As if the high-profile Haft family is not embroiled in enough litigation in its battle for control of a multimillion-dollar business empire, younger son Ronald S. Haft is now being sued in Orange County Superior Court for what he calls an attempt to ensure the privacy of his oceanfront home in South Laguna Beach.
Haft is being sued by Santa Ana builder Jeffrey P. Rhoades and his wife, Christine, over a property boundary. The couple also claim that a row of carob trees Haft planted along their dividing property line in South Laguna obstructs the Rhoades’ “spectacular panoramic ocean and coastline and mountain view.”
The trees also block the couple’s view of the lights of the Aliso Pier, according to the lawsuit, which has resulted in a non-jury trial that opened Wednesday.
In legal documents, the couple describes the line of seven, 25-foot-tall carob trees planted by Haft as a “spite fence.” The trees, they allege, drop bean pods on their pool, deck and hot tub, and the carob trees’ root structure undermines their retaining wall.
The suit is yet another problem for the Haft family, which controls the Dart Drug, Crown Books and Trak Auto chains but has broken into factions over its dispute played out in the Washington courts to much publicity. In that case, Ronald Haft, 34, is allied with his father, Herbert, founder of Dart, against his mother, Gloria, and older brother Robert Jr., founder of Crown, for control of the multimillion-dollar conglomerate.
Haft testified Wednesday that, because of his business responsibilities, he delegates many of the decisions in his personal life to members of his team. But he said he personally chose the $900,000 house after visiting about a dozen Laguna properties because “it created a greater sense of privacy.”
Haft said he was aware when he purchased the home in 1991 that the previous owner was engaged in a dispute with the Rhoades family over property boundaries. But he denied installing the trees to block their view.
Although Haft said he knew of the couple’s claim that their view is obstructed, “at this point I’ve chosen not to trim the trees.”
Haft is president of a corporate conglomerate with 10,000 employees that is worth between $500 million and $1 billion.
The Santa Ana-based Rhoades Development Co., which Jeffrey Rhoades owns, reported $7.5 million in sales of single-family homes in 1992, and projected double that for 1993, according to figures provided by the company. Christine Rhoades is the daughter of William Lyon, one of Southern California’s leading home builders.
Jeffrey Rhoades and his attorney, Marc Alexander, declined comment on the case. According to the lawsuit, they want the trees removed and the boundary dispute resolved in their favor. They also are asking the court to prohibit Haft from allowing trees near the property line to grow more than 10 feet tall.
Jeffrey and Christine Rhoades are building a “dream house” on the site of the Bluff Drive residence where they have lived since 1976. The property was valued for tax purposes at $600,000 in 1988. The new residence will include a greenhouse, a playhouse, a pond and several decks.
Haft’s adjoining home on Bluff Drive was valued at about $900,000 when it was purchased in 1991. According to tax records, Haft also owns a $3-million home in Los Angeles and a primary residence in Washington, where the Dart group is based.
He chose Orange County for a getaway home, he said, because he wanted solitude and “I like the casual, relaxed, individualistic character of Laguna Beach.”