Thursday, October 20, 2011

Answer: Who owns that piece of land?

Okay, I admit it.  I kind of set you up for this one.  But there's a reason... and that is that preconceptions of what you're searching for can ALSO damage your ability to search.  Let me explain.  

We've actually discussed land ownership before.  (See previous episode on determining how much acreage there is in a given land parcel.)  

Today we'll discuss a slightly different solution and I'll point out the setup.  

Using you can right click at the given location on the map.  That will popup a context menu with an option for "What's here?"  

 It will show up a link to the nearest address--in this case, 7380 Morton Ave.  I should have been tipped off at this point that maybe it wasn't a Cargill-owned site.  I recognized the name "Morton" as a big salt company.  But I didn't really notice or pay attention.  So I kept looking for the Cargill connection.  

If you copy that address into regular Google, you'll see a Map result (which we already have) and a few links about "Morton Salt."  

Huh.  I thought I was looking for Cargill.  All I ever read in the local press about the baylands has the word "Cargill" in it.  Maybe Cargill bought Morton Salt?  

This led to a flurry of clicks and tracking down information about Morton Salt.  Does Cargill own it?  Answer:  No, it's actually owned by K+S Aktiengesellschaft, a German company that bought Morton in October of 2009 for $1.5B and in the process became the world's biggest producer of salt. Okay, who owns K+S?  Answer: Nobody.  

So.. who owns that parcel of land?  

A quick check of the street location in Google Streetview shows an obvious first clue:  Morton Salt! 

The next link the SERP is to Wikimapia, a site that shows ownership and is great for seeing city and neighborhood boundaries.  (It's a great resource for this kind of thing... highly recommended.)   You can also use (login required) to get even more information about parcels like this.  They both also confirm that this is owned by Morton.  

To verify all this, I went to the real authority: the Alameda County Assessor's website and looked up information about the parcel (which is labeled: 537-751-6-4)  As is usual, the government website is tough to use.  (Do anything slightly wrong, and it  gives you nothing.)  But after a bit of trial and error, I found the parcel is in fact owned by Morton Salt, and is worth ~$20M.  

 Moral of the story:  I went looking for Cargill and found Morton.  This kind of thing happens fairly often--BEWARE of the made-up mind--it's often hard to let go of a preconception and see what you're actually looking for.  While, as Pasteur said, chance favors the prepared mind, a correctly prepared mind is able to look around and also see alternatives.  An effective searcher needs to be both prepared and willing to give up on preconceptions.  

Search on!  


  1. Where did you find that Morton Salt owns the property on the county website? The assessors page doesn't show owner info as per CA law. Not doubting, just curious.

    Also I don't understand you line of thought. You say Morton is owned by K+S but nobody owns K+S so Morton owns it?

  2. I went straight to the tax assessor's web site since I happen to know that property ownership information is kept there. You can see the company name on the supplemental property tax statement here:

    Be aware though, that just because that is the owner as listed on the assessor's site, does not mean that they aren't leasing the property or anything else. Nor does it tell you the current owner, just the owner as of the date the property was assessed. They may have sold the property. You may also see that a property is registered under some LLC holding company and it may be next to impossible to figure out who is paying the bill/using the property.

  3. The parcel you actually had pointed to was 537-751-6-3 and not 537-751-6-4, but they are both owned by Morton Salt Inc. Being a wikimapia editor, which you too can be, I do find that information is highly useful, but also submitted by users whose degree of accuracy or reliability varies. Google has now made mapmaker open to the public which allows users to edit Google maps and correct and add information just like wikimapia. I just added the polygon to outline the property there myself.

  4. Fail.

    The assessor does not have any information on ownership.

    They may show you the mailing address for the tax bill. But that could be a lessee who pays the taxes. It could be a former owner, and nobody bothered to update the mail-to.

    I have seen cases where somebody sells a property, but the tax bills are mailed to them for years afterwards. In one instance, a company paid taxes on a parcel for four extra years. Doh!

  5. great anwer for a wrong question :)

  6. I can see why you thought it may have been a Cargill property. It looks like Cargill Salt leases the parcel just to the southwest. On the Google street view, proceed as far southwest as possible (past the Morton facility) and you can see the entrance sign to a Cargill Bittern facility. Bittern being a by-product of salt making and is used for de-icing roads and dust reduction.

  7. The Kitchn had this post on Oct. 28, 2011 on sea salt harvesting by Diamond Salt in the San Francisco Bay .

    I probably wouldn't have paid attention to it if not for your question and answer. Thanks!

  8. 1 question I hope you can answer:

    You said : "But after a bit of trial and error, I found the parcel is in fact owned by Morton Salt, and is worth ~$20M."

    My question is :
    Where does it say "Morton Salt" is the owner at

    As far as I can tell, the website does not list ownership.

    Please enlighten.

    Thanks a million.