A 7-acre City-owned park on the northwest corner of Bastanchury and Parks will be retained as a park. The City Council had declared it as “surplus” in August in an attempt to comply with California’s new Surplus Land Act (SLA) that requires unused city land to be officially declared as surplus in order for it to be considered to be either park, open space, or housing, with at least 25% of any housing set aside as affordable.
Although the parcel hadn’t been officially developed as a park, it had served as a well-used trail and open space for decades. Local residents had understood for years that there was some type of restriction dedicating the land as a park, and had been dismayed by the City’s decision.
Open space advocates argued further that the land shouldn’t have been declared surplus because it was listed in the City’s General Plan as a park, information which had not previously been conveyed to the City Council. Its standing in the General Plan as a park should have placed it in a category that the State acknowledges as an “agency use” (land set aside for a governmental purpose in a “written plan”), and therefore not eligible to be declared surplus.
An unusual situation developed wherein the City acknowledged that the parcel was in the General plan as a park, and yet was not changing direction to retain the park.
Mayor Pro Tem Jan Flory took the lead, and she and Councilmember Bruce Whitaker agendized the issue as well as consideration of rescinding the declaration of surplus, which had been originally scheduled for the October 20 Council meeting. Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald deferred it to the November 2 meeting. In the interim, the City hired a consultant to research the property’s title history. The consultant prepared a report that was spotty and inconsistent.
Although the City staff report had confirmed that the Bastanchury Tree Farm (BTF) property was a park, and acknowledged, “There was clear intent….that the City would ultimately develop the site for parks and recreation purposes, including the fact that it was accepted from the developer as part of its parks and recreation requirements,” staff still felt that the Council had the right to retain their surplus designation due to the absence of a restrictive deed.
Residents at Peppermill Run, the property adjacent to the park, were able to point out that the City had signed a Development Agreement with them in an arrangement for the park land, as a mitigation for the development of their complex, and although it’s not a deed, it still has a “mandate,” or a binding restriction on the property for use as a park.
An alternative was a proposal championed by Councilmember Ahmad Zahra, who spoke eloquently about racial intolerance, and proposed retaining the Surplus Property declaration and directed Staff to include requirements for the developer to preserve a specified portion of the property for use as publicly accessible open space. Councilmember Jesus Silva also preferred this option.
In the end, a majority of the Council decided that although there was no restrictive deed, the City’s 1977 agreement with Peppermill Run still served as a legally binding document, and they had no choice but to rescind the surplus declaration. The vote was 3 to 2 (Fitzgerald, Flory, Whitaker voting “yes”) to rescind, and retain the property in the General Plan as a park saying, “It is the City’s intent to develop the site for parks and recreation purposes and therefore does not meet the definition of surplus.” The park will be included in Park Master Plan discussions in 2021.
Many people acknowledged that north Fullerton, where the property is located, has the vast majority of parks and open spaces as opposed to south Fullerton, and that there is a need for affordable housing in all parts of the City. The housing and parks disparities are due in part to intolerance, but also are a result of the topography of the City and the way Fullerton developed its “urban core” first, only later annexing former hill and ranch land from the north into the original townsite. Ironically, the Council had just heard and rejected an opportunity to save a few acres of the historic orange and avocado groves at the former Kimberly-Clark mill as a park or open space in park-poor south Fullerton.
Friends of Fullerton Waterways (FFW) acknowledged that the Surplus Land Act expedites many land use decisions but said that it was not intended to bypass due process by this means. They pointed out that there are still 3 other surplus lots on which the City will attempt to build affordable housing, and a new Housing Incentive Overlay Zone that will be established in 2021. FFW also asked the City if it could agendize discussion of a policy to lease rather than sell surplus properties, in order to provide the City with a stable revenue stream.
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