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Judge’s Reservations Stave Off Closure of Restaurant, Motel

Times Staff Writer

To guests, Pierre’s is a chic little French restaurant on Coast Highway in Capistrano Beach with antique doors, white tablecloths and a vista of the Pacific.

The view from the Orange County district attorney’s office, however, is that the restaurant--which was converted from space in the motel in 1982 without proper permits by the landlord, Capistrano Country Bay Inn--should be shut down because restaurant and motel owners have failed to repair numerous health and safety and building code violations.

But Superior Court Judge Tully H. Seymour, who said he was “extremely reluctant” to close both businesses Friday, instead ordered a compromise: Pierre’s and the motel can remain open provided they make immediate repairs to reduce safety hazards.

The judge ordered the landlord to halt repair work now being done on antique cars in a separate building, and also asked that all parked cars be removed from a fire lane. The motel has 30 days to submit a plan for repairs once its owners receive an assessment from county building and fire inspectors. If the owners fail to comply, the preliminary injunction could be instated.

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Deputy Dist. Atty. Gay Geiser-Sandoval, who sought a preliminary injunction against the Capistrano Beach businesses, took exception with Seymour’s ruling because it rewarded defendants who “thumb their noses” at the law. Also, the ruling could increase the county’s liability should a patron become accidentally injured while on the property.

“The public has been exposed to the hazards almost four years while the defendants have done nothing but make promises,” Geiser-Sandoval said, adding that civil fines against the owners could reach $500,000.

Barbara Kane, an attorney representing the owners, had asked the court to appoint an arbiter, claiming the district attorney’s office had been uncooperative and had refused to meet to discuss a fair compromise plan.

Since 1982, the 28-unit Capistrano Country Bay Inn, which is owned by Mervyn A. Phelan, managing partner, and Thomas M. Phelan and Cecil C. Wright, general partners of Capistrano Beach Properties Ltd., has been in violation of county ordinances, Geiser-Sandoval said.

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The owners are accused of converting the motel to accommodate a restaurant and a motel office without proper permits.

The violations cited by the county included:

- An enclosed patio roof completed without permits.

- The motel’s fire lane is incorrectly marked and frequently blocked by illegally parked cars.

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- The on-site antique car storage and repair building is hazardous because of the threat of fire from combustible solvents.

- Lack of bathroom facilities for handicapped people.

- Insufficient number of emergency doors and properly marked exit doors. Also, Pierre’s has dead-bolt locks on business doors rather than the required “panic hardware” to open doors in emergencies.

Pierre’s owner, Pierre Tomas, said in an interview Friday he has made most of the needed repairs inside the restaurant. He said he leased the restaurant in 1982 and was not advised of the conversion, or that the building was in violation of any laws by the landlords.

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Tomas said he is also involved in a tenant-landlord dispute, alleging that Capistrano Beach Properties failed to provide a safe building.

Capistrano Beach Properties officials could not be reached for comment.


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