Judge upholds city’s approval of Forge Lodge

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Sierra Club attorney says he will recommend the organization appeal. Attorney for the Forges says Sierra attorney “appears to have a personal vendetta to settle” with the project’s architect.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs ruled against the Sierra Club in its lawsuit challenging the city’s approval of the Forge Lodge Bed and Breakfast.

Owners of Beau Rivage Restaurant Daniel and Luciana Forge have been trying for a number of years to get approval for the bed and breakfast, which would be located near the restaurant, along the northeast corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Corral Canyon Road. The city’s final approval of the project limited the construction to 27 units, and reduced the sizes of the units from 680 square feet to 580 square feet.

Sierra Club attorney Frank Angel said he recommended that the environmental organization appeal the judge’s decision. Meanwhile, some city officials have accused Angel and other Sierra Club leaders of poorly advising the organization, and the Forge’s attorney has alleged Angel has a personal issue with the project’s architect.

The Sierra Club had argued the environmental impact report for the Forge Lodge project was insufficient for several reasons. Janavs ruled against the organization on each allegation it made about the EIR, including one of the Sierra Club’s main arguments, that the project would harm the reintroduction of Southern steelhead trout to nearby Solstice Creek. Janavs said there would be no impact on this. She also rejected the Sierra Club’s argument that the project was not a bed and breakfast but rather a hotel, which the site is not zoned for.

“The judge was extremely conservative, and there were some good issues that she chose to ignore,” said Dave Brown of the Sierra Club’s Santa Monica Mountains Task Force.

Mayor Sharon Barovsky had a different view on the judgment, saying Janavs made the right decision on an item that should never have been in court. Barovsky said she was disappointed the Sierra Club sued the city after the City Council had reduced the size of the bed and breakfast units from the Planning Commission’s recommendation of 680 square feet to 580 square feet.

“It seems a shame that the Planning Commission and the City Council decisions had to be challenged in court once again, costing the city an enormous amount of money that would be better spent on the needs we have in Malibu for land acquisition, schools and services,” Barovsky said. “I think the Sierra Club is being ill-served by recommendations to sue Malibu every two seconds. I would guess that the Sierra Club’s membership is going down in Malibu.”

Angel said Barovsky’s statement was a gross exaggeration of the Sierra Club’s litigation frequency with the city. He said this particular suit was important because he said the city’s approval of the project was highly flawed.

Angel said he was most disturbed that the judge dismissed his argument that not enough had been done to determine the effect on the site’s cultural resources, which he said included the land being the site of a former Chumash Indian village and burial ground. Janavs ruled that the city had already completed some of the necessary investigation for that, and she said the city was following state law by planning to conduct the rest of the research while the bed and breakfast is being built.

“The court issued nothing short of a Dred Scott decision-one painfully oblivious to Native Americans’ religious freedom and equal protection rights,” Angel wrote in a press release.

Another major Sierra Club argument, which Janavs rejected, was that the Forge’s architect, Mike Barsocchini, had violated the public meeting laws by passing a note to Councilmember Jeff Jennings during the meeting at which the City Council voted on the project. The note was passed after the council had voted 3-2 to reduce the size of the bed and breakfast units to 480 square feet. Jennings then read the note out loud, saying that it stated at least 580 square feet was necessary for a bedroom and a separate sitting room to be built. But Janavs said, if this disturbed Sierra Club representatives, they could have said something at the meeting. Angel said he disagrees with that logic, because the public hearing had been closed.

Angel singling out Barsocchini?

Just a few days after the ruling, Forge attorney Alan Block issued a press release accusing Angel of singling out Barsocchini by challenging projects the architect designs. Block wrote that Barsocchini was considering a malicious prosecution action against Angel. Barsocchini confirmed in a telephone interview that he is still considering the action, and said he agrees with Block’s characterization of Angel.

“Mr. Angel has a track record of filing unsuccessful lawsuits challenging projects that were designed by Mike Barsocchini,” Block wrote. “He does not regularly challenge projects designed by any other architect … Frank Angel appears to have a personal vendetta to settle with Mr. Barsocchini, and, in the process, he has injured many innocent people, including Daniel and Luciana Forge.”

Angel said Block’s accusation was not true, and he said an action brought against him by Barsocchini on those grounds would be a frivolous suit.