Former Altmans Winnebago President Dave Altman, now deceased, had two pieces of business advice for entrepreneurs: avoid lawsuits and never go to court.
Now his family members are tangled up in a legal battle with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) over the value of the business he started in Baldwin Park, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
Caltrans seized Altman’s through eminent domain proceedings in 2007 and offered to pay $3.86 million for Altman’s land along the Interstate 10 freeway. But the state transportation agency offered nothing for the business, which it deemed valueless.
Now the Altman family finds itself in court seeking just compensation for a loss it values at $9.9 million.
“Caltrans has been remarkably oblivious,” said attorney John Murphy, who is defending Altman’s. “This is a business that employs over 167 people and generated over $61 million. That is not a profile that is valueless.”
Erick Solares, a Caltrans attorney, and Maria Raptiz, spokeswoman for Caltrans, declined to comment.
Altmans Winnebago has been a fixture along the 10 Freeway in Baldwin Park since 1971. The one-time corporate headquarters will be demolished along with several other businesses and homes for a freeway widening project. Work in the area began last week.
The Caltrans project will add two carpool lanes on each side of the freeway.
Although Caltrans notified Altman’s in 2002 that it would take the land, no action was taken until 2007, according to court records.
Believing the terms unfair, Altman’s has asked for a jury trial.
Caltrans seized the family’s flagship business in January, the month that Dave Altman died. Today, the abandoned building is boarded up. It was a site popular with taggers until Caltrans crews cleaned the graffiti.
The company also operates stores in Carson and Colton.
Owner Joe Altman, a La Verne resident, said he is familiar with the area and understands Caltrans’ need to expand the freeway – but he wants to be compensated fairly.
“Every business goes through cycles, and (Caltrans) happened to hit us at the bottom of a cycle,” Joe Altman said. “But for them to say that we are a ‘valueless’ company? Sometimes there are differences in opinion, but this is just shocking.”
Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano said he was sad to see the business close, especially because it had been such an institution in the city for so many years.
“They were a prize winner for us, but they fell victim to the expansion of the 10 Freeway,” Lozano said. “They leave a great legacy, not only because of the fact that they contributed to sales tax, but also to the city as well.”