Laguna Terrace Mobilehome Park filed a lawsuit against the California Coastal Commission for the second time this year, claiming “disingenuous duplicity” over a boundary dispute.
The legal action’s intent is to inhibit Coastal Commission interference in the long-planned sale of 157 individual lots in the ocean-view, bluff-top park developed in the 1960s. “Our intent is simply to remove the Coastal Commission from its alleged jurisdiction over the subdivision of Laguna Terrace Park,” said park general manager James Lawson.
Chris Pederson, an attorney for the California Coastal Commission, said the commission had not yet been served the lawsuit, which was filed on Dec. 8, and could not comment.
Boyce Belt, president of the Laguna Terrace residents’ association, is hopeful that the outcome of the lawsuit will allow residents that own or rent mobilehomes and pay a monthly land lease to finally purchase their lots. The park’s owners “have invested a substantial amount of funds in this effort and I, for one, am very pleased that they are continuing to fight for the right to accomplish their goal,” Belt wrote in a letter to association members this week.
Specifically, the lawsuit seeks a judicial ruling that would compel the Coastal Commission to apply the same criterion to the mobilehome park boundaries as it did to adjacent undeveloped property at the end of Driftwood Drive, which, at one time, was part of the original 270-acre parcel, according to Boyd Hill, the park’s attorney.
The current lawsuit claims the Coastal Commission accepted the boundary for the 75-acre property purchased in 2004 by Driftwood Properties LLC when it was offered as open space last December but, at the same time, did not accept lot-line adjustments in the mobilehome park.
As part of a consent agreement, the commission required Driftwood Properties to offer the property as open space to the city of Laguna Beach, which refused the offer, and to the California Coastal Conservancy, a state agency acting with other state agencies to protect coastal resources, the current suit says.
The term “disingenuous duplicity” in the lawsuit, said Lawson, refers to that purported discrepancy as a conflict of interest. The conservancy has yet to accept the offer, said spokesman Dick Wayman.
“By entering into the consent decree with Driftwood, the commission has recognized that the prior lot-line adjustment is valid on both sides of the boundary between Driftwood and Laguna Terrace Park,” contends Hill. “They can’t say it’s one way on one side of the boundary and different on the other side of the boundary.”
The Driftwood property, known in the lawsuit as parcel three, was subject to a cease-and-desist consent order to stop the unlawful clearance of brush, which turned out to be an endangered plant species.
A city lot-line adjustment approved in 1995 separated the Driftwood property from the mobilehome park (designated as parcel one), which was then owned by Laguna Terrace Park LLC and controlled by Stephen Esslinger, grandson of the original developer. The city approved the new boundaries without requiring the park owners to obtain a coastal development permit since no new development was planned.
By highlighting the alleged contradiction in the commission’s findings that recognizes the Driftwood property boundary but refuses to recognize Laguna Terrace’s boundaries and legal title, the lawsuit claims the Coastal Commission is undermining its authority to subdivide the property.
“It is extremely disingenuous to deny the validity of our parcel (Parcel 1) in an effort to thwart our subdivision,” said Lawson, “and, at the same time, seek an interest in a parcel (Parcel 3) created by the very same lot-line adjustment.”
Laguna Terrace’s lawyers failed to override a lot-line dispute with the Coastal Commission in an earlier lawsuit, denied in June by Orange County Superior Court Judge Ronald Bauer.
The Coastal Commission claims the entire Laguna Terrace Park property is within its coastal zone jurisdiction, according to Karl Schwing, supervisor in charge of regulation and planning for Orange County. Because the subdivision was approved by the city but not by the Coastal Commission, Bauer’s decision mandated that the entire ocean-bluff parcel is subject to the commission’s review. Such a ruling requiring more regulatory review further delays the park’s planned transition to resident ownership.
The current lawsuit is attempting to eliminate further delay. The subdivision would allow the 157 lots to be sold for the first time. Esslinger said his health problems were prompting him to sell so that he could leave the money to his family.