City crews were at it again Wednesday, removing two more signs erected along South First Street by Prosser contractor Tom Paul.
This time the signs were a produce sign and another one asking the city not to trespass on his property.
After having his South First Street property surveyed this past Tuesday, Paul said he will rebuild the signs, in addition to the fence poles and sign city crews took down last week.
The exchange is the latest in a long-standing dispute between Paul and the city.
"We went out and removed the things we thought were in city right-of-way," City Manager Bob Stockwell said. "If there's anything else in the right-of-way we'll take those down too."
Stockwell continued, "We know where the property line is. We've picked up signs in the right-of-way elsewhere (in Sunnyside)." He noted that the only difference in the Paul case is that the city provided more time for him to comply.
The city claims it has a 30-foot right-of-way from the center of the roadway while Paul is adamant that it is only 15 feet.
"If they (city officials) have evidence of a 30-foot right-of-way my surveyor would have gladly moved the stakes to 30 feet," Paul said. He added that city officials were invited out on Tuesday to meet with his surveyor to discuss the boundary quandary, but did not show up.
"I'm going to make a demand for them to provide the evidence (of a 30 foot right-of-way) under the freedom of information act," Paul asserted.
He contends that the city also claimed it has 30-foot fee title from the center of the roadway, during a Nov. 28 council meeting. At that session, council voted 4-to-3 to revoke a conditional use permit for the signs.
"If they possess something like that, they need to produce evidence of it," Paul said.
City Attorney Mark Kunkler said the evidence is a 1978 survey Paul commissioned.
"There's either a 30-foot fee title or 30-foot right of way," Kunkler said. "I'm still determining which it is, but the effect (in establishing city access) is the same for either one."
He added that the signs removed yesterday were, again, in the right of way and were put up sometime over the weekend.
"My surveyor (Thomas Upton, the same one who did the 1978 survey) placed lawful right-of-way iron pins and pink stakes at 15 feet from the center line of road," Paul said in an e-mail to Stockwell. "Please do not destroy them. It is unlawful to do so. I will be rebuilding structures."
Besides the property line dispute, Paul alleges that the city left a two or three-foot deep hole from where one of the poles was removed. He also claims a city backhoe broke his asphalt driveway.
Stockwell replied that, as far as he knew, city crews never went on to Paul's property.
So, is there still a chance of resolving this outside of court? In an earlier interview with Kunkler, he said there was a willingness on the city's part to enter into discussions.
But, Stockwell said any discussion would have to be between Paul's attorney, J.J. Sandlin, and Kunkler.
"Mr. Paul has chosen the litigation route," Stockwell explained. "We're insured, but with a credible threat of litigation we have to be cautious. It's critical that all communication go though our attorney."
He asserted, "Unless Mr. Paul is no longer represented (by a lawyer), the rules of litigation say we can not talk to Mr. Paul." Stockwell added, "There could still be ample opportunity for discussion or for middle ground, if there's a realistic solution."
Paul said he hasn't filed suit against the city, yet, but that it is only a matter of time.
"I'm waiting until I get my ducks in a row," he said. Part of that preparation, he noted, was the new survey he had conducted this week.
The pending suit, which Paul said will be filed in Yakima Superior Court, will include charges of false misrepresentation of title and official misconduct, he said.