|By Nick Green, Daily Breeze, Torrance,
Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 19, 2008 - Donald Trump filed a $100 million lawsuit against the city of Rancho Palos Verdes on Thursday, the day after the city failed to persuade the state's highest court to hear an appeal in a related case.
Trump, who owns Trump National Golf Club in the city, hired the same law firm that successfully argued a moratorium barring new home construction in an area allegedly afflicted by unstable earth was unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court declined the city's petition Wednesday to hear that case.
Trump is arguing the city and its geologic advisers engaged in "willful, wanton, malicious, oppressive and outrageous" acts that prompted him to "spend millions of dollars on unnecessary, repetitive, unreasonable and unlawful geologic and geotechnical studies and reviews."
The studies were related to the proposed construction of 20 homes at the golf club, a clubhouse terrace and the planting of ficus trees on the property.
"We have nothing but trouble with this town," said Trump, who has repeatedly clashed with city officials over planting the trees, erecting an oversized flagpole without a permit and other elements of the golf course.
"We've been treated very unfairly, very badly and we've been looking forward to this day for years," Trump added. "And we think we are going to win a lot of money."
Municipal officials essentially rolled their eyes at the latest legal move by the litigious Trump, who previously sued the local school district and lost.
"I had to think when I first got it that it's not April 1," said Councilman Tom Long, an attorney.
Councilman Doug Stern, who is also an attorney, said he had a difficult time figuring out the lawsuit's basis considering it was Trump who decided to build a driving range where most of the homes would have stood.
"It seems a little odd that someone who elected to put in a driving range on his property now says that we somehow are 'taking' his property because of what?" Stern said.
Stuart Miller, the Laguna Hills attorney who successfully challenged the city's moratorium, said there are similarities between the Trump case and that one.
In the moratorium case, a group of property owners argued the barriers to construction erected by the city were so onerous that they amounted to an unconstitutional "taking" of their property without compensation.
In the Trump case, Miller is alleging that while the land is being used for a golf course, it is not the "best and highest safe use."
The question for the Los Angeles Superior Court to decide, he said, is whether Trump was treated differently than other landowners, such as the Terranea Resort, and whether that imposed an unfair burden.
The suit claims Trump has paid more than $3 million on superfluous and "unlawful" geologic studies and that the city and its geologic consultants are liable as "civil conspirators."
As for the moratorium case, Miller said it will return to the trial court for disposition.
"The next step is a jury trial to set the fair market value of each lot without the city's restrictions on development," he said. "The city then has the option of either allowing the plaintiffs to build their homes on the lots or buying them at our price."
Miller said because of the scarcity of properties overlooking the ocean in Southern California, it's doubtful their worth has dropped along with the rest of the real estate market.
"There are no geologists that say this land is moving and you have a court that says it's not. So the question for the appraiser will be what is the value of lots that are not moving?" he said. "This notion that the city says they're in a landslide area is not true. The city can't spread false rumors about the land and knock the price down."
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