Del Mar Mesa property owner ‘stunned’ by city code enforcement citation

By Suzanne Evans

Del Mar Mesa resident Elizabeth Rabbitt received an unwelcome warning recently, a city code enforcement notice concerning her three-lot, nearly six acres property, citing “illegal grading near fragile habitat.” Rabbitt purchased the first acres in 1994, and the last acre two years ago.

“It boils down to a citation stating that 2.14 acres of the property have endangered habitat that needs to be restored,” Rabbitt explained to the Del Mar Mesa board at its April 12 meeting. New plants have to be maintained and the property must be fenced off and not used, the citation stated. “You have acres stolen from you that (now) you can’t use,” she complained.

When Rabbitt first acquired the property, she hauled away mountains of trash, including a walk-in freezer that littered the area. “If you came to my house (then) you would see tires, washing machines, and mattresses,” she said, noting she had to drag them all away. Rabbitt even found a bomb casing on the property.

“Elizabeth’s property was one of the original homes in the area,” board chair Gary Levitt explained. “The entire property was “developed” (i.e. used) in that the previous owners dumped stuff, kept horses, etc., all over the property. Only when she cleared out this trash and removed ice-plant, etc., was it suddenly obvious to city staff that the natural brush was no longer there, and they started an investigation which led to this citation. If she was not planning to do any development, she had no reason to process any site permits.

“Elizabeth is now following the process recommended to her by the city, which was to submit an application for the ‘illegal activity’ — and basically this is the same permit application you would make if you were doing a development on the property,” Levitt said.

“It’s been very emotional for me,” Rabbitt said, “because I feel (trash removal) made our neighbors’ and our property better – and it hurts. We’re happy to mitigate; we have already paid over $100,000 to renovate.”

Rabbitt now needs to go through a site development permit process, according to the city. “So, we have to get the site permit just to buy mitigation to give to the city in order to own our property.” She also needs to get a building permit, a retroactive grading permit, and a geology report. “Now city staff are reacting as if it was a (new) development — asking her to spend thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, on paper studies from geologists, civil engineers and biologists,” Levitt clarified.

“At the same time, the Grand Del Mar had a permit in place that protected land south of them, while the city watched the back yard of Elizabeth,” he noted. “The city drove through (the property), saw some brush (on a slope) that never grew back, and thought there must be fresh grading. They don’t care that there was trash, and even a (water-logged) bomb there.”

Levitt suggested that Rabbitt go to the mayor’s office with the dilemma and perhaps remind the city that nearly a decade after receiving a judgment award of $250,000 for illegal grading and damage to adjacent sensitive habitat, done by the Grand Del Mar (then called Meadows), the Del Mar Mesa and Carmel Valley planning boards still have not received any money.

“Elizabeth’s property was one of the original homes in the area — prior to any recent development occurring —bringing streets, utilities etc. The entire property was ‘developed’ (i.e. used) in that the previous owners dumped stuff, kept horses etc all over the property. Only when Elizabeth cleared out this trash and removed ice-plant, etc., was it suddenly obvious to city staff (who must have been inspecting all the new construction around her) that the natural brush was no longer there and they started an investigation which led to this citation. If she was not planning to do any development, she had no reason to process any site permits with anyone,” Levitt said.

Levitt added that he will meet with Rabbitt to draft a letter to the city and noted the property is an isolated piece, not part of the community plan. “The board needs to tell (city) staff where it stands regarding the permit application, as if she was proposing construction on her site.” The board agreed to continue the discussion at its May meeting.


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