Neighbors of former Gov. Mitt Romney waged an organized campaign to prevent him from building a 11,000-square-foot mansion on his La Jolla, California, property, documents from the City of San Diego and California Coastal Commission show.
Their concerns centered around Romney's claim to own the land in front of the proposed beachside home and the size of his home, which residents said would both change the character of the community and possibly privatize a beach they had long-considered public.
More than two dozen La Jolla residents signed and sent a letter in 2013 to the California Coastal Commission requesting a public hearing about the Romneys' plans, and various neighbors expressed their concerns to the city in emails during a public comment period in 2011. Several residents did also express support for Romneys' proposed home in 2013 to Commission.
The Coastal Commission rejected the claims against Romney building the home in October of 2013, and gave Romney's plans the green light.
Romney's tensions with his neighbors has been noted but before but the emails and the extent of the campaign against him have not been previously reported.
"We along with several of our neighbors on Dunemere have concerns about the potential impact based on the size, scale and mass of the proposed project compared to the prevailing neighborhood development on Dunemere Drive itself," two Romney neighbors — couple Randy Clark and Tom Maddox — emailed the city of San Diego in 2011.
Maddox and Clark were profiled in the 2012 New York Times article "The Candidate Next Door," which touched on Romney's unpopularity in the neighborhood and neighbors' opposition to his plans to build the mansion. As noted in the Times story, the couple refused to sign a letter in support of the project when asked by Romney's architect.
"The street is very unique to the area and most of the homes are on a completely different size and scale," added the couple in their email. "Our home along with the other homes on Dunemere that are in the immediate vicinity are much much smaller than the size of the proposed development. The neighborhood dates to the 1920-1940 time period and our home as well as others immediately next to or across from the Romney house are very small In size and are of a unique character. The lot sizes are relatively small, the street is one way with limited access."
Romney's plans to build the 11,000-square-foot mansion at the site of his existing home first came to light during the 2012 presidential election in the Politico story "Mitt Romney's 4-car fantasy home."
That story sparked cries that Romney was out of touch, and included a line about Romney's home including a car elevator — a detail that was frequently mocked in the months that followed. Politico, which was provided the plans for Romney's home by a rival campaign (and then independently verified their contents) did not post the blueprints for Romney's home, due to concerns raised by the Secret Service.
The blueprints have since been posted online multiple times by city and state entities.
The concerns the home would dwarf the majority of homes in the community was expressed in several other emails to the city from neighbors during the comment period.
"I'm concerned that an 11,000 square foot house with 8,000 square feet above ground is not consistent with the character of the street and the immediate Beach Barber Tract area," wrote neighbor Gidon Cohen.
"Most homes on the street, while varying significantly in style, are of modest size ranging from 1,500 to 4,000 square feet, which gives the street its unique character. While I favor a property owner's right to build the home of his/her choice, I would hope this can be done in a way that does not compromise the character of the street. I know there are other neighbors , who share my concerns , and hope you give voice to this point of view as you deliberate the merits of the project."
The Romney's next door neighbors likewise expressed concern about the Romney home negatively affecting the neighborhood's character.
"We have lived next door to the Romney house since 1978. We are concerned about the potential negative impacts of the project upon the neighborhood," wrote Steven and Carolyn Runyan.
"Our primary concern is that the proposed development would be out of proportion for the neighborhood. The size of the proposal would be disproportionately larger any other house on Dunemere Drive. The Romney house would be much larger than the mean/average size of the houses in the neighborhood. Therefore, statistically, it would have to be considered the outlier."
A man living across the street from Romney echoed these concerns.
"My home is located....directly across from the proposed Romney project," wrote Walter Turek. "I am extremely concerned and opposed to the size and scope of the proposed project."
Tracy Feldsott, a former La Jolla resident who had objected to the proposed Romney residence prior to her move, told BuzzFeed News that there were several issues with the proposed project, given the geography and geology of the site.
"I'm from La Jolla, and used to use that beach. It's very, very crowded there" she said, adding that she was opposed to the project "because it would close off the beach, but also because the land around there is sandstone. If they're going to go down [to build a 4,591 square-foot basement], it's going to affect other people, I believe."
Feldsott added that that "the streets are so narrow" in the neighborhood that "when they come, the streets have to be closed off, and the neighbors are all inconvenienced."
"This is just a ridiculous use of the land," she said.
One La Jolla resident whose name appeared in the letters of opposition is actually supportive of Romney and his construction plans.
"I'm definitely a fan of Gov. Romney, I voted for him, I was totally for that," said Jack Clancy who signed the letter calling for a hearing on the appeal to BuzzFeed News. "I don't know how it came out that I was against the building at all. I was totally in agreement with everything he was doing prior to. When the Secret Service were here, I even bypassed my daily walk with my dog just to help those guys out."
"I'm so happy that he's going to be a neighbor of ours. Please put me on the good list."
Another neighbor who lived next door to the Romneys, Jeff Lepore, wrote in support saying that "this new home will enhance our neighborhood greatly in character and value."
In a surprise appearance before the San Diego city council during a public comment period in 2013, Ann Romney herself spoke out against the delays in building her home and troubles she and Mitt encountered.
"Notice defects can be problematic for transparent government and public participation, two things that Mitt and I strongly support," she said as she citing that inaccurate details that were published in the newspaper concerning the public comment period.
As noted by the LA Times the main floor is 4,681 square feet, the second floor is 1,790 square feet and the basement is 4,591 square feet.
Included in the Coastal Commission report on Romney's mansion, as well, was a letter in opposition from a previous resident of the home, whose parents had once owned the property.
"As far as my parents were concerned the beach has always been public property," wrote Steele Lipe. "Unlike the East Coast where beaches and their access are virtually all private property California beaches to my knowledge are public property and the State through its Coastal Commission has been vigilant in keeping it so."
"Therefore, I am truly skeptical and dismayed that the beach beyond the seawall should be or could be considered private property. If that is the case, then the owner has the right to cordon off the beach and prevent its use."
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Lipe said he was "distressed" by what Romney was doing.
"Mitt Romney took a bulldozer to the house," he said. "It wasn't big enough for him and his family."
"He tried to be a nice guy but he so out of touch with people," said Lipe of the election.
Former Romney neighbor Anthony Ciani, an architect and advocate of keeping the beach in front of the Romney's home public, led the drive to stop the construction of Romney's mansion.
Ciani appealed the City of San Diego's planning commission's approval of Romney's home to the California Coastal Commission, which would have final say on the matter.
Ciani raised a number of issues about the Romney's home is his appeal.
The Coastal Commission's report:
"The appellant contends that the project does not conform because the bulk and scale of the proposed residence is out of character with the surrounding community, the City's CDP does not properly protect public use of the beach area, the proposed residence will be threatened by geologic risks during its estimated 75 years of economic life, the project blocks vertical public access through a set of existing concrete stairs, the project will have a negative impact on the water quality of the beach, and the project does not protect a historically significant structure."
The Commission staff rejected the claims and said "that no substantial issue exists with respect to the grounds on which the appeal has been filed."
After the home was eventually approved by the Coastal Commission, LA Times columnist Robin Abcarian reported the Romneys would provide public access to the beachfront.
Ciani and Matthew A. Peterson, the attorney who lobbied to push through the development project for Romney — and repeatedly butted heads with Ciani — resolved some issues in a phone call after the plan's approval the LA Times further reported.
Ciani still contended the Romneys did not own the beach.
Romney's attorney and lobbyist declined a request by BuzzFeed News to comment on the process and confirm details, but said Romney and his wife were deciding whether to keep or sell their home once the construction was completed.
"Mitt and Ann's plans are firm. They will be completing the construction of the home by the end of the year, but no decision has been made at this time whether to keep it, or sell it. That is all I have for you at this time."
Multiple emails to Romney's communications team received no response.
Megan Apper contributed reporting.
Andrew Kaczynski is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Andrew Kaczynski at email@example.com.
Ilan Ben-Meir is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Ilan Ben-Meir at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.