LAGUNA BEACH — Urged on by community groups, the Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to work toward buying a ridgeline where Las Vegas casino-owner Jack Binion plans to build 22 homes.
"I think it's time to get the ball moving," said Councilman Steve Dicterow, who has proposed using money from the city's open space fund to help buy the land.
While the council endorsed the concept of helping to acquire the Binion property, they did not include a monetary amount in their motion.
As a result of the council action, Dicterow will begin working with Orange County, state and community groups to negotiate with Binion the land's possible acquisition.
About 40 supporters, including many from South Laguna and Laguna Niguel, attended the council meeting and encouraged the city to spearhead a drive to block development of the parcel.
"It's a very choice piece of property," said Laguna Niguel resident Richard Taylor. "It's our window to the sea. All other windows and doors have been closed to our community."
The 22-acre parcel is in Laguna Niguel but is perched above homes at the south end of Laguna Beach. Residents whose homes are beneath the ridgeline say the development would cause mudslides and flooding in their community.
They have been waging a bitter legal fight against the development, a battle the city has helped fund. The development was approved by the Laguna Niguel City Council in 1995 but subsequent court rulings have kept work from beginning at the site.
While the court wrangling continues, other community groups in this city have rallied around the South Laguna Civic Assn., which is fighting Binion in court, and Dicterow's proposal.
For example, Laguna Greenbelt Inc., a local environmental group, has already voted to support the city's efforts to protect the ridgeline.
South Laguna Civic Assn. members, who are encouraged by court rulings that have blocked the development, say the time is right for the city to become more involved.
"We think this is a very propitious time to make an acquisition offer," said Mike Beanan, the group's vice president. "We're looking for the city to provide some anchor funding and professional negotiating skills and we're convinced private benefactors will then step forward."
Proponents of the purchase say that, once the city takes a stand, other entities would also likely pitch in toward the purchase, including perhaps the county, state and private parties.
"We have a formal benefactor program that's already in motion that could help with the funding," Beanan said. "Hopefully, the city will support entering into some serious negotiations so we can finally establish a reasonable, fair price for Mr. Binion for the property."
Laguna Beach City Councilwoman Kathleen Blackburn, who lives below the ridgeline, said she thinks the city should take the lead in helping to preserve the property.
"I'm in favor of doing it if it's doable," Blackburn said. "The next step is to bring the Binion people to the table to discuss it."
Philip Bettencourt, a spokesman for the landowner who also spoke at the meeting, said the owner would be willing to talk to the city or its representative if they were offered a fair price for the property.
"We are business people," Bettencourt said. "We're interested in doing business."