When a Parcel is Not a Parcel
One of the primary duties of the County Assessor is to locate all taxable property in the county. Location of land is based on a series of maps which are divided into books (45), pages (2000), blocks and parcels (50,625). The Assessor Parcel Number (APN) of each property in the county is keyed to those maps. By State law the Assessor is required to show land by property ownership which is usually set forth by legal description contained in deeds transferring property. Other state laws give cities and counties “police powers” to regulate by zoning and permits what owners can do with their property. Local zoning, subdivision and building codes define when a parcel is a “legal” parcel and when that parcel is considered buildable. Assessor parcels and “legal” parcels may not mean the same thing even when talking about the same property because different State laws control the government agencies involved.
In the mid-1950s, the Napa County Assessor, along with other California counties, contracted with the State Board of Equalization to create a standardized set of assessor parcel maps showing all lands in the county. Those parcels were created based on the current ownership of the property. Example A - a certain area of land owned by one person in the mid-1950s, even though acquired over several years from several different owners, was shown on the new assessor parcel maps as a single “ownership” parcel. Example B - a certain area of land, owned by one person and acquired as a single parcel, was shown as two or more assessor parcels because the area was split by a tax rate area boundary or would not fit on one assessor map page.
Assessment Vs. Legal Parcels
To help property owners, the public and other governmental agencies to understand the distinction between “assessment” parcels and “legal” parcels, the Napa County Assessor often shows parcels with the designation Combined for Assessment Purposes (CFAP) for Example A or Separated for Assessment Purposes (SFAP) for Example B. To find out if those assessor parcels consist of one or more legal parcels, an interested party should consult with the planning department of the local agency within which the land is located or seek advice from a qualified professional. Property owners can apply for a Certificate of Compliance from a local agency if there is a question about the legality of a parcel.
If the Assessor learns from an owner, a title company, a surveyor or a governmental agency that a certain piece of land does not belong in its entirety to the owner shown on the current assessor parcel map, the Assessor must create a new assessor parcel showing the newly determined ownership. Sometimes, if the newly created assessor parcel was a remnant from a decades-old transaction, the new assessor parcel may be shown as “Unknown Owner.” The creation of that parcel does not determine the “legality” of that parcel. If a property owner is successful in obtaining a certificate of compliance for assessor parcels which are currently shown as SFAP, the Assessor will remove that designation. Certain certificates may have conditions attached that must be met before building or other permits are issued. Please note that not all CFAP and SFAP parcels are so designated since that designation has only been used since 1975. Many Example A and Example B parcels are on assessor maps but have never been shown as either CFAP or SFAP.