Fuzzy coastal decision stumps city council, scares residents

The California Coastal Commission’s local coastal plan is paralleled to a natural disaster for Malibu and personalized by homeowners who have a lot to lose.

By Sylvie Belmond/Staff Writer

While it turned an apparent deaf ear to Malibu last week, the California Coastal Commission managed to confuse city officials about what happened at the latest hearing on the local coastal plan (LCP). But some impacts of the new plan became obvious to several residents.

The clarity of the plan’s effects came to light for beachfront property owners in East Malibu where parcels could be rezoned to the detriment of homeowners.

Will Horner, a beachfront resident, is concerned that his lifetime investment could be lost because of effects from the draft LCP. He owns a triplex on the beach, and was hoping the two rentals would supplement his income when he retires in the future.

If the Coastal Commission downzones Horner’s property to single-family status, his home could become a nonconforming legal unit until it is either remodeled or sold, which may decrease his property value.

The council concurred with Horner’s dilemma.

“One state agency wants affordable housing in Malibu, which these multiunit dwellings provide, and another says we can’t have them once we remodel,” said Councilmember Sharon Barovsky.

Another sore point for Malibu is that the Coastal Commission’s actions could place a great deal of the properties in the city in an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA). Property owners would have to prove they are not in an ESHA before they can do anything on their property.

“Makes you guilty until proven innocent,” said one councilmember.

But the full ramifications of the decisions made by the commission at the hearing were still vague, even to the trained eye of City Attorney Christi Hogin.

“It was not absolutely clear,” said Hogin as she attempted to tell the council what the commission decided at the hearing.

The commissioners made changes to the Coastal Commission staff’s draft LCP at the hearing and then submitted it to the city for review. The current plan is set to go back to the commission in July.

For the city, this time gap leaves the light on at the end of the tunnel.

“In the big picture, we are still in the game,” said Hogin, as she emphasized that residents of Malibu can help the city identify policies in the new document that are troubling.

However, the gravity of the LCP matter is still on the City Council’s mind. Councilmember Jeff Jennings called the commission’s LCP “as significant a threat as any natural disaster.”

“It’s not the Coastal Commission’s job to write the LCP for Malibu,” said Jennings.

However, he admitted that, in this case, AB988, the bill that mandated the commission to draft the LCP, was born out of frustration when legislators in Sacramento got too many calls from high-profile people complaining about Malibu’s land-use policies.

But AB988 did not outline the respective roles of the commission and the city in drafting a coastal plan, explained Jennings, so the city went ahead and drafted its own version. The commission, however, did not take into account the city’s plan. Now, the plan drafted by the Coastal Commission is very different from what the city had in mind.

And, even as they reviewed the LCP hearing’s outcome, the City Council and the city attorney remained unsure about the final ramifications.

“The city staff will have to contact the Coastal Commission to understand what the resolution of the issue was,” said Councilmember Tom Hasse.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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