Owners of ‘Windemere’ property in La Jolla are suing city

By Pat Sherman

The owners of the land on which Irving Gill’s “Windemere” cottage once stood have filed suit against the City of San Diego for preventing them from building a new home on their property at 1328 Virginia Way in La Jolla.

The San Diego City Council voted 5-3 on Sept. 23 to uphold the La Jolla Community Planning Association and La Jolla Historical Society’s (LJHS’s) appeal of a California Environmental Quality Act exemption issued by the city, which essentially allowed property owners Frank and Nina Bottini to demolish Gill’s 1894 cottage on Dec. 23, 2011 — ostensibly leaving a vacant parcel for the couple to build a more modern home.

In the two years since, challenges to the Windemere demolition have prevented the Bottinis from developing their property. Their suit charges that “the city council abused its discretion” because Windemere was not technically a historic resource (though the historical society says it was in the process of seeking an historic designation).

The demolition occurred after the City of San Diego declared Windemere to be unsafe and a public nuisance — a condition historic preservationists say was hastened by the property owners willfully exposing the home’s interior to the elements and removing some of its key historic features.

However, the suit states that “a public agency cannot order a structure to be demolished based upon a finding that it is a public nuisance, approve and issue a permit for the demolition of the structure, and then a year-and-a-half after the structure has been demolished, require an environmental review process that requires city staff to pretend the structure still exists and that is a historic resource. ...

“The city council ignored the facts, the law and the factual findings and recommendations of the city’s own staff,” the suit states.

The Bottinis are demanding that the city set aside the council resolution granting the environmental appeal of the Windemere demolition, and are seeking “damages arising from inverse condemnation” (when a government takes private property but fails to pay the required compensation).