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Pismo Beach can’t fine homeowner $180,000 in land dispute, judge rules

File photo of a section of Shell Beach property owned by Mike Spangler. The city of Pismo Beach and Spangler are in a dispute over open space on the lot, where Spangler also owns a home.
File photo of a section of Shell Beach property owned by Mike Spangler. The city of Pismo Beach and Spangler are in a dispute over open space on the lot, where Spangler also owns a home. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A San Luis Obispo County Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of Shell Beach man Mike Spangler after he sued the city of Pismo Beach, challenging its decision to charge him $500 per day while they were locked in a battle over zoning and open space on Spangler’s property.

Spangler bought a 2.5-acre lot on Shell Beach Road in 2002 and has since been embroiled in a contentious legal battle with Pismo Beach over the property — a battle that peaked in August with the city shutting off utilities to Spangler’s home after he refused to sign a deed restriction that would preserve the majority of his property as open space. The restriction would also permanently keep a dirt lot next to his house undeveloped.

The city said the requirements were part of the original conditional use permit to build the home and contended that Spangler refused to sign the deed restriction despite repeated requests to do so.

Spangler said he refused to sign the city’s deed restriction because it was “overly restrictive” and submitted other versions of deed restrictions he would be willing to sign.

Spangler, a former president of the Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce, sought and was granted a restraining order in Superior Court against the city in September, preventing the city from continuing to fine him $500 per day and attempting to evict him from his home. The city was also required to turn his utilities back on.

It’s a win for all the citizens of California.

Mike Spangler, Shell Beach homeowner

In the June 28 decision, Superior Court Judge Dodie Harman ruled that the city of Pismo Beach will have to set aside the fines — meaning Spangler won’t have to pay an estimated $180,000 — although the judge did not rule on the constitutionality of the open space easement.

“The city clearly was using its administrative powers, including the shutting off of utilities, to bully Spangler into recording an open-space easement,” Harman wrote in her ruling. “In that scenario, the city would have been better off filing an action to compel Spangler’s compliance as opposed to resorting to administrative fines. The issuance of an administrative citation and fines did not resolve any of the contested issues.”

Spangler said the decision will have impacts that reach beyond Pismo Beach.

“It’s a win for all the citizens of California,” he said Friday. “It empowers people all across California that their municipalities can’t bully them and force them to give up their rights.”

The judge did not rule on whether Spangler has to sign the city’s deed restriction, leaving that up to another court. Spangler said he intends to keep pushing to develop his property, with the intention of one day building up to three homes on it.

Spangler is also awaiting a decision on his pending federal civil rights suit with the United States District Court, Central District of California. The suit, which he filed in January, claims that Pismo Beach violated his rights by turning off the utilities at his home.

City representatives did not respond to request for comment on the decision.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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