A wealthy O.C. insider fenced off public land in Newport Beach’s back bay, sparking battle

A wealthy O.C. insider fenced off public land in Newport Beach's back bay, sparking battle

Sloping down a dusty hill towards the Higher Newport Bay, the place leisure fans share a path that runs alongside the marshy water, is a chain-link fence that separates public land from a sprawling bay-view property.

However the entirety of the fenced-in space doesn’t belong to home-owner Buck Johns, a rich power govt and outstanding Republican donor who sought to purchase the plot from Orange County in 2019, a purchase order that was in the end denied.

Roughly a 3rd of an acre is definitely public parkland, and the house has grow to be a hotbed of discourse lately as residents have decried blocked entry amid allegations of political favoritism.

“I stroll by day by day on a six-mile hike. I feel these are stunning public parklands, and it’s very unlucky that a part of it’s fenced off. If we let it occur right here, it’s going to occur elsewhere,” stated David Lumion, a Newport Seashore resident who was amongst dozens protesting at the site final week.

A small however vocal group of about 40 protesters gathered exterior Johns’ house on Thursday and marched down the trail that led to his fence as Johns threw a midterm marketing campaign celebration for Republican officers. A girl smoking a cigarette exterior the GOP affair declined to touch upon the fence problem.

“It’s an enormous crimson wave coming,” she stated as an alternative.

Final month, the California Coastal Fee weighed in on the debate, saying the county must take away the fence so the general public can entry the house.

The parcel is within the Higher Newport Bay Nature Protect, a 135-acre bluff-top park the place hundreds of birds, together with peregrine falcons, flock.

Johns and Orange County are locked in a battle over the land, as the Voice of OC has reported. He tried to purchase the plot in 2019, saying it used to belong to him. It’s unclear whether or not Johns had any plans for the parcel.

Former county Supervisor Michelle Metal’s employees spent greater than a yr steering Johns by way of the labyrinthine land-purchase course of, serving to him discover an appraiser who set the worth of the land at $13,000 — an quantity some residents say is under market worth.

Throughout that point, the power magnate donated $2,800 to Metal’s profitable 2020 congressional marketing campaign.

“We genuinely admire the superb cooperation from Supervisor Metal’s employees,” Johns wrote in a single e mail.

A spokeswoman for Metal declined to touch upon the interplay.

An Orange County Parks diagram of the 0.32-acre parcel of land that Buck Johns sought to buy from the county.

(OC Parks)

The deal to promote the land, which was declared in public paperwork in 1990 to be for “public use and enjoyment,” sparked outrage amongst Orange County residents.

“This must be a degree taking part in area, and the truth that Buck Johns is an influential Republican donor, I consider that purchased him particular privilege,” stated Susan Skinner in an interview. The Orange County physician helped safe 1,300 signatures final yr for a petition opposing the sale.

The transaction by no means went by way of. By the point the ultimate vote was earlier than the county Board of Supervisors in April 2021, Metal had left to begin her congressional term. She was changed on the board by Katrina Foley, a Democrat a lot much less pleasant to the plan.

At Foley’s first assembly in workplace, she tabled the vote. She later used her “district prerogative” to drag the sale from the board’s agenda.

“It’s crystal clear that it’s the county’s land. It’s by no means been [Johns’],” Foley instructed The Occasions in an interview. “He thinks if he simply places up a fence, it immediately makes it his land, however that’s not how the general public lands act works.”

Johns, who declined to touch upon the fence flap, couldn’t even depend on assist from his neighbors. Jill Apperson, whose property abuts the fence, stated she was disheartened when she realized of the deliberate sale.

“Particularly throughout the pandemic, I noticed so many individuals utilizing this land and so many individuals wanting to have the ability to stroll within the park,” she stated. “Folks have been like, ‘Wait, why would you promote this?’ ”

Following Skinner’s petition, an Orange County Grand Jury investigated procedures for the sale of public seashores, wildlife refuges, parks and different leisure areas and concluded that “had [Steel] remained in workplace, the sale of this land would almost certainly have gone by way of.”

It beneficial in June that the county tear down the fence “to return the land to its pure (authentic) state” by the tip of 2022.

However Johns’ attorneys threatened litigation if the fence was eliminated, and the county has left the barrier intact, saying the spit of land shouldn’t be usable and “gives no obvious public park profit.”

In August, the California Coastal Commission entered the fray and decided the fence violates the Coastal Act, which emphasizes the significance of the general public with the ability to entry California’s coast, amongst different rules.

“We’re seeing the chipping away of public open house in every single place down the coast… from sea-level rise consuming away seashores on one aspect to non-public encroachment from the opposite aspect,” stated Andrew Willis, the fee’s enforcement supervisor. “We actually should combat for each sq. foot of public open house.”

The fee warned Orange County in an Aug. 17 letter that it might be accountable for violations if it doesn’t take away the fence. The county’s Parks Division, Board of Supervisors and authorized counsel are reviewing the missive, a spokeswoman for the county stated.

The board plans to debate the difficulty Tuesday in a closed session, based on a letter from the county counsel.

And Foley, undoubtedly, will hold arguing that the fence ought to come down.

“If it have been gone, you can sit up there and meditate, look out on the attractive view. That’s 10,000 sq. toes of land,” she stated.

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