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Possible land sale raises questions in Newport Beach

On Behalf of | May 12, 2021 | Real Estate Transactions |

Government entities in California control large tracts of land, some of which is desirable for private development. Whenever a county or a municipality proposes to sell some its land, citizens who live adjacent to the land often raise objections. Most such objections are based upon environmental or land use concerns, but in at least one case, political suspicions have caused a proposed sale to be postponed.

Plan to sell part of Upper Newport Bay Park

Citizen suspicions seem to be easily roused if a governmental entity proposes to sell dedicated park land. In this case, the land was a portion of Upper Newport Bay Park in Newport Beach, a large park and marine preserve in the eastern portion of Newport Beach. The controversy broke out when a few residents of Newport Beach uncovered a plan by Orange County to abandon a portion of the park and sell the land to a wealthy political donor. According to opponents of the sale, the county had entered into a contract with the donor to sell the land to him for $13,000. The deal was reportedly engineered by a former county supervisor who had been recently elected to Congress.

The county’s willingness to sell the land was, according to opponents, based upon an appraised value for the land of $13,000. Opponents were especially enraged by the fact that the appraisal had been paid for by the proposed purchaser.

The petition drive

Irate citizens mounted a petition drive that soon gathered more than enough signatures to halt the county’s administrative process before the deal could be consummated. The transaction was removed from the county supervisors’ agenda because, according to one supervisor, the deal “raised red flags.” Once the petition attracted the necessary number of signatures (200), state law requires the county to either withdraw from the contract of sale or put the matter before county voters. The county chose the former alternative.

This case raises fundamental questions about the ability of government entities to sell land that has been declared to have special value as parkland and as an area to be reserved for “public use and enjoyment.” Anyone who becomes involved in a similar controversy, whether on the side of the opponents or the proponents, may wish to seek legal advice from an experienced real estate attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can evaluate the law and the facts of the case and suggest strategies for pursuing an appropriate outcome.