Amid a public outcry, San Mateo County legal staff said Thursday they were scouring the history of the July sale of Moss Beach Park and may find grounds to reverse the property transfer.
County Counsel John Beiers indicated that his office was still piecing together facts and reviewing the paper history leading to the property sale. He expected to have enough information to make suggestions to Supervisor Don Horsley’s office by early next week.
“The situation does appear troubling on its face, and we’re trying to understand how this happened,” he said.
Coastside residents were appalled to recently learn that the Moss Beach Park had been sold last month in auction to a Pacifica developer. It was revealed that the former custodian of the parcel, the nonprofit Coastside Preservation and Recreation Inc., was negligent for years on paying its property taxes. The park, identified only by its parcel number, was approved for sale in April by the county Board of Supervisors.
County attorneys are now investigating whether any actions leading up to the sale could be used to reverse the land transfer.
Park supporters have pointed out that the sale never would have gone forward if the county had informed the Midcoast community in advance. A spokeswoman with the County Tax Collector’s Office said they followed standard protocol, publishing notice in the San Mateo County Times and sending a letter to the nonprofit’s last address on file. However, the Coastside Preservation’s last address, a Moss Beach P.O. Box, was no longer in use.
The property was put up for sale in July by a private online auction company, Bid4assets.com. On Thursday, Montara Fog blogger Darin Boville pointed out the auction sale listed the Moss Beach Park by its parcel number, but it included a picture of a completely different property.
Beiers said all buyers on the auction site must agree to a disclaimer that the county can reverse the sale before the deed is recorded.
“The county doesn’t just reverse transactions unless there’s a good faith basis,” he said. “This may, in fact, be one of those circumstances.”
If the sale was reversed, the Pacifica buyer would receive a refund. But the park would still be considered in default for more than $8,000 in property taxes.
County attorneys also are investigating the 1975 deed to the property, uncovered Thursday by Half Moon Bay resident John Charles Ullom. The deed transferred ownership of the land to the Coastside Preservation group on the condition that it be used for “park, recreation and community service purposes for the general public, forever…” The document could mean the new buyer is prohibited from developing the land, Beier said.
“There’s nothing that would prevent a citizen from owning a park,” he said. “We’re reviewing (the deed) and trying to understand its relation to the property.”
The significance of the deed would depend on the parcel’s entire recorded history, he explained.