The family of Tricia Rittger—a Los Osos woman who was struck and killed by a car while crossing a Pismo Beach road in 2011—won a $1.5 million settlement from the city of Pismo Beach on Oct. 24.
One day later, the family’s attorney, Ryan Harris, announced that he’d be aggressively moving forward with a lawsuit against the Cliffs Resort in relation to Rittger’s death. Harris alleges that the resort was even more culpable than the city and had flagrantly disobeyed a regulation that would have saved Rittger’s life.
“This is a tremendous loss that could have been avoided,” Harris said. “How the Cliffs thought this was OK dumbfounds me.”
At issue is the regulation and use of two parking lots, one on each side of Shell Beach Road. The west lot, adjacent to the resort on the same side of the road, is supposed to be reserved for guest parking. The east lot, across the road, was supposed to be exclusively used for valet and employee parking.
During their investigation, Harris and his team uncovered a 1983 conditional use permit. New Times obtained a copy of that permit, which forbids public and guest use of the east lot and requires the Cliffs to put up gates to “prevent access by unauthorized users.” The Cliffs obeyed neither of those requirements, Harris said.
On the night of Nov. 19, 2011, Rittger parked in the east lot and was killed by a car as she attempted to cross the road on foot. That segment of Shell Beach Road has a 40-mile per hour speed limit and lacks a crosswalk, signage, or proper lighting.
Harris said he discovered evidence of the violation because David Watson, a former permitting consultant with King Ventures, which owns the Cliffs Resort, had a copy of the conditional use permit in his file.
Watson told New Times he hasn’t worked with the Cliffs in years and declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Mike Casola, general manager of the Cliffs, was away on vacation while a reporter worked on this story, and staffers at King Ventures wouldn’t comment on the litigation.
Further documents obtained by New Times show that the Cliffs was still in violation of the conditional use permit as recently as Sept. 13 of this year, even after receiving several reprimand letters from Pismo Beach Community Development Director Jon Biggs.
Harris alleged that the Cliffs only began to prevent guest parking in the east lot after Biggs threatened to fine the resort.
“The Rittger family is satisfied that the city has stepped up and taken its portion of responsibility, but the Cliffs needs to step up as well,” Harris said.
Pismo Beach City Manager Jim Lewis offered his condolences to the Rittger family, and said the city—which still denies any liability in causing Rittger’s death—settled in order to avoid the possibility of a long, costly trial on the taxpayer’s dime.
Lewis said the city agreed to pay $750,000 each to Rittger’s husband and daughter.
Harris said he anticipates the family’s lawsuit against the Cliffs will proceed to trial in the spring of 2014.