The city started the process of trying to remove residents from the the park in 2003 to make way for a future public park on the property.
The settled dispute stems from the treatment residents said they received by Hawkeye Asset Management of Laguna Beach — a company retained by the city to run the day-to-day operations of the park after the prime bayfront real estate was taken over by the city in November 2003.
“It was a long time coming and very satisfying for the residents who felt vindicated for holding true to their position that just because the city wanted their land back didn’t mean that they could violate people’s rights to get it,” said Tim Tatro of Tatro & Zamoyski LLP, which represents individual plaintiffs, homeowners and residents, along with the De Anza Cove Homeowners Association.
A resident since 1998, Ernie Abbit, 81, a retired business manager, founded the De Anza Cove Homeowners Association and has been its president for the last 11 years. Abbit, whose mother and father lost their entire families during the Nazi Holocaust, described the environment created by Hawkeye as that of a “concentration camp.”
Abbit said the harsh tactics employed by Hawkeye occurred despite a court injunction issued by a judge in November 2003, prohibiting the city from attempting to evict any residents of the mobile home park who were in good standing, and prohibiting it from making any non-emergency changes to the property until the outcome of the case could be decided.
Chief among the complaints Abbit listed was the hiring of an armed private security company, which he said intimidated and harassed residents. Abbit described a guard house installed at the entrance to the mobile home park where every person was required to show a valid driver’s license each time upon entering or re-entering the area.
Abbit said so many speed bumps were installed at the park’s entrance that drivers of vehicles used to transport disabled residents refused to enter the property, forcing residents to make their way to the perimeter of the park to be picked up.
In June 2005, a temporary restraining order was issued against Timothy David Higley, the supervisor in charge of overseeing the De Anza Cove property on behalf of the security company. In two separate and non-related cases, Higley was charged with felony counts of attempting to pass himself off as a police officer to stop a motorist although he had no authority to do so. The motorist turned out to be an off-duty police officer. Higley was also charged with bringing a firearm into a courtroom while serving as a witness. He was ordered to stay 500 feet away from the De Anza Cove property and to surrender all guns and firearms.
Abbit said in addition, Hawkeye installed high-intensity Klieg lights and barbed-wire fencing throughout the property. Storage areas, restroom facilities, play areas for children, a general store and common areas were destroyed and their debris left scattered behind leaving the property looking like a “bombed out territory,” Abbit said.
Residents’ trailers were towed, more than 200 trees were cut down, services to the park were greatly reduced and residents’ utilities were shut off, Abbit said.
“The city was determined to get us out of here and they intended to make our lives absolutely miserable beyond comprehension,” Abbit said. “It was just deplorable that this could happen in America’s Finest City.”
San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith issued the following statement regarding the settlement: “This insurance-funded settlement makes sense for all the parties as a compromise. The De Anza litigation has been ongoing for too long and needs to be brought to a conclusion.”
When asked for details regarding the behavior of city officials regarding the De Anza Cove case and why the city decided to settle, Gina Coburn, a spokeswoman for the city attorney, issued the following written statement: “These events occurred many years ago and the questions ask for reasons for other people’s actions. We’re trying to resolve the problems looking forward. The benefit of a settlement is to reduce further litigation costs and work toward bringing this litigation to completion. The next step is to figure out moving expenses for residents with the court’s assistance. There remains litigation pending and we’re not able to comment further.”