Arizona Daily Star Interviews Carl Sammartino Regarding Eminent Domain Success for Property Owners

The Arizona Daily Star interviewed me recently regarding my successful representation of multiple property owners whose property the City of Tucson condemned using eminent domain for the Downtown Links project:

‘Whenever there is a large dispute, or a large number of disputes ... it indicates that there was some major disagreement between the government agency and the private property owner regarding the value of the property taken,’ said Carl Sammartino, an attorney who represented several of the affected owners.

Though they were on opposite sides of those disputes, Rossi and Sammartino agreed on the principal cause for the disagreements: The boom in downtown development, which led many owners to believe that their properties were worth more than the city was offering. A quick review of the offer and ultimate settlement figures shows that owners ended up with about 60 percent more than what was originally on the table, according to court documents.
— Woodhouse, Murphy. (2017, September 18). Road Runner: Decades in the making, downtown bypass in sight. Arizona Daily Star, pp. A2, A5.

Please refer to my page of reviews on AVVO to see how my clients felt about the results I obtained for them as their eminent domain lawyer. You can also find the original Arizona Daily Star article here on the Star's website or permanently cached here

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.  

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

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

Source: Our Mobility, May 2015

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. 


City of Tucson Moves Forward with Broadway Boulevard Widening

On October 9, 2014, the Tucson City Council voted 5-2 to approve the recommendation of the Broadway Citizens Task Force and move forward into the design phase of the project for a six lane roadway including two mixed-public-transit lanes. The design phase is planned to take place in 2015 with construction beginning in 2016. 

The current planned alignment, while not final, is available at this previous post

Broadway Boulevard Citizens Task Force Recommends Alignment

The Broadway Boulevard Citizens Task Force (CTF) has recommended an alignment for the widened Broadway Boulevard. The recommendation is to widen Broadway to six lanes with two of those lanes (one each direction) including a mix of public transit and private automobile traffic. This, in the parlance of the CTF, is the "6-Lane Including Transit" alignment.

The CTF's recommendation does not include a definitive statement regarding the final right-of-way width, although CTF documents generated contemporaneously with the recommendation suggest a preference for a final width of 118 feet, which could like something like this:

This is the report analyzing the seemingly preferred 118-foot width versus the seemingly less-prefered 96-foot width. You click the following to see the impact of the 118-foot width on properties along the east and west portions of the corridor.

The CTF will present its recommendation to the Tucson City Council on Thursday, October 9, 2014, time to be determined. The meeting will be open to the public.

June 2014 Updates - Why is the City of Tucson Sending Pedestrians to Their Doom? - Part III

In the first two parts of this series, Southern Arizona Public Works exposed the City of Tucson's casual approach to pedestrian safety by highlighting poor construction and installation of marked-but-unsignalized-pedestrian crosswalks. Unfortunately, even when the City does install signalized-pedestrian crosswalks, it locates them improperly, thereby diluting their benefit to pedestrian safety. 

The best illustration of the City's ineptitude in placing signalized-pedestrian crosswalks comes with a tragic backstory. In 2011, a car struck and killed 13-year-old Nicholas Celaya while the child was crossing East 22nd Street from Reid Park to a McDonald's restaurant on the south side of the street. The death prompted the City to create a new task force to make the streets safer for pedestrians. The City promptly installed a High Intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK) at East 22nd Street and South Randolph Parkway placed directly over the previously marked-but-unsignalized-painted crosswalk seen here or below:

The City of Tucson installed a HAWK at this intersection using the previously-marked crosswalk.

Sigh. Even in attempting to correct its mistake, the City of Tucson built the new HAWK in the wrong location, further exposing pedestrians to danger. HAWKs should not be a substitute for street lights, and therefore the City should never place them directly adjacent to an intersection like the one at East 22nd Street and South Randolph Parkway. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) makes this clear:

When an engineering study finds that installation of a pedestrian hybrid beacon is justified, then:

The pedestrian hybrid beacon should be installed at least 100 feet from side streets or driveways that are controlled by STOP or YIELD signs.
— MUTCD, Section 4F.02(04)

Where should the City have placed the HAWK? Traffic coming north on South Randolph Way has a stop sign at East 22nd Street, therefore the HAWK at the location is placed improperly. This illustration demonstrates:

Proper vs. Improper HAWK placement

The City of Tucson can, and should, do better. The decision to place HAWKs at previously-established-pedestrian crosswalks rather than to install the HAWKs properly under the MUTCD is most likely a financial decision. New crosswalks 100 feet before intersections would be expensive to install. Are the savings worth the safety risk? This is an issue the City always gets wrong. Click through the gallery below for many examples of HAWKs the City of Tucson has improperly placed.

Why is the City of Tucson Sending Pedestrians to Their Doom? - Part II

In Part One of this series, Southern Arizona Public Works examined a marked-but-unsignalized crosswalk crossing Speedway Boulevard at Beverly Avenue. The speed limit at that location is 35 mph, giving pedestrians a fighting chance of scurrying across all 90 feet of roadway -- seven lanes of traffic -- without disaster. 

Crosswalk to Golf N' Stuff on East Tanque Verde Road

PAG Traffic Counts for East Tanque Verde Road - Click to Enlarge

This Golf n' Stuff crosswalk (at right) is not so forgiving. Like the Speedway crosswalk, this crossing of East Tanque Verde Road is marked, but unsignalized. Traffic averages about 3,000 vehicles at peak hours (see chart at left.) Unlike the Speedway crosswalk, this hazard crosses a roadway where the posted speed limit is 40 mph. It is below a sloped, curving hill that inhibits lines-of-sight. East Tanque Verde Road is a nine-lane, 115-foot thoroughfare in this location. Most egregiously, this crosswalk is a conduit to a children's attraction.

In Part One of this series, I examined the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to see what that text said about Tucson's choice to leave the Speedway and Beverly crosswalk unsignalized, using some assumptions about daily pedestrian traffic from local studies.* How does the MUTCD feel about the Tanque Verde Road crosswalk?


Not good. Note that the results for this crosswalk are again off the chart. The chart does not even have a line indicating the decision point for a 115-foot road. The folks writing the MUTCD perhaps did not contemplate planners who would be so reckless as to slap down a striped crosswalk across such an expanse. There is some evidence to suggest that unsignalized-mid-block crosswalks like these actually are more dangerous than no marked crossing at all because such markings provide an illusion of safety.

Crosswalks like these raise safety concerns that aren't obvious at first blush. Looking even deeper at the local transportation context, one can see the social justice issue: crosswalks cater to the non-driving public, which in most cases is synonymous with the lower-income public. At whose expense is Tucson ignoring the need to take crosstown traffic off surface streets and put it onto a workable system of controlled-access expressways? And who is benefitting from the decision to ignore a solution that would involve creating such a roadway system across the northern and eastern boundaries of the city?

This is an example of the tyranny of small decisions. Each road widening makes it a bit easier to postpone the day when Tucson will have to reckon with its lack of crosstown mobility. In the meantime, crosswalks like this one are increasingly dangerous to the many people who must cross our substitute superhighways through the middle of town.

*Note that my prior discussion about pedestrian counts was not very detailed. The pedestrian counts in the study are the four-hour totals observed during morning and afternoon peak traffic periods. The MUTCD chart is expressed in pedestrians per hour (pph.) Therefore, one would need to divide the average pedestrian volume (238) by four (= about 60) to get the best estimate possible of pph at East Tanque Verde Road. I wish more detailed information were available, but the Pima Association of Governments (PAG) has not devoted the necessary resources to create such data.