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By Shawn Raymundo
More than 1,300 homeowners who had paid into San Clemente’s beach parking fund up until August 2012 are currently owed a refund from the city.
Notices last month were sent out to the 1,326 property owners in San Clemente who qualify for the refund but had yet to file a claim with the city. The refund payments, including the amount paid plus interest, range between about $900 and roughly $2,400, according to the city.
The refunds stem from a 2012 lawsuit filed by local attorney Brad Malamud and other litigants who argued that the millions the city collected from Beach Parking Impact Fees (BPIF) were never used for their intended purpose—developing parking in beachside areas.
Owners of newly built homes east of Interstate-5 between 1989 and 2012 were required to pay into the BPIF Fund, which had raked in nearly $11 million over the 23-year period, the San Clemente Times previously reported.
In 2014, a superior court judge sided with the plaintiffs, ruling that the city failed to meet required deadlines under California’s mitigation fee act, according to news reports. As a result the city was ordered to refund roughly 6,500 homeowners.
Based on the payment records and property ownership in the Orange County Assessor’s Property Tax roll, the city compiled its list of eligible recipients. The city council in 2017 voted to set aside nearly $9 million in order to repay the homeowners.
Since then, the city notes, 5,179 eligible home owners, or roughly 80%, have been refunded. The monies and refunds were handled by the investment management company BNY Mellon until December 2018 when the remaining balance of roughly $1.8 million was transferred to the city.
According to the city, there’s currently $1.77 million in the refund account.
The tropic over the remaining balance of the refunds was recently brought to light by acting Mayor Laura Ferguson who spurred city officials to notify the rest of the homeowners that they qualified for the refunds.
“Governments needs to do everything they can to get people their money back,” Ferguson said, before touching on the current economic crisis that’s risen out of the coronavirus pandemic. “I know a lot of people with hardships who need this money … people need their money.”
Ferguson made the claim that many people weren’t properly notified the first time the city sent out letters to the eligible homeowners including herself.
“So many haven’t heard of this. I for one, I never received anything in the mail when this was sent and I worked (for the city),” she said. Ferguson was a city staffer prior to being elected to the council in 2018.
Ferguson said she recalled getting her refund in early 2017 but only by working directly with BNY Mellon. Other residents, she added, would come to city hall inquiring why they didn’t receive notifications.
“I worked there in the city at the time and people would come to the counter asking where their letter is. So often, people weren’t getting their letters,” she claimed. “So I would give them the contact person with BNY Mellon.”
Assistant City Manager Erik Sund, however, said the city sent out 100% percent of the initial notices.
Addressing the remaining 20% of refunds that hadn’t been claimed yet, he said there could be a few reasons, one of which was that the homeowner no longer lives at the property and didn’t have a forwarding address.
“So it’s difficult to find out where they’re at,” he said, adding, “That’s why we’re doing this other push … to let them know you didn’t claim it so you can still come forward.”
Since sending out the latest batch of notices, Sund said the city has received one claim so far and it has been processed.
Sund had previously told SC Times that any unclaimed funds after five years would go into the state’s escheatment fund pursuant to California law on April 1, 2021. However, an internal memo Sund forwarded to Dunek on April 7 states that the unclaimed funds would revert to the city’s escheatment fund.
Citing Sund’s prior comments on the matter, Ferguson said she’s been looking to get clarification and pointed the state controller’s office under Betty Yee, which is responsible to collecting unclaimed money and listing it for the public to find.
“Controller Betty Yee safeguards this lost or forgotten property as long as it takes to reunite it with the rightful owners; there is no deadline for claiming it once it is transferred over to the State Controller’s Office,” the controller’s website states.
Sund on Tuesday, May 19, said the funds will revert to the city.
“We have to follow the state guidelines of escheatment but the money will come back to the city,” Sund said.
A list of the un-refunded properties and their eligible refund, including interest, is listed on the city’s webpage dedicated to the BPIF Fund.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.