Santa Catalina Island Conservancy v. County of Los Angeles

Citation126 Cal.App.3d 221,178 Cal.Rptr. 708
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Decision Date30 November 1981
PartiesSANTA CATALINA ISLAND CONSERVANCY, a corporation, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, Alexander Pope, Assessor, California Board of Equalization, Defendants and Appellants. Civ. 59428.

Page 708

178 Cal.Rptr. 708
126 Cal.App.3d 221
SANTA CATALINA ISLAND CONSERVANCY, a corporation, Plaintiff and Respondent,
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, Alexander Pope, Assessor, California Board of Equalization, Defendants and Appellants.
Civ. 59428.
Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 1, California.
Nov. 30, 1981.
Hearing Denied Jan. 27, 1982.

Page 710

[126 Cal.App.3d 226] George Deukmejian, Atty. Gen., Edmond B. Mamer and Patti S. Kitching, Deputy Attys. Gen., for defendant and appellant California Board of Equalization.

John H. Larson, County Counsel and Raymond G. Fortner, Jr., Deputy County Counsel, Los Angeles, for defendant and appellant County of Los Angeles, Alexander Pope, Assessor.

Latham & Watkins and David H. Vena, Donald P. Baker, John J. Clair, Jr. and Joseph J. Wheeler, Los Angeles, for plaintiff and respondent Santa Catalina Island Conservancy.

[126 Cal.App.3d 227] SPENCER, Presiding Justice.


Defendants Los Angeles County and the California Board of Equalization appeal from a judgment in favor of plaintiff, the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy (Conservancy). After the Board of Equalization denied the Conservancy's claim for exemption from property taxes pursuant to Revenue and Taxation Code sections 214 and 214.02, the Conservancy sought a refund of ad valorum property taxes paid for the tax years 1975-1976, 1976-1977, 1977-1978 and 1978-1979, and a declaration that section 214.02 was constitutional. The trial court found that sections 214 and 214.02 are constitutional and that the property owned by the Conservancy on Santa Catalina Island was, with limited exceptions, entitled to the Welfare Exemption provided therein.



The Conservancy was organized in 1972 as a California non-profit corporation for the purpose of preserving open space land for the pursuit of recreation and enjoyment of scenic beauty on Santa Catalina Island (Catalina), and for the preservation of native plants and animals, biotic communities, and geological and geographical features of educational interest. The Conservancy has received exemptions from federal and state income taxes which are premised in part on

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findings by the respective taxing authorities that the Conservancy is organized and operated exclusively for charitable purposes.

During the period from December 1973 to February 1974, the shareholders of the Santa Catalina Island Company donated all of the company's issued and outstanding shares of Class A common stock to the Conservancy. Among the assets of the Santa Catalina Island Company was the fee title to Catalina.

In February 1974, the Santa Catalina Island Company granted a 50-year Open Space Easement (Gov.Code, § 65560, subd. (b)(2)) to Los Angeles County on 41,000 acres of Catalina. In granting the easement, the company reserved the right to use, maintain, regulate and [126 Cal.App.3d 228] charge fees for the use of interior roads and to build lodges, hotels, or other public accommodation facilities on land subject to the easement, as well as certain other rights not pertinent herein. The easement provides for the preservation of the open space character of Catalina and protection of wildlife, plants, and geological and archeological sites. In addition, the easement assures the availability of the land for use by the public for recreational, scientific, educational and scenic enjoyment purposes. As a result of the Open Space Easement, the Santa Catalina Island Company received a substantially reduced market value tax assessment of the property subject to the easement.

In February 1975, the Santa Catalina Island Company redeemed the shares of stock which had been donated to the Conservancy by conveying the fee title to 42,000 acres of Catalina to the Conservancy. With the exception of Rancho Escondido (Lot 60), all of the land subject to the Open Space Easement was included in the acreage conveyed to the Conservancy. By the terms of Article IX of the Conservancy's Articles of Incorporation, the land in question became irrevocably dedicated to charitable purposes when title vested in the Conservancy.

Operation of the Conservancy

The primary power to direct the Conservancy rests with the Benefactors, among whom members of the Wrigley family have been prominent. 1 At the time of trial, the Benefactors of the Conservancy were William Wrigley; Robert Given, Director of the University of Southern California Catalina Marine Science Center; and Claude Brooks, an employee of the Chicago-based William Wrigley, Jr. Company. Benefactors are elected by the Conservancy Board of Directors. A majority of benefactor members constitutes a quorum at any meeting of members and their majority vote will decide any question brought before a membership meeting.

The Conservancy Board of Directors is elected at annual membership meetings and, in turn, elects the Conservancy officers. The Conservancy Board of Directors and officers from 1975 to 1977 were Douglas A. Probst, President and Managing Director (formerly employed by the Santa Catalina Island Company or its subsidiary); Hollis W. Moyse, [126 Cal.App.3d 229] Controller of the William Wrigley, Jr. Company; and Malcolm J. Renton, retired Vice President of the Santa Catalina Island Company.

Natural Character of the Island

Catalina is one of eight Channel Islands. The island is approximately 21 miles long and varies in width from approximately one-half mile at the Isthmus to a maximum of approximately eight miles for a total land area of approximately 48,438 acres. Elevations range from sea level to the 2,109-foot height of Mt. Orizaba.

The island rises abruptly from the water with, however, a platform extending for some distance offshore. The platform has an approximate width of one mile on the landward or channel side and two miles on the ocean side. It provides a suitable habitat for submarine gardens.

Geologically, the island may be described as the upper portion of a fault block which rises approximately one mile from the

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ocean floor. The uppermost remnants of the fault block are visible as a single ridge which traverses the island from end to end without a marked break except at the Isthmus. Mt. Orizaba and Mt. Blackjack are the most notable peaks along the ridge. The bedrock geology of the island is pretertiary metamorphic rock and, in this respect, Catalina differs from the other Channel Islands. This rock is the oldest known on the island or the adjacent ocean bed, and is visible in outcroppings on approximately one-half of the island.

The main portion of the island is composed of Franciscan complex rock, which is rare in Southern California. There are limestone deposits containing fossils of the Miocene Era and marine terrace deposits south of Little Harbor and along the edge of Avalon Canyon as well as wave terraces in the Salte Verde area. The surface of the island is generally dissected by steep, geologically youthful canyons which, in combination with the sharp ridges, create a generally rugged topography. The rugged shoreline of the island is generally characterized by high, precipitous sea-cliffs which reach a height of approximately 1,400 feet at the Palisades. The western end of the island contains a small, level coastal plain. Many of the most significant geological features may be observed from hiking trails and from the roads used by hikers, the motor tours and other motorists. Catalina is accessible by private and commercial vessels and aircraft and is visited by over 500,000 people per year.

[126 Cal.App.3d 230] There are 393 species of plant life native to Catalina in addition to 150 species introduced from the mainland. Of the native species, six are endemic to the island (native to that one geographical region only). Of the endemic species, the Catalina Ironwood is the least prevalent. It is found in groves in canyons (primarily on the channel side) from Gallagher's to Bullrush Canyon, on mountain slopes (including the east slope of Mt. Blackjack) and in Ironwood Gulley on the Isthmus. Many of the groves are in inaccessible areas, but one of the largest and most lush groves is along Skyline Drive, making it readily accessible to users of the Drive and hikers. The Conservancy has been active in developing techniques for the propagation of Catalina Ironwood seedlings.

The Mountain Mahogany is an endemic species which occurs only in the Salte Verde Canyon area. St. Catherine's Lace, Yerba Santa, the Live Forever and the Catalina Manzanita are endemic species with a wide distribution on the island. The Catalina Current is found elsewhere only in All Saints' Bay, British Columbia; on the island, it ranges along Pebbly Beach, Avalon, Gallagher's and Banning Canyon as well as the Cherry Cove and Fourth of July Cove area west of the Isthmus.

Many of the native species are organized into subcommunities inhabiting a variety of environments. There is a Pacific Headlands plant community near Little Harbor, as well as a special maritime desert community. The north and east slopes of the island contain typical chapparel communities, while the arid rocky ridges form a separate habitat. A biotic community of coastal sage inhabits the steep canyon slopes, and the coastal plain contains grasslands communities which provide basic food for herbivores.

The Catalina Grey Fox is an endemic species which ranges over a substantial portion of the western coastal interior and the central portion of the island. Recent studies and field observations suggest that an endemic species of the Two-Striped Garter Snake exists in the Cottonwood Canyon area.

Feral goats and pigs are found over wide areas of the island. The greatest populations of goats are found on the East End, the West End, and the northern shore; while the highest concentrations of pigs occupy areas which are relatively free of goats. Bison were introduced on Catalina in 1921 and the present population of approximately...

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