An attorney for the owners of the "bomb house" property near Escondido has demanded at least $500,000 for his clients' loss and distress, according to a claim filed with San Diego County.
In a dramatic operation that captured national attention, authorities burned the single-story residence to the ground on Dec. 9, 2010, to destroy what they said was its huge and highly unstable stockpile of explosives.
They said fire was the only safe way to neutralize the homemade bomb materials found throughout the cluttered house just west of Interstate 15 and north of El Norte Parkway. Authorities said the explosives included the same destructive compounds as those used in recent terrorist plots.
San Diego County officials, who took the lead on the operation because the property is in an unincorporated county pocket, maintain that the materials posed a threat to the surrounding neighborhood.
That may be so. But Steven A. McKinley, the owners' San Diego attorney, said it doesn't get the county off the hook for compensating his clients. He said their loss is at least $500,000, when the home's value, and his clients' distress and inconvenience, are factored in.
"We do not believe an emergency existed within the meaning of those cases which allow a taking without compensation," McKinley said in a Dec. 15 e-mail to Thomas Bunton, a senior deputy county counsel.
That e-mail, and one from McKinley to Bunton on Dec. 8, were included in the county's claims files. A county response attached to McKinley's e-mails was redacted. In the Dec. 8 e-mail, the day before the burn, McKinley said the owners would drop the claim if the county agreed to buy the property for $494,000 and pay other related costs.
Bunton said by phone on Tuesday that the county has not officially responded to the claim or met with the claimants, but plans "a timely response." He said the county would provide an unredacted e-mail response at a later date.
"Our legal position is that we believe that there's no compensation requirement here," Bunton said. "This was exigent circumstances. It was an emergency."
He added that McKinley's statement about his clients' distress and inconvenience probably wouldn't sway the county.
"I think the key is, it's a difficult situation," Bunton said. "Sometimes individuals have to suffer to protect the greater good. And that may be the case here."
McKinley, the claimant's attorney, did not return messages on Tuesday seeking further comment.
Michele Holt, identified by the county as the owner of the home at 1954 Via Scott, has not returned repeated calls seeking comment. It was not immediately known who the other owner or owners were.
McKinley's Dec. 15 e-mail to Bunton continued, saying he does not "believe that the nature of the taking and the surrounding circumstances excuse the constitutional requirement of just compensation for takings in eminent domain. Demand is made that the County immediately compensate our clients for loss of use, property damage and diminution in value, and distress and inconvenience. Said loss is not less than $500,000."
A county spokesman said in December that the county was not obligated to compensate the owner because the "home is being destroyed to protect the public health and safety."
The home's renter, George Jakubec, was jailed Nov. 18, 2010, after a landscaper was injured in an explosion at the house. Jakubec has pleaded not guilty to federal bombmaking and bank robbery charges.
He remains in federal custody without bail.
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