Caltrans and the city avoided a head-on collision Tuesday.
Both sides took a step back to allow negotiations to continue on the possible acquisition by the city of the Caltrans parcel on Laguna Canyon Road currently used as a day labor hiring center.
A proposal to zone the property as open space was to have been discussed by the council over the objections of Caltrans. The emergency ordinance was tabled Tuesday until further notice.
“I have pulled [the item] off the agenda and Caltrans has agreed to pull the parcel out of the auction until we have an opportunity to talk with them,” City Manager Ken Frank said.
The auction of surplus Caltrans properties is set for Monday.
Caltrans notified the city this past Monday of its opposition to the city manager’s recommendation to the City Council to pass an emergency ordinance to adopt a general plan and zoning amendment for the parcel in advance of the auction.
The move was seen as a way to circumvent a possible sale to a private party.
The Caltrans letter, signed by Vincent Lundblad, based its objections on the timing of the ordinance, inconsistency with neighboring uses zoned for light industrial and limited commercial purposes and the effect on the property, which Lundblad said would eliminate any economically viable use.
Lundblad argued that, if the urgency ordinance was truly necessary, it would have been proposed before the first auction of the property in May, at which bids were received for $250,000 (about $1 million below the stated minimum) and the subsequent reduction of the minimum bid to $950,000.
Frank advised Caltrans in a letter dated the day of the council meeting that neither he nor City Attorney Philip Kohn agreed with some of Caltrans’ contentions.
“The emergency ordinance was justified because of the imminence of the auction and it would only be fair to let people know the city’s position,” Frank said. “Otherwise, some fool would buy it for a half-million and then sue the city because they couldn’t do what they wanted with it.”
Kohn said cities are often sued over land use when people’s expectations of what they can do with their property are not met.
“They feel the city is somehow responsible,” Kohn said.
Frank also claimed that, contrary to Lundblad’s understanding, all county-owned property contiguous to the Caltrans parcel is zoned open space.
The site has no zoning or general plan designation at present.
It was established as a day labor hiring center in 1993 as part of efforts to prevent workers from gathering on residential neighborhood corners waiting for employment, highly objectionable to residents.
The city passed an ordinance that allowed solicitation for jobs only at a designated location — and concurrently designated the unused and un-maintained right-of-way along Laguna Canyon Road as the approved location.
The site was created to avert a possible Constitutional challenge to the job-solicitation ban.
Over time, steps were taken to improve conditions for the workers and the employers, including a system of numbers issued on a first-come, first-served basis to the workers; installation of a drinking fountain, benches, tables, a fence to prevent workers from dashing into the roadway, sanitary facilities and landscaping.
A couple of years ago, the county determined some of the improvements encroached on its parkland and they were moved. Then about a year ago, opponents of illegal immigration began to focus on the day labor center, which they see as a magnet for illegal aliens.
When it became public knowledge that Caltrans owned the site and no official permission was given for its use as a hiring center, Caltrans ordered the site closed down. City officials convinced Caltrans to allow the city to continue the use for a year, while negotiations for its purchase or lease could be conducted.
The size and location of the parcel make it virtually un-developable, Frank claims. According to Frank, wildfire fuel modification requirements probably eliminate any sizable building on the site, which would be further reduced by required setbacks. Also, utilities on that side of the road are limited.
None-the-less, Caltrans has estimated the value of the 16,810-square-foot parcel at $1,261,000 and set a minimum of $950,000 for the impending auction.
Frank said the city-hired appraiser put the value of the land at $10,000, which leaves a lot of room for negotiations.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Should the Caltrans-owned parcel in Laguna Canyon be designated as open space? Write us at P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA, 92652, e-mail us at email@example.com or fax us at 494-8979. Please give your name and tell us your home address and phone number for verification purposes only.