Local Government

Rep. Steel Faces Scrutiny over Proposed Land Deal

Rep. Michelle Steel, who is running to represent the northern half of Fullerton in California’s 45th District in the House of Representatives, is currently facing scrutiny over a County land sale that was proposed while she served on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

The parcel in question.

As outlined in a report just released by the Orange County Grand Jury, the sale, which consisted of a nearly 14,000-square foot parcel of public land within the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve in Newport Beach, was proposed by the County to a private homeowner identified by the Voice of OC as Buck Johns, whose property is immediately adjacent to the parcel. Johns is listed as the president of Inland Group, Inc., a Newport Beach-based company whose activities consist of “concentrating on entitlement and development activities for real estate, infrastructure, and energy related projects.”

Prior to expressing interest in the parcel, Johns had previously donated nearly $6,000 to Steel’s 2020 congressional campaign, as well as making contributions to other Republican politicians and causes in Orange County, Voice of OC reported. Although the County did not initially take action after the homeowner’s request, which is standard procedure for county-owned park land, Steel soon intervened, and the Board of Supervisors began the process of selling the land and repeated Johns’ false claim in their report that he had previously owned the property before giving it to the County. Additionally, the Grand Jury’s report said that some of the standard procedures usually taken to notify the local community of the property sale were not undertaken, with information only being spread through word-of-mouth.

Ultimately, in a major wrinkle in Johns’ plan to acquire the property, Steel had left the Board of Supervisors for a seat in Congress by the time the Board of Supervisors was ready for the final approval vote for the sale of the property in April 2021. Steel’s replacement, Supervisor Katrina Foley, tabled the vote for a month, and members of the local community successfully filed a petition that took the sale off the Board’s agenda in May 2021.

Steel’s opponents are already making an issue out of the Grand Jury report’s findings. A recent press release by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, mentioned the controversy, with spokesperson Maddy Mundy saying that “The Orange County Grand Jury’s findings offer irrefutable proof to confirm what we already know: Michelle Steel cares more about her wealthy donors than her responsibility to Orange County families.”

Rep. Steel did not respond to calls for comment.

To read the full report visit www.ocgrandjury.org.