Council hears code enforcement protests

The auditorium at Hughes Research Laboratories was packed, a change from the normally sparse attendance, for Monday night’s City Council meeting. Most of the audience, many bringing placards, came to protest what they see as heavy-handed code enforcement by the city.

Many came to see how the council would resolve the dispute between beachside neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Gil Segel and Mr. Charles Perez.

And, finally, members of the Parks and Recreation Commission came to protest lack of public consultation in hiring the parks and recreation director.

In the marathon meeting lasting until 11:30 p.m., the council:

  • Voted 5-0 to schedule a meeting as soon as possible on the code enforcement issue.
  • Heard that litigation between the city and the California Coastal Commission over parking at the Point Dume headlands had been settled.
  • Unanimously approved the employment agreement with Paul Adams for position of Parks and Recreation Director;
  • Voted 3-2 to hire a consulting team to prepare a flood mitigation assistance program. Mayor Pro Tem Harry Barovsky and Councilmembers Joan House and Tom Hasse sided with staff in choosing a consultant who might know more about Federal Emergency Management Agency practices. Mayor Carolyn Van Horn and Councilman Walt Keller preferred another consultant, whose fee was $37,000 cheaper and whose views on the Civic Center more closely matched their own.
  • Unanimously approved the Planning Commission decision that the deck stringline rule applies to swimming pools.
  • Voted 3-2 (Barovsky and House against) to refer a decision on the Perez/Segel dispute back to the Planning Commission

Code enforcement

After hearing nearly two hours of public testimony, and unable to take action on the comments until the issue was “agendized,” the council agreed to schedule a meeting devoted to code enforcement as soon as possible. Paul Major asked it to consider: grandfathering structures built prior to cityhood, an immediate temporary moratorium on noncritical health or safety conditions, and the creation of a “Grandfathering Task Force” to work with the council-appointed architects and engineers committee reviewing the hillside ordinance.

As they had last month, residents told the council city staff has engaged in selective code enforcement against modest-income, long-term residents by citing unpermitted guest houses and other structures.

As a result, residents say they are being treated like criminals for the first time in their lives. They fear and resent the government they thought would “grandfather” the structures built before incorporation but instead insists they be brought up to code standards or be demolished.

“Many residents so fear retaliation that they don’t speak out,” said Deborah Purucker. “Thomas Jefferson told us we had inalienable rights, that government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. No government should create an environment that makes people feel like criminals in their own homes.”

Residents Jim Johnson and Gary Winikott said Malibu’s original settlers were people of modest means, such as firefighters or school teachers, who were greatly involved in volunteerism. The city’s code enforcement policy is turning neighbor against neighbor and the city into an area of mansionization, forcing long-term residents out.

“Many people could not afford to live here today,” said Johnson. “You are creating fear, anger and resentment. You are turning neighbor against neighbor.”

“You don’t see Johnny Carson or Barbra Streisand when it comes to helping with natural disasters,” said Winikott. “Every house going in now is big. We are pushing out the normal people.”

Point Dume parking

The city announced it approved two related agreements to resolve a long-term dispute with the California Coastal Commission over access to the Point Dume State Park.

A settlement agreement resolves pending litigation. The settlement agreement is linked to a Joint Project Agreement between the State Parks department and the city for managing natural resources and traffic at the park and at Point Dume State Beach, said City Manager Harry Peacock.

If the Coastal Commission had been successful in the litigation, which arose from its 1997 Cease and Desist Order about boulders and “No Parking” signs along Birdview Avenue and Cliffside Drive, the city might have been liable for $6,000 a day in administrative fines.

Deck stringline rule

The council faced two issues about the “stringline” test, a rule of thumb for determining how far seaward homes and decks may project toward the beach. It agreed unanimously with the staff determination the deck stringline applies to swimming pools.

Then the council had to decide whether that definition would apply to resolve a yearlong dispute between the Segels and Perez (and the Planning Commission and planning director) over Perez’s plans to remodel his house and build a pool on the deck.

Planning Director Craig Ewing had determined the stringline, the last part of planning clearance needed for Perez to build a pool on his deck, in October. The Segels, Perez’s neighbor on the east, filed an appeal.

In November, the Planning Commission upheld the Segel appeal, basing its decision on three factors: the Coastal Commission had a more restrictive guideline, an offer to dedicate coastal access by the prior owner of Perez’s property overlaps the stringline area, and the information on Perez’s site plan might not have been accurate.

Motions by Barovsky to uphold Ewing and by Keller to uphold the Planning Commission failed. Although Hasse crafted a third description of a stringline, based on the definition the council had just approved and which would have allowed Perez to build the pool, his colleagues decided to let the Planning Commission make the decision.

Hiring practices

Parks and Recreation Commissioners Pat Greenwood, Ted Vaill and Sam Hall Kaplan, as well as former Parks and Recreation Study Group Member Marissa Coughlin said the commission should have been consulted before the city hired Paul Adams as the new Parks and Recreation director.

They wanted to look outside the department (Adams has been a city recreation supervisor for several years) for someone who would have more intergovernmental agency experience.

Referring to the agreement among the city, Coastal Commission and State Parks department, and recreation advocate Kristin Reynolds’ submission of reports on land use and public opinion on a Parks Master Plan, Coughlin said, “We need to achieve what Kristin Reynolds did, to give the city Parks and Recreation department the same credibility. We need someone with experience in intergovernmental relationships.”

“I thought open recruitment was part of public policy,” Greenwood said.

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

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