Trancas developer says city acted in bad faith; threatens to drop deal

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A partner with Trancas PCH says his attorney did not represent him well while arguing before the City Council.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The City Council’s decision Monday not to include the rezoning of a Trancas property in its Local Coastal Program amendment proposal to the California Coastal Commission might have triggered the renewal of a lawsuit against the city.

Dean Isaacson, a partner with developer Trancas PCH, said after the meeting that the council had acted in bad faith by removing the rezoning of the company’s property from the list of items being sent to the Coastal Commission for review, and said his only remaining option was probably to renew a lawsuit against the city that had been dropped late last year. With the LCP amendment proposal presented to the council, the property located on Pacific Coast Highway just west of Trancas Canyon Road would be rezoned to allow for the development of 32 town homes, which was what the developer would be able to build as part of a 2003 agreement with the city that settled an earlier lawsuit.

However, an appellate court decision in the fall invalidated the agreement. So the council voted 4-0 (Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich was absent) Monday not to include the rezoning in the LCP amendment proposal because of the uncertainty of the future of that property.

“That thing [the zoning change] was in there [the LCP amendment proposal] because of stuff that happened a while ago,” said Mayor Andy Stern after the meeting. “Why would we change the zoning of the property if we don’t know what’s going to happen there?”

But since the three-judge panel that rejected the agreement has said it would reconsider the case (although it will only reconsider whether the City Council violated a state-open meeting law when it approved the agreement, not whether the agreement was valid), Isaacson said the agreement is still valid pending the court’s decision, which is expected to be issued sometime this month. And he said by choosing not to include the rezoning as an LCP amendment proposal, the council has decided to distance itself from Trancas PCH.

“They have no credibility as far as I am concerned,” said Isaacson, who said the council was siding with the Trancas Property Owners Association, which represents property owners on Broad Beach and had filed a lawsuit against the city over the settlement agreement that eventually led to the appellate court’s rejection of that agreement.

Isaacson was not specific on what Trancas PCH’s next move would be, but he implied the developer would renew its lawsuit against the city in which it claimed a county-approved tract map granted before Malibu cityhood allows for the construction of 52 town homes and 15 houses. When asked if he would bring back the suit, Isaacson said, “I don’t think there’s any other choice.” But when asked the same question later, he would not directly say “yes.”

“We want the council to reconsider what it’s done, but the council’s not going to do that,” Isaacson said.

Isaacson also said after the meeting that Trancas PCH would be rescinding its offer of 26.5 acres of open space, which had been hailed by city officials as a significant feature of the settlement agreement.

Isaacson specifically blamed Stern for the situation. The mayor had already angered Isaacson late last year when he was the only council member who voted against Trancas PCH’s offer to drop its lawsuit against the city so the two entities could work on drafting a new settlement agreement. Stern’s reasoning was that Trancas Property Owners would most likely sue the city over a revised settlement agreement, so the city might as well let Trancas PCH go forward with its suit, especially since Trancas Property Owners said it would intervene on the city’s side and guaranteed it would defeat Trancas PCH.

“Stern showed the weakest moral fiber and integrity that I have ever seen in a council member,” Isaacson said.

In response to Isaacson’s characterization, Stern said, “Mr. Isaacson is just a developer who is mad because he didn’t get his way. That’s happened before, it will probably happen again.”

Lawyers for Trancas Property Owners and Trancas PCH spoke at Monday’s council meeting about the zoning issue, with the former telling the council not to approve the rezoning and the latter saying the council should do it. Isaacson said he felt his attorney, Alan Block, did not represent his company well.

“Although [Trancas Property Owners attorney] John Bowman was not factual, he did a good job,” said Isaacson, who also praised the argument skills of Marshall Grossman, a Trancas Property Owners board member who has served as the group’s spokesperson. “They did better than our attorneys.”

Isaacson declined to comment on whether he would fire Block, a frequently used attorney by Malibu developers and residents attempting to build homes. Block refused to comment on Isaacson’s statement, but he said he was disappointed with the council’s decision.