There’s good news for neighbors who spoke out at a May 9 Oceanside City Council meeting against a 99-room hotel to be built on a hillside just west of I-5. Based on drawings, they trashed the proposal calling it “the prison hotel” and “the hospital on the hill” for its austere design and 17-foot cement retaining wall.
The Oceanside Planning Commission rejected the Fairfield Inn and Suites at Oceanside Boulevard project on a 6-1 vote. But the City Council let it go through on a 3-2 vote May 9.
On Wednesday, June 6, the City of Oceanside was served by a lawsuit by Escondido land-use attorney Everett Delano to halt the construction of the project called Fairfield Inn and Suites at Oceanside Boulevard. The suit was filed under protections provided by CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). The lawsuit alleges the proposed hotel ignores Oceanside’s General Plan, violates existing zoning and fails to consider the environmental impacts.
Attorney Delano says his law firm, Delano & Delano, helped fight developer Rick Caruso’s seaside mall on Carlsbad’s Agua Hedionda Lagoon and opposed the Gregory Canyon landfill. Both plans collapsed in 2016.
But maybe the best news for the neighbors near the proposed Fairfield Inn was the statement by activist Carolyn Krammer at a city council meeting May 23 when she pointed out that the Fairfield Inn developer ABA Development “…is delinquent on his property taxes and now he wants the council to bail him out and change the zoning.”
Along with former Oceanside City Councilwoman Shari Mackin, Krammer successfully spearheaded a public effort to block Doug Manchester’s effort to build a resort on pier-adjacent land owned by the City in 2004-05.
Krammer was right. However, not only is ABA Development delinquent in paying taxes, a search of the Secretary of State’s database shows that the name no longer exists and has been forfeited.
In other words, the Oceanside City Council gave the thumbs up to build a project on prime property about a mile from the beach to an illegal, non-existent company.
“This reflects a severe lack of due diligence on the part of Oceanside,” says Oceanside attorney Michael Grehl who has 15 years of land use experience.
“Why is the city doing business with a business that’s been forfeited?” asks attorney Delano. “This is an entity that is not legally entitled to do business.”
But can this actually be? The deal to build Fairfield Inn on the steep slope bounded by Oceanside Boulevard and Vine Street was put together by Carlsbad-based Lightfoot Planning Group. When Lightfoot’s vice president of planning Ann Gunter was asked if she knew that the name they put on all city documents, “ABA Development,” did not really exist, said she was not aware that was the case. When asked who was the real person behind this development since ABA Development did not exist, she responded, “I’m not at liberty to say.”
“This is beautiful news if we can now press ahead as a community to stop this,” says Sean Heskew, a father of four who lives near the hotel and who said at the May 9 council meeting the Fairfield Inn would denigrate his neighborhood.
Heskew was one of 25 neighbors who spoke about the Fairfield Inn at the May 9 meeting. They unanimously rejected it. No one spoke in favor of the project except the president/CEO of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce.
Oceanside City Attorney John Mullen said via a June 7 email that the city knew about the illegal status of “ABA Development,” but that the city chose to disregard the facts because the owner of the property told the city that the state of California’s database was wrong. Mullen wrote: “In this case, the issue of the corporate status was raised at the hearing and the owner indicated that its status is valid but that the online database was not current.”
The state’s database is updated daily.
But what happens now? Consensus among developers is that land-use attorneys who sue using CEQA sometimes settle with no real change taking place to the final development. For instance, I asked Delano, what happened when his firm sued the 328-unit Villa Storia senior development directly adjacent to the Mission San Luis Rey?
“In that case, we got the developer to provide funding for emergency services, historic research, and bus passes.” But Delano admitted the 328-unit project remained at 328. And Delano and Delano was paid for its work.
In the case of the Fairfield Inn project, I wondered if the developer, whoever it is, decides to scale down from 99 rooms to, say, 92 rooms, who decides what is acceptable?
Delano says it is up to him to present a revised plan to his clients who then have the right to accept or reject the revised plan.
The lawsuit Delano filed against Fairfield Inn showed that activist Nadine Scott signed the lawsuit on behalf of community groups Oceanside Neighborhood Alliance and Friends of Loma Alta Creek. Scott and the latter group successfully sued to prevent an asphalt factory being built near her Loma Alta neighborhood.