdf

No matter how you quantify it, this is a large public works project, or series of projects. The RTA website does not supply easy-to-understand project status information, so I have distilled the information the site does provide to provide the same list of projects along with each project's (somewhat) current status:

Status of RTA Projects 2015.png

The RTA has completed 9 projects, is currently constructing 6, is designing 11, and is waiting to begin 9 future projects. The 20 projects in-design or for the future (and even some of the projects under construction, like Grant Road) will likely require more condemnation of private property, and those property owners may want to consult an eminent domain attorney to advise them of their rights. 

 

Adventures in Land-Use Law: Who Owns that Tree?

I have always believed a strong selling point for being a real estate lawyer is we get to answer such burning questions as, "Who owns the sidewalk?" or, "Can I cut down my neighbor's tree branches?" It is the latter of these two questions the Vermont Supreme Court addressed recently in Alvarez v. Katz, 2015 VT 86 (VT. 2015).

And the answer? I bet you'd never guess: It depends.

If your common property line passes through the trunk of the tree, the tree is a "line tree," you own the tree in common with your neighbor, and neither you nor your neighbor may destroy the tree by cutting the portion lying on one or the other side of the property line.

However, if the trunk of the tree lies completely within your neighbor's property but the branches and roots overhang or intrude upon your property, you may freely cut those branches and roots, even if to do so would be to destroy the tree. For an example, take a look at the scene from Door to Door (a movie I highly recommend beyond its utility illustrating land-use issues):

One caveat: this is a case from Vermont, and other states are free to establish their own rules. In Arizona, it might be important whether the branches and roots are actually causing you injury. Consult a Tucson real estate lawyer who can help determine your rights to cut down tree branches and roots intruding on your property before you bring out the chainsaw.

Land Use of the Rich and Famous

And when I search a faceless crowd
A swirling mass of gray and
Black and white
They don’t look real to me
In fact, they look so strange
— The Rolling Stones, "Salt of the Earth" - Beggars Banquet

Ready your tiniest of violins. The Hollywood Hills, they weep for such uncounted heads as actor Jennifer Aniston and former CEO of Ticketmaster Fred Rosen, who are both fighting against the encroachment of giga-mansions upon their reasonably-sized mega-mansions.

Jennifer Aniston lives in an 8,500-square-foot "home." Fred Rosen, former CEO of Ticketmaster, lives in what one can presume is a similarly palatial estate.  Mr. Rosen: "There's always someone with more. So that's not the issue. We just want a building that's safe." Ms. Aniston, through what we may presume are her $600-per-hour lawyers, has said, "The very idea that a building of 90,000 square feet can be called a home seems at the least a distortion of building codes."  Entertainment lawyer Joe Horacek describes the giga-mansion above his mere mega-mansion as a "total invasion of privacy" and bemaons the developer's "total disregard... for the building code..." The developer retorts Horacek can put in "shrub[bery]" to mitigate the view. 

 An ABC News, Nightline story gives the details. 

Massing, permissible building envelopes, height restrictions, and other zoning restrictions are important land-use issues I deal with in my practice. Practicing land-use law in Tucson has exposed me to similar battles on much smaller scales, and one thing that remains constant across land-use legal disputes of all sizes is the passions inflamed on both sides . 

Rich people - their land-use disputes are just like ours. We may just feel a little less sorry for them. 

 

May-June 2015 Updates - I, For One, Welcome Our New Legal Turk Overlords

Do you really need a lawyer to represent you? Lawyers represent only a small fraction of litigants in the United States court systems - most people represent themselves. Will your "lawyer" of the future be a flesh-and-blood human being, or a telecomputation device, the Kunstler Law-Star 3000, say, spitting out Pareto-efficient settlements within minutes of filing your claim?

Has a heart - obviously not a robot lawyer.

Has a heart - obviously not a robot lawyer.

Before opening my own eminent domain law firm, I briefly contemplated making some walking-around money with Amazon's Mechanical Turk, an online-odd-job-matchmaking service. This modern service takes its name from an 18th-century hoax designed to trick viewers into thinking a machine was able to play high-quality chess. Amazon's Mechanical Turk, which is not a hoax, requires users to complete Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) for micropay - such as $.03 per HIT, with many thousands of HITs available.

Being adept at the Human Intelligence Task of math, I quickly determined my best short- and long-term prospects laid in finding real work, but thinking about the possibilities Mechanical Turk offered was interesting, if not disquieting.

Which brings us to a new article in The Atlantic, "A World Without Work," and the more scholarly article cited therein from the Oxford Martin School, "The Future of Employment - How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?" These futurist examinations of labor trends evaluate the possibility that computerization and mechanization will eliminate entire labor sectors, with the Atlantic article delving into the social ramifications of such an outcome.

The most interesting information in either article, for me, is the chart at the end of the Oxford Martin School article listing, in order, the 702 jobs computers are statistically most likely to eliminate from 1 (least likely) to 702 (most likely). Number 702, most likely to be eliminated, is telemarketers, which sounds wonderful until you recall these are jobs in which computers are likely to replace humans.

Lawyers (115) are relatively low on the list. Judges (271) are low as well, but less so than lawyers, which I will try to remember the next time a judge rules against me (Your time will come, your honor...) Unfortunately, politicians are not ranked. 

Other legal jobs, paralegals and legal assistants (609), are likely to be computerized. Legal secretaries (672) are in worse danger. 

What does this mean for you? I believe this ranking of lawyers is too optimistic and computerization is already driving down legal costs for many people. We already have automatic-legal-form programs and websites that will spit out a simple will or deed for a fixed fee. Avvo offers a service where you may cheaply ask real lawyers simple legal questions, but the time will come when a computer will answer those questions. 

Before you agree to hire a lawyer for a simple question or task, see if there are lower-cost options available. 

This trend towards computerization means also costs for actual lawyers should decrease as lawyers cut down on support staff.

This is occurring presently in Pima County. The Arizona Supreme Court mandated online electronic filing starting May 2015 for all civil cases in Pima County, which has cut out overnight the need for law firms to have runners physically take papers down to the courthouse for filing. The online filing system is so absurdly easy that most technologically-adept lawyers can file their own documents in five minutes, rather than hand them to a legal secretary for printing and filing.

Unfortunately, a utopian, completely lawyer-free society may well be far in the future. But computerization is sure to force lawyers - as much as any other workers - to continue to innovate and to prove their value over cheaper, more computerized options. 

Opinion Note

Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One - FIRST AMERICAN TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY v. JOHNSON BANK (June 30, 2015)

The Court of Appeals held the proper date of valuation to determine the loss in value to real property when an insured lender makes a claim on its own title insurance policy is the date of the lender's loan on the property, not the date of the foreclosure, if the foreclosure is the result of the very title defect giving rise to the insured's claim.