From Canyon To Cove: Free parkland may not be the best gift

September 22, 2011|By Cindy Frazier

Anybody want some parkland? If you're a public agency or parkland organization, we know where you can get 75 acres or more — for free.

The old Driftwood Properties parcel, hillside land overlooking the ocean and Aliso Canyon, is up for grabs and seemingly in limbo.

The land has been "irrevocably offered" as public open space since December, but so far not one of the agencies that could take possession of it has done so.


The city of Laguna Beach declined the offer of the land; the California Coastal Conservancy has also turned up its nose.

In addition to the 75-acre Driftwood parcel, the owner also agreed to offer the conservancy the right of first refusal for 50 years on an adjacent 80-acre parcel. So we are talking a total of 155 acres of beautiful Laguna Beach land, up for grabs with no takers.

Ten months after the parcel was "dedicated" to the public by a representative of Athens Group, if you visit the property you'll see fenced land and "Private Property: No Trespassing" signs.

"Driftwood Properties offered to deed the property as open space and at no cost to several entities including the city of Laguna Beach, County of Orange, California Coastal Conservancy, Laguna Canyon Foundation, California Coastal Commission and others," Joan Gladstone, a spokeswoman for Athens Group, which represents the property owner, said in an email. "To date, none of these entities have indicated they are willing to accept the land."

According to City Manager John Pietig, the city apparently looked this gift horse in the mouth and didn't like what it saw.

"The city is still in discussions regarding the future of the property but there are drainage and potential geologic issues that need to be addressed and are costly," Pietig said in an email. "Acceptance of the parcel as originally offered would require a substantial expenditure by the city to mitigate these issues."

The city has been burned before on land gifts: a well-used hiking area off of Laguna Canyon Road turned out to contain an old dump site from the 1950s that spewed its contents onto neighbors' yards during December's deluge.

Apparently it was news to the city that the farmer who owned the land would go around town collecting ash from incinerators and toss it into his canyon. The land was given to the city some 20 years later with no mention of the nasty, toxic brew that lay underneath.

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