In an April 28 staff report to the California Coastal Commission, Headland Property Associates was cited on three counts: failing to properly turn over the Highlands Trailhead property to the City or other nonprofit, failing to maintain the bathrooms and failure to pay taxes on the property.
Given the long span of the violations — 32 years — the Coastal Commission could legally impose a maximum penalty of $20.5 million. The staff is recommending $3 million, if certain actions by the defendant are taken.
The 74-page document also cites Wooster Street LLC, which currently owns the property, for failing to maintain the public restrooms and for not transferring the property to the City or nonprofit, which was part of the original agreement with the Coastal Commission.
Wooster purchased the land for $350,000 in 2013, through a L.A. County auction. The bathroom and parking lot are located at 16701 Via La Costa above the Palisades Highlands Summit.
The Commission staff report notes that anyone doing diligence would learn that this is coastal development property – and there is an extensive history record for the property.
Although the Commission could assess penalties of between $2 and $5 million on Wooster, they would ask $1.25 million.
Circling the News notes in the findings that “Headlands is a sophisticated developer with a history of working in the Coastal Zone.” And that “Headlands has a prior history of violations regarding this same development . . . .the Commission issued (consent) cease and desist and restoration orders to Headlands in 2004 for unpermitted development on the property that is immediately adjacent to the Trailhead Property, and across which is the trail connecting the trailhead to the Temescal Ridge Trail.”
The report cites “The cost to the state of bringing this action against Headlands has been significant; Headlands’ nonfeasance and malfeasance dates back decades and has required an incredible amount of time to unravel. Specifically, because Headlands failed to maintain or transfer the Trailhead Property, the property went into tax foreclose actions not once but twice.”
Headlands also relocated offices without notifying the Coastal Commission and that office had to use the State Attorney General’s office to track down a new address. The Commission noted that initially it had hoped that Headlands could work with Wooster to settle the matter, but “A full nine months after providing contact information to Headlands, Wooster’s attorney indicated he had never heard from Headlands.”
The Commission staff found that Headland’s role in this case warranted an application of a high penalty.
If Wooster and Headland would transfer the property to the City or another Executive Director-approved public or nonprofit agency within 120 days, the fine for Wooster would be eliminated completely and the Headlands fine reduced to $2 million.
Sarah Stockman, a reporter working for the CTN editor, asked in 2016 if she could report a story about the bathrooms at the trailhead. An avid hiker, she had recently been on that trail with her father, another Palisades resident.
Given the okay, she uncovered the fact that the public property had been sold to a private investor, who wanted to develop houses on the site.
Stockman contacted several government entities, and on page 26 of the recent Coastal Commission staff report, it notes: “Enforcement staff was made aware of some of the violations regarding the Trailhead Property on July 21, 2016, when a reporter reached out to the Commission’s Public Information Officer to discuss the pending sale of the Trailhead Property for residential development; the reporter wanted to understand whether Commission CSP conditions still applied.”
The report said the information found was sent to the Coastal Enforcement Division and “Since that time, Enforcement staff has been dealing with both Wooster, the current record owner of the lot, and Headlands, the original permittee, in an effort to resolve the violations.”
Stockman, who is now applying to medical school, was sent the 2022 Coastal Commission staff update. She replied:
“I am glad that six years later, something is happening with the trailhead. I’ve been up there recently and it’s pretty gross trash-wise. I’m glad you’re still getting information about this story. These developers need to be held accountable.”
Stockman’s original story and an update can be found at click here.