Crockett Land Taxes

By The Honorable A. F. Bray
Contra Costa County, California Broadcast Station
KLX, Oakland, California Number 190, broadcast
March 18, 1940

In the town of Crockett in Contra Costa County is located the largest sugar refinery in the world. The town is named after its founder, J. S. Crockett. In 1865 Mr. Crockett was the owner of 13,314 acres of land including the area upon which the town of Crockett now stands but other than its general location nobody knew exactly where Crockett's 13,314 acres actually were. In fact, in a lawsuit tried about that year, the Court said that it couldn't tell where his land was but still he owned it and someday its exact location would be figured out, but in the meantime Mr. Crockett must pay the County of Contra Costa the sum of $3 per acre per year or a total yearly tax of $39,942, even though his land figuratively speaking was up in the air somewhere.

It all arose out of the tax which the county levied for that year upon Crockett's property which was described on the county's tax rolls a "three leagues of land situated in said county, granted by the Mexican Government to Teodora Soto, and called or known by the common name or designation as the Rancho Canada del Hambra, being a surplus of the El Pinole and Las Juntas Ranchos, after the same shall have been surveyed and located, equal to 13,314 acres of land," assessed at $3 per acre. Crockett refused to pay his taxes upon the grounds that this Mexican Grant originally made to Teodora Soto and by her turned over to Crockett had not yet been surveyed out of the surplus of the other two ranchos, the El Pinole and the Las Juntas, and until it was surveyed out Crockett did not know what he owned and the county therefore could not tax him. When he refused to pay his taxes the County of Contra Costa brought suit against him to compel him to do so.

At the trial, the proof showed during the Mexican occupation of California a grant had been made to one of the early Californians of the Ranch El Pinole which consisted of four leagues of land lying within larger exterior boundaries containing about seven leagues. Shortly thereafter another man was granted the Rancho Las Juntas consisting of three leagues out of a larger exterior boundary of four leagues. Both the El Pinole and the Las Juntas Ranchos were contiguous and together constituted seven leagues of land out of a total of eleven leagues. Then came the grant to Teodora Soto of three leagues of 13,314 acres to be carved out of the surplus left after the four leagues of the El Pinole and the three leagues of the Las Juntas were taken out of the total eleven leagues. When the United States acquired California, the owner of the three ranchos applied to the United States Court for an order confirming the surveys which had been made of their respective ranchos. That Court set aside the surveys as not properly made and ordered new surveys, instructing Crockett to apply for a new survey of this rancho after the other two ranchos had been surveyed and approved by the Court, as he was only entitled to take a part of the surplus.

At the time of the levying of the tax a survey of the Las Juntas Rancho had been made and confirmed by the District Court, but the time for appeal had not expired. No new survey had yet been made for the Las Juntas Rancho, and, of course, none had been made of Crockett's Canada del Hambre, and therefore no one knew exactly where the three leagues comprising this latter ranch were or would be located. Crockett's claim was that he only owned a mere floating claim to three leagues of land, which would eventually be located within certain designated boundaries embracing about eleven leagues, after two other contiguous grants, containing in the aggregate seven leagues, should be located: that until finally located, it could not be known what specific land be owned or claimed, and that there was nothing to serve as a basis of assessment or valuation, and nothing having the quality of taxable property.

The Court held, however, that Crockett had a vested interest in three leagues of land with in the designated boundaries, although uncertain, as yet, to which specific three leagues his rights would ultimately attach, the interest was no less a vested interest in land and assessable and taxable as such. The Court then goes on to say that the same elements exist for assessing its value for taxation purposes, as for purposes of business transactions. It might very well be assumed, that those, who are entitled to the first election of location, will take the most valuable portions of the whole, and that Crockett when he comes to locate, will elect the most valuable of the land which will remain. Businessmen about to purchase would, doubtless, so look at the matter, and an assessor, of course, should and doubtless would, regard these principles in making an assessment. The Court then held that Crockett must pay the $3 per acre taxes, which Crockett undoubtedly did, for had he not done so there would have been no land upon which he could have located the town of Crockett.

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