Donald Trump, a Republican presidential candidate and the front-runner for the nomination, has real estate interests in Southern California. This story originally appeared in The Times on May 16, 2006.
He controls the chips. But they hold the trump card.
That’s the gist of the high-stakes card game being played in Rancho Palos Verdes as billionaire developer Donald Trump struggles to rename a street that leads to his new $250-million oceanfront golf course, Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles.
Trump wants city officials to change Ocean Trails Drive to Trump National Drive.
But some on the Palos Verdes Peninsula say they are already weary of the mogul’s push into their community and have suggested some alternative names: “Ego Aisle.” Or “Narcissism Lane.”
“I think Trump is trying to take over everything,” said Marcos Dela Cruz at the local Starbucks. “Ocean Trails is an actual spot. We were hiking there the other day. The name Ocean Trails said it all.”
The request has also teed off city leaders who complain that such a switch would violate city street-naming guidelines.
But they say they are willing to grant the change -- if Trump is willing to change the name of his golf course.
They say the 261-acre oceanfront links should be called Trump National Golf Club Rancho Palos Verdes since it lies within their city’s boundaries and is nearly 30 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
At the very least, they want it designated Trump National Golf Club Palos Verdes Peninsula to reflect the rugged coastal area.
The dispute over naming rights has been simmering since 2002, when Trump took over what had been called Ocean Trails Golf Course, rebuilt it and put his own name on the place. He owns four other Trump golf courses along with numerous other eponymous properties.
If attaching his name to one of the last major pieces of prime coastal land in Rancho Palos Verdes wasn’t enough, Trump further ruffled local feathers in 2003 when he squeezed the annual Palos Verdes Concours d’Elegance charity event out of its Ocean Trails home and then sued the school district over the lease of school-owned land on the golf course.
When Trump applied to rename Ocean Trails Drive after himself, angry locals responded in 2004 with a series of sarcastic alternative names. City Council members refused to act on the request because Trump had “some issues to work out,” as they put it.
The Trump golf course opened in January under a temporary city permit after repairs from a landslide that in 1999 sent Ocean Trails Golf Course’s 18th hole tumbling toward the ocean.
Now Trump again is seeking the “Trump National Drive” designation for Ocean Trails Drive.
“As soon as I see a business card that says ‘Trump National Golf Club Palos Verdes,’ I’ll vote for naming it Trump Drive,” Councilman Peter Gardiner said last month as officials took up the issue anew.
Mayor Steve Wolowicz said he has been needled by other cities’ officials about the Los Angeles name on a Rancho Palos Verdes property.
Trump’s name on the street could inaccurately suggest that the golf course is private and dissuade people from using a city park and public hiking trails near the ocean, said Councilman Douglas Stern.
“It tips the balance of creating an aura of more of a private entrance and facility,” Stern said.
Sarcastically, he suggested a name change that would pay homage to the city’s granting of an early operating permit for the Trump golf course and clubhouse.
“Why don’t we change the name to ‘Temporarily Open Lane?’ ” Stern asked.
In an interview Monday from New York, Trump made it clear he doesn’t plan on being strong-armed by Rancho Palos Verdes officials, even as he praised the peninsula as “a great area -- one of the richest, if not the richest, in California.”
Trump said he’s still open to negotiations with the city over the name, noting that he wants to build a development of “golf villa” homes on the course property. But the famous dealmaker made it clear he can drive a hard bargain.
“I’m very hard to extort, if they’re looking to do that,” he said when asked about the city’s tough stance.
Trump hasn’t directly participated in the negotiations. He sent Vincent Stellio, a Trump company vice president, to last month’s council meeting. Explaining the name change, Stellio said Trump merely wanted to capitalize on his golf course brand while distancing himself from the stigma of the Ocean Trails course’s 1999 collapse and its bankruptcy.
Stellio added that Trump has started marketing the property as being on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. To prove it, he handed council members $30 golf hats with that name affixed to them.
“Originally, when we first came out, ‘Los Angeles’ seemed like the right thing to do because, basically, we’re an East Coast company,” Stellio said. “But with me spending some time out here, we realized that a better market standpoint is the peninsula. Pebble Beach is on a peninsula too.”
Still, “if we market it externally outside, we’ll probably refer to it as ‘Palos Verdes Peninsula Los Angeles.’ Internally, we’ll be marketing it as you see on that hat.”
Stellio was on the line during Monday’s interview with Trump, who seemed irritated by the street-name controversy.
“If they’ve pushed you around, Vinnie, I’m not interested in doing business with them,” Trump said.
For their part, council members have stressed that no street-name change will occur until Trump finishes a city-mandated grading report for the restored 18th hole and demonstrates that the course’s new name reflects the Palos Verdes area.
Under an extended temporary operating permit, Trump has until July 21 to do that, said Greg Pfost, deputy city planning director.
At Trump’s clubhouse pro shop, meantime, the lone hat was the only item bearing the Palos Verdes name. Dozens of other golf hats were labeled “Trump National,” with some including the words “Los Angeles” on their brims. Fancy $130 golf shirts bore the embroidered name “Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles.”
Outside the shop, Ed Gallagher and Steve Chaba, from Calgary, Canada, were piling their clubs into an electric cart to start their 18-hole round. Standard rates are $195 per player Monday through Thursday and $300 Friday through Sunday.
“I like the name ‘Rancho Palos Verdes.’ It gives recognition to this area,” said Gallagher.
Agreed Chaba: “It’s more unique, a little classier than ‘Los Angeles.’ L.A. seems kind of dirty to me.”
A few miles away, at the Starbucks, Marcos Dela Cruz and his cousin, local clothing shop clerk Spencer Dela Cruz, agreed that Trump doesn’t need yet another thing named after him. Anyway, “Ocean Trails” just sounds better.
“They really ought to keep that name,” Marcos said.