Gift’s Proceeds Provides Seed Money for Park

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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

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  1. Then I was wrong it is revenue from a sale of gifted property and not direct revenue from property tax payments. Thank you for clarifying that point and giving the rest of us who have no garden plots at the property more history about it than we should ever need to have known. It actually makes it even more clear that the City Council should not be supporting this project with city funds.

    Whether the funds being allocated to buy the property became budgetary resources of the city as a result of taxes or sale of property owned by the city, either way the proceeds of the sale belong to the people of the city not the users of the garden, which use was established on private property.

    If I understand the twisted tale you tell, the city was not willing to pay for the lot, the county did not want to keep the gift. The county had a private buyer, but instead gave it to the city, which then sold it to private buyer. So the city benefitted from the gift instead of the county, but neither the county nor the city were willing or able to invest in a park for the benefit of the general public.

    It would have been better for the city as a whole for the property to remain in private hands, generate property taxes that pay for services to the whole town including the public schools. If the people who bought and own the property and the people who use it want to make a garden there that is called property rights freedom.

    Now the city and taxpayers will incur the liabilities and cost of public ownership of property that will be used by a very small number of people. It is not about the whole community but a small group of people who have developed a private use of private land. Now it will be private use of public land.

    Again, you are correct, that is precisely the kind of government decision making that is the true legacy of Ann Christoph and Verna Rollinger, which is why Verna was defeated in 2012 and Ann proceeded her into retirement from elected office decades earlier.


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