Park owner pursues conversion to resident ownership

Laguna Isla Vista LP, the group representing the Laguna Terrace Park, is going to court to get what it feels would be equal treatment given a neighboring property owner by the California Coastal Commission.

The park's owner wants the court to declare that the park sits on a valid legal site and does not require a coastal development permit issued by the commission, before proceeding with plans that allow residents to buy the land beneath their mobile homes. The park also is requesting temporary and permanent injunctions prohibiting the commission from "intruding" on the legal title.

If not that, the owner wants a quiet title to the adjacent 75 acres, bought by Driftwood Properties LLC in about 2004. A quiet title "quiets" any challenges to and removes any "clouds" on a title. Driftwood Properties was named along with the commission, California Coastal Conservancy and unknown others as defendants in the lawsuit.

"The commission has recognized a lot line adjustment in a deal with Driftwood, and we would like the same recognition for our property," said park attorney Boyd L. Hill.

In the suit filed Dec. 8, the park contends that if the Driftwood parcel is a valid legal parcel, so is the Laguna Terrace parcel.

"It seems it is OK for the 75 acres to proceed without a coastal development permit, but not our 45 acres," said Boyce Belt, president of Laguna Terrace's resident's association.

"What this lawsuit means to the park residents is that there is still hope. Actions speak louder than words and it appears that Steve Esslinger is prepared to pursue the effort to get the park converted," Belt said.

Esslinger, Laguna Terrace's owner, bought the mobile home park from his family trust in 1997, subsequent to the 1995 subdivision of acreage that split the park parcel from the rest of the property owned by the trust. The subdivision was approved by the city, and no coastal development permit was required.

Lot line adjustments were routinely approved by the city without requiring the permits at least until 1997, and the city issued more than 100 adjustments without permits after the California Coastal Act was enacted, according to the lawsuit.

The commission approved the Driftwood acres as a legal parcel in December 2010. The parcel was offered to the city, which declined, and then to the conservancy. Closed-door negotiations are underway.

Laguna Terrace feels that Driftwood, the conservancy and the commission are protecting their own interests at the expense of the park..

Attempts to contact a Driftwood representative for comment were unsuccessful.

In July 2010, the city approved a vesting tentative tract map for the park parcel to be converted to resident ownership and issued a coastal development permit, which Laguna Terrace had not asked for, claiming the park was exempt from the Coastal Act.

The city also determined that the adjustment was not appealable to the commission, based on the Subdivision Map Act, which says the city is not to consider areas omitted from the map and/or lack of any evidence of increased density or intensity of use.

Park residents and the owner have stated repeatedly that no changes will be made that affect density or intensify use.

An ephemeral stream, which could restrict development if closer, is more than 100 feet from the park border and eliminates that issue, the lawsuit contends.

The commission felt it did have appellant jurisdiction because no permit had been issued after the 1995 adjustment and an Orange County Superior Court judge agreed, ruling in August 2011 that the subdivision was appealable to the commission.

Park residents were disheartened, but the new lawsuit has given them a lift.

Laguna Terrace also obtained a new loan under the name of Laguna Isla Vista LP, with provisions for partial releases and the ability to record a final tract map — a requirement when individual lots are sold to the residents.

"The owners have continually stated this objective to me, and others in attendance at our first meeting with the owner in June 2008," Belt said. "They have invested a substantial amount of funds in this effort, and I for one am very pleased that they are continuing to fight for the right to accomplish their goal."

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