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DANA POINT : Coastal Strip May Be Focus of Legal Battle

More than 26 acres of pristine coastal parkland across Coast Highway from the Ritz-Carlton hotel may be the site of the next round of legal battles between the feuding cities of Dana Point and Laguna Niguel.

The Capistrano Bay Park and Recreation District, which manages parkland for the city of Dana Point, announced last week that its board had voted to sue the Laguna Niguel Community Services District to gain control of the property, called Sea Terrace Park.

The pending legal action is the latest round in the dispute between the two new cities over a 1.5-mile coastal strip of about 850 acres. That property, which includes the parkland, originally was under the sphere of influence of Laguna Niguel but was transferred to Dana Point in 1988 by the Local Agency Formation Commission.

Laguna Niguel challenged LAFCO’s reorganization of the city boundaries in court and lost. The Superior Court ruling upholding LAFCO is now before the 4th District Court of Appeal.

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While LAFCO has determined that the parkland belongs in Dana Point, the legal title to the property remains in the hands of the Laguna Niguel Community Services District. The failure to relinquish that title is what prompted the planned lawsuit, said William Wilcoxen, attorney for the Capistrano Bay Park and Recreation District.

“We think that, as lawsuits go, this is a pretty clear issue,” Wilcoxen said. “LAFCO issued an order and they didn’t follow it.”

Laguna Niguel City Atty. Terry Dixon said the city is awaiting outcome of the appeal before making any further moves. “I don’t really understand why anyone is filing a lawsuit now,” Dixon said. “Our attitude is that they know there is litigation pending regarding the reorganization. Given the outcome of that litigation, we’ll be glad to cooperate with them.”

Sea Terrace Park was dedicated for public park use by the county in 1981 as part of the approval process for development surrounding the park. The agreement included a stipulation that the park be developed at no cost to the public.

At that time, however, the county did not take title to the land. The Laguna Niguel Community Services District did take title in July, 1988, a month after Dana Point residents voted to incorporate, but before the city formally came into existence in January, 1989.


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