Planning controversy

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From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

Like some of you, I’ve been following the brouhaha going on down in the corner of Carbon Beach over what’s become known as the Adler appeal, and trying to wade through some of the conflicting information that’s flowing into the newspaper. The facts as I understand them are that Lou Adler’s neighbor, a fellow named Bill Chadwick, bought an old house next to Adler’s that had formally been known as the Pepperdine Pink House. Apparently, his plan was to tear down the old house and build a new one. He went through a permit process with both the city of Malibu and the California Coastal Commission a couple years ago, and received permits. Adler apparently objected to those plans and permits to the Coastal Commission, but was turned back at the time, although some minor changes were made in the plans.

There seems to be an issue now about whether those permits were inadvertently granted. Adler and some other neighbors on one side are claiming that the permits allow development beyond the beach string line, and therefore they should be revoked. On the other side, Chadwick is charging that this was settled two years ago, and the time for anyone objecting is long since past.

I confess at this point I have no idea what the legalities are of the situation, whether it’s a legitimate permit or if it is too late to raise any objections. But if it all follows true to Malibu tradition, it’s a safe bet that some trial court, or more probably an appellate court, will ultimately pass judgment on those questions. Up to this point, it was nothing more than a battle between a couple of neighbors over a beach string line, which in itself was not at all unusual, until the Planning Commission decided last Monday to step into the picture.

The Planning Commission’s entry into the situation changed everything. And what was simply a neighborly dispute has now become what might be a precedent-setting situation.

For several reasons.

First, the matter came before the Planning Commission during the early public comment portion of the agenda. Now, public bodies never act on anything that comes before them during unagendized public comment, principally because it’s against the law to do so. The Brown Act has certain requirements about posting agendas and there’s good reason for it. It gives people an opportunity to come down and have their say. What’s at issue here would seem to impact lots of people beyond Adler and Chadwick. There are a number of people in this town who have permits and are ready to build or are already building. And the validity of those permits is suddenly brought into question if the Planning Commission proceeds on the assumption they can reopen any permit case any time they can muster a majority. What was also apparent in the discussions, to even the most casual listener, was that a great deal was already known about the case by a number of commissioners, although not a great deal was said at the meeting. This raises the very disquieting possibility that a number of the planning commissioners are talking to each other privately about matters, which is a definite No No, as they all know.

Now in all fairness, maybe the commissioners are right. Maybe there is something wrong with the permit. But if they think so, they should proceed very carefully with legal advice and not go off half-cocked based just on their own seat-of-the-pants judgments. It’s apparent that everyone is going to sue over this. And they owe it to the rest of us to proceed carefully.

There is another issue here, and a big one. There is a City Council race coming up in a few months-Jennings, House and Kearsley are all up for reelection. It’s no big secret that one or several members of the Planning Commission are thinking about running for the council. And since they were all appointed by the current councilmembers, that means they might be running against the people who appointed them. This has been apparent for a while, and the Planning Commission, in the months passed, has been acting more like a City Council in waiting than a Planning Commission. It’s also true that some of the City Councilmembers haven’t had the guts to fire their own appointees for fear that somehow it would politically backfire on them, so some of the planning commissioners have really pushed the envelope.

Let me give you a specific example. Planning Commissioner Richard Carrigan ran and financed a campaign against Measure M, which the City Council had supported unanimously. He certainly has a right to his opinion. The truth is, I like Richard Carrigan, and I think he’s a very smart guy. And who knows, some day I might even support him. However, if he had been my appointment, I would have said, “Resign and do what you want or don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Now, Richard Carrigan wasn’t alone on the Planning Commission in opposing M, although others did it somewhat more subtly.

So the councilmembers better get some guts, and do what they think they should, and not worry over the political consequences. Almost anything the Planning Commission does in the next few months is going to have politics written all over it, so the council might as well face up to it, stop dithering around, take some action.