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Mobile home park conversion stymied

A 15-year-old lot line adjustment has become the latest kink in the works for Laguna Terrace Park tenants who want to buy the land on which their mobile homes are parked.

The California Coastal Commission voted Friday that City Council approval last month of a subdivision to divide the park into 158 parcels to sell to park dwellers was appealable to the commission.

At the heart of the issue is the commission’s refusal to recognize a 1995 lot line adjustment in the area of the South Laguna property that split it off from a larger parcel that includes the sensitive Hobo Aliso Canyon area.

The lot line adjustment, described as “minor” in a staff report, was approved by city officials but not the Coastal Commission.

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Now the commission wants the lot line adjustment to be brought before it for approval 15 years later.

Laguna Terrace owner Stephen Esslinger was issued a Notice of Violation in 2007 by the commission, but no further action was taken, according to park General Manager James Lawson.

Lawson said the lot line issue appeared settled until recently.

“The 1995 lot line adjustment was approved by the city of Laguna Beach with absolutely no objection from the Coastal Commission,” Lawson said. “In fact, over the next few years the Coastal Commission issued several Coastal Development Permits for the exact parcels that they now claim are illegal, or unauthorized.

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“It was not until 2007, 12 years after the parcel was created, that the Coastal Commission issued its Notice of Violation. There are probably hundreds of lot line adjustments in Laguna Beach that did not receive Coastal Development Permits, yet we remain singled out.”

Community Development Manager John Montgomery told the council Jan. 5 that the coastal commission has been trying to get the city to take similar lot line adjustments to the commission for after-the-fact approval and the city has declined.

The lot line adjustment also involves property now owned by Athens Group, which developed the nearby Montage Resort & Spa on a former mobile home park overlooking the ocean.

Activist Penny Elia spoke at the commission hearing, saying that she has been working on the issue for a decade.

Elia accused the city of issuing the subdivision permit despite the commission’s notice of violation.

“The city chose to ignore this,” she said.

Elia is chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Hobo-Aliso Task Force, which has been seeking to preserve the area, and particularly the ridgeline, from development.

City officials say they are highly restricted in their authority over the conversion of mobile home parks to individual ownership due to state laws and had little choice but to issue the subdivision permit.

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Boyce Belt, president of the Laguna Terrace Park Assn., supported the permit.

“We would like the opportunity to purchase our lots,” Belt told the Coastal commissioners. “If this drags on you could stop us from purchasing our lots.”

The city was not represented at the Friday Commission hearing. City Manager Ken Frank said the city’s policy is to “always let the applicants defend themselves” at such hearings.

The council voted 3 to 2 Jan. 5 to approve the subdivision. Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman and Councilwoman Verna Rollinger voted “no,” citing concerns that the mobile home park conversion would drive out low-income renters.

Supporters said that low-income renters could qualify for special rental rates.

As a condition of approval, the council is requiring the Laguna Terrace subdivision to be presented to the Coastal Commission for approval before issuing a final tract map.



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