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Rancho Valencia Resort in Rancho Santa Fe prevails in noise lawsuit filed by neighbors

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( / Courtesy)

A Superior Court judge has rejected the central claims of a couple who filed a lawsuit against the upscale Rancho Valencia Resort in 2012, contending that the resort violated county noise ordinances when it held weddings and other events on its property.

Judge William S. Dato issued a 26-page decision on Feb. 2, outlining his reasons for ruling against Linda and Angel Mendez in their request for a permanent injunction that would have barred the resort from holding certain events on its Croquet Lawn, which is about 600 feet from the Mendezes’ home. The resort is located at 5921 Valencia Circle in Rancho Santa Fe.

The couple had claimed in their lawsuit that music and amplified voices from events at the resort disturbed their peace and quiet and constituted a nuisance. They also said that noise from the events exceeded limits spelled out in county regulations.

In his ruling, Dato rejected the Mendezes’ contention that the resort violated noise limits established by the county. He also observed that the couple had elected not to pursue other avenues to resolve the noise dispute, such as county administrative procedures or working with the resort’s owners along with other homeowners in their neighborhood.

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“By filing this lawsuit and taking the matter to trial, plaintiffs (the Mendezes) effectively drew a line in the sand,” the judge wrote. “But forced to choose, the Court concludes that the noise in this case is not so substantial and unreasonable as to fall on the side of the line that would require issuance of the injunction sought by plaintiffs.”

The ruling followed a two-week, non-jury trial presided over by Dato from Sept. 22 through Oct. 7 of last year. Along with considering testimony, including that of sound experts hired by both sides, Dato personally observed noise generated by a Saturday night wedding reception at the resort’s Croquet Lawn while standing on the balcony of the Mendez home.

Linda Mendez did not respond to a request for comment regarding the judge’s ruling by press time.

Doug Carlson, one of the resort’s managing partners, said Dato’s ruling confirms the resort’s contention that it has complied with the county’s noise regulations.

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“We’re pleased with the ruling,” Carlson said. “We certainly put a lot of effort into noise mitigation, and I think our results and efforts speak for themselves now.”

Dato noted in his ruling that the resort has spent more than $100,000 on devices and equipment designed to dampen sound emanating from the Croquet Lawn. The resort also installed a sound monitoring system with monitors at the Mendez property line, and hired a company to take sound readings during events.

As a result of Dato’s ruling, Carlson said, a temporary injunction issued in December 2012 by a different judge, regarding noise-generating activities at the resort, will be lifted.

“I think (Dato’s decision) ends the lawsuit against us for noise. It shows that we were not in violation of the noise ordinance. For us, it’s business as usual as we continue to manage and monitor events as we have in the past,” Carlson said.

The Mendezes are not the only resort neighbors to complain about noise. Two other couples, the Heymanns and the Bartletts, also testified during the trial that they were disturbed by noise from events on the Croquet Lawn.

“To be sure, their neighbors’ testimony supports the Mendezes’ position,” Dato wrote. “Yet it is also fair to say that neither the Heymanns nor the Bartletts — nor even her husband — appeared to be as disturbed by the noise as Linda Mendez.”

Later in the ruling, the judge wrote, “Linda Mendez is more sensitive than most. She is not the ‘person of normal sensitivity’ described in… the County Noise Ordinance.”

Another noise-related lawsuit was filed against the resort in March 2013 by Rancho Santa Fe residents Robert and Deanne Seiler. According to county court records, the Seilers’ lawsuit was later dismissed.

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Carlson declined to say how much the resort spent defending itself against the Mendezes’ lawsuit. However, he said the resort will seek to recoup its court costs from the couple.

The Rancho Valencia Resort opened in 1989, and was originally owned by the Collins family. In 2010, a group of investors headed by Jeff Jacobs purchased the resort and its surrounding 45-acre property. The new owners temporarily closed the resort while it underwent a $30 million renovation.

It now includes 49 guest casitas, two restaurants, a spa, fitness center and 18 tennis courts. According to the resort’s website, nightly rates for a weekend in late March ranged from $620 for a studio casita to $3,990 for a 5,000-square-foot hacienda.

In January, U.S. News and World Report named the Rancho Valencia the #1 Best Hotel in the U.S., according to a resort news release.


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