Rural Californians Can’t Sell Business Because L.A. is Their Landlord

Aerial shot of Lone Pine, a small town in the Owens Valley in Inyo County, California, near the Alabama Hills and Mount Whitney on a cloudy day in winter.

( – A business in California that sells products like camping gear, livestock feed, and moving equipment is just one of many businesses that owners can’t sell because the city owns the land under the property.

Mika Allen is the owner of the store located in Bishop, and he hoped to sell his business so that he could retire, but upon trying to sell he found himself in quite a dilemma. Allen said, “I own the building, the inventory, and the asphalt for the parking lot.” He continued, “But I don’t own the land under it.”

The owner of Allen’s land is Los Angeles, or more specifically it’s the Department of Water and Power that owns his land. L.A. owns large plots of land in Owens Valley, where Bishop is located.

In the early 1900s, Los Angeles found that Owens Valley had lots of water, which is what L.A. was lacking at the time. This prompted them to purchase multiple plots of land there and they have owned them since. They tried for years to buy up as much of the water land as they could and ensure that they had ownership of the water rights as well.

The Department of Water and Power owns over ninety percent of the privately available land in Inyo County and they own thirty percent of land in Mono County, which is a neighboring county.

Many residents have said that the ownership situation has taken on a new dimension in recent years. The DWP has taken extra steps to establish dominance over the land that they own. In 2016, they restricted leases from transferring to new ownership, which still stands to this day and makes things very complicated for those with businesses in this area.

This whole ordeal has left Allen with the choice to give up his business to the DWP or continue to make lease payments for a business or lease that is inactive since he cannot find a buyer and therefore can’t transfer the lease. This has been the case for multiple people and businesses in the area.

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