COSTA MESA : Owner Has the Last Word in Car Dispute

The city's irascible gadfly, Sid Soffer, lost one of his battles with City Hall on Thursday when a judge ruled that officials had the authority to clear away four disabled cars in his front yard.

But as usual, the colorful, 60-year-old restaurant owner had the last word.

When half a dozen police officers, three tow trucks and a city representative with a video camera pulled up to Soffer's home, there was no sign of the old cars that for more than a decade had drawn protests from neighbors.

"It took all morning for me and two buddies to change some tires and get the cars going, but when the cops and everybody showed up a little after 3 (p.m.), they were all gone," Soffer said. "It ruined my morning, but it made my day."

Soffer, an outspoken fixture at City Council meetings since the 1970s, has clashed with the city numerous times, including a battle over permit violations that landed the bearded businessman in jail on two recent occasions.

Assistant City Atty. Jerry Scheer said that for years, Soffer had been cited and fined for the disabled cars, which some neighbors complained were dilapidated and unsightly. The city then attempted in 1991 to classify the cars as a public nuisance and remove them, Scheer said.

Soffer resisted, and the dispute wound its way through the court system. It finally reached the state Supreme Court in February, where justices refused to hear Soffer's appeal. That led to the city getting a court order Thursday to proceed with the removal, Scheer said.

But when city employees arrived about 3 p.m. to tow the vehicles away, they found, as Soffer had predicted earlier in the day, "nothing but yard."

"It was worth it, just to see their faces," said Soffer, who had to have two of the vehicles towed himself because they would not start. "Oh, it was great."

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