Redondo plans sale of contested surplus land
by David Mendez
The City of Redondo Beach will endeavor to sell a surplus piece of property near the intersection of Torrance Boulevard and Lucia Avenue. The lot has been the subject of minor land dispute amid the long-ago construction of a shed, attempts to purchase the land by adjacent property owner, and feuding colored by the long-past Redondo Beach waterfront decision.
The property near the corner of Torrance Boulevard and Lucia Avenue has been part of Redondo Beach’s portfolio of surplus properties since 1996. Though the city has engaged in multiple discussions for sale of the property — which is zoned as commercial — nothing has stuck. Only one structure stands on the property: a shed, constructed decades ago, by the original owner of a home adjacent to the open lot.
That’s according to Erika Snow Robinson, whose family bought the adjacent property facing South Maria Avenue in August 2003, taking ownership of both the home and the shed — which they later learned sat on land that wasn’t theirs, but the City’s. In recent years, the two sides were engaged in negotiations for the Robinsons to purchase a portion of the land, including the shed, to seemingly get on the right side of the law.
The City, according to state regulations, must first offer surplus land at bid for sale or lease to any public agency. But, according to city staff, an exception exists that allow an agency to sell surplus land to a contiguous landowner if the property is less than 5,000 square feet — which the property would be after required right-of-way dedications are completed.
In 2016, a resident group led a bid to turn the lot into a community garden. The Robinsons had concerns about the plan, according to City Council meeting minutes from the time, but largely sought to at least buy the land the shed sits on. But the bid to turn the land into a community space died, leading the Robinsons to be the only party negotiating with Redondo over the space. They have continued to do so in private sessions with the City, as is common for the public entity real estate transactions.
But a few issues complicate the matter. Some residents are seeking a community use, such as a garden, for the property. But others have taken issue with the fact that the Robinsons themselves would be principals in the deal. For one, Erika Snow Robinson counts herself among the personal friends of Councilwoman Laura Emdee, creating a potential conflict of interest for the Councilwoman. And those residents also argue that a person who has been breaking City ordinances by maintaining personal property on public land should not be rewarded with having the first shot at buying public land.
During testimony to the Council resident Jill Klausen played a video Robinson posted giving a “tour” of the property, including the shed on City land. During the video, Robinson pointed out her shed before stating, with tongue in cheek, that the area was actually city property
“Bullshit,” Klausen said. “If you allow a woman to buy a portion of this property that she’s been stealing from the city for 15 years, without paying rent or property taxes, you may as well dissolve this Council.”
Robinson believes that the reason this situation has been magnified is because she’s not afraid of sharing her opinion. Amid Redondo’s Waterfront redevelopment saga, Robinson declared herself a hardline supporter of the CenterCal project, an opponent of harbor-area rezoning Measure C, and a critic of Mayor Bill Brand. That, she said, put her in the crosshairs of redevelopment opponents.
“If I was on their side, they’d be holding fundraisers for me,” Robinson said. “What it all comes down to is what side of the fence you’re on.”
When asked by the Council, City Manager Joe Hoefgen confirmed that Redondo’s code enforcement department took no action against the shed’s encroachment on City property, especially as the City was negotiating with the Robinsons. According to Councilman Todd Loewenstein, that shouldn’t have mattered — the City should have been enforcing its codes “no matter who it is,” he said.
The question to the Council was, would the City be able to turn the land into a parkette (even a parkette by way of benign neglect, seeding sod and maintaining the lot, and nothing else).
According to Asst. City Manager Mike Witzansky, absolutely not. The lot’s small size has too many issues, including handicap access, parking and potential park-goer safety concerns, due to its proximity to Torrance Boulevard.
Left with no other options, the Council moved for city staff to take steps for transitioning the property’s zoning into single-family residential, then run it back through the sale process — including putting it out for public bidding. As part of the process, the City would take administrative steps related to the shed’s encroachment on public property, Hoefgen said on Wednesday.
“If we can buy a portion of the property, and the money can go to parkland, good. If it doesn’t work out, it is what it is,” Robinson said when reached for comment.