By Jesse “Jay” Sowell, Dana Point
Our City Council chose to fight four lawsuits on behalf of the developer of the Strand at Headlands luxury homes development, losing all four cases, and racking up what we now know were legal costs near or above $1 million.
Through a public records request to the city of Dana Point, I was able on March 10 to view invoices related to the “Strandsgate” case from Rutan & Tucker, LLP, the firm in which city attorney Patrick Munoz is a partner. Although the invoices were heavily redacted, it is clear that from 2010 through December 2015, total legal fees and costs equaled just under $947,000. Invoices for any 2016 costs could push the amount above $1 million.
The city claims that all of those costs are reimbursable by a third party, presumably the developer (Sanford Edward). However, it appears from recent city council agenda items and records that the developer is refusing to pay the bills. I have requested a copy of the agreement to reimburse, and will request an accounting of what, if any, costs have been reimbursed to date.
This whole matter raises serious financial and ethical questions:
Why did our City Council choose to spend $1 million and countless additional time and resources to further the agenda of a developer against the rights of ordinary citizens, particularly in pursuit of a case so thin that the Superior Court termed it “a pretext for avoiding coastal program obligations?”
Will the city be able to force the developer to reimburse us, or will we be on the hook for the entire $1 million? How much more will we spend on legal fees to gain reimbursement? The agenda for the next City Council meeting, in the budget report, includes items for legal costs totaling another $520,000.
Will we have to pay the legal fees of the California Coastal Commission and the Surfrider Foundation, who won the suit? If so, will that cost the city another million dollars or more?
And most importantly, when will the City Council return to representing the citizens of Dana Point instead of deep-pocketed developers?