No Explanation Forthcoming On Deeding Of Easement To Landowner

Redlands city officials have yet to clarify the circumstance relating to the curious grant deeding of a strip of property that runs along the frontages of a significant number of yards of homes in Redlands.
According to tract map documents on file at the San Bernardino County Recorder’s Office, the sliver of land in question running along Alta Vista Drive was dedicated for public use in 1948 as part of Hilltop Estates Tract 3311.
The property was deeded to the city as a road, ingress, egress, road support, culvert and drainage easement. Apparently in 2016 it was deeded to a private property owner, Don Paulson, but it is difficult to discern why. Paulson owns property in the neighboring subdivision of Dunlap Ranch, but not in Hilltop Estates. The land for the Hilltop Estates Tract 3311 subdivision was at one time owned by the University of Redlands, but recorded documents reveal that the University of Redlands gave clear title to subdivision land owners and dedicated this area for public use on March 22, 1948. There is no record of fees or ownership of this strip of land by the University of Redlands after 1948.
In 1988 and 1989, the University of Redlands sent documents to all residents in the Hilltop Estates Tract 3311, stating that the University held “no economic interest” in tract 3311. These documents were signed by University of Redlands treasurer Julie K. Phelps.
In 2016, the University of Redlands, despite the consideration that the university did not own the land and had previously claimed it had no interest in it, recorded a grant deed relating to the property being deeded from the University to Paulson, with notarized signatures of University President Ralph Kuncl, Vice President of Finance Cory Nemuro and Board of Trustee Secretary Stanley Weisser.
It is not clear how the university could convey land it did not own and which was entirely encumbered with an easement to Paulson, or anyone for that matter. In March 2019, Paulson started cutting down trees on the easement.
What was reported to the Sentinel was that when Paulson was questioned about his actions, he claimed that he owned the easement and had “made a deal with the city.”
Some Redlands residents have characterized the conveyance of the property as a gift of public land for private gain.
The Sentinel has a document dated March 28, 2019 in which Don Young, the engineering division manager for the City of Redlands, makes a few contradictory statements. Young confirmed that the property was never vacated by the City of Redlands, which under State law would have been required to hold a public hearing so  city council approval for the grant deeding could take place. No such hearing was held, as far as the Sentinel’s research of city records can determine.
Young then said that in 2016 the University of Redlands filed a “quit claim,” deeding the strip of land to Don Paulson. However, the document, 20160547075, recorded at the San Bernardino County Recorder’s Office on 12/14/2016 clearly states it is a “grant deed.”
Young further remarked that “No transaction or deal [was] made.” But then he seemed to contradict that when he said that Paulson is entitled “to develop the property” and to engage in “grading of the property.” Young, in contradiction to the 1948 document, maintained that the University of Redlands was the “underlying fee owner.” However, city parcel documents prior to 2016 and recorder’s office records clearly show the area in question was held for public use by the City of Redlands, and the University of Redlands had no involvement and was not paying fees or taxes with regard to it.
When Paulson was questioned about the matter by homeowners on Alta Vista Drive about what had occurred, he asserted he had assumed  ownership of the easement through an arrangement with the city.
Landowners in the area told the Sentinel that Young indicated that he recognized there was a problem with what had occurred, and that he and the city would endeavor to correct it and cure a situation in which homeowners were stuck in a position where their property is potentially landlocked, such that they would be restricted from reaching the street from their property because Paulson owned the land between theirs and the road.
Questions yet remain, in particular whether the city was or is a party to the acquisition of the property by Mr. Paulson and if Paulson’s claim that he owns the property is valid or the possibility that the grant deed is a forgery.
City officials have not responded explicitly to questions as to whether Paulson’s claim that he cut a deal with the city to obtain the property is true, and, if so, what the terms of that deal were. City officials have not made clear what benefit accrued to the city in the deal referred to by Paulson and whether money, in fact, changed hands in the deal.
City officials were unable, as of press time, to produce any record of city council action with regard to the matter. Nor were city officials willing or capable of saying if a public entity such as a city can simply abandon an active easement used for road, ingress, egress, road support, culvert and drainage purposes. Similarly, the city was unresponsive to questions relating to whether active easement used for such purposes could be extinguished.
-Mark Gutglueck

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