Lawsuit filed against Encinitas hotel project

The site of the abandoned Portofino Beach Inn, which will be transformed into a 35-unit boutique hotel, is the subject of a lawsuit filed by an Encinitas property owner.
(Luke Harold)

An Encinitas property owner has filed a lawsuit against The Ray, a recently approved 35-unit hotel project, over concerns about noise, parking and other alleged violations under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The complaint was filed Oct. 29 in San Diego County Superior Court by Coastal Defender, a nonprofit led by Donald McPherson, who owns residential property adjacent to the future site of The Ray. Located at 186 N. Coast Highway 101, the hotel will include a restaurant, bars and a rooftop deck that will be limited to 75 people at a time. The city of Encinitas, which is the defendant, was notified of the lawsuit Nov. 5, according to an assistant city attorney.

The lawsuit alleges that the city will “sustain damages that are impossible to determine,” and the “environment itself will likewise suffer.” Coastal Defender submitted its own traffic, acoustic and architectural reports that allege CEQA violations that need to be addressed before the project moves forward. The complaint challenges the city’s determination that the project is exempt from CEQA considerations due to the limited scope of work that will be done, and exempt from certain restraints of Encinitas Municipal Code due to its major use permit.

“Here we actually have substantial evidence [of the adverse impacts to the community],” said Felix Tinkov, an attorney representing Coastal Defender.

The lawsuit seeks to halt the project until the environmental impacts are assessed by the city.

Jeffrey Morris, Encinitas’ assistant city attorney, said the city is turning to property owner 101 Hotel LLC, comprising Encinitas residents and business owners, to handle the case. The company, which acquired the project in 2015, did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

The boutique hotel project was approved by the Encinitas Planning Commission by a 3-1 vote in May, with one commissioner abstaining due to conflict of interest. It will replace the shuttered Portofino Beach Inn.

Before filing the lawsuit, through Coastal Defender, McPherson appealed the Planning Commission approval to the Encinitas City Council in September. But in a unanimous vote, the council upheld the project approval.

During the September appeal, Erik Gilmer, one of the managing partners of 101 Hotel, told council members that the company conducted outreach to make sure The Ray would be a “thoughtful and mindful” addition to the community.

“It’s underdeveloped, it’s been underutilized and it has the potential to be an incredible community asset,” he said. “That’s what drew us to the project in the first place.”