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Commission to hear appeals

The California Coastal Commission voted March 10 that appeals of the city’s approval of a coastal development permit to a South Laguna mobile home park raise issues that warrant a hearing.

Appeals were filed by South Laguna resident Penny Elia, Commissioners Patrick Kruer and Sara Wan, and most recently by Laguna Beach resident Paul Esslinger on the grounds that the proposed sub-division does not conform to the standards set forth in the Laguna Beach certified Local Coastal Program related to public access and recreation, environmentally sensitive areas, water quality and hazards.

“Paul Esslinger is the father of Steven Esslinger, a principal of Laguna Terrace Park LLC,” said park Manager James Lawson. “Paul once sued Steve over control of the mobile home park. Any Internet search will reveal a few details of what was a horrible intra-family litigation.”

Lawson suggested the elder Esslinger’s appeal might be sour grapes.

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The long, drawn-out suit, filed in April 2004, pitted Paul Esslinger against his son and daughter-in-law for control of the park. It was settled in July 2007 after three days of testimony.

No details of the settlement were announced, but Steven Esslinger is still involved in the mobile home park, Lawson said.

The Esslingers have owned the mobile home property since Steven Esslinger’s grandfather began buying up parcels throughout Laguna in the 1940s. Steven Esslinger acquired the property from the Esslinger Family Trust in 1997.

In January, the City Council voted 3 to 2 to conditionally approve state-mandated steps that would give ownership of the park to the residents and the coastal development permit to divide up the property into 157 residential lots, one lettered common lot, one open space lot, one utility lot and two undeveloped lots.

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Councilwoman Verna Rollinger, who voted with Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman against the sub-division and coastal development permit, disagreed with the opinions of city staff and the Planning Commission that the park is not included in the areas of the property where projects are subject to review by the coastal commission.

Part of the 46.6-acre property mapped as appealable does not include the 13.2-acre area of the sub-division, based on commission-approved maps, according to City Manager Ken Frank. Another 25.6 acres are open space.

“Really, I don’t know why they have to have an appeal hearing, because the project must go to the commission for a coastal development permit,” Frank said. “That was one of our conditions.”

The council and the commission must independently approve the coastal development permits for the areas in their jurisdiction. No final tract map can be reviewed until the commission approves its coastal development permit.

However, the commission’s position is that if any part of the parcel is an appealable area, the whole parcel is. Besides, the commission contends that a 1995 lot line adjustment on the property is invalid because it was not accompanied by a coastal development permit, although the adjustment was not contested by the commission until 2007.

“In fact, lot line adjustments were not considered ‘development’ under the California Coastal Act until 1999,” Lawson said. “There are probably hundreds of lot line adjustments in Laguna Beach that did not receive coastal development permits, but we were singled out.

“The commission has referred to our parcel as ‘illegal,’ ‘unpermitted’ and even ‘purported,’ perhaps suggesting that our parcel doesn’t even exist,” Lawson said. “This should alarm far more than the several hundred residents of Laguna Terrace Park that simply want the opportunity to purchase the lots they are now renting. Between 1974 and mid-2006, there were approximately 200 lot lines adjustments approved in Laguna Beach with out Coastal Development Permits.”

No date was announced for the appeal hearing, which will be a do-over, called de novo.

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