Two different legal developments last week have amped up an ongoing dispute between the owners of Laguna Terrace Park and the California Coastal Commission over the approval by the Laguna Beach City Council in 2010 to subdivide the ocean view mobile home park into individual lots.
The legal developments, which leave the property line disputes still in limbo, come just weeks after the park residents began pursuing purchase of the 157-lot property as a resident-owned community.
The predecessor to Laguna Isla Vista LP, the property owner after a 2011 refinancing, filed two lawsuits, one challenging the Coastal Commission’s claim to jurisdiction over the subdivision, and the other a “quiet title” suit seeking Coastal Commission recognition for specific lot lines. Both saw activity last week.
Last June, Orange County Superior Court judge Ronald Bauer upheld the Coastal Commission’s claim for jurisdiction over whether the owners can subdivide the property. The owners subsequently appealed the decision.
Last week the Coastal Commission responded to that appeal. At the same time, the Sacramento-based property rights advocate Pacific Legal Foundation announced its intent to file a friend of the court brief in support of the park owners.
A possible resolution to the quiet title lawsuit fell through last week when park owners rejected a permit issued by the Coastal Commission because of unexpected conditions.
“We really did some heavy lifting” in pursuing the permit, said property manager Jim Lawson, who also manages the park’s ongoing litigation.
He said the owners had understood that the permit would legitimize a 1995 lot line adjustment approved by Laguna Beach as an “after-the-fact” retroactive permit. “We were really trying to make it work,” he said.
But the document approved by the Coastal Commission in June included a stipulation that the permit would only affect future transactions and contained a condition about dropping pending litigation.
Last week, the owners rejected the permit, leaving the lot line issue still unresolved.
The disputed property lines figure in the Coastal Commission answer to the appeal to their claim of jurisdiction. The brief repeatedly refers to the property in question as a 270-acre parcel, though the parcel in dispute, originally purchased by Steve Esslinger in 1997, is comprised of 122 acres. The remaining 148 was subsequently sold to another owner.
“It’s frustrating on so many levels,” said Lawson, who disputes the brief’s main arguments that the 1995 lot line adjustment was never permitted and that the proposed subdivision constitutes development under the Coastal Act and requires a permit.
Lawson argues that the Coastal Act’s definition of development as any change in density or intensity of use, including subdivisions, needs clarification. Subdivisions should only be considered development if they do actually alter density or intensity, said Lawson.
A similar argument prompted PLF’s involvement. Their brief argues that the subdivision is “just a paper transaction” that involves no brick and mortar development, said spokesman person Paul Beard. “We really believe that [the Coastal Commission has] crossed the line in this case,” he said.
The park owners have 90 days to respond to the Coastal Commission’s brief. A Supreme Court appeal in the event of an unfavorable outcome is also possible, Lawson said.
Whoever the new owner may be, Lawson thinks they should continue to pursue subdivision, which will allow park residents that own their lots individually to keep their homes in perpetuity. A resident-owned community offers no guarantee that a majority of residents won’t decide to sell to a developer in the future.
In any event, “without some sort of resolution, there is no subdivision for anyone,” he said.