Paradise lost: The petty rich-people feud ruining Laguna Beach (2023)

Love thy neighbor — but not if you’re living in a gated community in one of Southern California’s wealthiest and most exclusive enclaves.

In Orange County’s tony Laguna Beach, it’s been outright war between a pair of rich residents, with petty aggressions, escalating harassment complaints and high-powered lawyers duking it out in court.

Earlier this month, the billionaire mutual fund manager known as the Bond King, Bill Gross, 77, and his wife, Amy Schwartz Gross, 52, were sentenced to five days in jail and two days of community service for violating a restraining order against their neighbor.

It was the latest shocking turn of events in the Gross household’s spat with tech entrepreneur Mark Towfiq and wife Carol Nakahara, both 57, after Gross erected a $1 million 10-foot-tall cobalt glass sculpture by world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly in his backyard.

To protect it from the elements — including falling palm fronds — netting was put up last year. But Towfiq said the netting blocked his view — and complained to city officials.

Since then, Gross and Towfiq have been locked in a bitter battle in what’s otherwise a quiet coastal city known for its art galleries and waterfront restaurants.

Towfiq complained that Gross would obnoxiously blare the theme song of “Gilligan’s Island” on repeat, while Gross countered in court that Towfiq was a “peeping Tom” who “watched, leered at, photographed, and videotaped” the Grosses.

Now, the 23,000-person city by the sea, where the median home-selling price is $3 million, is in the spotlight for its two enfants terribles with too much time and money on their hands.

“Everybody thinks it’s ridiculous,” one longtime Laguna resident told The Post. “This whole thing is a waste of money, time and energy. They’re not exactly the fabric of our community.”

Then again, squabbles among the über wealthy are not that uncommon here.

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“A lot of neighbors in Laguna Beach sue each other over tiny things,” Lisa Elias, a 53-year-old dog walker and longtime resident who used to work in a local law firm, told The Post.

“It’s usually something like, ‘A wall is an inch over on my property, so you need to tear it down.’ ”

Or, “‘My son is allergic to the pepper tree in your backyard. Take it down!’”

Historically an artist’s colony, Laguna Beach’s 1-percenters give some locals the feeling of “there goes the neighborhood.”

“It used to be such a mellow community,” Elias said of the area, noting its bohemian roots. “Now it’s [affected by] extremely wealthy people’s mansion-ization.”

In 2019, Bill Gross, worth $1.5 billion according to Forbes, and Amy Schwartz, a former tennis pro, moved into their new $35.8 million home, called Rockledge-by-the-Sea, in Laguna Beach’s private Irvine Cove. The 10,000-square-foot estate boasts an eight-person commercial elevator, a gym, a spa and a wine-display room.

Shortly after moving in, he threw a 50th birthday party for Amy there and even hired Kenny Loggins to put on a backyard concert for guests.

At the bash, Gross sang “Celebrate Me Home” to Schwartz, whom he wed this past April.

Towfiq — also a Laguna Beach newcomer, having finished building his home on the adjacent property in 2015 —took in the show and was apparently entertained.

“Mark enjoyed the concert and sent Amy a text the next day,” a source close to the Grosses said. (Towfiq himself said in court last year he had hoped to have “a friendly relationship” with his new neighbors.)

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But any initial pleasantries were fleeting.

The following year, Gross installed the Chihuly sculpture close to the wall and the row of hedges that separate his house from Towfiq’s. Then, in spring 2020, they installed the divisive netting.

“We wanted to protect a valuable piece of art that has brought great joy and pleasure to our family,” the couple noted in a court filing.

But the netting was too much for Towfiq, who complained that it obscured his view. (The source close to the Grosses insists that the only view it obscured was that of the Grosses’ home.)

Ignored by the Grosses, Towfiq promptly took his grievances to the city of Laguna Beach, which sent the couple a notice of violation: Both the artwork and netting required permits.

And that’s when things got interesting.

“It’s a millionaire going to war with a billionaire,” said the source close to Gross.

Gross is the co-founder and former chairman of Pacific Investment Management Company, better known as PIMCO, once considered the world’s largest mutual fund. In 2019, he famously revealed he has Asperger syndrome — a high-functioning form of autism marked by social awkwardness and a tendency to fixate on particular subjects — to Bloomberg Television.

“I’m sort of proud of it, because it explains a lot about me … It’s allowed me to stay at 30,000 feet as opposed to being on the ground,” Gross said of his diagnosis.

Still, he admitted that it probably contributed to his notorious temper. (Gross’ ex-wife, Sue, accused him of using fart spray and placing dead fish in the air vents of their Laguna Beach home during their bitter 2018 divorce; he denied the allegations.)

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“People think you’re angry or an a–hole or whatever,” he continued to Bloomberg. “But it helps you to focus on the longer-term things without getting mixed up in the details.”

His latest obsession appears to be Towfiq.

After his neighbor complained to the city about the netting, Towfiq says that the Grosses began blasting the theme song of “Gilligan’s Island” — as well as the “Green Acres” theme and Led Zeppelin — in retaliation.

But the Grosses said it was Towfiq who began a campaign of harassment.

On Oct. 13, 2020, they filed a complaint against him, which read in part: “Many times have Plaintiffs been swimming and enjoying themselves, only to spot Defendant Towfiq staring at them, camera at the ready, poised to capture yet more images, audio, or video of Plaintiffs and their family and friends.”

The following day, Towfiq, who got wealthy creating data centers, filed a complaint of his own. Both sides requested restraining orders against each other.

Towfiq said in court he set up one of the cameras only to prove that the Grosses had ignored the order from city officials to remove the netting. In court docs, he called the couple “bullies” and said they blared music at ear-splitting volumes from outdoor speakers at all hours, forcing him and his wife to flee twice.

(The source close to the Grosses said that the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song “has special meaning to Bill and Amy” because it reminded them of their other home in Newport Beach.)

When Towfiq texted his neighbor to turn down the music, Gross allegedly wrote back: “Peace on all fronts or well [sic] just have nightly concerts big boy,” according to a piece of evidence Towfiq used in his October 2020 application for a temporary restraining order.

In December, Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Knill slapped the Grosses with a three-year restraining order, banning them from playing music outside their home when no one is in the backyard pool area.

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Earlier this month in court, a video taken in July was shown that depicted the Grosses frolicking in their pool and apparently taunting Towfiq.

In the 11-second clip, Amy is singing at the top of her lungs: “We’re outside. Yes, we are. Yes, we are. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re outside. Yes, we are!”

Knill called it “appalling” and sentenced the pair to five days in jail for violating the court restraining order.

The source close to the Grosses explained Amy’s bizarre behavior: “The point of that was for Amy to make a recording showing that, ‘I’m following the rules of the restraining order.’”

“This incident, the judge’s obvious bias and the enormous amount of wasted time and money on music played below the legal 60 decibel level at 9:15 in the evening constitute a miscarriage of justice, let alone a travesty of prejudice,” Bill Gross said in a statement to The Post.

Meanwhile, Towfiq isn’t winning any Neighbor of the Year awards, either.

After he bought his Irvine Cove property in 2009, Towfiq became entangled in litigation with Michael Wilson, his immediate neighbor to the north, who took the techie to court over his construction plans. Towfiq hoped to demolish three existing structures and erect a new cliffside home that would partially obscure Wilson’s view.

After two years of fighting, Towfiq won a county ruling in 2011 and started building his modernist home with a 2,000-square-foot covered patio, infinity pool and panoramic ocean views.

“I hate to be bullied,” Towfiq reportedly said at the time. “This is our right to build this house. This is our dream house.”

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Added Towfiq’s lawyer, Chase Scolnick: “This is terrible and unfortunate that their dream house has turned into a nightmare.”


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