Merrilees: Open letter on Moss Beach Park sale–what happened and what the future holds

[Note: This letter is from Neil Merrilees, currently a San Mateo County Parks Commissioner. Neil was one of the principal supporters in the building of the park and in the subsequent efforts to gain approval for a bathroom on the site.]

Dear Coastside Neighbors,

Something awful has happened, and it will come as a shock to all of you. The Moss Beach Park has been sold to a developer. Unbeknownst to me, property taxes have not been paid since 2006, and the San Mateo County tax collector sold it to the highest bidder at the end of July, 2013.

I found out about the sale from someone in the County, calling to see if I knew anything about it, which I did not.

What happened to the best of my understanding is this:

•  Coastside Preservation and Recreation, a non-profit, owned the Moss Beach Park site, and a lot on Ocean Blvd. in Moss Beach.
•  The Moss Beach Park was improved in September of 2004.
•  The taxes were very small (around $35 a year) in 2003, but at some point jumped up to $1,400 a year because the park somehow lost its non-profit property tax exemption.
•  Taxes have not been paid since 2006 and as of last month the park was about $8,000 in arrears.
•  After the Park building effort in 2004 there was money left over in the non-profit account, perhaps as much as $50,000. That money now appears to be gone but we don’t know where it went, or why none of it went to pay taxes.
•  Sometime about a year ago, the rent for the non-profit’s P.O. box in Moss Beach was abandoned.
•  The tax collector sent a notice about selling the property to the P.O. Box (which was listed as the non-profit’s address), but the notice was returned as undeliverable.
•  The park parcel was sold at a tax auction site (www.bid4assets.com) for about $100,000 at the end of July.
•  The San Mateo County Tax Collector will keep all $100k, unless a request to return the balance after taxes–approximately $92,000–to the original owner (the non-profit) is filed within one year of the sale.

The possibilities for the future, as I see them now, are as follows:

•  The new owner could agree to sell it back to the community for what he paid for it ($100,000). (Of that we could get back $92,000 from the tax collector but the remaining $8000 would be additional money that would have to be contributed by the community.)
•  The new owner could agree to sell it back to the community for more than he paid for it. This amount would have to be negotiated.
•  The tax collector could realize that they didn’t try hard enough to notify the prior owner, and void the sale. I am checking on a possible appeal period.
•  The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors could direct the tax collector to void the sale due to notification problems.
•  The County could use its eminent domain powers to take the property, pay the new owner its market price, and leave it as a park.
•  A generous benefactor could buy it from the developer and leave it as a park.
•  The County Supervisors could direct the parks department to buy it from the developer and leave it as a park.
•  The new owner could build four houses on the top section (the portion which currently has the basketball court) and allow the triangular section with most of the park structures to stay.
•  The new owner could raze the park and build five new houses on the site.
•  The community could fight development on the site, and appeal every decision, and hold the developer to a very high standard of compliance.

I will keep you informed as I learn more about this upsetting situation.

Respectfully,

Neil Merrilees

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