As evidenced in Howard Hills’ recent column (“Collision Over Preservation and Property Rights,” June 20 edition) it appears there is still misunderstanding about the funds the City Council recently allocated toward the purchase of a permanent site for the South Laguna Community Garden Park. He describes the funds as “tax dollars” but a bit of history will explain that the funds came to city coffers as a result of gifts.
In the 1920s, the developers of Coast Royal, brothers Joe and Guy Skidmore, were very generous to the people and thus left many beach access ways and park lands to the public, dedicating these properties to the County of Orange. The gift of land near Camel Point to the county by the Skidmores was made in 1927, as part of the recording of Tract 831, and the land sat unchanged for some 85 years.
In 2011, county personnel decided that this particular park parcel would never be used as a park; they took steps to sell the land to an adjacent property owner. On Dec. 6, 2011, the City Council consent calendar included Item #14, which explained that the county was anticipating selling this unused parkland, and was giving the city the first right to purchase the property for the $225,000 they had negotiated for the sale to the adjacent property owner. The staff recommended that the City Council, “Direct the City Manager to notify the County of Orange that the City is not interested in acquiring the subject parcel.”
Under ordinary circumstances this consent calendar item would have been approved with no comment from the council or the public. However, Councilmember Verna Rollinger asked several questions. Under public testimony, Ann Christoph asked whether, under state law, the county should be offering the parcel to the city at no cost.
Months later, after due consideration (see minutes of council meeting on Aug. 7, 2012), the City Council directed the city manager to accept the land from the county at no cost to the city. Next the city offered the land for sale and one of the adjacent property owners bought it for $251,251.87. The Council placed the proceeds in the park in-lieu fund in September of 2012. Then at their budget meeting on June 3, 2014, the council allocated this money to the purchase of a South Laguna Community (not communal) Garden Park.
Conclusion: Except for the generosity of the Skidmores, Councilmember Rollinger’s questions, and Ms. Christoph’s comment, the city would not now even have the quarter million dollars for any purpose.
Bill Rihn, Laguna Beach