Rising Price of Land Astounds Arcadia : LAND: Arcadia Balks at Price Hike

Times Staff Writer

Land values in the San Gabriel Valley may have skyrocketed over the past four decades, but city officials in Arcadia are incredulous about the asking price for a parcel on Huntington Drive near the Civic Center.

The city of Arcadia sold the 2.1-acre lot to the state in 1947 for $1. Now, the state wants to sell the site, occupied by a National Guard Armory, as surplus land, and the city is interested in buying it back--but not at the asking price of $1.86 million.

“We are aware that they put some improvements on what was raw ground, but there’s a long way between a dollar and a million eight six,” said Peter Kinnahan, assistant city manager for economic development. “We have a real problem with that.”

The city bought the nine-acre Civic Center area in 1947 for $39,324. It then resold almost a quarter of the property to the state for $1 on the condition that an armory be built on the site, Kinnahan said.


Governments often sell or lease land to each other for nominal sums, Kinnahan said, “because we’re all in the same family, (and) the land’s being used for a public purpose.”

However, the family ties between public entities do not bind their business decisions, according to Robert Donner, a land agent with the state Department of General Services in Sacramento. He said the state wants “fair market value” for the armory site.

“It would be just like when you buy a house--you wouldn’t later sell it for the same amount you paid for it,” Donner said.

Kinnahan said he doubts that the state can get $1.86 million for the property, because he said its deed stipulates that the land can be developed only as a public building or park.


The parcel, adjacent to a police station and a hospital, “would make a logical addition to the Civic Center,” and is being considered as a site for a community theater or public recreational complex, he said.

Although he was not sure about the deed restriction, Donner said that it may have expired years ago and that it would not affect the property’s value anyway.

Kinnahan maintains that when the city bought the land from Rancho Santa Anita, a corporation controlling the estate of millionaire Lucky Baldwin, the sale was contingent on the land being dedicated as a permanent public resource.

“The reading we have is that (the condition) was meant to apply in perpetuity,” Kinnahan said. “And we have a title company that agrees with us that the deed restriction is still in place.”


City officials are appraising the property and will report to the City Council in a few weeks.

Kinnahan suggested that there will be a substantial difference between the city’s idea of “fair market value” and the state’s asking price.

The $1.86-million figure--determined by a private assessor--is only a starting point for negotiations, Donner said. But the state will only move so far on the price, he added, in light of the value of the property and its improvements.

Those “improvements” may reduce the property’s value to the city, Kinnahan said, since the buyer of the land would be saddled with the cost of tearing down the three armory buildings, which were designed to withstand aerial bombings.


The city first approached state officials about buying the armory last year, before it had been declared surplus property, Kinnahan said. At that time, state land agents said they would consider selling the site if the city would build a new armory as part of the deal.

Thanks, but No Thanks

“We told them, ‘Thanks, but that’s a little bit outside our budget,’ ” Kinnahan said.

The state decided to sell the Arcadia property, along with three other armory sites in California, in January because the facilities have become antiquated and surrounded by heavily populated areas, Donner said.


Under provisions of the California Government Code, the parcels are first offered to other state agencies and then to local entities before being made available to private buyers.

Maj. Vance L. Marsh, the top-ranking National Guard officer at the Arcadia headquarters, said state officials have been investigating locations in less populated areas of the San Gabriel Valley as possible sites for a new armory.