Join Us




Sign up for our newsletter:

Leave this field empty


Contact Us: 909/867.3536
Email: [email protected]

San Bernardino Mountains Land Trust
Nonprofit Organization 501(C)(3)
Tax ID # 33-0700417                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

SBMLT in the News

Press Coverage

Back to all News

Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2014 2:35 pm

If the motto of the San Bernardino Mountains Land Trust were “saving the mountains one lot at a time,” the nonprofit organization devoted to preserving the mountains’ open space and protecting its wildlife would have proved true to its word once again on Aug. 19.

County supervisors voted unanimously to sell three tax-defaulted, substandard Arrowbear lots, totaling about 9,000 square feet, to the trust for $9,800, a little more than a dollar a square foot.


A few years ago, when such lots were sold at public auction at the Orange Show grounds in San Bernardino, they wouldn’t even have fetched one-tenth of that amount, said Peter Jorris, the land trust’s executive director, but the Internet has changed all that.

Jorris called acquisition of the unbuildable lots “a project we’ve been working on since 1997 or ‘98.” He said the tiny lots, similar to those created by the development of Cedar Glen and Deer Lodge Park, were laid out in a grid pattern when the Arrowbear Lake subdivision was created in 1926.

Close to 100 of those lots lie within the Deep Creek flood plain, Jorris said. They are located on historic dirt access roads that haven’t existed for at least half a century because they were bypassed when Highway 18 was built. The lots also have no water or electrical service. But with Tuesday’s acquisition the land trust now owns about 70 of the lots, Jorris said. Of the 100 lots in the flood plain, he said, only two have structures on them.

The trust, which depends entirely on charitable contributions and grants, acquires land when it can and holds it for sale to the Forest Service, which Jorris said currently cannot adequately manage the forest because of budget cuts.

Prior to the advent of the Internet, he said, land trust officers turned up three years in a row at the Orange Show auction, where tax-defaulted parcels were on sale to the highest bidder. The first year, he said, the county set $1,000 as the minimum bid. Not a single person in the large room full of knowledgeable investors bit.

The next year, he said, the county cut the minimum bid to $500, and still no one bid. Bidders in those days were highly sophisticated about the lots on the block, and knew just what they were doing.

The third year, motivated to sell, the county slashed the minimum bid to $100. “We were the only ones who bid,” he said.

But when the auction went online, bidders from all over the world jumped into the game. Rather than being able to inspect the lots in person and recognize their limitations, these bidders would look on county maps and see lots near a stream with roads—albeit outdated ones—nearby, and crazily high prices were offered.

When the buyers learned later what they’d really acquired, Jorris said, many would stop paying their tax bills. Under provisions of the California Revenue and Taxation Code, county tax collectors are empowered to sell properties on which taxes have not been paid for at least five years, in an effort to get them back on the tax rolls.

But under Chapter 8—a different provision of the state code—nonprofits like the land trust are able to get first bite at the auction apple, ahead of private investors.

“We usually pick up a few of these each year and generally have the support of supervisors, going back to Dennis Hansberger,” he said.

Jorris said the land trust also owns a one-third share of a 126-acre parcel between Green Valley Lake Road and Deep Creek. The other two-thirds is owned by W. R. Sauey, owner of Snow Valley.

“We’ve been trying to buy the other two-thirds from him for years,” Jorris said. “A couple of times he’s expressed interest in selling at fair market value, but he reneged. He wants about three times what the land is worth.”

Jorris said Sauey and the men who owned the land before him have long wanted to build condominiums on the land. “It’s the closest you can be to Snow Valley and still be on private land,” he said.

But despite the dreams of Sauey and the others, Jorris said, “no one has ever applied to the county for a building permit or has hired anyone to make a design” for a development.