I decided to attend a Sept. 15 meeting in I the council chambers at Laguna Beach City Hall after I heard about a serious dilemma involving a couple I represented as a real estate broker 17 years ago. I was totally amazed at how many residents attended and what I heard from those gathered about the undisclosed historical process affecting their property. The meeting was about the ongoing issue of Historical Properties and what influence there might be on properties identified and placed on the Historical List by the Heritage Committee of Laguna Beach. The Heritage Committee was established in the early 1980s with City Council approval. About 17 years ago I, now a retired real estate broker, represented a buyer of a property who wanted to eventually develop it into their retirement home. While the property was in escrow, I examined the city files to be sure they were clear and there would be no issues when the required Real Property Report was ordered from the city. The RPR is the mother document of all documents from the city and must be ordered and completed prior to the close of an escrow. These files are open for public review. These files disclose any outstanding issues that must be revealed and remedied before the close of an escrow. At the time of my investigation there was absolutely no disclosure whatsoever that there was any connection with anything about any historical committee or that this property had been placed on any list. There was no letter or description of any indication as to any sort of designation. The escrow closed, all due diligence was accomplished, and the buyer was assured all had been disclosed. The Title Report was clear with no cloud of any sort on the property.
Now move to 12 years from the purchase date: Owners are now close to retirement and have elected to move forward to develop their property. After three meetings with the city to begin planning, the property files were opened and the procedure to develop moved forward. Again, at this time there is no record or mention of any historical list as the file is reviewed.
On the fourth meeting with the city the planner, they visited the property to look at the site and here’s where the owner’s shocking dilemma came up. The owners were told that their property was on some sort of Historical List and there could/would be ramifications and controls placed on the development of their property.
Now move to our present date: I attended the Sept. 15 meeting and heard many people speak out that they had absolutely no idea whatsoever that their property was on any list, let alone that anyone or any agency had the power to control property rights.
It is my understanding, as an ordinary property owner in Laguna Beach, that if there is an agency with any influence or control over private property it must be disclosed to the property owner.
The disclosure process apparently was a gross oversight by our city government by way of the Heritage Committee. The owners of the property (my clients at the time of their purchase 17 years ago) are now caught in their distress and upset. They are doing everything they can to remain pleasant and fair but to no avail.
Something very dangerous has happened in our city regarding one of the most precious freedoms in our society — private property rights. If this had happened to me I would be fuming.
James Gothard is a Laguna Beach resident and property owner.
The letter was originally published