Finalizing the big dig on Randall Road looks to be delayed as one property owner has filed for a change of venue in the county’s attempt to take her property, and Judge Thomas Anderle agreed on Tuesday morning to move the case to Ventura County Superior Court.
Catherine Montgomery lost her husband and her 22-year-old daughter in the debris flow that swept the house away, along with five other homes on Randall Road; the disaster ultimately killed 23 people in Montecito on January 9, 2018. As Santa Barbara County undertook an examination of Randall Road for a debris basin to contain the next flood along San Ysidro Creek, Montgomery insisted she wanted to preserve her property in memory of her family. Undeterred, the county began the first phase of the big dig in August, hoping to persuade her to sell and to be able to complete the second phase before the end of 2021, when the rains usually begin in earnest. Montgomery held her ground, and the county filed an eminent domain action to compel her to relinquish her property.
In her request to move the case to another jurisdiction, Montgomery stated she’d relocated to New York City and would rather have the case heard in Orange or Los Angeles courts, both for airport travel convenience and to avoid the prejudice of the case being heard locally. Her attorney, Todd Amspoker, stated it was her absolute right to request a venue change.
Anderle’s ruling, in choosing Ventura, opined it was both a convenience and an inconvenience for all parties. The judge also stated that any funds to be paid in the eminent domain action would be decided by a Ventura jury, unprejudiced by the need to fund the purchase with their taxes; that would fall to Santa Barbara County residents.
In the case, the county also requested permission to take possession of the property before the eminent domain judgment was finalized, and further asked for that hearing to occur before the case moved to Ventura. Judge Anderle denied the requests, stating that possession was a significant event that Ventura would have to decide and adding that eminent domain actions get priority in every court.
Though Ventura’s courts are in session, Amspoker noted that COVID has set all court trials even further back than they usually are. His motion to transfer the venue stated Montgomery vehemently opposed the project and also stated the county had “grossly undervalued the Subject Property,” a pair of points he has made at each public airing of the case. Neither Amspoker nor the County Counsel’s Office would address whether settlement negotiations or offers were on the table.