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Indybay Feature
CA Appeals Court rules citizens cannot sue to protect public property
by John McNab (johnamcnab [at]
Wednesday Nov 20th, 2002 11:32 AM
Appeal court ruling states citizens have no right to bring suit when land gifted by individuals to government for public purposes is given to developers in exchange for campaing contributions. Open season on public land is confirmed in San Diego County.
State Appeals Court rules citizens cannot sue to protect gifted public land from developer theft

San Diego, CA The California Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal issued a ruling in regard to 135 acres of land gifted to the government by private individuals. The case, Brian Kimball Fletcher vs. City of San Diego, contested the giveaway of this property at the San Diego bayside Naval Training Center to a private developer for less than five dollars. The suit argued that the property which was given “forever, for the exclusive use of the United States Navy Department as a site for a Naval Training Station” had established a charitable public trust which protected the property from leaving the public domain.

The judges on this case were Gilbert Nares, James McIntyre and P.J. Kremer. The ruling was released on November 7, two days after James McIntyre and Gilbert Nares, whose positions were on the ballot, were reelected.

Citizens have had a history gifting lands and buildings to the government for purposes furthering the common good. Schools, parks, libraries, historic structures, veterans homes and government facilities are among the public treasures that have been created by such action. These citizens make these gifts under the assumption that their intent will be carried into the future.

The ruling in San Diego shows gifted land is no longer safe.

The Court of Appeals in the Fletcher ruling determined that the only person able to bring a suit regarding unlawful disposal of gifted lands is the State Attorney General. If he refuses to protect the public, as did Attorney General Bill Lockyer - despite a barrage of letters requesting his assistance -, no citizen, not even heirs, can bring suit to redress grievances through the courts.

Secondly, the court determined that giving property forever and for the exclusive use of a public purpose did not constitute protection under charitable trust. The grant deed giving the property in this case was signed in 1919. As was the case at that time, legal documents were based on a level of trust and understanding of the public good that does not exist today. This case exposes the ease which further giveaways of prime public property to developers can now be substantiated.

With developers seeing urban public lands as their new frontier, this ruling indicates the courts will not protect the public interest. Their willingness to not allow the merits of this Naval Training Center giveaway case to be argued gives a obvious green light to further dubious deals which convert prime public open space, parks and facilities into high profit commercial development.

John McNab
Save Our NTC, Inc.
(619) 531-0773
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