Court favors Coastal Commission review
In an attempt to avoid scrutiny by the California Coastal Commission, owners of Laguna Terrace Mobilehome Park filed a lawsuit challenging the commission’s jurisdiction over the park, but the claim was denied by Orange County Superior Court last month.
As a result, a city-approved subdivision of the park that would allow residents to buy the land under their mobilehomes will now be subject to more regulatory review and further delay in the park’s possible into an own-your-own manufactured-home community.
The decision issued June 30 was based on a city lot line adjustment in 1995, which delineated the 20-acre coastal mobilehome park as separate from the original 270-acre parcel owned by Laguna Terrace Park LLC. Because the subdivision was approved by the city but not by the Coastal Commission, the court decided it must now be considered as a development within the entire ocean-bluff parcel and subject to the commission’s review.
A year ago, the City Council approved subdividing the 20-acre bluff-top, ocean-view park developed in the 1960s. Stephen Esslinger is believed to be the principal shareholder of Laguna Terrace Park LLC, which now owns the park; his father, Paul Esslinger, owned it previously; and his grandfather, Paul “Doc” Esslinger, developed it. Residents there either own their mobilehomes or rent them and pay a monthly lease for the land beneath their wheels.
The subdivision approval meant the 157 lots could be sold for the first time. There were no guarantees that tenants had first dibs. At the time, Esslinger said health problems were prompting him to sell so that he could leave the money to his family.
Esslinger’s stance was that there will be no new development, and, so, no need for coastal commission intervention; the lots are simply to be sold in the condition they’ve been in since the 1960s. The court, however, agreed with the commission.
“It means that we won’t able to go to the state’s Department of Real Estate to get the permits to sell the lots,” said Boyce Belt, park association president who keeps residents regularly informed with emails. Belt said the park was hoping to have lots up for sale within the year, but now no one knows when or if lots will be sold or what the next step will be. The owner has 60 days to appeal the decision. Telephone calls to the park’s attorney, Boyd Hill, and general manager, James Lawson, were not returned, nor did Karl Schwing, coastal commission supervisor in charge of regulation and planning in Orange County area, return messages.
Jerry Butler, a 25-year park resident, said he pays high rent for his lot and would rather own. If the lots aren’t sold, he predicted, rents will likely escalate and some residents might be forced to leave. Butler said he doesn’t understand the commission’s resistance to lot sales at the park. “There is no new development that will take place,” he said in an Investment Property Group blog, “only subdividing the lots for sale.”
New resident Michele McCormick said she’s in no rush to own the ground under her recently purchased double-wide. “It gives me time to build up my savings,” she said. “Maybe by the next time it goes through the coastal commission and they approve the subdivision, I’ll be ready to buy.”
Her fear is that her environmentalist friends will become the very people causing her to lose homeowner security. “This is the only way I could afford to own and stay in Laguna,” she said. “Now I don’t have that security.”
McCormick pointed out that just because a property is under coastal commission jurisdiction doesn’t prevent big development, citing that the Montage resort occupies a former trailer park as does the state at the new Crystal Cove State Park Moro Campground, formerly the El Morro Village mobilehome park. “We are such a very small footprint. There would be no increase in development, just changing entitlement deeds from Esslinger to individual property owners.”