Two months after the California Coastal Commission granted a coastal development permit to allow Laguna Beach resident Mark Christy to continue renovation of The Ranch, a neglected hotel and golf course in Aliso Canyon, the project has hit another potential snag.
Lawyers representing Laguna Beach resident Mark Fudge filed a petition with the Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, March 5, seeking to reverse the permit approvals for Christy’s project that were granted by the city of Laguna Beach Planning Commission and the California Coastal Commission.
Christy declined to comment on the suit, beyond noting that “the unanimous 5-0 city approval and 9-1 Coastal approvals should speak for themselves.”
Fudge’s petition asks the court to make a finding that the permit approvals were out of compliance with state environmental and coastal protection laws and the city’s general plan and to compel the city to require that the project undergo an environmental impact assessment and comply with building restrictions in a flood zone.
It also asks the court to bar the Commission and the city from further processing of the permit, and to forbid any ongoing activity at the project site that might physically affect the environment, and it seeks payment of attorney fees and legal costs.
Thanks to one of the conditions of the Coastal Commission’s approval of the coastal development permit, The Ranch will be responsible for their court costs and attorney fees if Fudge wins the suit.
The lawsuit by the Los Angeles firm of Morrison & Foerster names as defendants the Coastal Commission and its executive director Charles Lester, the city of Laguna Beach, the City Council, the Planning Commission and its chair, Anne Johnson. Laguna Beach Golf and Bungalow Village, LLC, owner of The Ranch, is listed as the real party in interest.
Christy received permit approval from the city’s Planning Commission last May to renovate the 84-acre Ranch. The project included refiguring the hotel’s 64 rooms into 97, a restaurant makeover and the addition of a spa and fitness center.
Construction of the project was slowed last year by Fudge’s initial effort to overturn the Planning Commission decision in an appeal that the Coastal Commission considered hearing last July. He contended the permits were unlawful by failing to weigh the project’s impact on affordable public accommodations, parking, historical and biological resources, water quality and other issues.
The Coastal Commissioners at that time agreed with their staff’s analysis that Fudge raised a “substantial issue” as to whether the permit approvals were consistent with the city’s adopted planning guidelines and portions of the state Coastal Act pertaining to public access. But the commissioners and their staff disagreed with Fudge’s contention that the city’s environmental review of the project was inadequate.
And when the commission held a hearing to review the project in January, Coastal staff laid out their finding that the project was consistent with the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible. The Commission did not contest the city’s finding that the project was exempt from the requirements of CEQA and found that the project complied with the flood hazard provisions of the city’s certified local coastal program.
Now Fudge is suing the city and the Commission over those findings.
At the center of his lawsuit is his contention that because of the project’s potential to physically impact the environment the Laguna Beach Planning Commission should have required “appropriate CEQA review,” including preparation of an environmental impact report and an opportunity for public input, before issuing any permits.
Fudge also contends that the Coastal Commission and the city violated various regulations that deprived him and the public of due process in the appeal.
The City Council will likely be briefed on the lawsuit on March 17, according to City Attorney Phil Kohn, reached earlier this week. He also confirmed that the city and the Coastal Commission generally have 60 days to comply with a request to lodge their respective records of all related proceedings with the court, barring an extension.