Law of the Land: Feds Can Sell to Private Developers

If the federal government wants to sell land in California, California’s State Lands Commission must have the first shot at purchase, not any private developer. That was according to Senate Bill 50, by Santa Monica Democrat Bill Allen and signed by Jerry Brown in October of 2017, but it’s not going to happen.

Last week U.S. District Judge William Shubb tossed SB 50 which he ruled violates the Constitution’s supremacy clause and the property clause that gives the federal government the right to dispose of its own property. The properties include Admiral’s Cove in Alameda, which the Navy seeks to sell to a developer; 78 acres owned by the Army in Dublin, and U.S. Postal Service property in Sacramento, among others. The possibilities are indeed vast because the federal government owns 45.8 percent of California, 52.9 percent of Oregon, and a whopping 84.9 percent of Nevada, practically the entire state.

The federal government owns 28 percent of all land in the United States and 47 percent of land in the western states. Farmers, ranchers, and developers support more sales of federal land, and the funds could help pay down massive government debt. Politicians often oppose sales of federal land, unless a state government is the exclusive buyer, per SB 50. Last year, when the Trump administration filed suit against the measure, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a member of the State Lands Commission, proclaimed: “We will use every legal and administrative tool to thwart Trump’s plans to auction off California’s heritage to the highest bidder.” Newsom is now seeking to replace the outgoing Jerry Brown as governor.


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.

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