Supervisors move to acquire lots for Andy Lopez park

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Absent a deal to purchase land for a park at the site where 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot and killed a year ago by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy, the Board of Supervisors took an unusual step Tuesday in seeking to buy two properties for $57,400 in back taxes.

The move is the first of a series of maneuvers the county could make to buy two connected parcels for far below market value from their owner, Santa Rosa real estate agent David Poulsen. The former Santa Rosa planning commissioner has been in tax default on the property for five years and still has time to resolve his debts.

Months of discussion about the sale of the properties between the two parties have gone nowhere, with representatives from both sides unable to agree even on the extent of the negotiations so far.

The two parcels the county is seeking to buy are at 405 Horizon Way and 3399 Moorland Ave. Lopez died on the Moorland Avenue property when he was shot Oct. 22, 2013, by Deputy Erick Gelhaus, who mistook an airsoft BB gun the boy was carrying for an AK-47 assault rifle it was designed to resemble.

The 1-acre Moorland Avenue property, where community activists and local residents have erected a makeshift park and memorial to the boy, was assessed by the county at $117,331 on Jan. 1, according to the Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor’s Office. The Horizon Way property was assessed at $358,764.

With the community input, county officials are hoping to convert both lots, which total 4.22 acres, into a large urban park for the Moorland neighborhood.

The move Tuesday essentially starts a clock ticking that gives Poulsen time to resolve his tax bill while negotiations with the county continue. The county does not become owner of the property until the agreement is effective, which could take several weeks or longer, officials said.

Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose 5th District includes the neighborhood of the southwest edge of Santa Rosa, said the action was taken Tuesday as part of a process that prevented the property from going up for public auction on Saturday. The previous day, Friday, Oct. 17, was the deadline for property owners to redeem properties that went into tax default in 2009.

“Had the county not acted, the property would have been offered for sale at public auction this past Saturday,” Carrillo said.

“In the meantime we’re still going to work with the property owner to seek some type of agreement,” he said.

The vacant lot has become a focal point for tangible change in a neighborhood that has felt neglected by city and county officials. While county officials have been negotiating the sale of the property for months, local community organizers have been regularly meeting at the site.

“We are very pleased to see the county moving forward and actively seeking strategies to make the park a reality,” said Becca Kennedy, a volunteer community organizer who has been working with a group of neighbors and supporters to create a memorial park for Lopez.

Kennedy said the creation of a park at the site where Lopez died could become a “truly healing process in the wake of such a tragedy.” She said that it is crucial for county officials to involve the community to a greater degree than the “normal park planning process.”

County officials have stated that is their intention.

The supervisors approved the tax sale acquisition on their consent calendar Tuesday morning. According to a summary of the agenda item, the lots are to be sold to the county by the county auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector “for an amount equal to outstanding tax delinquencies and penalties of $57,400.”

The agenda summary noted that state tax code “describes procedures and processes for governmental agencies to address tax defaulted property and, if necessary, the sale of those properties.”

Jonathan Kadlec, the county’s assistant treasurer and tax collector, pointed out that “the sale is not a done deal.” A number of steps still need to be taken. Kadlec said the state controller’s office must first approve the deal; notices to interested parties need to be sent out; and public notices must be published. Depending on the timing of those steps, Kadlec estimated that the agreement could take effect by Dec. 14.

“In the interim, the property owner could still pay all the past due taxes and prevent the sale,” Kadlec said in an email outlining the possible timing of the deal.

Poulsen could not be reached by phone and did not return a voice message. He also could not be reached through his spokesman Herb Williams, a Santa Rosa political consultant who has represented Poulsen in talks with the county about the sale of the property. Last week, Williams said no formal proposal for a sale had been made.

But Carrillo rejected that assertion.

Carrillo pointed to an Aug. 1 letter that was sent from county regional parks director Caryl Hart, offering the recently appraised value of the two lots. In the letter, the appraisal value is blacked out and county officials have previously declined to say what those appraisals are because they say it’s part of ongoing negotiations.

“We look forward to successfully completing this transaction, and taking the first step in creating a new park for a community in need of healing after the Andy Lopez tragedy,” Hart wrote in the letter.

Carrillo stressed that the lots have many obstacles for development, including tiger salamander mitigation, which has been estimated at half a million dollars. He said the county is also limited as to how much it can pay for the property.

“That’s the challenge,” he said. “The market value is the most the county can pay.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@ pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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