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Public Transit Can Impair Access
by Ron Davis

The owner of a Los Angeles shopping center will simply have to contend with traffic problems caused by a local “improvement” project.

That’s because the owner of the shopping center, Downey Real Estate Holdings, is forced to accept local government’s decision to stand behind its improvement project. And not only is the project now completed, but also the shopping center’s owner must pay for retribution efforts.

The history of the project is a short one. Six years ago, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) built a light-rail station directly in front of the entrances and exits of the shopping center. Following that, the MTA opened a three-story parking structure there for 250 vehicles.

Those two projects did not set well with the shopping center owner. He sued the MTA, charging that its project had the effect of, in essence, turning the center’s portion of the roadway into a one-way street. The result, he added, was “substantial impaired” access to the shopping center and subsequent loss of center tenants.

In fact, the center owner did lose unrestricted access to the nearby street. Drivers could no longer make a left turn into shopping property. And they also could be restricted when leaving the shopping property.

The MTA responded to the objections by suing the center owner, seeking $85,528 as reimbursement for attorney fees and other expenses. The MTA explained that such reimbursement is needed to recover “cost-of-proof lawyer fees.” That’s because, the MTA added, “Downey denied important objective facts within its knowledge, without substantial justification,” So, the MTA explained, the MTA is entitled to recover its costs because it was the “prevailing party.”

Downey responded that the MTA’s construction of the project in front of Downey’s shopping center property “caused a substantial impairment” with regard to both access and egress of the shopping center and an adjacent parking structure.

Customers’ cars are, however, still able to exit the shopping center by going west, though departing customers can no longer go directly east. Instead, they must go in a westerly direction until later turning to go east. Evidence shows that such an arrangement impacted on center tenants. Many delivery trucks, for example, simply could no longer deliver to the stores at the center because of difficulty for them to maneuver.

Nevertheless, a California Appellate court ruled in favor of the MTA, explaining, “Although access to the property [the shopping center] is somewhat more circuitous, under the controlling case law, this circumstance is insufficient to give rise to a claim for inverse condemnation…. Our determination that the claim of impaired access is not compensable also disposes of Downey’s claim for compensation based on obstructive visibility.

(Downey Real Estate Holdings, LLC v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, (B244647, consolidated with B24793)

Decision: August 2015
Published: September 2015



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