CITY HALL — The number of tax-defaulted properties available for city purchase this quarter has jumped significantly, from the usual half-dozen to 22 parcels, according to the county tax assessor’s office.
In what officials said was another sign of the worsening economy, the number of properties going into default for delinquent back taxes has produced an unusually large group of prospective land acquisitions for the City Council as part of a periodic report on available land.
“Twenty-two is definitely an increase,” Councilman Ara Najarian said.
Many of the mountain properties lack access points or are hard to develop due to strict zoning laws, while others are owned by those “who just give up on carrying the tax burden,” he added.
The City Council will meet in closed session Tuesday to discuss which, if any, of the 22 properties fit into the prescribed framework of benefiting the general public, either through such uses as open space, mini-parks, or for public works and utility easements.
Cities retain the ability to have the county treasurer and tax collector remove a defaulted property from the for-sale list after paying a fee. If property owners don’t redeem their outstanding tax debt by a certain date, the city pays the bill and county officials begin the deed transfer process. In all, the process can take up to eight months, City Atty. Scott Howard said.
For the latest list of defaulted properties, the city has until Dec. 19 to submit its requests to the county, he added.
City Council members said they wouldn’t feel pressure to acquire any parcel, especially given the buyer’s market.
“We don’t want to buy worthless property up in the hills that no one would be able to develop anyway,” Najarian said.
Even if the council finds promising options, its own purchasing power has also been severely hampered by the recession. Finance officials last week said that unless forecasts improved, the city could find itself with an $8-million shortfall next fiscal year.
“We’re going to be a little bit more frugal with our purchases and strategic because money’s tight,” Councilman Bob Yousefian said.
Still, tight finances wouldn’t preclude a land purchase if the deal were too good to pass up, city officials said.
Most of the properties on the list carry liens of less than $5,000, according to the tax assessor’s office.
Ten of the 22 listed parcels are in the northeast Chevy Chase canyon area on Greenwich Road. Four of those adjoin on steep terrain with an average lien of roughly $2,200, according to tax assessor records.
Three parcels are in southeast Glendale near Adams Hill, and another four are in the Glenoaks Canyon area.
Nearly all 22 parcels are vacant. Those that have been improved or have structures are almost never acquired before the landowner redeems the lien, city officials said.
For the most part, the city hasn’t sought out the usual “bargains” with resale in mind. Instead, city officials said they are looking for the odd lot with potential and a low price tag.
And they’ll be doing so Tuesday, even under these trying times, they said.
“Staff has a responsibility to bring these forward, rather than assume that we’re not interested,” Mayor John Drayman said.
In doing so, the city may miss out on an “absolute bargain,” he added.
JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.