DON'T MISS THIS: Know When to Quit(claim)

Those of you that have seen the extremely popular “Tiger King” documentary series on Netflix may remember the infamous star, Joe Exotic, had some legal complications around something called a “quitclaim deed” during the series (see “What is a quitclaim deed” below if you aren’t familiar). Joe Exotic used this legal device to put assets in his mother’s name to avoid potential seizure and bragged about the effectiveness of it during one episode. As this series has seemingly swept our nation during quarantine, it’s reasonable to assume that City Officials and their consultants of choice were among the viewing public. They may have been inspired by the legal actions of this beautiful animal with a long, flowing mane late one night after some impromptu binge-watching.

Whatever way officials and consultants came to this point, Camas will add the term quitclaim deed to the average Camas citizen’s vocabulary tonight as they vote to execute one locally. If not, they likely won’t be able to legally proceed with the Lake/Everett intersection improvement project, at least not without returning $2.8m in state funding potentially.

From a law school forum post titled, If Only Netflix’s “Tiger King” Were A Law School Exam:

Another Friday Surprise

Listed in tonight’s council meeting agenda, yet another dropped later on a Friday before a Monday meeting, this quitclaim deed is associated with the city's continued work on the $8m Lake/Everett roundabout - a project that the city had once decided to boast was essential and non-essential through two separate press releases in the morning and evening of the same day. Two weeks after that confused day for city officials, they AGAIN decided it was essential work during a global pandemic. Construction and the removal of more of Camas’ trees to make way for the roundabout seemed to be proceeding until the latest “hiccup” was revealed on Friday.

Tonight, the city and it’s consultants will be forced to confront this situation directly because the design they’ve chosen for the roundabout goes outside the boundaries of the state-controlled land for SR-500/Everett. Even though only about $2.8m of the $8.1m total cost is funded by a state grant, accepting that money at all means you need to follow some strict rules without deviation - one of those being that the entire project footprint needs to be located in the WSDOT right-of-way. This lake-adjacent land is yours today Camas, but due to an “oops” or a larger undisclosed plan, the same thing can’t be said about tomorrow.

Doesn’t that look like a lot of land worth keeping?

As a result of this choice or unowned mistake (unclear at this point), the city will now work to quickly “gift” nearly half of a 4.2 acre lot of city owned property to the state to be able to proceed with this project of uncertain essentiality - that’s a sizable oops that has real financial repercussions for Camas. The land is in a prime location between two lakes and, with the plans this city has to build out its imagined north shore (plus our generous local tax assessors) it could realistically be worth 700% of it’s assessed value by next year. So why are we just giving it away? Why did we approve and pay for a design that may suddenly demand we do so?

Here is the language from the city’s official document disclosing the action:

“A portion of the Lake Road & Everett Street Roundabout is being constructed to the east of the current State right-of-way on City of Camas owned property. WSDOT requires all of the roundabout footprint to be located in the WSDOT right-of-way. For this reason, Camas staff has worked with WSDOT staff and the City attorney on the quit claim deed attached to this consent agenda item. An aerial map showing the parcel in which the west portion is to be deeded to WSDOT is also attached to this agenda item. This deed covers 1.77 acres of this 4.24 acre parcel.”

This isn’t new law, so why did Camas and its preferred consultants design a roundabout that would trigger this need? Did they know this would happen and not communicate that, or was this a very costly mistake that taxpayers will have to remedy with their own sacrifice of a piece of Camas into the control of an outside interest?

WATCH Camas wonders if this is simply another example of Camas’ Inevitability problem in action. At tonight’s council meeting, listen closely and you’ll likely hear someone on council, staff or maybe a citizen commission chair express that “we’ve come this far” and “we just need to do this to proceed”. What is Camas actually giving away here though, and what else might a quitclaim deed be legally masking?

Not every real estate deal has a quitclaim deed involved, but many nefarious real estate deals do.

What is a quitclaim deed?

Quitclaim deeds are traditionally a convenient way to shift ownership quickly and without much scrutiny. Quitclaim deeds are also called “non-warranty deeds” and offer the least amount of protection to whoever is receiving the property. The title is not examined at all and the “grantee” or recipient agrees to take the land as is. For this reason, quitclaim deeds are normally executed with someone you trust explicitly - most commonly to transfer property within a family, be it from a parent to an adult child, between siblings or if a property owner gets married and wants their spouse added to an existing title.

A quitclaim deed can also be used to “cure a defect” in the recorded history of a real estate title. Title defects include items such as issues with wording (for example, on a document that does not comply with state standards), a missing signature (like that of a spouse or partner), or failure to properly record real estate documents. For example, if the name of a grantee is misspelled on a warranty deed placed in the public record, a quitclaim deed with the correct spelling can be executed to the grantee to perfect the title. It’s a bit of a legal “do-over” but Camas isn’t disclosing what they need to do-over if that’s the case.

How did the experts miss it?

After multiple roundabouts and millions spent on consultation, how is Camas still making mistakes here? Camas may have gained the expertise required to become a roundabout consultant itself at this point. Surveying land and right of way requirements for WSDOT improvement projects is covered in the first semester of Planning 101. SR500 isn’t a Camas road. It’s a state highway. The fact that Camas taxpayers are on the hook for the bulk of its bloated cost, when the responsibility of capital improvements on State roads usually lies in Olympia- is a tough pill to swallow already. But to have missed this glaring requirement of land conveyance, and now quietly use taxpayer owned assets to make amends for the “oversight”, is yet another example of the danger of a consultant-captured council being led by unelected interests.

The parcel of land being given away to the State tonight, is currently on the tax rolls at a $321,607 appraised value. That’s likely $2.25M when Camas Math is applied. Compare that new giveaway to the $2.8M we’ll hopefully get back from the state, and somehow, someway - local taxpayers are on the hook for a $10M roundabout that opens the gateway to a theme park designed and created exclusively for consultants, developers, and a few lucky land owners.