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Aunt Minnie’s Dream

By J.J. Gasparotti

Ron Sizemore requested that this column address those open spaces generously distributed around town and whether or not they are wildlands wilderness areas. They aren’t.

The thing that made Laguna so unique was the random subdivision of land that gave our town its village character. What a prosaic reason for such wonderful results.

Laguna was never part of the large Spanish land grants that divided California into private holdings. This exception became prime turf for small time land developers and promoters.

One of our more out of place flat land subdivisions on a hill is Arch Beach Heights. Those streets were designed for Kansas, not Laguna.

Before the internet, people in construction or real estate could get a call like this. Someone’s old maiden Aunt Minnie back in Minneapolis, Minnesota has died. Her estate contains a vacant lot she bought while vacationing in Laguna.

She always dreamed of building her artist’s studio and home on this lot. That never happened. Now her heirs want to know how much it is worth. Maybe a lot of money. It is in Laguna Beach overlooking the sea.

The truth is, this lot is on the side of a cliff. It’s on a paper street that was never paved. Under current regulations, it is unbuildable. It’s worth nothing. You still have to pay property taxes.

This is the sad tale of most of our undeveloped real estate. It’s deemed unbuildable by land use regulations. Rules that were adopted by people who already live on property that has the same problems that constrain these now unbuildable properties. The only thing that changed was the rules.

That vacant land down in Rim Rock Canyon or around Arch Beach Heights is owned by somebody. Somebody whose rights to develop their land were taken by a growing pile of regulations and red tape intended to insure our “pristine wilderness” could never be developed.

This is good for all of us who already have our piece of paradise and bad for all the Aunt Minnies of the world.

A 1985 ruling stopped federal courts from hearing cases concerning the regulatory taking of property rights, including allegations that regulatory taking was a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against the taking of private property by the government without just compensation. This past June, the Supreme Court ruled that such cases must again be heard by federal courts.

Look for some of that unbuildable “pristine wilderness” to become buildable again. Goodbye free park, hello new neighbors.

J.J. Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11 years old. He has loved it ever since.

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