South Laguna Community Garden Park Avoid Potential Fraud 

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Efforts to Close Escrow Halted After Group Fails to Confirm Seller’s Authenticity 

Members of the South Laguna Community Garden Park halted plans to close escrow on the garden property at 31610 Coast Highway last week after indications of potential fraud came to light.

The pending South Laguna Community Garden Park purchase has been delayed after the purported seller’s identity became uncertain. Photo/South Laguna Community Garden Park.

On Sept. 12, the garden buyers’ team was informed that the purported seller’s authenticity could not be confirmed, and that the title company would not provide title insurance.   

According to the garden buyers group, due diligence by the title company was required because of the out-of-country seller, which uncovered “discrepancies” related to their identity. 

Despite the setback, all community and city funds set aside for the purchase remain in safe accounts.

The seller’s legitimacy and the title’s insurability were a priority from the beginning of the transaction, but the final determination took the title company several weeks, a release from the South Laguna Garden Park said.  

Since the news, the buyers have communicated with real estate agents who have handled transactions with the actual owners and are seeking to arrange a sale by taking advantage of the funding package and documentation already in place. 

“The donated funds are safe in the [Laguna Beach Community] Foundation’s bank account, and those contributions are tax-deductible,” said Tom Davis, co-chair and trustee of the Laguna Beach Community Foundation. “If donors want their money refunded, we will do that. Otherwise, they will remain in the Garden acquisition account for a future purchase opportunity.” 

The garden buyers were prepared to close at the $2 million asking price after an outpouring of support during the quickly organized fundraising campaign brought total private community donations to $1 million, with an additional $500,000 contribution from the City of Laguna Beach and a philanthropic loan to fill the gap.  

“Our team will continue to work with the City of Laguna Beach to secure a deal and preserve this unique and beautiful participatory park, Laguna’s only community garden,” Community Garden Project Director Ann Christoph said.

The garden park, started in 2009 by volunteers with community donations, is a popular community space in Laguna Beach. Several attempts by garden supporters and the city to purchase the property for a permanent garden park have yet to be successful, so Century 21 realtors Nick and Jeff Stoffel’s August listing of the property was met with enthusiasm by the group. 

The South Laguna Civic Association, the South Laguna Community Garden Park and the Laguna Beach Community Foundation, with realtors Mark Christy and Ray McAfoose and real estate attorney Michael Obrand, were among those who worked to produce an acceptable offer and fulfill the terms of the 30-day escrow.

 “Our desire to purchase the Garden Park land for a permanent garden for the community and for future generations remains,” South Laguna Civic Association President Greg O’Loughlin said. “We are not giving up.”   

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