Error by ex-South Lake Tahoe employee may lead to designated open space being built on


By Kathryn Reed

A July 1981 agreement to keep a South Lake Tahoe parcel designated open space may go by the wayside to get the city out of a lawsuit that resulted from a former employee wrongly granting a building permit for the site.

While Deputy City Attorney Nira Feeley pleaded her opinion to the council on Tuesday, the electeds weren’t so sure her idea was the best one.

On the request of newly sworn-in Councilwoman Brooke Laine, the five agreed to delay their decision. A special meeting has been called for Feb. 11 at 9am to discuss just this matter. If the agreement is not signed by Feb. 20, either party may pull out of the deal. The plaintiff has until March 5 to dismiss the suit against the city.

If the council doesn’t agree to the deal, the case goes back to court.

To date all the legal fees have been in house. City Attorney Patrick Enright didn’t have an accounting of how many hours have been spent on it, but quite a few, he said. It has been an ongoing legal matter since the current property owners sued the city in 2009.

Thang D. Vu and Jennifer Khuu bought the 1348 Wildwood Ave. property in 2002 from Chris and Kathleen Muller.

It was the Mullers who in 1981 entered into an agreement with the city granting “an open space easement on, upon, over, across, above, and under the subject property and relinquishes to the public in perpetuity the right to construct improvements thereon.”

There were three ways the city could renege on the deal as outlined in the contract if it had written consent from the California Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (CTRPA) or its successor agency:

• That no public purpose described in subdivision (b) of Section 51084 of the Government Code will be served any longer by keeping the subject property as open space and that finding is concurred in by the CTRPA or any successor agency.

• That the property is to be purchased in fee by governmental agency or its agent.

• That the CTRPA regulation authorizing this dedication is declared invalid or unenforceable by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Feeley in her report Feb. 5 to the council cited the first bullet point in her arguments – that the settlement is in the best interest of the city as a whole.

Joel Jacobs, deputy attorney general representing the state, told the council his office supports the settlement agreement.

The settlement proposal has Vu and Khuu being able to build a single family structure and then having to buy another parcel somewhere in the Lake Tahoe Basin and have it retired.

(Neither spoke at the council meeting nor did anyone representing them.)

In September 2007, then city building official Ron Ticknor issued a building permit. Vu started building. In February 2008, Ticknor told Vu the permit was suspended. In April 2008, Ticknor asked the California Natural Resources Agency to abandon the open space easement. The state agency denied the request. In August 2008, Ticknor revoked Vu’s permit.

The Vu’s sued. The city prevailed in a demurrer. In 2010, Vu appealed. The appellate court reversed part of the trial court’s ruling and sent the case back to the lower court. The case is in trial court and will stay there unless the settlement agreement is signed.

Neighbors are irate the couple might be allowed to build on the property. Jerry Goodman told the council Vu knew all along he could not build. He is upset someone with money is presumably able to buy their way around the law.

“Ethically and morally you don’t have a choice on this,” Goodman told the council.

Goodman’s attorney, Jeff Rahbeck, cited California law as to why the property should remain open space.

Letters from seven other people who are against allowing the building to continue were entered into the record and two other people spoke against the staff’s recommendation.

The city staff report has the property info.

In other council action:

• On a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Tom Davis dissenting, the council agreed to designate areas in the city as paid parking zones.

• On a 3-2 vote, with Davis and Councilman Hal Cole saying no, money has been allocated to purchase the parking kiosks.

• On a 4-1 vote, with Davis in the minority, Peckham and McKenney has been hired for a fee of $45,000 to bring forward city attorney, public works director and administrative service director candidates.

• Deferred amending the contract with the ice rink operators for four months. This is the length of Tahoe Sports Entertainment’s temporary alcohol permit.

• A special meeting is set for March 12 at 6pm to discuss the loop road.




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Comments (43)
  1. Rhinopoker says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    I love the comment by the attorney that “someone with money is trying to get around the law.” If the guy didn’t have money he would not have bought the property and tried to build a house. Poor people do build houses since they can’t afford to. If the people were issued a permit from the city and started building then that is the fault of the city. Let the guy finish and buy a parcel else where to stay open space.

  2. David says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Poor people don’t commit stock market fraud, therefore it’s A-okay to commit stock market fraud!

    Well you gotta admit the folks running this city are consistent in their incompetence.

  3. Concerned citizen says - Posted: February 6, 2013


  4. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Paid parking at public and privately supported beaches has been passed again. Money we don’t have approved to buy kiosks. Don’t let the City Council members who voted in favor forget what they are doing to the residents of our city.

  5. reza says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Spanky (Davis) and the Gang (SLT city council) hard at work. How much time was spent on the “Hole”, creating jobs, the recreation master plan, the airport, Harrison Avenue, bringing new investment/revenues to town? None! All we got out of yesterday’s meeting was parking meters to harass us locals.

  6. John says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    I went to the El Dorado County recorders website and looked up the parcel information. Parcel Number 028-100-26-100 at

    I cant see where any easement was ever recorded. If the easement wasnt recorded then did it ever happen?

    Someone with more experience should look this up, but I see all of the recorded sales and recorded documents.

  7. Joe Doaks says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Please tell me why the restrictions were not on the deed? If they were problem solved. Didn’t the previous owner inform Vu of the restrictions? How much did Vu pay? Was it way, way undermarket?
    If the Mullers didn’t disclose fully then they are libel for lying on their disclosure forms. One sad day for the city after another.

  8. Curious One says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Important information missing from this story, including clarification of the type of agreement that the previous owners had with the city. The story has some language about an easement in quotes but does not attribute those quoted words to anyone or any document in particular so what do the quotes mean? And what is the status of the easement? Was it recorded? Is it on the deed or in any of the RE transaction documents? If the easement is, indeed, valid and recorded but wasn’t disclosed at the time of sale, isn’t that a big no-no on the part of the previous owners, the RE agent, and the title company?

    As someone that used to work on projects in the Basin that were often in the public eye and the subject of incomplete and inaccurate news stories, I am repeatedly irritated and often horrified at how much information is missing from stories that are being published.

  9. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Let’s hope a thorough investigation results in identifying how this could happen. If an individual made an error, then the proper response should be to hold them personnally responsible, not the taxpayers whose dollars are being spent now.

  10. admin says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    The staff report is now embedded near the bottom of the story. The report has the 1981 agreement in it.

    — Lake Tahoe News

  11. John says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Joe, I am not a real estate expert, I do not know the easement wasnt recorded, I just cannot see where it was recorded. BIG DIFFERENCE!

  12. John says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    And the easement WAS clearly recorded, it must just be old enough not to be on the county website.

  13. Steve says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Can this city do anything right? Serious question.

  14. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    From reading the staff report, an open space easement is only good until the city decides to change it (read that we need more tax money).
    The neighbors who may have purchased their property thinking they had open space next to them are being told to shove it by the city because what they really want is more taxes. Just like paid parking is only meant to generate money not control parking.
    Once again, our government is here to help.

  15. Atomic says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    A recorded easement follows and is applicable to the parcel on which it was recorded whether it shows up on the deed, title report or anything else.

    Buyer beware.

    Unless one of the three ‘cancellation clauses’ was the reason the city allowed construction on this parcel, then it was illegal to issue permit and clearly done in error.

    Was this easement declared to the buyer at the time of the sale? ie was there knowledge of the defect in the parcel by the buyer?

    Was the parcel sold at significantly ‘under market’ at the time?

    If the city moves forward with this ridiculous notion of allowing construction to proceed because they do no want a lawsuit…..well they’ll likely get one from the surrounding landowners, which I would applaud.

    Do the right thing, stop the nonsense, this is one the city can’t win and at the very least it will cost US, the taxpayer. I’d much rather pay to rectify than pay to smear over mistakes AND THEN incur a lawsuit anyway.

  16. sunriser2 says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    The easement was recorded 09/28/1981 in book 2017 at page 345 El Dorado County official Records. It was signed as Chris instead of Christopher so it was a little hard to find.

    The document seems clear to me. I can’t see why the current owners would have paid $427,000 in 2002 if they knew about this easement.

    The legal description is just a blurry assessors map. Maybe the title company missed it?

  17. dumbfounded says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Real Estate specialists: Is this going to be a problem for the title company then? Or, do they have an out? Just curious.

  18. Atomic says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Title companies typically say that if easements, encumbrances etc are not in the public record readily available to their sources then they will not cover any losses.

    If this easement was recorded in El Dorado county as is presented, and the buyers bought a title policy, there may be some traction here. Some policies have a time-frame under which disputes must take place however.

    Something,though,smells here.

    In 2002, somebody bought an EMPTY parcel for $427,000? Remember, this is before the run-up.

    Did it have a bag with about $300,000 buried on it, because that is an obscene amount of money for a lot in that time period.

  19. jerry goodman says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    The Vu’s bought the properties with a house on one lot and next to it a deed restricted open space lot. I saw the deed and have a copy and it is restricted. The properties came as one package. There were zero taxes on the open space lot since it had no value. They sold the house and then tried to build on the deed restricted lot while all the time knowing it was unbuildable. Yes, the city originaly made a mistake.

  20. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Thanks Jerry for your research.

    Sounds like we have some greedy people trying to make a buck.

  21. sunriser2 says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    I just recieved a copy of the deed Jerry is correct.

    Hard to claim the buyers didn’t know the lot was unbuildable when it had no taxes or assessment history.

  22. Atomic says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Jerry, you’re the man.

    The city needs to shut this mess down immediately and make the Vu’s remove the eyesore.

    DO NOT reward this type of activity. It has wasted everybody’s time, made the surrounding residents deal with the mess and stress and is now costing US money.

    Mistakes were made, time to clean it up.

  23. jerry goodman says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    As an aside to this, the contractor who excavated and built the partial foundation was never paid and went bankrupt. He is a local,

  24. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Let it go back to court and the city should counter sue for all the hours our employees have spent on this attempt to illegally build on protected land.
    How did they get city and TRPA permits to pour the foundation?????

  25. jerry goodman says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    The city made a mistake when issuing the permit. Read the above article.

  26. John says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Did the city make a mistake? It seems like the policy is to sell the isolated parcels and consolidate parcels into larger units that could be developed into a park or more usable open space area. That does make sense.

  27. Bijou Bill says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    I’m sure counter suing the Wu-Khuu families would go nowhere. Real Estate manipulation in No. California and Lake Tahoe actually has been a successful scam in the trust fund baby/wealthy “hard working job creators” for decades. Their lawyers would bury us. Look how they have already fought this obviously bogus deal and won judgments.

  28. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Jerry Goodman— I had seen where the city issued a permit, my question was directed at what allowed that to happen.
    When I went through the building permit process about 10 years ago, it was very difficult and I had to post a bond which the TRPA controlled. I can’t believe a single building department employee, Ron Tickner, could have the authority to issue everything required to start building.

  29. nature bats last says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    seems the builder that never got paid for the work already completed should be the onw to strike the match and let the local fire fighters practice on a real (well almost)structure, and then charge the property owners that tried to get away with the whole thing. Easy peasy…

  30. jerry goodman says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Yes. I agree with Tahoeadvocate. This was mentioned to the city council last Tues.

  31. John says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    The above link it to TRPA’s Accella database. You can search on the address and get information about the building permit and IPES scoring. All stored under a related APN. The TRPA permits were issued in 2005-2006.

    Just search using the street number and street name.

  32. Bijou Bill says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    You would be surprised what passed for “authority to issue everything” back when this transaction took place. Then again, you certainly know.

  33. Joe Doaks says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Please tell me the “city” is not setting a policy of allowing the buying of a deed restricted lot on the cheap then threatening to sue if not given a builing permit and buying a cheap lot somewhere that will be deed restricted. Also, if Vu knew it was deed restricted then he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, in fact he may be guilty of fraud.

  34. jerry goodman says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    John, I typed in street address of 1348 Wildwood Ave and tried pn 028-100-26-100 and got no results, Any suggestions?

  35. Rhinopoker says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    This is a perfect example of the great viewership of this publication and local involvement. It makes me happy to know this many people care about the area we live in. If we all still care and we still vote we can take back this city one vote at a time.

  36. John says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Jerry, click the link, then on the page that opens select ‘Building’. Then enter 1348 wildwood, and nothing else. Do not select ave. Press search and the IPES evaluation and building permits show up.

    I expected more though, it is really strange the easement wasnt recorded with TRPA.

  37. jerry goodman says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    John,I did that and got no real info. I am trying to find out the ipes score and if there was any coverage that stayed with the deed restricted lot and if there was it should have a property tax because there was worth. Since there was no tax, what happened to the coverage? If they have to buy another piece of buildable property and retire it what happens to that coverage? Difficult to get answers from TRPA!

  38. John says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    Jerry you can request the file from TRPA and they will call you when they have pulled it and it is available for your review. That kind of detail is not available. What you see though is that TRPA is referencing the adjoining lot and that they permits were applied for and approved by TRPA.

  39. sunriser2 says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    This thread was more information and good questions than the staff report.

  40. Atomic says - Posted: February 6, 2013

    TRPA makes mistakes too, they may have defaulted to the city’s building dept on all of this and rubber stamped this whole thing.


    City council take note, shut down this scam.

  41. jerry goodman says - Posted: February 7, 2013

    As of noon on Thur the vidio feed of the city council meeting of Feb 5 still has not been posted. Is there something the city does not want the public to see?

  42. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: March 1, 2013

    Is there an update since the city council Feb. 11th meeting?