Notified two weeks ago of the owner’s intent to sell Laguna Terrace Park, residents of the mobile home park agreed this past Tuesday to pursue buying the property themselves.
Resident association president Daga Krackowizer said the board learned in a July 25 letter from the owner’s attorneys of their property’s imminent sale sometime after the next 30 days or within a year. The notice complies with a California statute requiring residents be informed of a pending sale.
It also may signal the end of a family controlled era for Laguna’s largest remaining mobile home park. Similar affordable housing enclaves have since disappeared: Crystal Cove’s El Moro Village was converted into a state park campground and Treasure Island transformed into the luxury Montage resort. Tiny, resident-owned Thurston Mobile Home Park exists still in Laguna Canyon.
“We had to scramble,” said Krackowizer of the Laguna Terrace board’s efforts to inform the residents and formalize their intent to purchase the property.
Buying the 14-acre ocean view park of 157 lots has been a pursuit of the lease-paying residents since January 2006 when they established the association to explore buying the land from the longtime owners, the Esslinger family.
But a series of years-long lawsuits between family factions as well as coastal regulators thwarted their efforts, which at one point included a tentative $41 million bid by residents.
In March, though, Steve Esslinger, the grandson of the original developer and believed to be the principal shareholder of Laguna Terrace Park, LLC, died after a long illness. His widow, Amy, is now believed to be the principal shareholder in a successor corporation known as Laguna Isla Vista, LP, active since last September, according to records at the Secretary of State’s web site. Before his death, Esslinger sought to subdivide the property to sell the 157 lots individually, a move that the Coastal Commission claimed to have the jurisdiction to prevent.
Draft minutes of a June meeting of the Coastal Commission suggest that this particular hurdle may have been cleared. Minutes cite a proposal to ratify a 1995 lot line adjustment approved by city officials but not previously recognized by the commission if Laguna Isla Vista would agree to drop its litigation contesting their jursidiction.
While the outcome of the pending litigation and its impact on the park’s sale remain unclear, on Tuesday residents endorsed a plan that would transform the park to a resident-owned community, as laid out by Carlsbad attorney Sue Loftin, Krackowizer said.
About 83 residents attended the meeting, 71 of whom own their homes and are voting members. A majority supported investigating the purchase of the park and the association paid a fee to start the process, said Krackowizer.
She said that at several points along the way residents can reverse course if needed. Importantly, the acquisition process is completely transparent, and “we would have control of our own park,” added Krackowizer.
The conversion to a resident-owned community should not affect residents who don’t choose to be involved in the purchase; they can continue to rent their property as before, Loftin told them.
Funding could come from the California’s Mobilehome Park Resident Ownership Program, established to preserve affordable mobile home parks by aiding their conversion to resident-owned communities with low-cost loans. No Orange County mobile home parks are currently listed for sale, according to several sites specializing in such listings. But in 2005, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Dana Point Marina Mobile Home Estates, an 8.9-acre, 90-space park less than a quarter of a mile from the beach was sold in February 2004 for $17.6 million to a developer, Makar Properties. The land remains vacant today.
For the moment, residents have no indication of the potential asking price, or if other bidders might emerge. Seasoned local realtor Gil Thilbault predicted that the owners already have a buyer lined up, prompting the intent to sell notification.
Calls this week for comment from Amy Esslinger, her legal representative, Santa Ana’s Hart King & Coldren, and property manager Jim Lawson went unreturned.
Should a new owner intend to change the property’s use, they would have new hurdles to clear. “It’s a difficult procedure to obtain approval for a zone change,” said Scott Drapkin, the city’s principal planner. A new owner would have to pursue a zone change as well as comply with the Mobile Home Park Act, he said, which requires an impact report and financial provisions for relocating current tenants to a comparable park.