Ken Cory, the former state controller and assemblyman from Southern California who spent 22 often-controversial years in the Capitol, is at the center of a new flap over Sacramento County's tentative decision to buy his riverfront home, which sits two miles from the end of a Metropolitan Airport runway.
The proposed $717,250 purchase has touched off a storm of populist protest, much of it fueled by a radio talk show host who says the deal would bail out Cory and his wife from their own bad judgment.
If the county buys Cory's house, the airport director warns, the purchase will set a precedent that might require local taxpayers to pay $50 million to buy as many as 93 other homes that also are within the airport noise zone.
But Cory, who retired as controller in 1986 and is now an investment banker, insisted that he is only trying to get the fair deal that Sacramento County promised homeowners near the airport in 1976.
"I don't need this grief," Cory told the Board of Supervisors. "But there is a point at which I cannot afford to take it and lump it any longer. Our home is uninhabitable at this point."
Cory's wife, Carole, said the deal would be the only "morally right" way for the county to handle the matter.
"My family exists with vibrations creating cracks, falling plaster, falling tree limbs and window cracks," she told the board. "We live with an oily residue on our pool surface, the smell of fuel, the heat of exhaust and decibel levels that are dangerous to the eardrum. Our dogs howl and run into the bushes, and we shake our fists and sometimes cry."
The roar of jets reaches 65 to 70 decibels as they take off over the Corys' home, a sprawling ranch-style house on the bank of the Sacramento River. About 73 flights leave daily, and roughly 40% of those use the runway near Cory's home.
On some days, the planes also go over the Corys' home for landing approaches, flying so low that a neighbor said she cannot read the names on the sides of the planes because she can only see the jets' bellies.
The runway opened in 1987 but has been in the airport master plan since 1976, according to Rob Leonard, deputy director of airports for the county. Carole Cory bought the 4,500-square-foot house in 1979 and converted it to joint ownership with Cory when the couple married in 1980.
Assessed at $325,000
The purchase price is not known publicly, but the property was assessed at $325,000 just after Carole Cory bought the house, indicating that probably was what she paid.
The proposed buyout has riled Bernie Ward, who hosts a daily talk show on radio station KFBK in Sacramento. During his show last Friday, Ward called county Supervisor Jim Streng and spent the next two hours fielding calls from listeners irate at the proposed purchase.
"People are outraged," Ward said. "The Corys bought this house after the general plan for the airport had already been finished. They knew what they were getting into, and they bought the house anyway. Why should we bail them out now?"
Ward and his callers also criticized the county for offering the Corys $717,250 for the home, which was appraised at $685,000. Cory acknowledged having the house on the market for two years for $595,000 without getting a serious offer.
Ward said the issue has generated more heat than any other recent controversy, even the much-discussed plan by city and county officials to offer Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis $50 million in taxpayer funds to move his team here.
Streng, who voted tentatively in favor of the Cory purchase, said in an interview that he is not sure how he will vote Dec. 19 when the matter comes up for final review. Streng said his office received 68 negative calls the first day after Ward's talk show and not a single call supporting the purchase. He said the involvement of Cory has made the public more cynical about the transaction.
"There is some logic in saying we should not be buying houses from people who bought knowing there was an airport there that was going to expand," he said. "It is not a lot different from people who buy next to a freeway or a busy roadway that gets widened."
Streng said he got calls from people who live next to an Air Force base, a suspected crack house and a recently widened Sacramento expressway. "They all said, 'Why don't you buy my house?' " Streng said.
But Cory and a neighbor--real estate broker Kathy Zikes, who has owned her home since 1972 and has sold a lot of property in the area--contend that county officials promised in 1976 to buy the homes if they could not be sold on the open market.
And County Executive Brian Richter pointed out that the county has already snapped up thousands of acres near the airport to avoid noise conflicts, including vacant lots surrounding the Cory home. All the land between Cory's house and the airport is county-owned farmland.
"If we were not in a negotiating mood and said forget it, they would go to court and say this house, with this riverfront, anywhere else in Sacramento would sell for $700,000," Richter said. "He can't sell it for $500,000. The conclusion is that the noise has depressed the house's value."