San Mateo County is poised to take over a Moss Beach park sold on the auction block to a Pacifica developer once the owners of a popular coastside chowder house pay roughly $8,000 in back taxes.
Paul and Julie Shenkman, owners of Sam’s Chowder House on Cabrillo Highway, agreed to cover the outstanding tax debt which is due Sept. 16 and, once finished, the county can begin the process of acquiring the pocket park, said county Supervisor Don Horsley.
Julie Shenkman said they offered to foot the bill after hearing of the park’s situation as a way to give back to the local community which has been so good to them.
“The park holds a special place in our hearts, as we’ve spent a lot of time at it with our son over the years. This park was built for the community, and by the community, and is a vital gathering spot for parents and kids — it absolutely needs to remain a community resource,” Shenkman wrote in an email to the Daily Journal.
Horsley said the Shenkmans’ offer is “very generous,” particularly because of the short window in which to raise the needed funds and because the county legally can neither forgive the debt nor cut its own check for $8,035.79.
Horsley met with Moss Beach residents Wednesday night to explain how the popular park ended up for sale and assure them the tax collector has canceled the transaction based on two factors: the disclaimer on sales that the county reserves the right to rescind a sale and the determination that a sale is not in the county’s best interest.
“In this case, it’s a park that has served this whole community of children for a generation or two,” Horsley said.
The nonprofit group Coastside Preservation and Recreation Inc. owned Moss Beach Park and even constructed a playground in 2004 but hadn’t paid taxes in several years, a fact Horsley said was probably due to boardmembers moving and everybody assuming someone else was taking care of it. Its nonprofit status and post office box also lapsed so the tax collector notices were returned along with other mail. Fast forward five years and the park came up for auction which the Board of Supervisors must approve. With only a parcel number on the April agenda, Horsley said the board signed off without really knowing what was being sold until his office was notified.
“We didn’t realize it was a park but, once we did, we said wait,” Horsley said.
Developer Michael O’Connell of Pacifica purchased the park at the end of July for just shy of $100,000.
Fixing the situation is doable but not necessarily quick. Horsley said the nonprofit must be revived, albeit with other members, and indemnified so that it can pay the actual debt. The group can then turn the property over to the county which will take two board meetings for official acceptance.
However, the county’s park system includes regional parks, not smaller parcels known as “pocket” parks. The Board of Supervisors will need to change its policy to take over moss Beach Park.
Horsley doesn’t see that as a problem and said it will likely pave the way for other county-operated parks in North Fair Oaks. Under county care, the park will receive cosmetic improvements and maintenance — likely funded with the Measure A sales tax revenue — but not outfitted with park rangers.
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