Court Delays Ruling on Artist Housing Project

Artist Louis Longi
Artist Louis Longi at work in his existing outdoor studio.

Sculptor Louis Longi says he remains undeterred by yet another delay in his years-long plan to build a studio and communal workspaces for other artists in Laguna Canyon.

This week, a judge postponed for two months a previously scheduled hearing and anticipated tentative ruling in a lawsuit that has halted Longi’s progress.

Orange County Superior Court Judge James J. Di Cesare reset May 5 for a hearing over the suit, which was filed last March by Friends of the Canyon, a group led by local resident Jackie Gallagher.

The suit asks the court to order the California Coastal Commission to rescind its January 2015 decision granting a coastal development permit for Longi’s artist live work complex.

“Our biggest issue is allowing development within five feet of the bank of the creek; it’s an inadequate buffer for the habitat,” San Diego lawyer Julie M. Hamilton said in an interview this week.

Longi and Dornin Investment Group won city approval to build 30 artist work-live units in 2014. The decision was appealed to the Coastal Commission, which prompted Longi to work with coastal staff to pull back decks and agree to habitat restoration in answer to concerns raised by Friends of the Canyon and others, says a court filing filed Jan. 26 by Longi’s attorney.

The lawsuit challenges aspects of the proposed development, including the stream set back requirements and compliance with visual resource and hazard policies, Deputy Attorney General Jennifer W. Rosenfeld, who represents the Coastal Commission, says in responding to the suit on Jan. 27.

Sculptor Louis Longi, succeed in winning a development permit from the Coastal Commission for his Laguna Beach live/work project at a hearing in January 2015..
Sculptor Louis Longi, succeed in winning a development permit from the Coastal Commission for his Laguna Beach live/work project at a hearing in January 2015..

“All of these issues were addressed in earlier efforts to halt this project and were fully aired at the Commission’s hearing on this matter,” Rosenfeld said in her 20-page filing.

Hamilton also alleges that the commission’s decision should be revoked because five of its members failed to file required public disclosure documents in a timely manner about meeting with a lobbyist hired by Longi. “We had no knowledge these meetings occurred,” she said.

At the public hearing itself last January, five commissioners did disclose meeting with Bonnie Neely, a former commissioner turned lobbyist, hired to promote the project, Hamilton said. That is not the “manner required by law,” she said in her pleading for the court to revoke the commission’s decision.

Hamilton thinks the point’s relevance is underscored by the public outrage expressed last month over the Coastal Commission’s lack of transparency in firing its executive director, Charles Lester, behind closed doors.

“They are not following their own disclosure laws,” Hamilton said.

Ellia Thompson, a Los Angeles lawyer who represents Longi and Dornin Investment Group, doesn’t believe the court will be swayed by the Lester backlash. “I don’t think there’s any credence to it; it’s a silly argument on their part,” she said, calling the allegation “nitpicking.”

Though Longi conceded frustration with the innumerable delays, he remains intent on seeing his vision to fruition. “I have not wavered one bit,” he said.


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