Tuesday, November 12, 2002
C.A. Rebuffs Bid by Donors’ Heir to Block Development of Former Navy Site
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The grandson of San Diego landowners who donated property for the Naval Training Center cannot use a charitable trust theory to stop the city from developing the premises commercially now that the military has left, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
In an unpublished opinion Thursday, Justice James A. McIntyre rejected Brian Kimball Fletcher’s contention that his grandparents, Ed and Mary C.B. Fletcher, along with others, created a charitable trust when they donated 135 acres on San Diego Bay to the government in 1921. The deed conveyed the land to “”the . . . United States of America, its successors and assigns, forever, for the exclusive use of the United States Navy Department as a site for a Naval Training Station.”
The deed also explained that the grantors intended to fulfill a promise by the San Diego Chamber of Commerce to convey the property pursuant to a 1919 Act of Congress. That act authorized the Navy to establish the training station if the Chamber of Commerce donated the land “free from all encumbrances” and the city donated the adjoining tide lands along with a site for a naval hospital in Balboa Park.
The training center operated on the site for more than 70 years before being closed under the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990. In 1999, the Navy conveyed the property to the city in accordance with a redevelopment plan, and the city entered into an agreement with a developer in June 2000.
Brian Fletcher sued last year, arguing—among other things—that his grandparents had created a charitable trust and that commercial development of the property violated its terms. The city demurred to the charitable trust claim, arguing that the language of the deed did not establish a charitable trust as a matter of law, and the state attorney general demurred on the ground that Fletcher lacked standing.
San Diego Superior Court Judge E. Mac Amos sustained the city’s demurrer, ruled the attorney general’s demurrer moot, and dismissed the suit.
McIntyre, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed with both the city and the state.
The right to enforce a charitable trust, the justice explained, is generally limited to the attorney general as the representative of al of the beneficiaries.
There is an exception allowing someone who has “a special and definite interest,” such as a minority trustee, to sue to protect the trust or its assets, McIntyre acknowledged. But Brian Fletcher’s interest as an heir of original grantors is not sufficiently unique to fall under the exception, the justice declared.
In any event, he said, Fletcher’s grandparents and the other grantors did not create a charitable trust. The language of the deed, he explained, in combination with the language of the Act of 1919, “supports the grantor’s intent to grant the property without any limitation on the property’s use or subsequent transfer….which intent is inconsistent with the existence of a charitable trust.”
At best, McIntyre reasoned, the language is ambiguous and tends to show that the grantors intended a charitable gift, not a trust.
The case is Fletcher v. City of San Diego, D038916.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company