San Diego Union Tribune

March 28, 2005

Insurance is too late after tax goof

By Dana Wilkie

Justice delayed: Fred Gruner, the Lakeside man who for years paid taxes on land that didn't exist – thanks to a federal mapping error – apparently had a type of insurance that protects him from such goofs.

But Gruner did not live to learn this: He died recently before he could resolve his long-standing dispute with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over his 23 acres of mountaintop Lakeside land that exists on paper, but not in reality.

In November, Copley News Service reported that for almost 40 years, the 93-year-old Gruner paid taxes on his land, only to discover that in the late 1880s two different federal surveys placed the 23 acres that Gruner thought he owned in different parcels. On paper, Gruner and his neighbor each owned the 23 acres. In reality, only the neighbors did, because their deed predated Gruner's.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., tried unsuccessfully last year to rectify the government mistake that threatened to rob Gruner of the retirement income he had banked on and hoped to leave to his wife.

Asked during an interview last year if he had title insurance – which is supposed to protect landowners from mistakes or disputes involving land ownership – Gruner said only that "these insurances aren't worth the powder to blow 'em to kingdom come."

After Gruner's death, a lawyer with Fidelity National Title Insurance Co. told Copley News Service that Gruner did, indeed, have title insurance and that the company was working with Gruner's widow, Dolores. Privacy laws prevented the lawyer from revealing whether the title insurance might rectify the mapping area, and Dolores Gruner could not be reached.

By the numbers: The $284 billion highway bill the House passed this month must still be approved by the Senate to become law, but it does represent a breakthrough in Congress' lengthy delay in approving a spending measure to keep the nation's roads and transit projects on a sane construction timetable.

In the details of that House bill are several gems for just about every reach of San Diego County: for Carlsbad, $2 million for construction on Poinsettia Lane; for Otay Mesa, $3.5 million for design and environmental studies of the Heritage Bridge linking Chula Vista to Otay Mesa; for Escondido, $2 million for construction on Bear Valley Parkway; for National City, $3 million for a truck ramp linking Interstate 5 to the National City Marine Cargo Terminal; for East County, $2 million to maintain buses; and for San Diego, $15 million to build state Route 905 connecting the Otay Mesa port of entry to Interstate 805.

Hunter on the loose: During a speech this month at a Golden State Roundtable luncheon – which typically draws California lawmakers and lobbyists – Hunter succinctly outlined part of his government philosophy:

Typically, said the East County Republican, his view on federal spending is that "any money spent outside of San Diego County is foreign aid."

What goes around: Feinstein is back this year with her plan to renew the assault weapons ban that expired in September. This time, the senator uses vivid imagery to make her case: the February shooting deaths of two Los Angeles city bridge repair experts by a disgruntled employee with an AK-47 rifle. She points to the gruesome slayings to highlight what she says is the need to outlaw the sale, manufacture and importation of 19 types of semiautomatic weapons with military features, including bayonet mounts, collapsible stocks and clips with more than 10 bullets.

But have the political dynamics that allowed the ban to expire changed? If anything, Feinstein might have an even tougher go of it this year. Republicans of the more conservative – "get your laws off my Uzi" – variety have a firmer hold on Congress than they did before last year's election. Still, if there's one thing Californians have learned during Feinstein's 13 years in Congress, it's that one should never underestimate her tenacity, nor her ability to forge agreements that can accomplish the near-impossible. That was how, 11 years ago, she won the assault weapons ban in the first place.

Dana Wilkie of CNS covers San Diego and California issues in Washington.

»Next Story»