The four-year David and Goliath battle between a lone renter and a behemoth state agency trying to evict him and his family appears to be nearing an end.
A settlement agreement is in the works between Don Justin Jones, a longtime political activist and staunch opponent of plans to extend the Long Beach (710) Freeway to connect with the Foothill (210) Freeway, and Caltrans, which over the course of nearly 50 years has come to own his and hundreds of other properties standing in the way of a connector route that now is not likely to be built.
On Oct. 13, Glendale Superior Court Judge John P. Doyle ordered the two parties to resume the pre-jury trial settlement talks. According to the case summary posted online, a settlement has been reached and the court has ordered the case permanently sealed.
The case is set for another hearing at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 15 in Department 3 of the Glendale Courthouse, where the two parties will either tell Doyle that a deal has been struck or ask for more time. According to Jones, he and his attorney, David Etezadi, are still negotiating with Caltrans officials. However, neither Jones nor Etezadi were allowed to speak about the proposed settlement.
Pasadena land use attorney Chris Sutton, who represents the Caltrans Tenants Association, said it’s problematic for state agencies to enter into private settlement agreements. “I don’t believe in secret settlements,” Sutton said. “It’s not conducive for a democratic republic. You could have sat there in the courtroom and heard what went on, but now, since it’s sealed, no one can find out. It’s a shame, because it has implications for other tenants.”
In 2006, harsh words were exchanged between Jones and a Caltrans contract worker, who was at Jones’ home on Madeline Drive doing badly needed repairs. Jones reportedly told the worker to “get the fuck out of my house,” which is one of the reasons Caltrans gave for serving Jones and his wife eviction papers in 2008.
The incident occurred around the time the idea of connecting the 710 and 210 freeways with tunnels was being presented to the public, a proposal that Jones and many others who were against the original extension plan opposed.
For years, Caltrans, which owns more than 500 properties in the so-called 710 Corridor, allowed many of those properties to fall into various states of disrepair. The agency wants as many homes as possible to be vacant, according to Sutton, because once the freeway surface plan is formally scuttled, those homes can be declared surplus and sold at market rate. If renters are living in those homes at that time, they would be offered first crack at buying the property at an affordable rate.
“Few tenants have been able to buy their houses over the last 15 years,” Sutton said. “This attack on Don is an incredible waste of resources. They’re attacking him so they can have another vacant house to sell.”