FULLERTON, Calif. – Chen Lee is the proud veteran and owner of All American Surplus, an Army/ Navy surplus store that has been in business for over 17 years. The store specializes in camping gear, military uniforms and military memorabilia. It’s patrons include current members of the active military, veteran groups (Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, AMVETS), campers, hikers, paint-ball enthusiasts, and more.
All American Surplus is located at the intersection of Fender Avenue and Placentia Avenue in Fullerton, California. Immediately to the south of the store are the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad tracks. Lee’s store used to have a prime location because drivers would often stop in and shop around while waiting for the trains to pass.
However, when Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) officials approved a grade separation project on Placentia Avenue, that prime location was lost.
As part of the O.C. Bridges project, OCTA developed a grade separation to redirect the flow of traffic so cars wouldn’t back up waiting for trains to pass. This meant putting up a large concrete wall blocking the street view and entrance to All American Surplus.
Lee recalls how during the construction process he attempted to put signs up to let patrons know his business was still open. Unfortunately, the signs were often taken down or went unnoticed.
Not only was the visibility of All American Surplus completely blocked, the road leading to the store’s entrance was demolished during the construction process. Ultimately, patrons were unable to see or access Lee’s store due to the new grade separation.
All American Surplus profits plummeted for nearly two years.
Lee was heartbroken that his family business of 17 years was failing because of a government project he had no control over. He feared All American Surplus would have to close its doors.
Lee researched legal recourse and discovered the concept of inverse condemnation.
Inverse condemnation happens when the government devalues your property without fair and just compensation. Inverse condemnation can happen in a variety of situations, ranging from construction limiting access to businesses to flooding caused by city negligence. In Lee’s case, the owner of the property was compensated for the construction by OCTA, but as a tenant, Lee was left to suffer the financial consequences.
After months of plunging sales, Lee was struggling to make his rent. He decided to retain Jorgensen & Salberg, LLP to help save his business.
Jorgensen & Salberg was able to prove that Lee’s business suffered an immense decrease in profits as a direct result of OCTA’s grade separation project. Lee was granted increased visibility of his business and awarded $140,000 compensation for lost profits.
Lee commented, “I am thankful that Jorgensen & Salberg helped save All American Surplus. When my father (a 25-year veteran) passed away, it was his dream for me to take over the family business. I am glad that my store will continue to live on and serve other veterans.”