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Terranea Resort is celebrating its 10th anniversary on the former Marineland site in Rancho Palos Verdes on Wednesday, September 18, 2019. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

Terranea Resort and Spa is facing a false advertising lawsuit from a customer who alleges the company billed itself as an environmental champion while simultaneously trapping and killing more than 100 animals over a three-year period.

The plaintiff, Diana Kennard, alleges the Rancho Palos Verdes resort hired a Wilmington-based trapping company to remove 70 raccoons, including three litters of baby raccoons, 25 opossums, seven skunks, two squirrels and a cat since 2015. The trapper, All City Animal Trapping, also is named in the suit.

“Contrary to Terranea’s claim that ‘every effort has been made to protect and steward this unique environment,’ it turns out the reality is that no effort was made to protect and steward many species of the ‘local fauna,’ but rather Terranea resorted to immediate trapping and euthanizing of any animal on its property, whether or not there was any evidence the animal was injurious to Terranea’s property,” wrote Alan Kang, Kennard’s lawyer, in the lawsuit.

Under California law, trapped animals must be killed, or released in the immediate vicinity. It is illegal to relocate the animals because many are unable to adapt to new environments.

Raccoons, in particular, were often found in attics and crawl spaces in the resort’s casitas and above its restaurant, according to invoices for the trappings. Reached by phone, an employee at All City Animal Trapping said he could not speak about the matter on advice from his attorney.

The invoices state only that the animals were “removed” and do not indicate what happened to them afterward. The lawsuit alleges the trapper misleads its customers by saying it relocates animals to new areas, which is illegal under California law.

Terranea will ‘vigorously defend’ in court

Terranea spokeswoman Jessie Burns declined to answer questions about the lawsuit. She issued a statement on behalf of the company, in which it noted the resort has been nationally recognized and awarded for its commitment to the environment.

“We intend to fully and vigorously defend this lawsuit in court, not in the media,” the statement reads. “We stand behind our efforts to protect and steward the unique environment, our commitment to the most humane, environmentally responsible mitigation of wildlife, and ongoing support for community organizations dedicated to helping us do so.”

Kang said Terranea created its wildlife problem because employees regularly fed the animals without a permit and encouraged guests to do the same. Food left behind in the outdoor areas of the resort’s casitas, bungalows and villas further attracted animals to the resort, according to Kang. The lawsuit alleges the company chose not to consult wildlife experts or to use humane deterrents.

“It appears every effort was made by Terranea to save money when it came to wildlife,” Kang wrote.

Kang previously attempted to sue Terranea’s owners when a squirrel attacked a different patron at the resort. He alleged staff members were treating the animals like pets, and that led to the aggression. A Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the resort. The case is currently on appeal, according to court records.

Kang said he learned of the trapping program when he subpoenaed records in the previous case. Kennard, his new client, says she would not have stayed at the resort if she had known about the trappings.

Thousands of activists condemn

On Tuesday, the activist group In Defense of Animals condemned Terranea and called for it to be stripped of its awards. The organization’s supporters have sent 70,000 emails to the company’s corporate sponsors, according to a news release.

“Thousands of In Defense of Animals supporters have called on Terranea Resort and Spa and its corporate partners to commit to protecting wild animals,” said Lisa Levinson, a campaigner for the organization. “We demand that Terranea immediately adopt and publicize a comprehensive humane wildlife management scheme that employs only non-intrusive methods, such as exclusion, habitat modification and hazing.”

Terranea made headlines last year when hospitality workers attempted to pass a ballot measure to force the company to increase wages and standards at the resort. The union-driven measure was soundly defeated by voters. Terranea spent more than $1 million fighting the campaign.

The company previously settled a class-action lawsuit filed by nearly 3,000 workers who said the resort underpaid them.

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