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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?




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comments (7)

  • Excellent work Mr. Sowell.

  • Jesse,
    Thank you for your due diligence on this matter. By itself, a city attorney who knowingly presented falsified & misleading information to a court of law should be sanctioned, subjected to judicial inquiry and immediately dismissed if confirmed. The fact of this city attorney attempting to curry state-level policy favors for Sanford indicates there is much more to uncover. It will be confirmed when politicians begin to ignore legitimate FOIA requests.

    I believe rumors of possible recall petitions for Munoz and his like-minded ilk on the council do have some substance. Likewise with a rumor that more than one influential investigative journalist has this on their radar.

    This scandal is a predecessor of the city’s blatant horsetrading of building codes seen with the Town Center development. To insure their relevance after being elected, it seems local politicians gave their deep-pocketed sponsors the impression that every policy, law or code is negotiable. It is very evident here when we see developers knowingly exceed concisely written code limits on their initial design proposals.

  • It is obvious the city council is not working for the residents. We have lost our quaint beach town. Too too bad. The rich have taken control and they only car about themselves. Maybe we should change the name of the new city we have been subjugated to live in.

  • What a double standard! So our Council has no problem spending over a million ($1.5 counting the $520,000 added to legal fees and litigation expense in last Tuesday’s budget adjustment) to help the wealthy developer who helped fund their election campaigns? Meanwhile, we’re the only city that won’t lift one finger to help residents who are being overrun by sober living homes.

    We have absolutely zero regulation at the City, state or federal level to help homeowners dealing with second hand smoke, medical emergencies, parking issues, profanity, and in some cases, partying and obvious drug and alcohol use . Other cities have the decency to help, but not Dana Point’s courageous Council. They’re terrified of lawsuits – unless, of course, those lawsuits involve their developer friends.

    We get it, Dana Point Council. You work for developers and special interests and not for ordinary citizens. Remember in November, citizens, and boot these guys out. And in June, vote YES on Measure H for Hope, and show these clowns they can’t replace the Town Center business district we hoped for to developers who want to make it into high density apartments with inadequate parking. In the end, voters have the real power. We’ve had enough corruption and abuse of power. It’s time to show these corrupt politicians the door.

  • Well done Mr. Sowell
    Do we need to take it to court and find out why all the redactions? I am guessing this is not a case of National Security . Any explanations to why we don’t have a right to know all about how money is being spent?
    This is unacceptable to me, anybody else? Something rotten in Dana Point?

    To your last question , they won’t . We need to work for a recall of them all!


  • Today, April 4, Surfrider announced the city of Dana Point has signed an agreement to pay $300,000 in mitigation for its actions in blocking coastal access thru Strands Gate. After paying the mitigation the city will still be on the hook for the prevailing party’s legal fees, which are expected to be high six figures. The city manager, city attorney and the city council members who presided over this travesty since 2010 should be accountable and resign.

    • They won’t ever resign, Steve. It’s going to take a recall and a new resident backed Council who will send the City Manager and City Attorney packing. They’ll do fine. Doug Chotkeyvs gets about $350k a year and a lucrative pension based on that. Patrick Munoz has earned millions creating work and billings for his firm, some of it through nefarious legal action like the Strandsgate suits. Dana Point needs to wake up! These guys are spending us into a hole,spending most of it on areas controlled by their developer and Chamber buddies. Time for a clean sweep.

comments (7)

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