Will A Contested Slice of Newport Back Bay Stay in Public Hands?

Will A Contested Slice of Newport Back Bay Stay in Public Hands?

Local watchdogs say County of Orange officials broke public meetings laws when they got together in closed session earlier this month and backed off reclaiming fenced-off public land in Upper Newport Bay from a wealthy political donor who came close to buying it.

It comes after the County of Orange was recently forced by objecting residents to halt selling a piece of the scenic bay to Newport Beach political donor Buck Johns for just $13,000 — the price of which was determined by an appraisal he paid for and was approved by the county. 

Now, after Johns has threatened legal action over his stalled purchase, county officials have backed off on taking down the private fence line that’s been raised around the property which Johns wants to lump into his property overlooking the bay.

That decision was made in a closed session meeting of the OC Board of Supervisors on July 13 — a discussion with a public notice so vague, claims Newport Beach resident Susan Skinner in a July 27 letter to the county, that it broke state public meetings laws.

The exact tally of supervisors’ vote — who voted for or against directing staff to back off — hasn’t been made public.

“This entire episode reeks of special privilege, which is another way of saying political corruption,” said Skinner in her letter, which she shared with Voice of OC on Thursday. She said she wrote the letter with Newport Beach resident and local watchdog Jim Mosher. 


Supervisors’ direction earlier this month was also questioned by Supervisor Katrina Foley, who represents the district spanning Upper Newport Bay. 

Earlier this year, Foley used what’s called her “district prerogative” to officially pull the sale off the table after residents halted the county’s move to legally “abandon” the land so they could sell it to Johns.

Residents who caught wind of the deal halted the county’s move to legally “abandon” the land through pages of petition signatures in May.

Around the time the sale halted, it was also revealed Johns’ request was facilitated by Foley’s predecessor and then-supervisor Michelle Steel, who has received thousands in campaign donations from Johns for national office. Steel is now a U.S, Representative.

In her letter, Skinner alleges county officials violated the state’s transparency law — the Ralph M. Brown Act — during the July 13 closed door discussion because the public wasn’t sufficiently notified beyond a vague agenda description with no details.

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