Judge to tour disputed putt-putt course
By PAUL MILLER
Published: November 12, 2004
A LANDMARK private golf course on 17 Mile Drive will be toured by a Monterey County Superior Court Judge this week as he prepares to decide whether the owner, Robert Feduniak, has to destroy the course at the behest of the California Coastal Commission.
A 1983 permit for a new house on the property required that only native landscaping be used in the yard, according to the commission, which ordered Feduniak to rip out the course two years ago and threatened to fine him $6,000 a day if he didn’t.
But Feduniak’s lawyer, Doc Etienne, argued that it would be “unjust and inequitable” to force him to destroy the three-hole course, which has existed for at least 18 years in full view of everyone on 17 Mile Drive, including the occasional touring coastal commission members who shouldn’t be allowed to make a federal case about something they tacitly let stand for almost two decades.
“On one of the commission’s field trips during Monterey meetings, we drove past the Feduniak property,” testified David Armanasco, who was a coastal commissioner from 1996 to 1999. While there was no discussion of the private three-hole course on the field trip, Armanasco said he never heard any complaints about it, either.
Cheryl Burrell, a planner for the Pebble Beach Co., testified that coastal commission staff members visited Fanshell Beach in 1986 or 1987, which is right across the street from the Feduniak home.
And Jeff Markow, superintendent of golf course maintenance for the Cypress Point Club, also confirmed that coastal commission staffers attended brief meetings in the club’s parking lot in 1993 and 2000 a parking lot which offers a full view of the disputed minigolf course.
“How far away from where the meetings were held is the Feduniak property?” Judge Fields asked Markow.
“About 500 yards,” he replied.
“And is it visible from the parking lot?” the judge asked.
“Yes,” Markow said.
The coastal commission’s lawyer, Deputy Attorney General Christiana Tiedemann, argued that even if commissioners and staff members caught a glimpse of the Feduniak property, which was owned by Robert Bonanno until 2000, they couldn’t be expected to immediately notice a violation of an old permit.
“Do commissioners or staff members review all permits in the area before making a site visit to a piece of property?” Tiedemann asked coastal commission enforcement officer Nancy Cave.
“No,” Cave replied, adding that a huge backlog of enforcement cases, and the granting of about 1,000 new coastal permits a year, made it impossible to monitor permit compliance on all of them.
Teidemann then asked Feduniak whether Bonanno or his title insurance company warned him of the restrictions on the property, known as Fanshell Greens, when he paid $13 million for it four years ago.
“We were told nothing about a scenic easement,” Feduniak replied. He said he “almost certainly” would not have acquired the property if he knew the mini golf course in the front yard might be illegal, because the “beautiful and mature landscaping” on the property, including the course, was what interested him and his wife.
Tiedemann then asked Feduniak whether he had tried to get his money back.
“If you were to rescind your contract with the sellers, you’d be in the same position you were in before you bought the property, wouldn’t you?” Tiedemann asked.
“No, we’d be a lot worse off,” Feduniak replied. “Our interest is in preserving what we thought we bought.”
In addition to studying legal points, such as the statute of limitations for the crime of building a putt-putt golf course, Judge Fields said he wanted time to consider the attorneys’ arguments, and the law.
The non-jury trial will resume Nov. 23.