Redlands Officials Downplay Concern Street Abandonment Will Entail Future Problems

Redlands city officials insist there will be no harm to the public’s current or future interests with the city’s vacation of an unimproved span of road right-of-way along Mecca Street approximately 400 feet south of Outer Highway 10 and 150 east of Gold Hill Lane.
That land, what city officials referred to as “an excess portion” of “unimproved…street right-of-way that is 30 feet in width and approximately 298 feet in length,”  totals roughly 8,941 square-feet located approximately 150 east of Gold Hill Lane and south of 31119 Outer Highway 10. It is to be used by the landowner of the adjacent property to whom it is being relinquished “increase the buildable area of the adjacent lots, which may allow for future improvements or development of the properties,” according to planning staff report provided to the planning commission prior to its meeting on April 9 when it considered and ultimately signed off on the request for the property vacation.
The proposal to finalize the vacation of the property is to be considered by the Redlands City Council at its July 2 meeting.
There has been some agitation within the Redlands community over the proposal on a number of grounds, some of which are baseless, according to at least some city officials.
Foremost among the objections raised are that the applicant for, and therefore prime mover toward, the abandonment was not the city but Jadeland Developments, which is to receive unfettered access to the land; that Jadeland Developments is not registered with either the State of California or the County of San Bernardino as a company, partnership, limited liability entity or corporation; the lack of clarity as to the status of and the ownership of the land in question, particularly as to whether the city is simply relinquishing an easement or is actually divesting itself of property it owns outright; and that the property is being handed off for no consideration.
Redlands Development Services Director Brian DeSatnik stated or suggested to the Sentinel that the city does not own the 8,941 square-feet of property, equal to more than one-fifth of an acre, but was merely granted an easement to allow it to be used as a street or roadway. DeSatnik indicated that Jadeland Developments owned the property in fee.
Nevertheless, the staff report for next Tuesday’s city council meeting,  prepared by Redlands Principal Planner Sean Reilly, states, “This portion of right-of-way was dedicated to the County of San Bernardino in 1973 and accepted by the County in 1990 prior to the annexation of the area. However, no improvements were ever made and there is no evidence that it has ever been used for public access.”
Jadeland Developments, in making an application to have the city abandon the property to it, has indicated that it will undertake to develop the property it is to gain in this fashion in conjunction with the development of adjoining land it already owns. This being the case, some city residents have expressed concern that a future need to pave and widen Mecca Street, which has remained unimproved for at least 51 years, will manifest. With the city having abandoned the property or easement, as the case may be, and Jadeland having developed the property, however, carrying out such a widening will prove problematic or impossible, those residents have warned. Those residents expressed befuddlement as to why the city at this point would do something that will hamstring future city officials.
Moreover, those residents have asked why the city is simply abandoning the property to Jadeland Developments for no consideration and whether doing so would not be an illegal gift of public funds.
The staff report for next week’s meeting states, “The applicant is requesting to vacate the right-of-way to increase the buildable area of the adjacent lots, which may allow for future improvements or development of the subject properties.” Based upon that wording, residents reason that Jadeland Developments has designs on developing the property. Those residents want to know whether Jadeland Developments previewed the development proposal to the city and if the city’s transfer of the property to Jadeland Developments implies future approval of the Jadeland Developments proposal. In this way, the city might be compromising its ability to engage in future land use regulation with regard to whatever proposal Jadeland Developments is to make, according to those residents.
The report to the council on the references that Jadeland Development had already built on the property to be abandoned some small and less than permanent structures.
Photos of the property in question were provided as part of the report to the city council. In those photos, it appears storage sheds were erected not on the existing earthen roadway but on the opposite side of the fence from the earthen roadway. This created, for some residents, confusion as to where the boundary between the public right-of-way and Jadeland’s property stands. Some said this raised questions as to whether Jadeland Developments had acted properly in constructing improvements – modest though they might have been – on public land. They suggested that Jadeland Developments had usurped a portion of the public right-of-way and that what the city is now on the brink of doing, by abandoning the property, is to reward a private landowner for having taken adverse possession of public property. This could set an unfortunate precedent, they assert.
Furthermore, Jadeland Developments’ failure to register as a business entity with the state or county is of significance when it comes to the city turning property over to it, those residents maintain. While Jadeland Developments can own property, it cannot engage in any sort of business transactions without being registered as an entity with the state or county, they say, and the city, accordingly, should not be engaged in a land transaction with Jadeland Developments, whether the property is being deeded to it for no consideration or in exchange for capital.
Residents also pointed out that the city has not listed the 8,941 square-feet of property as excess land, thereby giving other parties an opportunity to make competing bids for it.
Desatnik told the Sentinel that the city did not own the property and was merely abandoning the easement it had across Jadeland Developments’ property.
In the event that Jadeland Developments develops its property, Desatnik said, those improvements and any existing development already in place will be able to be accessed from streets at the front of Jadeland Developments’ property, such that access via Mecca Street will not be necessary.
City Manager Charles Duggan told the Sentinel, “The agenda item proposes to vacate an excess portion of public right-of-way. This action, if approved, would change the land’s designation from public right-of-way and it would then become part of the adjacent parcels. Yes, the city would be abandoning claim to this land because no improvements were ever made, there is no evidence that it has ever been used for public access, and the action is in compliance with the city’s general plan and all applicable laws. Simply put, the city has no plans to use this land in the future so it is releasing it to the adjacent land owners. This is a very simple and common action for a city to take.”
Duggan said, “The proposed resolution was reviewed and recommended by the city’s planning commission. Additionally, as noted in the staff report, pursuant to the California Streets and Highways Code (which defines the general procedures for public street and easement vacations), the city council may adopt a resolution summarily vacating a public street that has been impassable for vehicular travel for a period of five consecutive years preceding vacation, and no public money was expended for maintenance on the street during such period. These findings can be made in this case for this segment of the public right-of-way (which has not been developed or improved) and is identifiable as right-of-way only on maps. Therefore, the summary vacation meets the criteria and may be approved. The excess right-of-way is not required for street or highway purposes.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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