In a blow to Laguna Niguel’s dreams of gaining a seafront, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that rival Dana Point will retain control over a disputed coastal strip.
By so doing, Superior Court Judge William F. Rylaarsdam validated Dana Point’s June 7 cityhood election, in which an overwhelming majority of residents voted to incorporate as Orange County’s 27th city. Dana Point will become a city of 26,000 residents on Jan. 1.
“It’s excellent news for Dana Point,” said City Councilwoman-elect Eileen Krause. “It means we can move forward with a clean slate and not have to worry about lawsuits.”
Laguna Niguel officials, expressing surprise and chagrin, said Thursday that they could not comment on the judge’s decision until they had a chance to read his 19-page opinion.
“Obviously, we are disappointed,” said Terry Dixon, an attorney representing the Laguna Niguel Citizens Task Force for Incorporation, which filed a lawsuit over Dana Point’s inclusion of the coastal strip in its incorporation.
Community leaders will be meeting over the next few days to decide whether to appeal.
Leonard A. Hampel, an attorney for Dana Point, predicted that an appeal would be fruitless because, by the time it was heard in a year or so, Dana Point would already be incorporated and a judge would be faced with the unpleasant task of dismantling an entire city.
The lawsuit had sought to invalidate the election results on the ground that the disputed coastal strip was included in the vote as a part of Dana Point’s city boundaries.
The 1.5-mile strip--highly coveted by both Dana Point and Laguna Niguel because it contains about $10 million in tax revenues from the Ritz-Carlton and another hotel resort--has been claimed by Laguna Niguel as a part of that unincorporated community’s historical boundaries.
In fact, Laguna Niguel included the strip in a cityhood proposal that it filed with the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission. But after some residents of the strip expressed a preference for Dana Point, which had also applied for incorporation, LAFCO ordered an advisory election to find out what a majority of coastal residents wanted.
After residents of the strip voted in the advisory election last November to join with Dana Point, LAFCO included that area in the Dana Point cityhood election.
The Laguna Niguel task force subsequently filed suit against LAFCO April 5, alleging that the planning agency exceeded and abused its authority by, among other things, not allowing inland Laguna Niguel residents to vote in the advisory election. The task force filed a number of other, mostly technical complaints.
But Judge Rylaarsdam, after reviewing the case for 5 weeks, concluded that LAFCO had acted properly.
The judge’s ruling Thursday came as another blow to Laguna Niguel, which was still reeling from Wednesday’s decision by LAFCO to remove control of a seaview park from a Laguna Niguel services district to one in Dana Point. The 26.8-acre Sea Terrace Community Park, at Coast Highway and Niguel Road in Dana Point, served as Laguna Niguel’s only coastal access.
The five-member LAFCO board expanded the boundaries of the Capistrano Bay Parks and Recreation District to include the park, while at the same time rolling back the boundary of the Laguna Niguel Community Services District.