Laguna Terrace Park permit challenged

A Newport Beach resident has challenged Laguna's approval of a development permit and proposed subdivision that would allow Laguna Terrace Park residents to buy the land under their mobile homes.

Paul Esslinger's attorney this month filed a petition asking the court to command the city to revoke approvals of the coastal development permit and a modified tentative tract map of the property for the park, under provisions of the California Environmental Quality act, which requires and environmental impact report or a negative declaration stating the project won't hurt the environment. Park officials do not consider the petition an impediment.

"We expect it will be dismissed," said Jim Lawson, spokesman for the park owner, Laguna Terrace Park LLC. "The petition was served to us and to the city two days too late."

Lawson cited a government code that requires action that seeks to set aside a sub-division must be file and served within 90 days of approval.

"The petition was not served until Oct. 20," Lawson said. "That was 92 days after the council approvals."

A notice of intent to file the petition was received by the city Oct. 18. City Atty. Philip Kohn said notice of intent to file is required in California Environmental Quality Act cases. Esslinger's was logged in by the city clerk's office. However, Lawson said, although the petition was filed the same day, it was served four days later.

Esslinger and his attorney were unavailable for comment before deadline.

In the late 1980s Esslinger's son, Steven, leased the park from the family trust, which owned the land and incorporated as Laguna Terrace Park Inc. The parcel of trust-owned land for the mobile home park was created in 1995 by a lot-line split, which the California Coastal Commission didn't challenge until 2007.

The land under Ruby's dinner and a real estate office in South Laguna is still owned by the trust, of which Paul Esslinger is a trustee, according to Lawson.

Steven Esslinger bought the mobile home parcel in 1997 under the banner of Laguna Terrace Park LLC, Lawson said.

Paul Esslinger disputed Steven Esslinger's ownership in a drawn-out legal battle, which was settled last year in the middle of a trial that pitted members of the Esslinger family against one another. The terms of the settlement were not made public.

"I can tell you this: Paul has zero relation to the management of the park or the property itself," Lawson said. "This is an expensive form of harassment and the park residents are caught in the middle."

Kohn said a petitioner in a California Environmental Quality Act case does not have to have a direct connection to the project, unlike in other cases.

City approvals of the development permit and tentative tract map have also been challenged by the Coastal Commission, an action that resulted in litigation filed by the park owner.

Lawson thinks the park owner will prevail, based on the success of a similar suit filed by the Catholic Diocese in which the court rejected the commission control of the remodeling of St. Catherine of Siena School.

Lawson is betting that a decision favorable to the park's owner will be issued no later than early 2011.

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